Dr James Davey

Research interests

I use the history of the Royal Navy to engage with broader historiographies, and I am committed to exploring the different ways naval and maritime history can be conceived. My research falls under these main headings:


A cultural history of sea power

My current research project investigates how and why ideas about maritime endeavour and expansion were disseminated in early-modern England. I want to investigate how various writers and propagandists advocated for the growth of trade, larger naval forces and the expansion of empire in an era where most Britons’ horizons were focused firmly on domestic and European concerns.


The practice of naval and maritime history

I am currently researching an article that considers the first works of naval history produced in England in the early 1700s. I am also co-editing two volumes of essays that highlight new approaches and perspectives on naval and maritime history. The first, entitled A New Naval History and co-edited with Quintin Colville, will be published by Manchester University Press in 2018. The second, entitled The Maritime World of Early-Modern Britain and co-edited with Richard Blakemore, will be published by Routledge in 2019.


The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars

I have written extensively about the Royal Navy and the Napoleonic Wars, not least my recent book In Nelson’s Wake: the Navy and the Napoleonic Wars (Yale University Press, 2015). I am currently working on a companion volume that covers the preceding French Revolutionary Wars. I am particularly interested in the Royal Navy’s global and imperial roles in this period, and analysing how people across Britain conceived of the broader utility and purpose of empire.


Visual and material culture

My research uses visual and material culture to explore ideas of representation and identity. I have published on eighteenth-century naval balladry and material consumption more broadly, considering how people from across the social spectrum thought about the navy and naval service. I have also co-written a popular book on naval caricature in the second half of the eighteenth century which showcases the work of satirists such as James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson.


The development of the British state

This was the main focus of my PhD thesis and subsequent monograph. I am interested in how the increase in size and capability of the Royal Navy influenced the development of government bureaucracies and led to an increase in centralised administration. My work has also explored how ideas of professionalism and meritocracy were inculcated within the British state, and the emergence of a ‘contractor economy’ in the eighteenth century.


The maritime history of the Baltic region

Much of my early research concerned Britain’s economic and diplomatic relationship with the nations surrounding the Baltic Sea. Throughout the eighteenth century, Britain was reliant on the resources and trade of the Baltic region, which prompted numerous strategic challenges. I have published chapters and articles exploring Britain’s numerous economic and naval interventions into the Baltic region, placing this issue in the wider context of European diplomacy in the long eighteenth-century. In November 2015 I was awarded the Jan Glete Prize for Maritime History for my work in this area. 

Research collaborations

I have successfully secured funding for four PhD projects via the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Scheme, and am keen to develop further research collaborations.