I was delighted to see another Ocean Liner exhibition planned in my city, ‘Oceans Apart’ opened earlier this month at Manchester Metropolitan Special Collections. On this occasion, despite the advertising, I had very little knowledge of the exact content of the exhibition, so the contents of this exhibition was a very welcome and interesting surprise.
Oceans Apart is curated by Dr John Gibbons, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of History, Politics and Philosophy. The exhibition is mainly comprised of his personal collection of ephemera relating to mainly ocean liners, and also cruise liners.
Gibbons’ collection is immense, and it is very tightly packed in the special collections display areas, at first glance it could occupy a much larger gallery.
Similar to the current V&A Speed& Style exhibition, the displays are sectioned into different aspects of transatlantic travel by ocean liner- such as ‘Advantages of Emigrating’ and ‘Emigrant Lives’. Whereas Speed & Style focused more on the design of higher-end travel, this exhibition also shares the details of the process of applying to emigrate, the very poor conditions in steerage and third class. Artefacts also touch upon the kind of lives emigrants may lead in the North Americas, and how they may return as tourists to Europe. There are some incredible items such as a passengers suitcase and cash register.
The collection highlights the multi-tiered process of applying for emigration and the business that surrounded it with numerous agents on either side of the transatlantic ocean. Documentation showed how women could not emigrate to the USA without a male sponsor.
Although the exhibition was deep in material to reflect on, the most intriguing ephemera was the information design such as the posters and brochures advertising the transatlantic journeys and emigration to a new land. As expected, the design ethos focuses on creating a positive, utopian experience on board, and in a new much more potentially profitable land.