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Dr Jesse Ransley 

Senior Research Fellow

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Dr Jesse Ransley is a Senior Research Fellow in Archaeology at the University of Southampton.

I am a maritime archaeologist and anthropologist, with a particular interest in how we understand and theorise maritime space. I study south Asian seafaring and the Indian Ocean, past and present. My doctoral research was an ethnographic study of seafaring and boat building in Kerala, south India. I held a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, during which I studied the transoceanic lives and seafaring skills of south Asian seamen (known as ‘lascars’) working on British vessels in the eighteenth century. My current project traces the history of the idea of seascapes in maritime archaeology and examines how maritime archaeologists understand maritime space.

Before joining Archaeology, I worked as a maritime archaeologist for English Heritage and for a commercial archaeology unit in the UK. As a result, I have a research interest in maritime heritage management and ethics, and completed a project, funded by English Heritage, to develop a maritime archaeological research agenda for England.

In addition to teaching within Archaeology, I have worked with colleagues in English, History, and Maritime Law to create a module about piracy for the university-wide, curriculum innovation programme. I was also part of the team that developed the Centre for Maritime Archaeology’s fantastic free online course, Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds. I am a former Chair of the Institute for Archaeologists' Maritime Group, am currently the Assistant Secretary at the British Association for South Asian Studies and was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 2014.




Research interests

I am an anthropologist of seafaring and oceans, particularly the Indian Ocean, past and present. I work on embodied knowledges, the materiality and temporality of oceans and the broader philosophical question of how we conceive maritime space.

To do so, I study subjects from traditional boatbuilding and watery landscapes to lascars and piracy, as well as maritime heritage management - taking an interdisciplinary approach, which incorporates archaeological and historical sources with anthropological perspectives and modes of enquiry.

My doctoral research focused on the bodily practices of boat building and seafaring in the backwaters of Kerala, south India, and two projects have developed from that work:

  • ‘Material Seas’ (with Dr Hannah Cobb) draws on ethnographies and archaeologies of watery places to interrogate the idea of the seascape and broader understandings of maritime space and temporality. 
  • ‘Assembling Boat Narratives’, a book length project, explores the material culture, enskilment and embodied knowledges of boat building and engages with larger debates about objects, materiality and assemblage theory. 

My new project focuses on the lives and labour of Indian Ocean seafarers on British vessels and explores ethnographies of seafaring and ocean in the eighteenth century.

Research group

Maritime Archaeology

Affiliate research group

Classical and historical archaeology

Research project(s)

Lascar Lives

From the 17th century, the labour of south Asian sailors (known by Europeans as ‘lascars') underpinned transoceanic trade and the development of early colonial power structures. Yet they are largely invisible in histories of British maritime trade and Empire. In response, this project highlights the potential of an interdisciplinary approach to studying the lives of these sailors.



Book Chapters

    Cobb, H., & Ransley, J. (2016). Inhabiting watery worlds and moving beyond the ‘scape’. In At Home on the Waves: Human habitation of the sea. T.J. King and G. Robinson (eds.) Berghan Books.
    Ransley, J., & Dellino-Musgrave, V. (2013). Early modern and industrial. In J. Ransley, F. Sturt, J. K. Dix, J. Adams, & L. Blue (Eds.), People and the Sea: A Maritime Archaeological Research Agenda for England (pp. 164-185). (Research Reports; No. 171). York, GB: Council for British Archaeology.
    Ransley, J. (2011). Maritime communities and traditions. In A. Catsambis, B. Ford, & D. L. Hamilton (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Maritime Archaeology (pp. 879-903). (Oxford Handbooks in Archaeology). New York, US: Oxford University Press.


Dr Jesse Ransley
Faculty of Humanities, University of Southampton
Avenue Campus, Highfield
SO17 1BF
United Kingdom

Room Number:65A/2213

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