Valerie Burton

Valerie Burton

Professor, Department of History
Phone: (709) 864 8433

Research Interests

Valerie Burton’s main interest is the ports, merchant shipping and seafarers of the British Isles and the British empire between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. Her core research uses the Crew Agreements and Official Logbooks held at Memorial. These records provide her with clues to what is historically important about the social, cultural and economic worlds of merchant seafarers, both at sea and on shore. Burton is interested in class and gender formation and in ethnicity and race in major British ports. In this connection she has explored the potential for cross-linking other nominal records, notably the manuscript censuses, with the records of crew and of voyages identified above. Her work draws upon the practices of labour and business historians, of class and gender theorists, and she is receptive to insights from the new cultural critique so far as they advance historical understandings of ‘ordinary people’s’ agency and contingency in maritime locations.

Burton’s research exploring the connections of seafaring workers with households and communities has been supported by SSHRC. She received a SSHRC outreach grant in the inaugural competition and was able to assemble a team of students and support staff to produce a website using the Crew Agreements. “More than a List of Crew” came online in 2011. The website encourages a critically informed use of these rich sources by family history researchers, students and professional historians alike. In addition it engages questions of theory and practice in maritime history at the key interface of academic and public history.


Burton’s first university post was in Southampton, England where the geographical and cultural displacement of maritime activities suggested an oral history project to establish what it had once meant to live in this liner port. This took shape as research for a doctoral thesis which she completed at the London School of Economics. Burton had by then secured an appointment at the University of Liverpool as the inaugural McQuie Mather Fellow in Maritime History. In Liverpool she taught at the University and was involved in the creation of the maritime record section at the new Merseyside Maritime Museum. Coming to St John’s, Newfoundland in 1989, she has played a major part in the teaching of maritime history. She twice received teaching awards from the Memorial University Undergraduates' Students Union; she holds a Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences Award for Teaching Excellence, and is the President's Distinguished Teaching Award holder.


  • University of Lancaster, BA (Hons) (History)
  • University of Lancaster, MA (Modern Social History)
  • University of Sussex, Cert Ed
  • University of London, PhD (Economic History)

Select Publications

Introductory contribution to and editor of “Comparative Perspectives Symposium: Fish/Wives: Gender, Representation, and Agency in Coastal Communities” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 37, no. 3 (Spring 2012), 527-617

"Sourcing Maritime History over Four Decades: Crew Agreement Scholarship at Memorial University of Newfoundland", International Journal of Maritime History Volume 31, 2 (May 2019), 308–329


More than a List of Crew

National Archives Podcast Nineteenth Century Merchant Seafarers and their Records: A User-Guide to “More than a List of Crew”


Maritime Studies Research Unit

230 Elizabeth Ave, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1B 3X9

Postal Address: P.O. Box 4200, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1C 5S7

Tel: (709) 864-8000