Undergraduate Research Sets Sail

When he explored potential colleges, Maxwell Plarr of Catasauqua, Pennsylvania, hoped to find a top sailing program in addition to stellar academics. He discovered an exceptional program at Christopher Newport University and was also captivated by The Mariners’ Museum collection housed in CNU’s Trible Library – the largest maritime collection in the Western Hemisphere. “I believed I would be able to achieve great things on and off the water,” he says.

A U.S. sailing certified instructor, Plarr combined his love of sailing and history into groundbreaking research. Specifically, his project focused on the America’s Cup competition, its diplomatic and nationalistic side. “The United States and Great Britain are the oldest rivals for the cup, and I wanted to research how yacht racing and its surrounding culture influenced Anglo-American rapprochement from 1851-1914,” he explains.

Classes he took with History Professor Dr. Andrew Falk heightened Plarr’s interest in this research topic. “Dr. Falk was pivotal in the editing, structure and guidance for publishing, conferences, etc. My work would not have been possible without his help.” Serving as a Mariners’ Museum docent and tour guide also aided Plarr’s research preparation.

“The result was cutting-edge scholarship on international sporting competitions as cultural contests between nations,” says Falk. “He shows how America’s Cup dominance supported the rise of the United States as a naval power and affected its diplomatic relations with European powers before the First World War.”

Plarr spent hours poring over materials in The Mariners’ Museum Library. Thanks to a stipend from CNU's Honors Program, he also journeyed to England, where he explored the British perspective at the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, the Royal Yacht Squadron Library and the National Maritime Museum Library. “The international sources added great insight into how both sides of the Atlantic fought over the most respected trophy in yachting,” Plarr says.

Eventually Plarr hopes to expand his research into a doctoral thesis, but for the time being he is completely immersed in the development of CNU’s varsity sailing team as head coach. The team recently acquired a new fleet of 18 sailboats for the upcoming season, and is looking forward to several renovations and the expansion of CNU’s sailing center. --Matt Schnepf

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