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The last great ocean liner ‘Le France’ launched by General and Madame De Gaulle in 1960 projected French local and national identity to global markets and powers. The decoration, consumption and mediation of ocean liners were impactful manifestations of the ‘soft power’ which the political scientist Joseph Nye has argued is an important tool within international diplomacy. The aspirations and ruptures of the Fifth Republic inhabited the decoration in glass, wood, wool, and metal of Le France which demonstrated the revival of the nation’s regional craft and industrial centres. The juxtaposition of the reassertion of traditional motifs and artisanal skills with contemporary industrial materials and new social practices on board typified the volatility of French identity reimagining itself amidst the Cold War and the dissolution of its empire.

Speaker: Claire O’Mahony


Claire O’Mahony PhD is Associate Professor in the History of Art and Design and the founding course director of the MSt in the History of Design in the Department for Continuing Education at the University of Oxford. She served as Chair of the Design History Society and as an Associate Editor for the Journal of Design History (2019-22). Her research focusses upon decoration and regional identity especially between 1870 and 1968.

The King’s Maritime History Seminar is hosted by the Laughton Naval Unit and the Sir Michael Howard Centre for the History of War in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. It is organised by the British Commission for Maritime History in association with the Society for Nautical Research and with the support of Lloyds Register.

Event details

Dockrill Room
Strand Building
Strand Campus, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS