My first in-person encounter at the IAS took place months before my fellowship started. In late July 2022, as I made my way to Dumfries for fieldwork, I spent a day in Durham to meet with Phil Steinberg (who kindly agreed to be my academic host throughout my stay) and Linda Crowe (the indefatigable manager who manages to keep the IAS running like clockwork).
After several years of disrupted and interrupted travel – owing to that long-forgotten pandemic – I was keen to resume the in-person academic collaboration.
The German term Schadenfreude may be common in English, the word Vorfreude should be too. It expresses the feeling of joyful anticipation, for it translates as pre-joy; the pleasure in cherishing what is yet to come.
After the summer heatwave, my arrival at Trevelyan College – where I’d live throughout my stay – was dark and rainy. I’d taken the train up from London (in between strike days) after crossing the North Sea on the Morgenster, a sailing ship used by the Dutch company Fair Ferry.
The sailing voyage itself was a first in what the company hopes will become a regular service between Rotterdam and London. After several sailing ships started “running” cargo from the Americas to Europe over a decade ago, a practice that forms a major part of my research focus on the decarbonisation of the shipping industry, Fair Ferry founder Karel de Boer thought it high time passenger cargo ships also embraced a wind-propelled alternative. (Never mind that we motored for most of our trip, in part due to adverse wind, in part because navigating the many bends of the Thames under sail would worry the Port Authority).
On Monday the 3rd of October, all fellows, IAS staff and directors, and academic hosts met at Cosin’s Hall off Palace Green. Alex Easton, the head of the IAS, kindly welcomed us alongside the other co-directors Nayanika Mookherjee, Gretchen Larsen, Karen Johnson, and Patrick Zuk. We soon found our way to Castle, where our offices overlooked the majestic Durham Cathedral.
One of the first “real” events at the IAS was a workshop on the United Nations Development Goals, and how it connects to our respective research projects. While framing and focus of these goals revealed the deep rift between what CP Snow once called the “two cultures”, it certainly helped us see that however useful (and omnipresent) these goals are, social scientists will indeed rip any conceptual framework to shreds before considering embracing it.
I spent a weekend at Prussia Cove, near Penzance, to meet the members of the Sail Cargo Alliance, who connect seagoing and shoreside business invested in transporting goods under sail. While I’d met some of them in person and many of them online, it was a real pleasure to take the train down and spend time with all of them in person.
Weeks later, the Geography department (where my host Phil is based), had organised a verbal Festschrift for Ash Amin who founded the Durham IAS in 2006. The praise for his work and life were, often, interspersed with kind critique and jest. Most of all, the event made me reflect on what an IAS is actually for. Because the promise of unfragmented time, which may have been relatively easy to guard when Abraham Flexner founded the “original” IAS in Princeton, is tremendously difficult to protect in a world of Zoom meetings. Being elsewhere no longer is an excuse to not join in – as most of us fellows realised rather quickly.
An invitation took me to London to present at an International Maritime Organisation symposium on the question of why we should talk about a “Just and Equitable Transition” in the shipping industry.
Throughout Michaelmas term, we did of course embrace our own fragmentation of time. Which included a lovely weekend in the North Yorkshire Moors with Jackie Stevens and Catherine Besteman, strolls along the River Wear with Nikita Chiu, a day trip to Edinburgh, and an excursion to the Grassholme Observatory, to name but a few.
My departure was somewhat anti-climactic. Though that was entirely my own doing. Towards the end of my fellowship, the International Maritime Organization held its 13th Intersessional Working Group on Greenhouse Gas Emissions and its 79th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee. Torn between fieldwork at Albert Embankment in London (where the IMO is based) and final drinks at Cosin’s Hall (and my new favourite pub in the UK: The Colpitts), I chose duty. (At the IMO, as during our IAS workshop, little agreement exists about what exactly “sustainable development goals” should be and do.)
Between my daily walks in the woodland downhill from the Botanic Garden, Phil and I spent many hours discussing whether there’s more than a mere pun to the call to decolonise shipping while decarbonising it. Our conversation on this emerged through my IAS seminar presentation How to decolonise the shipping industry? In this seminar, I raised the question of whether shipping decarbonisation could serve as an opportunity to help correct the exploitative trading patterns that exploded during colonial times, with continuing impacts on global inequality. It’s early days in the drafting of our collective work.
My Vorfreude is far from over, as so much good is yet to come from my time at Durham.
For now, you’ll find me in tropical Nhulunbuy, reading and writing.
Christiaan De Beukelaer is a Senior Lecturer in Culture and Climate at the University of Melbourne. He was an IAS Fellow during the 2022 Michaelmas Term. His book Trade Winds: A Voyage to a Sustainable Future for Shipping is now available. The publications resulting from his IAS fellowship will follow.