The response of Navies to operational and political needs

Submitting Institution

University of Westminster

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

Harding is an organisational and naval historian, focusing on the organisational development of navies and its impact on seapower. His work has connected him internationally with scholars, navies and the public. It also led to his appointment as Hon. Editor of the Mariner's Mirror, the journal of the leading international research and educational charity devoted to maritime history, the Society for Nautical Research (2000-2005) and subsequently his appointment of chairman of that body (2005-2011). In both posts, his responsibility has been to widen public awareness and stimulate public education about world maritime history. He has appeared on television and radio.

Underpinning research

The research is focussed on how navies have responded to changing operational and political needs. In the first review of his latest monograph, The Emergence of Britain's Global Naval Supremacy, (2010) Professor Harding has been noted as `almost single-handedly re-writing the naval history of the fifth decade of the eighteenth century' (See Northern Mariner, 21 (April 2011, pp.185-187)). His work, on twentieth century amphibious warfare and naval innovation is also acknowledged within the defence forces as being important. His edited volume The Royal Navy, 1930-2000: Innovation and Defence (2005) has been described as `of immense value not only to historians wishing to conduct further research into the issues raised, but especially to defence planners and policy makers who are interested in applying the lessons learned to their own navies and defence forces generally' (International Journal of Maritime History 18 (2006), 515.)

The dissemination of maritime history and its potential for impact upon the public has long been a key theme in his work, and the contexts in which he operates are at the heart of the relationship between academic research, its potential to inform naval and defence policy, and to educate the broader national and international public through the public history contexts of museums and curated exhibitions. Harding's lectures to higher education institutions are detailed in REF5, and closely dovetail with the content of his public lectures.

Currently, Professor Harding's research concerns the development of naval leadership. He has co- edited a volume on naval leadership 1650-1950, contributing the introduction and a chapter. He is currently working on comparative approaches to leadership in naval forces and is in discussions with former naval officers to take this project forward.

References to the research

(i) Authored books and articles:

Doe, H. and Harding R., (eds.), Naval Leadership and Management, 1650-1950, Boydell and Brewer, 2012 (ISBN-13: 978-1843836957)

The Emergence of Britain's Global Naval Supremacy : The War of 1739-1748, Boydell and Brewer, 2010 (ISBN 978 1 84383 580 6)


`Organisational Lifecycles, the SNR and Maritime History', Mariner's Mirror, 97 (May 2011), 5- 20


`The Society for Nautical Research : Where are we now and where are we going?', Mariner's Mirror, 97 (Feb. 2011), 10-21


Details of the impact

The reach of Professor Harding's work is evidenced by his role as Chairman of the Society for Nautical Research Whilst Chairman he was a trustee of the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth and on its curatorial committee (2005-2010). He was subsequently appointed to the management board of the museum at Portsmouth as it evolved into the National Museum of the Royal Navy. In these roles he was involved in ensuring that the history of the Royal Navy was presented to as wide a public as possible. As Chairman, he led the Centenary Events of the Society across the UK, which aimed to widen the audience and public understanding of maritime history.

Whilst Chairman of the Society for Nautical Research, Professor Harding turned his attention to the future of maritime history and its potential for public history. Partly as a consequence of his media activities prior to 2008 (given below), which boosted his name recognition, but also because of his professional reputation, he was invited to give the Society's centenary lecture in June 2010, entitled `The Life of the SNR: An Exploration in Maritime History' at the Royal United Services Institution, Whitehall. This lecture was also delivered at the annual conference North American Society for Maritime History in May at Mystic Seaport, Connecticut. This later appeared as `Organisational Lifecycles, the SNR and Maritime History' in the Mariner's Mirror, 97 (May 2011), 5- 20. This was supplemented by a further article for the Society entitled `The Society for Nautical Research: Where are we now and where are we going?' in Mariner's Mirror, 97 (Feb. 2011), 10-21, in which he set out the opportunities and threats for maritime history in relation to the wider public. The Mariner's Mirror is an important pathway to impact for maritime historians. It is the long-established quarterly journal of the Society for Nautical Research, and is a forum not only for academics but also experts within the Navy, and curators in maritime and naval museums.

Since stepping down from the Society, he has been asked to contribute to the development of a new gallery at the National Maritime Museum dedicated to the period 1650-1815. (Work began on this in December 2010 and officially opens in October 2013. Professor Harding is a speaker at the lecture series that commemorates the opening of this new gallery on 10th October 2013). The National Maritime Museum is affiliated to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, and is the foremost museum of its kind in the United Kingdom. It is also one of the largest and most significant maritime museums internationally. The National Maritime Museum attracted over 2.3 million visitors in 2009.

Aside from public lectures, reach and significance is also evidenced by a long-standing commitment to dissemination which included, as noted above, contributions to television and radio. Notable among these were Broadside: The Influence of Sea Power on History (Articulate Television, USA), Sept 2007; Britain as a Global Power (Central China TV) November 2005 ; Prisoners of the British (Discovery Channel) May 2004; BBC Radio 4 `Soldier Sailor' Nov. 2003; World in Arms (3MTV Channel 4), March 2002.

The Emergence of Britain's Global Naval Supremacy synthesises many key themes in his work: it was short-listed for the Anderson Medal of the Society for Nautical Research as the best contributions to maritime history for 2010. The years since 2008 have witnessed an augmentation and consolidation of Harding's professional and public reputation and impact.

Sources to corroborate the impact

External corroborating sources
Northern Mariner, 21(April 2011, pp.185-187)
Mariner's Mirror, 97(November 2011, pp.368-369)

Recent invitations to lecture beyond Higher Education institutions:

The Band of Brothers; Extraordinary Commanders or an Extraordinary Navy? National Maritime Museum, Open Museum Lecture Series to commemorate the opening of the New Nelson Gallery, 10th October 2013.

British Admirals before the French Revolution, Naval Leadership in the Age of Sail, 1750-1840, National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth, 3rd-4th December 2011

The Dardanelles and Naval History, Inaugural Lecture for the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth, Research series 12th October 2011

British Maritime Strategy and Hanover, 1714-1763, National Maritime Museum, 10th March 2011

The Life of the SNR: An Exploration in Maritime History, Annual Lecture of the Society for Nautical Research, Royal United Services Institution, Whitehall, 16th June 2010.

From Peace to War : Expectations Amphibious Warfare on the Outbreak of World War II, The War at Sea Lecture Series, National Maritime Museum, 3rd July 2008