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The University of Southampton
Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute
(023) 8059 7428

Dr Julian Whitewright BA, MA, PhD

Senior Teaching Fellow in Maritime Archaeology

Dr Julian Whitewright's photo

Dr Julian Whitewright is a Senior Teaching Fellow in Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton. He is fascinated by boats and ships from all periods, in all places.

I am a maritime archaeologist specialising in the study of boats and ships, specifically their construction and use. I completed my BA(hons) in Archaeology at the University of Southampton in 1999 and the MA in Maritime Archaeology here in 2000. My doctorate, also at Southampton (2008), addressed the theme of maritime technological change in the ancient Mediterranean through the archaeology of sailing rigs. For a number of years I worked jointly between the commercial and academic archaeological sectors.

My interest and love of watercraft extends beyond my job and I am an experienced sailor and rower, primarily in traditional vessels, and Bantry Bay Gigs in particular. I have been sailing and rowing these boats since 1995, including skippering the UK team to a World Championship, and later reprising this success as the team coach. I am now a trustee of Atlantic Challenge Great Britain, a maritime training trust that focuses on the teaching of traditional seamanship through experiential endeavour, using Bantry Bay Gigs as its main vessel.

I grew up in a small fishing village in west Wales and spent my formative years ‘messing about in boats’, before serving on the RNLI Lifeboat stationed in the village between 1995 and 2001. This background allows me to bring hard-learned practical experience in traditional watercraft into the classroom as a means to further understand the maritime archaeological record.

Research interests

My primary archaeological research concerns technological change and innovation within the construction and use of watercraft. I have long-held research interests relating to the ancient and early medieval periods in the Mediterranean and western Indian Ocean. The results of this work indicates that maritime technological change rarely took place because of the functional or environmental reasons so often claimed by maritime archaeologists and historians, instead emphasising the role of people and economic factors in shaping maritime technology. My on-going research has also highlighted the continuing value of maritime ethnography to the discipline of maritime archaeology in the context of boat and ship archaeology.

My research in the shipping of the ancient world is currently focused on working as part of the team to understand and interpret the remarkable series of vessels found during the Department’s Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project. In particular, the three Roman-era wrecks found by the project which offer outstanding insight into the physical appearance of the shipping of antiquity, as well as its underlying construction.

I have always been an advocate of experimental and experiential archaeological research, driven by my own experience of learning, teaching and working in traditional watercraft. Increasingly I am researching methods for deploying digital technologies such as computational reconstruction and testing as a means to augment our existing suite of techniques for understanding ships and boats. To this end I am working as a member of the project team on a full-scale reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo ship. Our digital reconstruction of this vessel was published in 2020, marking the completion of Phase 1 of this ambitious project. The fusing of my research interests in the ancient world and digital reconstruction is perhaps best illustrated by the project I managed to undertake the digital reconstruction of a very-large Roman ship at the centre of Damien Hirst’s major 2017 exhibition ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’. Work on that project also include consultation on exhibition ‘back-story’, and on the associated documentary film. As an extension of this I provide maritime expertise within Archaeology at Southampton’s Archaeology for the Creative Industries initiative.

Closer to home, I work in the Solent region and along the south coast of England studying the construction of a range of ships and boats in collaboration with the Maritime Archaeology Trust and the CITiZAN project. In particular, this work has focused upon the development of innovative construction materials, such as copper and copper-alloys to shipbuilding processes during the 18th and 19th century in both Naval and merchant vessels. I specialise in work in the inter-tidal zone, either through traditional survey techniques, or through the innovative deployment of new technology.

PhD Supervision

Reflecting my main research and teaching areas, I am interested in supervising PhD research projects into topics which address the construction and use of watercraft, with specific concern for understanding maritime technology and how studying it can provide an insight into maritime cultures or communities for the wider discipline of archaeology.

My interest lies primarily with the watercraft themselves and their relationship with their wider society. As such, I supervise projects across a wide range of periods, reflecting my research interests, ranging from the Classical Mediterranean, through the Medieval and Post-Medieval world, to the 19th and early 20th Century.

Research Projects

The Sutton Hoo ship reconstruction (2015 – ongoing).

A major project, based in Woodbridge, Suffolk to undertake a full-scale archaeological reconstruction, and sea-trials, of the 27m long Sutton Hoo ship.

Black Sea MAP (2015 – present).

Analysis, interpretation and publication of Roman and early medieval period shipwrecks discovered during the project

The Unbelievable Ship project (2015-2018).

The digital creation and visualisation of a Roman merchant ship and associated back-story for the major Damian Hirst exhibition and film ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’.

Affiliate research group

Classical and historical archaeology

Co-coordinator of Postgraduate Teaching in Archaeology

Dissertation coordinator for Archaeology (undergraduate and postgraduate).

Dr Julian Whitewright
Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Southampton
Avenue Campus, Highfield
SO17 1BF
United Kingdom

Room Number : 65A/3037

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