The Metropolitan Chapter of the Victorian Society in America

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Perilous Voyages to New York’s Safe Harbor

September 22, 2021 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm

Wed, September 22, 2021

6:00 PM – 7:30 PM EDT


Two new books shed light on 19th-century sea journeys for refuge seekers.

About this event

Before the Civil War, Irish and Black people escaping horrific conditions in their homelands arrived at New York’s harbors via sea passages, which are the subject of groundbreaking new scholarship. Cian T. McMahon, Associate Professor of History at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Dr. Timothy Walker, Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, will present their findings–based on years of archival excavations–about the journeyers’ grueling experiences and heroism.


Dr. McMahon’s new book, The Coffin Ship: Life and Death at Sea during the Great Irish Famine (NYU Press), draws on letters and diaries of Irish people fleeing disease and starvation in the 1840s and ’50s. Crews, captains and conditions on transatlantic emigrant vessels could be brutal. Yet the escapees built dynamic social networks that became essential elements of their transformation into Americans. Dr. McMahon specializes in 19th-century migration, identity, and maritime social history. His other writings include The Global Dimensions of Irish Identity: Race, Nation, and the Popular Press, 1840-1880 (UNC Press, 2015).


Dr. Walker has edited a new book, Sailing to Freedom: Maritime Dimensions of the Underground Railroad (UMass Press). The ten essays explore how Black people maneuvered from Southern ports to the mid-Atlantic and New England coastline. They were assisted by free Black laborers and activists and white abolitionists while facing the constant threat of betrayal by slavery’s supporters. Dr. Walker, a scholar of maritime history, colonial overseas expansion, and trans-oceanic slave trading, has held visiting professorships at Brown University and the Universidade Aberta in Lisbon. He has received grants and fellowships from institutions including the NEH, Fulbright U.S. Student Program, and Portuguese Camões Institute. His other professional roles include guest investigator of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and contributing faculty member of the Munson Institute of Maritime Studies at Mystic Seaport.

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September 22, 2021
6:00 pm - 7:30 pm