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College of Social and Behavioral Sciences


CSBS Media Contact: Robert O'Keefe
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News Archives


History Professor Wins 2008 Keith Matthews Award

Dr. Christopher Magra

(NORTHRIDGE, Calif., Jul 30, 2008) —Dr. Christopher P. Magra, Assistant Professor in the History Department at Cal State Northridge, has won the 2008 Keith Matthews Award for his work on "Beyond the Banks: The Integrated Wooden Working World of Eighteenth-Century Massachusetts’ Cod Fisheries.”

The Keith Matthews Award is given in honor of the first president of the Canadian Nautical Research Society and a noted maritime historian.  The award is given once a year for the best article published in The Northern Mariner.

The formal announcement of the award will be made at the Canadian Nautical Research Society’s annual conference held this year in Quebec City, August 5-9.

Magra’s article examines the nature of work in eighteenth-century Massachusetts’ cod fisheries in order to better understand the nature of poverty in colonial America. On the eve of the American Revolution, dried, salted cod was the single most valuable export for colonial New England. 

Prior to “Beyond the Banks”, many maritime historians traditionally divided fishing and shipping into separate analytical categories, and they have found fishermen to be among the poorest workers. 

“My research into eighteenth-century account books and shipping papers reveals much overlap between fishing and shipping,” noted Magra.

“In many instances the same vessels and the same crews worked on fishing and trading voyages for the same employers.  Fishing and shipping therefore cannot be seen as two completely separate wooden worlds, and fishermen actually earned competitive wages,” he said.

According to Dr. Serge Durflinger, Professor of History at the University of Ottawa and Chair of the Awards Committee for the Canadian Nautical Research Society, the judges agreed that “Beyond the Banks” is an important contribution to 18th century US labor, commercial, colonial, and maritime history, by clearly demonstrating the manpower overlap and seafaring connections in the fishing and fish-export trades. 

“Magra takes us behind the scenes of the late 18th century working and hiring practices of Massachusetts deep-sea fishers and export merchants to show that the same vessels, often with the same crews, plied both ends of this highly lucrative trade.  It is a well-researched, highly detailed, convincingly argued piece,” remarks Durflinger.

Inspiration for the topic came easy for Professor Magra.

“I have a passion for maritime history,” remarked Magra.   

He added that he has two books pending that deal with fisherman and the maritime dimensions of the American Revolution.

Prof. Magra expressed his indebtedness to the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences for providing the funding that allowed him to research and write the article.  He also pointed to several colleagues (Jeffrey Auerbach, Ron Davis, Tom Devine and Josh Sides) for their support and assistance.

“I am grateful to all of them for their help,” exclaimed Magra.


Christopher P. Magra, Ph.D. is the Director of the Atlantic History Center as well as an Assistant Professor of Early American/Atlantic History Department of History, California State University at Northridge.

The Northern Mariner is a peer reviewed academic journal devoted to all aspects of North America’s maritime history.  It is published jointly by two organizations: the Canadian Nautical Research Society, headquartered in Canada, and the North American Society for Oceanic History, headquartered in the United States