Faces of Tufts

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Summary

Most people have read about the emergence of China as a world economy or about the implications of global warming on world trade, but Rockford Weitz, F02, FG08, and John Curtis Perry have witnessed it.

The two scholars have traveled to most of the world's major seaports with the Neptunes—a group of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy students, faculty, and alumni—to document how ports both reflect and shape international politics and the global marketplace.

"No matter what you study—be it economics, history, art, business—there is an important salt water component," says Perry, Neptunes founder and the Henry Williard Denison Professor of History at the Fletcher School.

Since 2003, the Neptunes have voyaged to such destinations as the Netherlands, China, Iberia, and the Malacca Straits to study maritime culture, observe ports, and meet with port officials, business executives, and ship builders. Funding from Beyond Boundaries: The Campaign for Tufts allowed the group to explore ports in Singapore and the Baltic Sea where they met with officials and business leaders to examine the maritime implications of global warming.

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Rockford Weitz had studied China's emergence as a force in the global marketplace. But in 2007, while visiting Shanghai’s bustling Yangshan Deepwater Port—a massive land reclamation project joining three islands to support what may soon be the world's largest commercial seaport—he saw it happening before his eyes.

For Weitz, who recently completed his Ph.D. in maritime affairs at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, the enormity of the port illustrated China's deep investments in achieving maritime preeminence. America hasn't made similar investments in ports, Weitz argues, and, by contrast, is falling behind. Today, only two percent of the world's commercial fleets are American. Sixty years ago, one-third were.

"Seeing that port in China really drove home the point that we have a lot to learn from other nations about how to prepare for the new world economy," he says.

Weitz traveled to China—and to most of the world's major ports—with the Neptunes, a group of students, faculty and alumni of the Fletcher School. Since 2003, the Neptunes have voyaged to such destinations as the Netherlands, Iberia, Japan, and the Malacca Straits to study maritime culture, observe ports firsthand, and meet with port officials, business executives, folk artists and shipbuilders.

"No matter what you study—be it economics, history, art, business—there is an important salt-water component," says Neptunes founder and leader John Curtis Perry, Henry Williard Denison Professor of History at the Fletcher School.

Over the years, Perry has documented how major ports both reflect and shape international politics and the global marketplace. He has seen decaying Soviet shipyards at the end of the Cold War, the rise of massive ports of Asia, and the unsettling decline of many American ports.
"Technology advances have radically transformed the shipyard," explains Perry. Earlier in the twentieth century, laborers took weeks to unload a ship by hand. Now shipping cranes can unload standardized steel containers from massive ships in a day. "The implications of these advances on the global economy are tremendous," says Perry. "That's why it costs just pennies to ship a pair of running shoes from across the world."

During Neptunes voyages, Perry and Weitz—along with Fletcher School alumnus and committed Neptune Scott Borgerson—have elucidated a number of revolutionary maritime trends. The three have written extensively on how melting polar ice caps may transform global economics in scholarly journals and in popular publications such as The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Straits Times (Singapore). Funding from Beyond Boundaries: The Campaign for Tufts allowed the scholars to explore Singapore’s Malacca Straits as well as to ports throughout the Baltic Sea where they met with officials and business leaders to examine the maritime implications of global warming.

"In our lifetimes, we will see the opening of polar sea routes that make shipping distances shorter between the continents. This will that will lead to dramatic changes in patterns of wealth and power, and will cause further development of the polar north," says Perry, who is completing a book on "oceanic revolutions" past and present and consults to port officials all over the world.

Weitz and Borgerson have recently launched their own maritime consulting business, informed by their Neptunes experiences. "Not many people have had the opportunity to study all of the major ports of the world on location with a group of knowledgeable, curious maritime scholars," says Borgerson, now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "We've all learned a tremendous amount together, and our experiences can help nations prepare for what's ahead.”