The ss Great Britain - an Object in Stasis
: Space, Place & Materiality, 1886 – 2015

  • James Muirhead

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis explores the ss Great Britain ‘an object in stasis’ from the period of 1886 to 2016. This broad categorisation of the vessel as an object in ‘stasis’ is used as a linguistic means of demarcating the end of the Great Britain’s life as an ocean-going vessel. Yet, this classification of the Great Britain as an object in stasis arguably does very little to reflect the complexity of the ship’s ‘post-functional’ life. As this thesis will demonstrate, the Great Britain has been subject to a vast array of fluid re-imaginings from 1886 onwards. These categorisations and the manner in which the Great Britain has dynamically interacted with its surrounding environment has had a profound influence upon the human actors who sought to classify and negotiate the vessel as material object. The Great Britain has embodied divergent roles in the span of the 130 years this study encompasses, yet this study is primarily concerned with the effects of location, rather than temporality in determining the manner in which these roles unfolded. This thesis engages with literatures of space, place and materiality in order to consider the Great Britain’s influence within varying locations and will consequently consider the time the vessel spent in the landscape of the Falkland Islands - as representational and symbolic artefact in 1960s Britain - the contested urban environment of Bristol to which the ship returned in July 1970 before finally, in the concluding chapter, turning to the ship’s role as a centre-piece of a modern-day heritage attraction in 2016. In engaging with the Great Britain’s afterlife over this long chronological span and through a detailed consideration of the vessel’s various locations this thesis will aim to demonstrate that the Great Britain was not only an object of economic and commercial utility but also a centre of meaning and can be demonstrated as having influenced human behaviour as a material object.
Date of Award15 Nov 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorTim Cole (Supervisor) & Peter A Coates (Supervisor)

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