Ms Elizabeth Alexander

Supervised by

Research interests


My PhD Research is sponsored by a cross-departmental Reid Studentship in the Geography Department (Supervisor Pete Adey) and Political and international Relations Department (Supervisor Chris Rumford) at Royal Holloway University of London. My core interests best fit within the discipline of Political Geography, with specific interest in topics of political identity, political community, nationhood, nationalism, and border studies. 

Research Project Working Title: Objects and National Identity:  One ice-breaking, blockade-running ship's material contribution to national identity. 

My project is focused on how material objects become nationalized expressions of identity, and their agency in the creation, recreation and destruction of national identity through time and space.  Using a primary case study of a ship with a riveting biography,  I am considering how and when material objects come to be invested with national meaning and what kinds of material objects can develop this agency? What role do these material objects play in the construction, reconstruction or destruction of national identity? How are they used to produce narratives that feed into national memory and imagination? The absence and presence, addition and subtraction of these material objects carry both physical and emotional content. What role does place play in their agency?


Research interests

Case Study:   The ice-breaker USCG Northland was purpose built in 1927 to serve as a floating government in the coastal waters and places of the territory of Alaska between 1927 and 1933. During each season's voyage it carried law enforcement personnel and was the site of a floating court room; delivered medical personnel, mail, fuel and cargo; escorted teachers to remote villages; conducted search and rescue operations for whalers and sealers;  supplied light house stations and conducted scientific studies. After ending its service in Alaska, it was deployed to Greenland during WWII to survey the coast and eliminate German communications installations. 

After the war, it was sold as scrap in 1946, but secretive buyers had no intention of scrapping it. Instead, they sent the ship to France to be refitted to join 'Aliya Bet,' the 'illegal' immigration of Jews to Palestine during the 'British Mandate'. The Northland was renamed 'Medinat Ha’Yehudim' (State of Israel)  and on-boarded nearly 2700 Jewish refugees in Bulgaria and attempted to run the British blockade of Palestine. It was stopped by the British Navy in international waters, towed to Haifa and its crew arrested and passengers deported to British detention camps in Cyprus. After British withdrawal from Palestine, the ship was renamed EILAT A-16 -the first warship in the newly declared nation-state of Israel. After serving as a warship and training ship for the Israeli Navy, it was sold in 1963 to an Italian scrap yard. Before it departed, it was recognized with a state 'funeral' in recognition of its service to the country.


Summary: This case study encompasses the materiality of, in and on the vessel; alterations to its structure and designations;  people, creatures and objects on board, and those that interacted with the ship from land, ice, desert or sea. It includes the sites and places it sailed to and from, the missions and activities it carried out during the 36 year-span of its 'lifetime.' These dimensions as examined across the space and time encountered and affected by the Northland's unpredictable journey from ice-breaker to Israeli war ship, will form a connective narrative and supporting evidence which illuminate the role of this particular object in the formation of national identity and provides signposts for the identification and analysis of other objects in other places which are enrolled in national identity. 


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