The Personal Cost of Empire: An Exploration of Naval Familiesí Economic Survival

Thursday, January 7, 2016: 3:30 PM
Salon B (Hilton Atlanta)
Sofia Zepeda, University of Arizona
This work examines the impact of trans-imperial events on local British families during the French and Napoleonic Wars. This paper seeks to establish the work that women and their families had to do in order to survive or even thrive during wartime. By determining the income that women could expect from their husbands or sons at sea and comparing that information to the local cost of living, this paper will establish naval families’ average incomes as well as the potential financial gaps that women had to fill. While new imperial historian Margaret Hunt has already argued persuasively that women and their families provided the backbone for British imperial expansion, this paper will show the kind of financial circumstances that this support engendered. Expanding the scope of research beyond London and into other important port towns, this paper shows the different experiences of wartime across Britain and Ireland. It does so by incorporating materials from ports in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, looking to those ports that experienced high naval demands and where naval families stayed behind during the French and Napoleonic Wars. This will allow the paper to adopt a comparative analysis of the personal costs of empire for those families at home—to determine the different ways that families experienced the wartime absences of their heads of families. Thus, this paper will situate local family experiences within their broader trans-imperial contexts.
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