Coastal Perspectives Lecture – Apr 19, 2022

book cover - Preserving Maritime AmericaBlue Water Ports, Global Resources, and Commercial Empires: The Origins of the Nation’s Major Maritime Museums

James M. Lindgren, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor, History Department, SUNY Plattsburgh


Today, the nation’s major maritime museums—in Salem, New Bedford, Mystic, Newport News, San Francisco, and New York City­—have much in common, but when they were founded, their motivations were quite unique. From the beginning, each museum pursued its own global agenda. Whether it was the nation’s first museum in Salem and its quest for East Indian markets in the 1790s, or the most recently established museum, South Street Seaport with its concerns about Gotham’s slipping trade, globalism defined their agendas. Based on my most recent book, Preserving Maritime America: A Cultural History of the Nation’s Great Maritime Museums (Nov. 2019), this presentation will examine the origins of these half-dozen museums and give a brief hint of how they were later forced to change by focusing on their own locale.


James M. Lindgren is, according to The Public Historian in 2020, “one of our field’s leading scholars.” In the past thirty years, he has authored four books on public history. In 2019, the University Press of Massachusetts published –as both an e-book and in paper– Preserving Maritime America. While the North American Society for Oceanic History awarded it second place (Honorable Mention) in a competition, selected PMA for its list not only of the “27 Best Maritime History eBooks of All Time,” but the “28 Best New Cultural History Books to Read in 2020.” History journals reacted similarly. PMA offered “an unrivalled view into the inner workings of these institutions,” wrote The New England Quarterly. Likewise, Sea History concluded in 2021 that it was “absolutely worth consideration if your career or passion intersects with maritime museums in any way.”

His other books include Preserving South Street Seaport: The Dream and Reality of a New York Urban Renewal District, published by New York University Press in 2014. The Journal of American History opined that it should be “required reading for everyone—politicians, preservationists, developers, community members, journalists, and museum administrators—involved in rethinking” this vital corner of Lower Manhattan. Years earlier, in 1995, Oxford University Press released Preserving Historic New England: Preservation, Progressivism, and the Remaking of Memory, which the same journal suggested would “be of tremendous interest to anyone working in historic preservation.” And, in 1993, the University Press of Virginia issued Preserving the Old Dominion: Historic Preservation and Virginia Traditionalism. The National Trust called it “the best book on preservation published this year.” His probing study of Virginia’s pubic history between Reconstruction and the 1930s generated a budding interest in and reinterpretation of those sites. Some monuments were toppled.

As a result, Lindgren’s many honors include his election as a fellow in the Massachusetts Historical Society and inclusion in Marquis Who’s Who in America. Even more personally important, he and his wife Mary Ann are the proud parents of two sons; while Brian is a Ph.D. student in Music at the University of Virginia, Charlie is a mechanical engineer at Electric Boat in Groton. After forty years of university teaching, Jim retired in September 2021 and is now Emeritus Professor in the History Department at SUNY Plattsburgh.


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