International Journal of Maritime History 28:3 (2016): 576–600. © The Author(s) 2016
IJMH Roundtable Reviews of Lincoln Paine, The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World, with a response by Lincoln Paine
Lincoln Paine, The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World, New York: Knopf, 2013; xxxv + 744 pp., illustrations, ISBN 978-1-4000-4409-2; $40.00 (hbk).
Paul D. Buell
Charité Universitäts Medizin, Berlin, Germany
Writing a general history of anything, particularly when the anything spans thousands of years and all the major cultures of the world, is perhaps a foolhardy endeavour, but Lincoln Paine has done just that and by and large done it quite well. To be sure, there possibly command the literature in the way that a professional specialist can for the various subfields that maritime history divides into, but the merits of the account more than make up for small errors, most of which are not in any way critical for our understanding of the topic as a whole. Paine’s book is divided into 20 chapters, stretching in coverage from mankind’s first experiences with water on a large scale, down to a very interesting survey of the ‘Maritime World Since the 1950s’. Making his material particularly useful is the way that the author combines historical sources, pictorial evidence, marine archaeology, technical understanding, plain common sense and an innate understanding of the sea to write his grand history.
This reviewer is particularly impressed by the author’s skill in handling Indian Ocean commerce, a subject of vast import since our modern culture began, in most respects, in the Indian Ocean, but difficult to grasp since so many quite distinct cultures were involved, providing an amazing variety of written and other source material. But handle it he does, and at the same time provides a major tool for understanding what went on and how it relates to his topic at its broadest, and a bibliographical guide as well.
For East Asia, Paine was extremely successful at selecting the very best secondary scholarship in Western languages and thus gaining a feel for his topic that most outsiders lack, even going one better than them. His stress, for example, on the importance of a gradual shift from water commerce on canals, rivers and along the coast to direct voyages going a long distance, north to south, is not only proper but very much needed. We already knew about the importance of the direct voyages in Yuan times,
but looked at in terms of long-term maritime history these, thanks to Paine, loom even more significantly.
To be sure, Paine is limited by his sources for East Asia and his languages – not having Japanese, for example, or Chinese itself. He compensates for this by carefully using what he does have, although when his sources fail to mention something, are unclear, or just leave huge gaps, there are corresponding gaps in Paine’s account. Thus, during Southern Song times he sees Hangzhou (Linyi) almost as China’s single international port. In fact, Quanzhou in Fujian, Marco Polo’s Zayton, was also very important and was just one of several other south and southeast Chinese ports of important proportions, including, for a long period of time, Canton. Perhaps the problem here is that some of the most important literature in this area is in Japanese, although Angela Schottenhammer has written in German an important study of Quanzhou in Song times.1 A number of conference collections with related material have now appeared as well, although some may have appeared too late for Paine to use. This includes important work on longdistance trade in the Indian Ocean during Mongol times when a kind of first maritime era prevailed, as an accumulating literature now shows.
The Schottenhammer book, from 2002, is a major miss for Paine and another major miss are the works of Carl Sauer, extending (my list is selective) from a treatment of early exploration in the North Atlantic, Sauer’s Northern Mists, to major studies on the Spanish presence in the maritime zone of the new world, including Mexico’s Colima province, the subject of a classic and unique study by Sauer.2 Thus, Paine’s bibliography and treatment are exhaustive, but one can quibble about his choice of sources, although generally I found what I was looking for and expected to find in his bibliography. Nonetheless, sometimes bibliographical oversights have led to holes in the discussion; the whole topic of early northern navigation, for example, from Viking times on. This was very important for Medieval Europe but the topic is picked up by Paine only late in his account.
In conclusion, Paine has written us a very useful book that by and large does its range of sources justice and even causes us to look at some in an entirely new light. Nonetheless, is important to remember that this is just a general survey and that conclusions in many sub-areas will change as new research is done. But it is to Paine’s credit that he helps this process along by putting so many pieces together for us.
- A. Schottenhammer, Das Songzeitliche Quanzhou Im Spannungsfeld Zwischen Zentralregierung Und Maritimem Handel: Unerwartete Konsequenzen Des Zentralstaatlichen Zugriffs Auf Den Reichtum Einer Kuestenregion (Stuttgart, 2002).
- Carl O. Sauer, Northern Mists (Berkeley CA, 1968); The Early Spanish Main (Berkeley CA, 1966).
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John R. Gillis
Rutgers University, USA
Allow me to stipulate (as a lawyer might say) that The Sea and Civilization is a stunning accomplishment. It is the first true global maritime history, giving credit to all the regions and peoples of the world and touching on all the world’s waters, fresh as well as salt.
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Building on the author’s unparalleled knowledge of ships and seafaring, it encompasses an astonishing breadth of space and depth of time. Lincoln Paine is a master of detail, making this the standard reference book not just for maritime historians but for global historians of every stripe. It repositions maritime history from the periphery to the centre of historical attention. Even the most lubberly will no longer be able to ignore the seas no matter what time or place they focus on, for the reach of Paine’s vision is vast, breaking down the usual distinctions between land and sea, turning the world inside out, challenging the conventional distinction between onshore and offshore.
My own perspective is neither offshore nor onshore, but alongshore, a term I borrow from John Stilgoe.3 I stand where Rachel Carson stood more than a half century ago, that elusive space Michael Pearson has explored so perceptively, the margin between sea and land, a distinct place in its own right, with a history and geography all its own.4 I have argued that the shore is the missing link between the terrestrial and aquatic, usually either overlooked or treated as the edge of something else, rarely assigned the significant role in plays in both natural and human history.
Lincoln Paine wants us to focus on the blue sea, ‘letting the earth tones fade’.5 I would have preferred that he give the tidal and the estuarial a more prominent part of his story, muddying the waters a bit. After all, most of maritime history has taken place within sight of shore, in shallow waters. Seafaring has been largely a matter of coasting until quite recently. But our attention has always captured by the big ship and the deep sea expedition. Yet, the book is not as oceanic as its title might suggest. In fact, despite its awesome command of all that has happened at sea or on the sea, the oceans themselves are strangely missing from Paine’s story. Major oceanographic works by Sylvia Earle, David Helvarg, James Hamilton-Paterson, and so many others will not be found in his bibliography.6 Absent too is the new geography of the sea by Philip Steinberg and Helen Rozwadowski’s work on the history of marine science.7 Marine, as opposed to maritime history, is largely ignored, with the result that the sea becomes a stage on which human events play out, with little agency assigned to its waters or the creatures who make it their home.
Paine is careful to give due attention to the raft, canoe and barge, but, as a boat man, he ignores the fact that humans had a relationship with the sea long before they learned to traverse it. His maritime history begins with the Argonauts of the Pacific, a laudable starting point and a valid correction to Eurocentric historiography, but one that ignores the much longer prehistory of coastal people. Instead of beginning his narrative at 1500 BCE with the earliest Pacific voyages, he might have taken account of the events at Pinnacle
Point on the southern tip of Africa around 164,000 BCE, when inland Africans, driven by a catastrophic drying of their continent, found at the shore a shellfish and seaweed harvest that not only saved them from possible extinction but promoted evolutionary changes that launched a new human species, the Homo Sapiens. As Carl Sauer argued more than a half century ago, the shore was the first home of humankind.8 It was there that the first traces of civilized life – permanent settlement, kinship structures, tool making – were to be found. It would be a very long time before the shore dwellers would build boats and cross shores, but there is no reason not to call these early littoral hunter-gatherers ‘maritime’.
By tying his narrative too closely to the history of boats, Paine has drawn temporal and spatial lines where none exist. The distinction between history and prehistory, already challenged on so many fronts, should not be allowed to stand in global maritime history. Current interest in aquiculture must lead to a focus on shores and shore people, who deserve parity with mariners.9 Indeed, fishers and farmers were largely indistinguishable before the nineteenth century, another reason to question the idea of maritime history as a separate realm. In the West, gathering mussels and seaweed has never been accorded the status bestowed on seafarers. The fact that gathering has almost always been women’s work has reinforced this condescension. Like so many other historical fields, maritime history has been blinkered by class, race, and gender assumptions that require critical inspection and revision.
Paine is quite aware of the connections between land and sea, and one of the great strengths of this book is its exploration of maritime history’s interior dimensions. He makes clear the role of rivers, canals, and lakes in exploration and the spread of civilization in China, Europe, Egypt, Southeast Asia, and North America. His is an admirably wet history, though he is strangely indifferent to the history of water itself. For Paine, oceans are still largely the ‘eternal sea’, essentially a passive thing, without an agency of their own. He is in good company here, for even Rachel Carson talked about the ‘incorruptible sea’.10 But she was writing more than a half century ago, when the effects of human intervention and climate change were largely unknown.
Lincoln Paine seems quite indifferent to ecology, and environmental history specifically. His treatment of global fisheries is very thorough, but he is quite indifferent to the history of fish as such. The evolution of various marine species – whales, cod, lobsters – is touched on, but mainly as it relates to their human predators. That fish could be agents of change in the maritime world demands further consideration. W. Jeffrey Bolster’s The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail (2012) appeared too late to be considered by Paine, but Bolster’s seminal article on ‘Putting the Ocean in Atlantic History’ in the 2008 American Historical Review should have alerted Paine to the historicization of the oceans and of marine creatures more generally.11
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Weather and climate change are also strangely missing from Paine’s narrative. Periods of cooling and warming that have had dramatic effects on maritime activity are present to some degree. Their effect on Viking advances and retreats get proper attention, but the consequences of climate change on Pacific migration patterns demands much more attention than it gets here12. Paine is careful to avoid determinism of any kind, but his emphasis on human agency is misleading. As the leading historian of ship building and naval technology, his story is one of remarkable progress, especially in recent decades when the speed and capacity of shipping, as well as the reach and efficiency of fishing technology, has increased at such an unprecedented rate. Paine clearly regards the advances in maritime technology as part of a larger civilizing process. But he tends to ignore the dark side of human innovation and the corresponding increase in pollution and extinction. He also underestimates the degree to which the new technology has alienated humans from the sea and, in the process, from those elements of ourselves that go back millennia to the shores of southern Africa.
Furthermore, there are the effects that industrial fishing and containerization have had on coastal societies around the world. We have yet to come to grips with the loss of employment, and with it maritime skills. Even as more and more of the world’s population has moved close to the sea, fewer and fewer of us have any idea of how to live with it. Recent experience with tsunamis shows how, in the absence of any ongoing connection to the sea, we have become vulnerable to it. It appears that, even as our technical capacities have exploded, so too have the risks, if not to us directly, then to the sea itself. The paradox of increased control producing increased risk, as explored by Ulrich Beck and others, demands the attention of maritime historians.13 A work of such immense erudition and ambition such as Paine’s volume should be able to encompass both human and natural history. It should also confront the issue of unintended results and the tragic dimensions of technological progress.
I finished Lincoln Paine’s most informative book with one question still unanswered. What is the author’s own relationship to the sea? He writes vividly about his maritime heroes, but nowhere can I find any trace of the author himself, even in the Introduction. That is his choice, and I honour his privacy, but, in this era of sea-rise and climate change, we all have a personal relationship to the sea, no matter how far we may live from it. Perhaps this is an irrelevant question for a book that is sure to become the premier reference book for decades to come. But I feel compelled to ask it nevertheless.
- John R. Stilgoe, Alongshore (New Haven CT, 1994).
- Rachel Carson, The Edge of the Sea (Boston, 1955); and The Sea Around Us (New York, 1951); Michael N. Pearson, ‘Littoral Society: the concept and the problem’, Journal of World History, 17, 4 (2006), pp. 353-73.
- Paine, The Sea and Civilization, p. 4.
- Sylvia Earle, The World is Blue (Washington, D.C., 2009); David Helvarg, Blue Frontiers: Saving America’s Living Seas (New York, 2001); James Hamilton-Patterson, Seven-Tenths: The Sea and its Thresholds (New York, 2001).
- Philip E. Steinberg, The Social Construction of the Ocean (Cambridge, 2001); Helen M. Rozwadowski, Fathoming the Ocean: The Discovery and Exploration of the Deep Sea (Cambridge MA, 2005).
- Carl O. Sauer, ‘Seashore – Primitive Home of Man,’ Land and Life: Selections from the Writings of Carl Ortwin Sauer (Berkeley CA, 1963); John R. Gillis, The Human Shore: Seacoasts in History (Chicago, 2012), see Chapter I.
- Rowan Jacobsen, The Living Shore: Rediscovering a Lost World, (New York, 2009).
- Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us (Oxford, 1951).
- W. Jeffrey Bolster, The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail (Cambridge MA, 2012); W. Jeffrey Bolster, ‘Putting the Ocean in Atlantic History: Maritime Communities and Marine Ecology in the Northeast Atlantic, 1500-1800,’ American Historical Review 113, No. 1 (2008).
- Patrick Nunn, Vanished Islands and Hidden Continents in the Pacific (Honolulu, HI, 2009).
- Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (Thousand Oaks, 1986).
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Fabio López Lázaro
University of Hawaii, Hawaii
This is an informative book that is well worth reading and using as a jumping-off point for formulating questions about humanity’s seafaring past. We should also celebrate its appearance in paperback, since its accessibility will definitely expand maritime history’s popularity. Nevertheless, it is a book that suffers from what I can only explain as a Blochian lack of critical focus, as well as a rather limited intellectual commitment to a
theoretical exploration of the contribution that can be made by researching world history and maritime history together.
In 1934 Marc Bloch, a founding member of the annalistes, spoke out on the proper scale and scope of historical enquiry in a book review of a now long-forgotten historical geography of the Garonne region of France. His insights on how to craft a historical investigation about humans’ relationship to and within a particular geographical region, mutatis mutandis, can inform an assessment of Lincoln Paine’s achievement in writing Sea and Civilization: ‘It is never possible, nor desirable’, wrote Bloch, for historians ‘to seek to keep’ in their analysis ‘all the phenomena that fall within given regional boundaries’. Historically, geographical sea as well as land labels can mislead us; the interpretive boundaries for phenomena are ‘given’ only to the degree that historical evidence proves humans imagined and constructed them in particular ways at particular points in time. Like continental distinctions, about which Martin Lewis and Kären Wigen have written,14 ocean boundaries only exist in humans’ evolving epistemologies and are contingent upon complex intersections of human activities and beliefs. As Markus Vink, moreover, reminds us, Braudel’s old axiom that ‘the question of boundaries is the first to be acknowledged’ by rigorous research should not be discarded,15 and is made even more relevant when considering ‘a maritime history of the world’.
Bloch observed that ‘the unity of place is nothing but disorder. Only the unity of our [historical] question creates focus [centre]’.16 What he pointed out about the limited usefulness of sticking to the term ‘Garonne’ as a parameter for historical analysis (the word itself was contingent on historical processes, some of these were quite distinct from processes which were exclusive to the Garonne, and others, in fact, were not characteristic of most of the region) suggests that whatever questions one poses about maritime world history should first be organized around the evidence pertinent to the historical problem or problems under consideration; the text of one’s analysis should only then be labelled to correspond as precisely as possible to the parameters of the human phenomenon under study. If Bloch’s insight is correct, and I believe it is, then the globe’s oceanic surface is less important as a physical space, meta-analytically speaking for historical analysis, than as a stage for humans’ lives. And the colours tingeing our analytical view will depend on the kaleidoscopic question we ask concerning the evidence that survives for specific seafaring humans’ actions and words upon it.
Unfortunately the great accomplishment of Paine’s book lies far from any such Blochian centre; key maritime historical questions are tantalizingly suggested by Paine’s narrative but rarely prioritized (how and why did the phenomenon called ‘standing navies’ develop? how stable are ‘pirate’, ‘privateer’, and ‘navy’ as meta-analytical categories as we go further and further into the past?). And key questions in the diverse types of world-historical research, discussed more fully below, are conspicuous by their absence (what role, for instance, did differences in maritime commercial preponderance
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play in the ‘Great Divergence’ between Asia and Europe’s development between 1500 and 1900? How has recent research begun to redress the still rather glaringly downplayed importance of the early modern Iberian global maritime networks in the awkward desire of both ‘Atlantic History’ and ‘Great Divergence’ theses to constrict the geographical and chronological nature of key shifts to less-than-global contexts and to more recent events like the Industrial and Republican Revolutions of the late 1700s and 1800s?). Instead of addressing these questions, Paine flexes considerable story-telling skill in guiding us through maritime history on the world’s many and increasingly globalized stages, offering a highly readable, lucid, and synthetic narrative. Indeed, at times he charts much evidence accurately and plumbs key interpretive issues, such as scholars’ debunking of the theory that Neo-Confucianism limited Chinese seafaring or recent research’s revelations about the problematic socio-economic consequences of twentieth-century containerization (on the other hand, historians might find his uncritical use of the phrase ‘The Opening of China and Japan’ outdated and point out ancient Mediterranean amphorae functioned as an analogous type of containerization, a point made most recently by Andrew Bevan).17 The Sea and Civilization does permit us to see lives lived at sea diachronically and synchronically, at the many ‘levels’ of spatial and temporal ‘aggregation and disaggregation’ (to quote Patrick Manning) that informed ‘global and maritime experience’ in the past.18 But Bloch’s focus is largely missing. The impression overall, notwithstanding moments of trenchant analysis, is one of display, not investigation; chronicle, not problem. Paine prefers plotting voyages and describing technologies – the internal structure organizing most of his chapters, especially those dealing with pre-nineteenth-century history – to pushing readers to consider more challenging questions about maritime historical evidence or about theoretical approaches to understanding humanity’s complex relationships within interlocking oceanic worlds.
As maritime research, then, the book’s usefulness is limited by the derivativeness that comes from prioritizing generalizations based on others’ primary source research instead of posing precise historical questions that provide focus (it does not help that the publisher uses a non-scholarly form of citing evidence that make it difficult to identify sources). The result is enlightening and exciting, and important for popular history; and, as such, breaks ground (to use a terrestrial metaphor). But reading Paine’s encyclopaedic effort – as a researcher – is more akin to a mariner looking at a mappa mundi than one using a waggoner or portolan: we can see the spread of humanity’s interventions at sea but we must seek out other research to navigate the shoals of historical evidence and to bring our questions into the type of havens sought by professional historians. Moreover, pedagogically, its coverage as a spectacular mappa mundi makes it unwieldy for undergraduates (which, much to my chagrin, I have experienced first-hand) and its Blochian superficiality will not permit using it for graduate instruction, for which one would still prefer a judicious selection of recent monographs and articles, or, perhaps, something like the collection of articles edited by Daniel Finamore or by Peter Miller.19 Maritime
researchers, from undergraduate to senior scholars, will find that they cannot voyage very far with Paine’s text to guide them, though the general picture he paints is impressive, commendable, and suggestive. Why, then, does Sea and Civilization also fail in the final analysis as ‘world history’, beyond the reasons just outlined? A brief description of recent world-historical research is required to illustrate how these approaches encompass less, geographically speaking, and yet more, intellectually speaking, than Paine’s agenda.
Unlike Sea and Civilization, the best in recent world-historical research focuses on problems identified and understood in the Blochian sense. This means following the surviving evidence of the chosen historical phenomenon under study to its limits, terrestrial or maritime, and not constraining oneself to arbitrarily chosen a priori parameters, the usual ones being a particular nation-state’s boundaries, or, in the case of those who do not follow the strictest implication of Bloch’s advice, the whole globe. World history, of course, can be the study of a phenomenon that affected the whole world; but it need not limit itself to this (I am conscious of the irony of my phrasing), nor has it done so, historiographically speaking, most recently, at least since the late-twentieth-century demise of the holistically comparative ‘civilizations’ model practiced most famously by Arnold Toynbee and Oswald Spengler.20 Thus today’s world-history researchers do not set out to construct analyses as narratives forced to cover the encyclopaedically conceived ‘world’, but rather choose world as a metaphor for systems, for networks, for what structuralists used to call économies, for interconnected realities we can understand through evidence of their interconnectedness. This was precisely the intellectual breakthrough Fernand Braudel made when he took the geographer Fritz Rörig’s term Weltwirtschaft and translated it as économie- monde instead of économie du monde in order to capture Rörig’s original meaning of an economic-world-within-the-world;21 and that discovery allowed Braudel to reconceive the Mediterranean as a lived maritime space properly defined as an object of historical analysis not by a pre-existing non-human-created maritime basin but by the extent of its oikos, by the lives lived across its waters, coasts, and, even, periodizations.22 World-historical researchers who discipline their investigations according to this Rörig-Braudelian methodological insight keep an eye on the Blochian question or problem, on the evidence-bound parameters of their particular phenomenon, and follow the tuna and the fishermen, for instance, to wherever the evidence indicates they went, across political, ethnic, and geographical boundaries. They follow evidence about the buyers of the fish, their families and investment networks and commercial retailers, as far as the evidence takes them, insofar as all of these remain pertinent to the theoretical question that inspired the historical investigation in the first place.
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In this sense, most world-historical research may perhaps be partly misleadingly named: it leads astray novices who assume an undergraduate textbook-vision of world history as a historical narrative that must deal exclusively with the whole world, never with just one nation, on the basis of some lexically sound but historiographically essentializing principle that there is only one world (I can recall a tense moment in one breakout session at the 2005 World History Association held in Ifrane, Morocco, when a young scholar in a roundtable discussion attended by Ross Dunn, Terry Burke and other senior scholars, made precisely this mistake). The example of this type of anachronistic reasoning that is furthest from Bloch and Braudel’s thinking is the politically-driven adoption by national educational systems of policies that state that ‘world history’ is the history of foreign nations, oftentimes a view associated with either promotion or denigration of multiculturalism and global citizenship. Incredibly, this remains one of the commonest worldwide pedagogical understandings of the phrase, as Ross Dunn, Weiwei Zhang and others have noted.23
According to this standard of judgment, Paine’s praiseworthy synthesis is frustratingly shallow, and most problematically so because of its reliance on ethno-national labels to organize the narrative: it is more about Egypt and Greece or Chinese and Americans than about fishermen, sailors, captains, or supercargoes, or about the investors, managers, and workers of seafaring ventures. It goes against the grain of the most frequently invoked benefit of world-historical investigations, the possibility of analyzing historical phenomena that transcended the nation-state (or any other type of bounded entity whose adoption as a label by the historian to describe the phenomenon would violate the evidence of its boundary-crossings). The Sea and Civilization is not really interested in world history’s intellectually stimulating multiplication into a richly interconnected family of scholarly conversations on the history of comparative, crosscultural, transnational, transregional, entangled, and histoire croisée phenomena. It will be immediately evident to readers of the International Journal of Maritime History that historical evidence of ‘seascapes’24 as important and, in the most recent centuries, crucial spaces for such examples of ‘unity through connection’25 abounds; yet Paine’s text is not primarily driven by these concerns, despite rising on occasion to the challenge posed by trans-liminal phenomena (perhaps nowhere so well as in his explanation of how medieval Jewish, Christian, and Muslim seafaring merchants in the Mediterranean cross-pollinated each other’s commercial qirad and commenda legal partnerships). And, as one reads on, the nation-state achieves in Paine’s chronicle an increasingly nagging character as an almost anthropomorphized agent of historical events, moving us further and further from a history from the bottom up, again against the grain of the latest world-historical research (one could, of course, mention many, but the work of Gina Harlaftis, Marcus
Rediker, and Sebouh David Aslanian immediately spring to mind as highly different but world-historically complementary approaches to the types of questions posed earlier in this review but not addressed specifically in The Sea and Civilization). And one cannot, in my mind, simply argue for the triumph of the nation-state in modern times: there is simply too much world-historical literature arguing precisely the opposite, that the more nationalism triumphed the more it dialectically spawned or at least encouraged its trans-, cross-, and inter-national other.26
Paine’s introduction, however, indicates a passing familiarity with these recent debates concerning the nature of world-historical analysis. But even here the more complicated theoretical issues are evaded by implicitly pitting ‘world historians’ as synthesizers against ‘historians’, a revival of a Toynbeesque or Spenglerian definition. ‘World history’, he writes, ‘involves the synthetic investigation of complex interactions between people of distinct backgrounds and orientations. It therefore transcends historians’ more traditional focus on politically, religiously, or culturally distinct communities seen primarily in their own terms at a local, national, or regional level.’27 Yes, true; but Paine’s assumption that ‘world history’ should be defined exclusively as a synthesizing process distracts Sea and Civilizations from focusing on more interesting transnational, cross-cultural, entangled, histoire croisée research questions, which, if they rise to the surface of his narrative, do so only occasionally. This mise-en-scène assumes, moreover, that the theoretical challenge for synthesis is to work across nations or peoples and not across socio-economic groupings, class, or other rubrics, within civilizations (the Toynbee-Spengler building blocks), which might organize our evidence of reality more logically.28
This is a methodological choice made by Paine, without clarification, which has serious consequences. It explains (perhaps) the odd effect of a thick tome which so rarely conjures up the perspectives of mariners, of Barry Cunliffe’s coastal dwellers in Facing the Ocean: The Atlantic and Its Peoples, or of Epeli Hau’ofa’s Pacific islanders, or ‘Oceania’ inhabitants, who have historically ‘made nonsense of all national and economic boundaries’ by crisscrossing between land masses,29 seeing the world from the ocean in towards the land and not from the land out towards the ocean and thus ‘reversing,’ as Mat Matsuda notes, ‘the notion of ‘wastes’ and emptiness of water and reimagin[ing] them as oceanic transits’.30 Nor has Paine read Braudel with sufficient perspicacity, for, had he done so, he would have realized that Braudel’s intellectual contribution lay in realizing people’s ‘worlds’ are just as vertically lived and consequently analyzable as they are horizontally mappable; monde, total, global, words which Peter Burke famously noticed over thirty years ago were favourites of Braudel because of their capacity to possess even deeper and historically more revealing meaning when applied vertically rather than horizontally.31 How different would Paine’s book have been had it
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paid more attention to maritime ‘ambiguity’, to describing the lived realities, the ‘distinctive oceanic culture’ shared by those who, despite being ‘protected by the sea from each other’ by ‘facing the ocean’, as Cunliffe explained, also imagined and then realized technological, cultural, and political maritime solidarities in fishing, in sailing, in setting out to sea, despite their linguistic, ethnic, and political differences.32 Paine’s choice to synthesize horizontally across the oceans instead of delving into ‘how navigators see’ (to use Scott Ashley’s felicitous phrasing)33 thus flattens the sociological and cultural depth of Sea and Civilization’s dense and rewarding stories. J. H. Parry’s famous maxim that ‘All the seas of the world are one’34 is only true from the salt water’s point of view, rarely or not at all from the point of view of the humans we want to analyze historically – and the type of rubrics we choose, national, linguistic, socio-economic, matters to how well we grasp the multiplicity of the seas metaphorically cultivated by humanity.
Notwithstanding these issues, professional historians should thank Paine for his achievement because the popular history audience that should read his book will acquire the ability to counter the facile and presentist statements made by those who know little of either maritime or world history. They will be wise, for instance, to the violence done to truth by the joke told by C. C. Tung, ‘chairman, president, and CEO of Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL) of Hong Kong’, in an interview about containerization business executives published in 1980: ‘We say ‘The World is square’, quipped Tung, ‘because global trade as we know it would not exist without the square container’.35 Having smiled at Tung’s half-truthful witticism, Paine’s readers will recognize its inaccuracy, its world-historical myopia. Global trade as well as worlds of trade and maritime activity operating on very large scales did exist before the ‘world’ run and then imagined by today’s CEOs, way before it. In fact, Paine’s readers will learn from his derivative but intelligent synthesis that the historical evidence is that the world’s maritime interconnectedness, at varying levels, goes back thousands of years, to a time that lasted until not too long ago, when the earth was still round and not square.
- M. Lewis and K. Wigen, The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography (Berkeley CA, 1997).
- Markus Vink, ‘Indian Ocean Studies and the “New Thalassology”’, Journal of Global History 2 (2007), 52.
- Marc Bloch, ‘Une étude régionale: géographie ou histoire?’ Annales d’histoire économique et sociale 6, No. 25 (1934), 81.
- Andrew Bevan, ‘Mediterranean Containerization’, Current Anthropology 55 (2014), 387–418.
- Patrick Manning, ‘Global History and Maritime History’, International Journal of Maritime History 25 (2013), 4.
- Daniel Finamore, Maritime History as World History (Salem MA, 2004); Peter Miller, The Sea: Thalassography and Historiography (Ann Arbor MI, 2013).
- O. Spengler, The Decline of the West (New York, 1926); A. Toynbee, A Study of History, vols. I-XII (Oxford, 1934–61).
- Fabio López Lázaro, ‘A Festschrift for Jerry Bentley’, Journal of World History 25 (2014), 467.
- Advocates of ‘global history’ who follow the early approach of Bruce Mazlish differentiate ‘world history’ from a study of phenomena that have globalized the world, which limits world-historical research to something other than the Rörig-Braudel meaning discussed below. See Bruce Mazlish, ‘Comparing Global History and World History’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History 28 (1998), 385–92.
- Ross Dunn, ‘The Two World Histories’, Social Education 72 (2008), 257–63 and Weiwei Zhang, ‘The World from China’, in Douglas Northrop (ed.), A Companion to World History (Chichester, 2012), 405–17.
- Jerry Bentley, Renate Bridenthal and Kären Wigen (eds), Seascapes: Maritime Histories, Littoral Cultures, and Transoceanic Exchanges (Honolulu HI, 2007).
- Kären Wigen, ‘Forum: Oceans of History, Introduction’, American Historical Review 3 (2006), 718.
- One scholar to begin pondering this with is Glenda Sluga, Internationalism in the Age of Nationalism (Philadelphia PA, 2013).
- Paine, Sea and Civilization, 4.
- One could, naturally, find historical phenomena for which both synthesizing and generalizing across civilizations and across sociological groupings would be advised.
- ‘Epeli Hau’ofa, Our Sea of Islands’, The Contemporary Pacific 6 (1994), 151, 153. Hau’ofa’s phrasing may be hyperbolic but it is instructive.
- Matt Matsuda, ‘The Pacific’, American Historical Review 111 (2006), 760.
- Peter Burke, ‘Fernand Braudel’, in John Cannon (ed.), The Historian at Work (London, 1980), 192.
- Barry Cunliffe, Facing the Ocean: The Atlantic and its Peoples (Oxford, 2001), 567.
- Scott Ashley, ‘How Navigators Think: The Death of Captain Cook Revisited’, Past and Present 194 (2007), 107.
- J. H. Parry, The Discovery of the Sea (Berkeley CA, 1981), xi.
- Frank Broeze, The Globalisation of the Oceans: Containerisation from the 1950s to the Present (St. Johns, 2002), 1. (Broeze’s source for the Tung quote is Fiona Gilmore (ed.), Brand Warriors: Corporate Leaders Share Their Winning Strategies (London, 1997), 80.
* * * * *
University of Pittsburgh, USA
This is surely the most comprehensive maritime history yet written: it balances time frame, regional focus, and topical emphasis in the maritime history of the past five millennia. It relies on an impressively broad bibliography. It is above all a narrative of maritime history; that is, of shipping, commerce, and the accompanying social history. As the title indicates, the author seeks in addition to provide an interpretation of civilization as seen through a maritime optic. As a result, one can say that the book includes two narratives at the world-historical level: one of maritime history and the other of civilization.
Maritime history emphasizes technology, commerce, war, and the labour and leadership in each. Paine’s narrative of maritime history presents recurring episodes of commercial success leading to the search for expanded markets, and thereby to maritime connections that transform regions and bring political shifts. The narrative is worth recounting briefly. The opening chapter provides a prologue on the creation and use of watercraft in Polynesia and pre-colonial North America – far away in space and time from classical civilizations yet confirming forcefully how small-scale societies can achieve technical advance. Then three chapters narrate the Mediterranean and the Middle East to 1000 BCE, beginning with Egyptian shipping and its influence on the Levant and Mediterranean. Four further chapters address the period from 1000 BCE to 200 CE in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and the South China Sea, tracing the periodic links among these watery regions. The next two chapters show how, especially from 400 to 700 CE, the monsoons unified shipping from East Africa to South China, in the era of Byzantium, the Sassanians, Chola, and Sri Vijaya. Three more chapters, on the era from 700 to 1200 CE, explore the commercial unification of northern Europe with the Mediterranean, in the west, and the deeper interplay of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific (the era of the Tang and the Abbasids) in the east. In one more wave of interactions, three chapters trace maritime interactions from 1200 to 1500, concluding with the Spanish and Portuguese pre-eminence in all the oceans during the sixteenth century.
From chapter 15 to the end of the book, the author assumes persistent maritime connections throughout the world: Western Europeans held the lynchpin to global trade beginning in 1500, though Russia and the U.S. enter this scene quietly and late. Within this global framework, steam and other power sources reorganized transit and warfare in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, while containers reorganized commerce of the twenty-first century. These latter chapters, portraying their tales across a single worldwide scene, appear less lively and interactive than those preceding Yet Chapter 20, in concluding on the maritime world since the 1950s, is an eye-opener. Paine divides the chapter into four brief and brilliant essays: on containers; flags of convenience; fisheries and the commons; and the U.S. world fleet. To get the full effect of the numerous continuities and transformations arising there, I urge readers to pair it with reading of earlier chapters, especially Chapters 8 and 13. Overall, this maritime-historical narrative highlights fluctuating growth in shipping and trade. The themes within this narrative centre on shipbuilding, commercial practice, labour and war.
Intertwined with Paine’s maritime narrative is his civilizational narrative, with focus on the state, society, culture, religion, and war. Does this volume create a new civilizational history as well as a long maritime narrative? Yes, in political terms, in that it insists that the histories of Abbasids and Tang regimes be written in connection rather than in isolation because of their maritime links; yes in revealing the commercial situations in which city-states and other small polities rise and fall. Certainly yes, in religious terms, in demonstrating that all major religions have moved by maritime as well as terrestrial paths. Paine’s civilizational narrative shows the maritime aspect of Buddhism’s flowering and decline in China, the timing of Buddhism and then Hinduism in Southeast Asia, and the successive expansion of Islam in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and the South China Sea. Paine is less emphatic in using maritime patterns to explain the expansion of Christianity in later times, but readers should be able to see the parallel.
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As Paine’s civilizational and political narrative reaches the past five centuries, he portrays early-modern rivalries primarily in terms of European nations. He thus leaves aside the attention, in recent scholarship on empires, to the contrast of national and imperial perspectives: that is, Albion vs. the Empire, the hexagon vs. ‘la mission civilisatrice’, and continental U.S. vs. the superpower. Paine’s focus on the global commercial interconnections, adjusted a bit, could contribute a lot to this discussion. Further, more attention to empire in this volume would have provided a way to encompass, in its global maritime narrative, regions otherwise marginalized: most of Africa, most of the Americas, and most of the island Pacific.
Overall, in Paine’s interlacing of maritime and civilizational narratives, the narrative of maritime history appears stronger than that of civilizational centres. That is, the history of interacting commercial and migratory networks, ranging across the globe and linking its regions, makes for a more compelling history than the sequential and segmented history of great states and their frontiers. One such example is Paine’s successful tale of Europe’s commercial unification in medieval times through expanded maritime contact. Curiously, the very success of this story raises in a new way the question of why Portugal and Spain were able to dominate the world’s oceans for a century with so little challenge.
I turn now to a third view of Paine’s volume, asking how he contributes to the various themes in world history. Broad themes on which he chose to comment include technology, innovation, law, social history, warfare, and state rivalries.
In technology, one is not surprised to see Paine’s strength in describing ship construction. His portrayal of birch canoes, Polynesian vessels, Egyptian craft, Siberian river boats, clippers, steamships, submarines, and massive container ships, show his mastery of this traditional tool of maritime history. On the broader question of innovation in world history, he provides skilful description of how regional centres of innovation, resulting especially from commercial success, led to steadily broader connections. In law, Paine gives a valuable interpretation of legal developments and fluctuations. He shows maritime law to have been propelled by shifts in commercial patterns rather than by the decisions rendered in regal courts, as he traces the development of contracts in the Mediterranean, the early modern claims over the oceans, the subsequent theory of an oceanic commons, then the return to claims of oceanic property as nations consolidated.
This book’s treatments of navies and naval warfare, while clear and careful, are relatively concise. This is partly because naval warfare was rarely well documented before recent times, with notable exceptions for the Greeks, Romans, and Japanese. Only one chapter centres mainly on warfare, the penultimate chapter. Paine conveys the impression that commerce and shipping, rather than warfare, have been the backbone of maritime life in most times and places.
In social history, Paine writes remarkably well in summarizing unfamiliar situations: his tales of merchants and monarchs of China, the East African coast and Varangia benefit from his courageously detailed recounting. But I would have preferred to encounter more maritime history from below: more about the sailors’ perspectives and contributions, more about the mutual dependence of elementary and advanced technology, more about maritime struggles in social struggles generally. Within his skilful technological discussions, there remains his tendency to focus on top-level advances, downplaying the
improvements in handling of lines and cargo developed by overworked sailors on the job. Similarly, it would have been good to have his description of ship construction and modification in the Atlantic slave trade. The absence of Marcus Rediker’s works from the extensive bibliography surprised me. In migration, for both the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, his analyses address the early-stage trades of the sixteenth century more than the huge migratory flows of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In describing the era of migration by steam, he chose to focus on European migration to the exclusion of the somewhat larger Asian migrant flows.
As a final point from a world-historical perspective, Paine is to be commended for his ability to write for an audience that is transnational, with interests ranging across time, space, and subject matter. The very breadth and comprehensiveness of this grand synthesis encourages the reader not only to follow along with a well-told story but also to reflect critically on every interpretive argument. The author’s attention to detail encourages the reader to set high standards in this regard. For instance, Paine’s impressively careful and thorough annotation of images challenges the reader to explore each image exhaustively. Finally, Paine leaves the reader with a substantial puzzle: it is the progressive invisibility of maritime life at present, even as its importance in commerce grows. His elegant recounting of the maritime past demonstrates the centrality of life at sea in the long human experience; his conclusion opens the door to visualizing the continued centrality of the sea in today’s potentially overwhelming transformations.
* * * * *
The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World
A roundtable response by Lincoln Paine
As anyone who has ever read two or more reviews of the same work knows, the parable of the blind men and the elephant is really about launching a book into the world. This can be exasperating at times, particularly for authors who are themselves reviewers (or teachers) and more accustomed to judging than being judged. But reading reviews of one’s work is more often than not a salutary exercise (people who claim not to are missing out), if only for the gratification of reading an affirmation of some aspect of their effort. So I begin with the acknowledgement of my thanks, not only for the kind things that Patrick Manning, Paul Buell, John Gillis, and Fabio López Lázaro have written, but for the time they have taken to give The Sea and Civilization such close readings and for the thoughtful critiques that flow from that.
The Sea and Civilization focuses on maritime communities, with a particular consideration not only for what Pat Manning describes as a transnational audience of varied interests, but for the interactions within and among what he has written about elsewhere as ‘large geographical regions, wide slices of time and a broad range of human and natural phenomena’.36 My intent was not to overlook city-states, kingdoms, or empires; indeed maritime enterprise is often a barometer of state formation, even when it cannot be explicitly implicated in it. However, a concentration on maritime contacts between
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distant lands reveals distinct patterns of cross-cultural influence and metamorphosis. Elongated and easily mutable frontier zones yield to more compact zones of interaction, whether in ports of trade, merchants’ quarters that Steve Gosch has described as ‘functional equivalents of ports of trade’, or in larger but nonetheless localized creole communities such as those of the Muslim Mappila of the Kerala coast of southwest India.37
An underlying premise is that mariners have been responsible for a significant share – wildly disproportionate to the numbers of people involved – of the cultural, commercial, and political integration of the world throughout history. Merchant mariners carried more diverse and greater quantities of goods, prompted more creative legal and institutional innovations, and devised more technological solutions to the barriers of distance that separated remote regions than any other occupational group. Mariners were not alone in effecting the myriad changes required for large-scale transformations, but in many respects they have always been in the vanguard. Mechanisms that facilitate the transportation of goods are central to the idea of commercial revolution. While the innovative ‘methods of commerce . . . in such fields as banking’38 that contributed to the commercial revolution emerged chiefly in thirteenth-century Italy, for instance, these did not spring fully formed from the minds of Italian merchants. They were the product of centuries of financial experimentation, nurturing of commercial networks, and technological innovation that reached into the Mediterranean by way of people’s interactions and connections with the trading networks of Africa and Eurasia. And in the forefront of these developments were merchant mariners, the speed, scale, and scope of whose business, and whose first-hand engagement with people of distinct cultural backgrounds and orientations, made them a primary force of change.
What is especially remarkable about the achievement of commercial mariners throughout history is that they have been able to forge transregional and transcultural links even as consolidated polities of various kinds were multiplying (and often throwing up barriers in the process), or major religions like Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism were expanding. In such circumstances, merchant seamen had to engage directly in the reconciliation of distinct and theoretically incompatible legal regimes (often rooted in religious doctrine) that governed the terms of trade. While individual rulers or regimes could be capricious, however, on balance the trend towards state formation conferred significant advantages for long-distance traders, especially in the form of large, secure, and predictable markets. And it is interesting to note that while religious law could be antithetical to modern concepts of liberalized trade, practices such as extraterritoriality and the formulation of contractual obligations that could sustain challenges from within and among different religious and secular legal traditions are integral to the framework of modern international law.
The Sea and Civilization takes human interaction with the maritime environment writ large as, to quote Dan Finamore, ‘a fundamental factor of world history, not a dissociated force of particularist concern’,39 and seeks to demonstrate the fact that, as Poul Holm has
written – and John Gillis seems to concur – maritime history is ‘an essential ingredient in any historian’s toolbox’.40
While readers of the International Journal of Maritime History are familiar with maritime historiography, it would be beneficial to offer my own assessment of both it and world historiography. As I explain in the introduction to The Sea and Civilization, large-scale world history involves synthesizing and comparing how people of diverse sensibilities, beliefs, and occupations interact. While the focus of inquiry moves away from distinct groups seen more or less in their own terms, it is these groups, of variable orientation and scale down to the individual, that constitute the raw material of world historical narratives. As Manning puts it, ‘our research frameworks need to account explicitly for the global as well as the regional level of experience’.41 We must see the specific in the general, and the general in the specific. To adopt the imagery of William Blake, world history’s mandate is ‘To see a world in a grain of sand . . . Hold infinity in the palm of your hand’.42
A review of the salient literature regarding the historiography of world maritime history yields several recurrent concepts that must be considered in order to anchor the discussion that follows more firmly: maritime history, total history, world history, and the use of sea and ocean basins as units of geographic inquiry. Central to this exercise, and increasingly to debates about the nature of world and global history, is the concept of maritime history – maritime in the sense of having to do with movement along and across the waters as distinct from living on and gleaning a living from the shore. Although maritime matters have never been entirely ignored or written out of the human record, they have generally been taken for granted. As Frank Broeze notes in his seminal 1989 article, ‘From the Periphery to the Mainstream’, the majority of people are ‘passive consumers’ of maritime services of all kinds and have been content to marginalize seafarers and their communities.43 To the extent that maritime history was regarded as a discipline worthy of serious consideration, until fairly recently the emphasis was on European voyages of exploration and naval affairs, a trend that was most pronounced in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
It is also worth noting that, as Finamore writes, in and of itself ‘the term maritime history is . . . profoundly uninformative’, partly because it presents such a daunting canvas out of all proportion to the population directly engaged with its mysteries.44 (Today, there are about 1.2 million seafarers in international trade worldwide, which means that less than two one-hundredths of one per cent of the world’s population is responsible for moving 90 per cent of the world’s freight.)45
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Broeze was the first to define a ‘conceptual framework’ of maritime history, which he ‘based on the different uses [people] make both of the sea itself and of what the sea represents to them’. These include:
- using the resources of the sea and its subsoil;
- using the sea (usually its surface) for transport;
- using the sea for power projection;
- scientific exploration;
- leisure activities; and
- the inspiration of the sea in culture and ‘ideology’.46
While this framework is not necessarily applicable for all places and all times, and some – myself included – question the utility of demarcating saltwater from fresh, as a guideline for inquiry Broeze’s formulation leaves little room for material improvement. Historians from across a wide range of maritime subspecialties have invoked his basic principles. Amélia Polónia has written that ‘Maritime history in its widest sense is usually understood as a field of research which encompasses all the dynamics which result from, and are required by, the ways humans use the sea’.47 Gelina Harlaftis has called it ‘the history of the relationship of the many peoples who live on its shores with their ancient sea’.48 And William Flayhart has used the term ‘to indicate the full range of subjects dealing with the interaction of mankind and the sea’.49
Gillis’s call for greater attention to tidal and estuarial matters falls within Broeze’s first point, ‘using the resources of the sea’, but I think what distinguishes Gillis’s marine orientation from my own (and, I suspect, Broeze’s) maritime one is the idea of navigability. As Gillis says, ‘the margin between sea and land [is] a distinct place in its own right, with a history and geography all its own’ – one that I would like to read, but the writing of which I would leave to others. Even so, I would like to offer a slight corrective. While I do not go so far as to discuss early hominids’ marine diet and the encephalization that seems to have resulted from it, I do address the role of the marine environment on the spread and development of early human societies, for example with respect to littoral migration out of Africa and, in a more recent period, a discussion of Peruvian coastal societies that relies in part on Michael E. Moseley’s Maritime Foundations of Andean Civilization (1975).50 That I do not make this a primary theme of the book does not mean that I feel it unimportant, but as Manning observes in connection with my lack of emphasis on the dissemination of Christianity by sea after 1500, I hope that readers pick up the parallels.
Gillis also makes a valid case for marine history, but I don’t think I can be reproached for not having written one. That was not my intent, and as he acknowledges in writing
‘marine, as opposed to maritime history, is largely ignored’, they are entirely different approaches to history. The editors of The Exploited Seas: New Directions for Marine Environmental History provide a fuller explanation, noting that marine history combines ‘the approaches of maritime history and ecological science’ to contribute to ‘the field of environmental history . . . a distinctive branch of historical enquiry’, one that identifies ‘mankind as but one factor in a broad ecological network of complex interactions’. My own interest in history is, in their phrase, ‘markedly anthropocentric’.51 That said, I am certainly aware of mankind’s catastrophic impact on the marine environment, and far from ignoring ‘the dark side of human innovation and the corresponding increase pollution and extinction’, I sketch in broad but grim strokes the deleterious effects of industrial fishing and other forms of environmental degradation. While I acknowledge that maritime technology has made advances in both efficiency and safety, I also discuss modern society’s collective alienation from the marine environment, and the book’s conclusion assesses the benefits of and damages from maritime enterprise from antiquity to the present.
Even setting aside littoral landscapes and environmental history, such an allencompassing approach as Broeze advances poses special obstacles to the historian, who runs the very real risk of being a Jack-tar of all trades and master of none. For, as Paul Buell observes, the maritime historian is expected to be conversant with a range of specialist disciplines, from archaeology to business, economic, naval and diplomatic history, and state formation to environmental change, technology, and exploration. Invoking Fernand Braudel’s The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Harlaftis maintains, ‘It is the “total history” of the Annales School that inspired the emergence of maritime history as a sub-discipline and which stressed an interdisciplinary approach to the past that made history the main axis for a synthesis of all the social sciences’.52
Others are not so sure. Polónia, for one, asks whether maritime history is on the verge of becoming a ‘total history which encompasses all domains of knowledge, including those traditionally delegated to other social sciences, cultural studies or even the biological and environmental sciences’ – an approach Gillis would presumably welcome.53 The issue here is not whether all maritime historical monographs, books, and theses should strive to draw on all disciplines at once, any more than a history rooted in one or another terrestrial theme should. It is a matter of noting that maritime historians can cast a wide net, and that the discipline has shed its tight antiquarian carapace to grow a new one. Maritime Historian 2.0 can legitimately indulge world-historical aspirations on a par with those of more land-oriented peers.
Interestingly enough, world history and maritime history have undergone parallel changes over the past century or so. If maritime history was shunned for its tendency to
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fetishize artefacts, from sailors’ cap ribbons to whole ships, as the rise of the nation-state drove the need for national histories in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, world history was likewise disdained as an ‘amateur pursuit’, despite an august lineage at least as old as Herodotus and Sima Qian. In the twentieth century, a handful of historians undertook the synthesizing work of world history, among them H. G. Wells, whose onevolume Outline of History, Being a Plain History of Life and Mankind appeared in 1920; Oswald Spengler, author of the two-volume The Decline of the West (1918–22); and Arnold Toynbee, whose magisterial A Study of History ran to twelve volumes published between 1933 and 1961. At a time when national history was rooted in the analysis of political archives, these worldly historians were viewed as ‘philosophical gadflies’ whose work and concerns lay outside the modern and increasingly narrow scope of inquiry that prevailed in the academy.54
Buell’s pointed dismissal of The Sea and Civilization as ‘just a general survey’ and Lazaro’s insistence that ‘professional historians’ choose ‘world as a metaphor for systems’ and that I do not adhere to Marc Bloch’s vision of ‘the proper scale and scope of history’ show that this belief still has its adherents. Whatever its considerable virtues, however, the annales school with which Bloch is so closely associated does not lend itself to writing non-metaphorical world history. This is not because the world is too much, but because annales methodology isn’t well suited to the evidence available on a global scale. This is clear enough from The Annales and History on a World Scale, the essays which, the editors’ aspirations notwithstanding, do little to resolve ‘the fundamental intellectual and political dilemma of expanding the ‘‘Western’’ historical field beyond the so-called ‘‘Western’’ world’.55
Yet, attitudes towards the writing and reception of large-scale world history began to change following World War II.56 This was partly because the new nation-states calved from Europe’s rapidly melting colonial empires required their own non-colonial histories, but thanks also to the influence of developments in other academic disciplines. William H. McNeill, whose The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (1963) signalled the start of a new generation in world history, cites as his most profound influence the idea of ‘cultural borrowing’ elucidated not by historians but by social anthropologists. 57 He applied to civilisations as a whole the idea that ‘historical change was largely provoked by encounters with strangers, followed by efforts to borrow (or sometimes to reject or hold at bay) especially attractive novelties’, and in so doing came to view civilisations as ‘the main actors in world history’.58 My book’s title notwithstanding, I was not
entirely aware of trying to create the ‘civilizational narrative’ that Manning finds, and in writing about ‘interacting commercial and migratory networks’, I often felt that I was focussing more on the mostly unknown people who were the vectors of civilization than on the civilisations themselves. Two years after publication, however, the forest is becoming more apparent than the trees.
McNeill was not alone in identifying interdependency as a leit motif of world history. In 1954, as McNeill began writing The Rise of the West, Marshall Hodgson published an article in which he identified ‘interdependent, interregional developments’ as the essential building blocks for world historical inquiry.59 While the primacy of civilisations as agents of change has been questioned, not least by McNeill himself, sixty years on, Hodgson and McNeill’s nearly simultaneous identification of the significance of phenomena ‘such as cultural contact and exchange and movements that have had a global or at least a transregional impact’ remains a cornerstone of world history, and they should be a central concern to maritime historians as well, regardless of the scale at which they are writing.60
Among the earliest concerted efforts to offer a comparative assessment of Afro- Eurasian historical developments were Philip Curtin’s Cross-Cultural Trade in World History (1984) and Janet Abu-Lughod’s Before European Hegemony (1989). These works differ in their approach, but both authors are acutely aware of the long shadow Europe cast over the centuries after 1500. Curtin acknowledges that he ‘tried to avoid a Western ethnocentric outlook’,61 while Abu-Lughod asserts that ‘“the West won” in the sixteenth century’, and is at pains to balance the period 1250–1350 against the subsequent world system over which ‘the West was clearly hegemonic’.62
Both of these works were influenced by Immanuel Wallerstein’s world-system analysis, which he used to distinguish the capital-intensive globalized age so apparent in the period after 1500 from all that came before. Among the salient features of the modern world-system were capital accumulation and economic relationships between core, semi-periphery, and periphery countries. While a case can be made that people did accumulate capital by investing in infrastructure like ships, ports, and institutions to protect merchants,63 the core-periphery paradigm is less apparent from deck level. While I never wanted to shift the focus entirely away from states to merchant mariners, among others who work in and around the sea, I tried to write what André Gunder Frank describes as a ‘humanocentric history’ that draws attention to the work of people working outside the ‘ideological affirmations of cultural self’, which aptly characterizes the nature of traders throughout history.64 To put it another way, I have tried to re-imagine history from ‘the
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deck of the ship . . . the high gallery of the trading house’.65 This was J. C. Van Leur’s denunciation of the European historiography of the East Indies of his day; but his real objection seems to have been that the view was always through European eyes, and not from the ships and counting houses of local merchants and mariners.
In this regard, given the degree to which Marcus Rediker has influenced my thinking about maritime history and culture, I was as surprised as Manning to realise that my notes and bibliography cite none of his work. At the same time, while I did not write a history from the bottom up, and could always have incorporated more about ‘overworked sailors on the job’ (though at the expense of something else), I do try to trace the evolution of the common mariner’s place in society and within the shipping community. As I point out for a range of societies from classical and Byzantine Greece, to China, to Europe in the eighteenth century, and globally today, society at large has more often than not disdained, when it has not altogether ignored, sailors, whom it almost invariably casts as ‘poorly salaried “crew” [to be] exploited chiefly for their physical strength and routinely cheated’.66
World Maritime History
That world and maritime history have consolidated as academic disciplines at roughly the same time is hardly surprising. So long as interactions between groups of people are viewed as fundamental to world historians’ inquiries, a proper understanding of the role of maritime connections will be essential. As Polónia notes, ‘world history requires maritime history as a research field in order to understand global dynamics’.67 Regardless of one’s perspective, globalization is an established fact in little of danger of being reversed or significantly deflected in the foreseeable future.68 This is obvious for the period since 1500, but it is no less true of earlier centuries, which are rich in examples of what Manning elsewhere calls ‘previously unsuspected or under-appreciated dynamics in world history’, not the least of which is the ‘great divergence’ that favoured Asia over Europe.69
While maritime history has much to teach us about world history, it should not be considered only for the insights it offers into large-scale transformations on a global or interhemispheric scale. As Gillis notes, for most of history, most of the people engaged in maritime industries kept to local waters, whether for fishing or trading along coasts, rivers, or lakes. They were not necessarily cosmopolitan in outlook, nor were they any more inquisitive than their neighbours ashore. Going to sea for most people was a lumpen job, not a vocation. As Joshua Smith argues, ‘Maritime history can be international and comparative, but it does not have to be, and local and national histories can be just as academically rigorous and important as those that are international in scope’.70 Nonetheless, there
is a growing tendency to see maritime history as fit only for a large, if not necessarily global, canvas, and in the past decade one of the most vigorous debates about the proper scope of maritime and world history concerns the use of sea and ocean basins as units of inquiry.
In 1999, The Geographical Review published Oceans Connect, a special issue that served as, in the words of one article title, ‘A Maritime Response to the Crisis in Area Studies’.71 A largely American phenomenon that developed as an academic response to the emergence of the United States as a superpower with worldwide responsibilities after World War II, ‘area studies offered a vision of the world that reflected the political, military, and economic concerns of the cold war era’.72 The demise of a Communist ‘second world’ after 1989 and the growth of globalization that followed from China’s re-entry into the world economy undermined traditional support for area studies, which had been viewed as something of a strategic imperative. Like national history, area studies focused on discrete regions of the world identified by geography, culture, and political background and studied them in depth; comparative analysis was secondary and inter-area contacts and influence were marginal.73
The idea of using a single sea ‘for bringing focus to processes of commercial, biological, and cultural exchange, which have profoundly influenced the development of both individual societies and the world as a whole’74 was most forcefully encouraged by Braudel, whose The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World introduced the idea of looking at sea and ocean basins in a similar fashion.75 Although the Mediterranean is an imperfect model, Braudel’s multidimensional analysis has inspired historians to treat many of the world’s sea and ocean basins as coherent units of study.
This is an enlightening exercise that enables us to consider cross-cultural and transnational connections without constant reference to the mutable fiction of political borders that so complicate national and regional history on the ground. At the same time, we run the risk of replacing one set of arbitrary terrestrial boundaries with an equally arbitrary division of the world oceans, and of adopting facile analogies. So, Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell, vigorous advocates of ‘the new thalassology’, write, ‘Although the Mediterranean appears to be a conspicuous example of the type of network through which other new regions tend to be defined, its distinctive historical regimes of connectivity actually turn out to be very unusual, and notably hard to parallel in other parts of
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the world’.76 This would appear self-evident, but the vision of Southeast Asian and Baltic ‘Mediterraneans’ seems indelible. Although the Mediterranean is not an ideal exemplar, the adoption of a sea or ocean basin as a more or less self-contained unit of study can be helpful ‘for bringing focus to processes of commercial, biological, and cultural exchange’ within a reasonably coherent and contained area – even if the ocean in question is not meaningfully circumscribed by land, as in the case of the Indian Ocean.77
Yet this approach is not without shortcomings, some of which its advocates acknowledge, others of which they have ignored. Among the most discussed is the ambiguity of sea names. Notwithstanding cartographers’ confident labelling of maps, there is significant disagreement about how to parcel the waters of the world into discreet bays, gulfs, straits, channels, seas, and oceans. The names by which we know such bodies today frequently mislead. ‘English Channel’ is a seventeenth-century coinage possibly bestowed by Dutch cartographers. Ptolemy had used the name Mare Britannicum, although the Britons never dominated these waters as the English and British would later. Similarly, the Chinese would have been the last people to call the South China Sea by that name (at least until recently), though they do call it the Nanhai, or South Sea. Indian mariners were active in the Indian Ocean, but there was no Indian nation in antiquity. The Jerusalem-born, tenth-century geographer al- Muqaddasi wrote of the ‘Sea of China’, which ‘at one end touches the country of China, at the other that of the Abyssinians’, with many gulfs and inlets in between.78 Half a millennium later, Ibn Khaldun explained that ‘This sea is called the Chinese, Indian, or Abyssinian Sea’, all of which refer to something much larger than what we think of as the Indian Ocean:
It is bordered on the south by the country of the Negroes [Zanj] and the country of Berbera. . . . The sea is then bordered by the area of Mogadishu, Sufalah, and the land of al-Waqwaq, and other nations beyond which there is nothing but waste and empty areas. On the north, where it starts, it is bordered by China, then by Eastern and Western India [al-Hind and as-Sind], and then by the coast of the Yemen.79
Today, this watery expanse is referred to as the Monsoon Seas, which flow from East Africa to China and include not only the Indian Ocean, but also the Java Sea and China Seas, the collective name for the Yellow Sea (including the Bohai), East China Sea, and South China Sea. At least one scholar has attempted to name this stretch of water the Indian Ocean Trade Ecumene, or IOTE. Sterile-sounding though this is, such a sinuous
conception of oceanic space has far more to do with patterns of long-distance voyaging than do more familiar names based on an arbitrary, bird’s-eye view of the earth.80
For maritime historians, a more serious objection to the adoption of sea and ocean basins as unifying concepts is that they can distort our idea of how sailors envisioned the seas they sailed. In some cases they create overly large areas that ignore the contributions of local and regional maritime enterprise – that is to say, the majority of sailors who never left their home waters – or by circumscribing the activities of long-distance mariners who were not confined to one sea. Even as we wonder who named al-Muqadassi’s Sea of China, we have to consider the circuit of Jewish and Muslim mariners who traded on both the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. It is true that despite desultory efforts even during the period in question, the Red Sea and Mediterranean would not be joined by a water route until the nineteenth century. Regardless, ocean basin geography overlooks the fact that merchant mariners are essentially amphibious creatures. Whether their landward peregrinations took them no farther than the local custom house or fonduk, or the length of Egypt’s Eastern Desert or Sinai Peninsula, sea traders had to navigate two worlds, one subject chiefly to the laws of nature, the other to the laws of man.
Another criticism of the basin concept is that its proponents all but ignore rivers and canals as conduits of maritime trade. Inland waters barely rate a mention in any of the articles published in the Oceans Connect issue of The Geographical Review or the ‘Oceans of History’ forum in the American Historical Review.81 Given that rivers often provided the most efficient means of transporting goods between seaports and inland markets, and that many of the world’s primary ports have been located on or near rivers and other inland water corridors – Cairo, Yangzhou, Guangzhou, Palembang, Baghdad, Seville, Rouen, London, York, Dorestad, Cologne, Novgorod, Kiev, New Orleans, St. Louis, Montreal, and Manaus, for example – this neglect is remarkable. The erection of conceptual barriers between blue-water, coastal, and inland navigation subverts the essential unity of maritime enterprise and ignores a fundamental truth of maritime history. Just as the history of maritime enterprise has to straddle land and water, it also has to straddle fresh water and salt.
There is a small irony in this oversight. Advocates of the new thalassology view their project as having a significance that builds upon ‘conceptual geographies of beaches, oceans and islands’, but they ignore even the symbolic potency of rivers.82 Estuaries are
600 The International Journal of Maritime History 28(3)
ecological frontiers that mirror the cultural mélange found in ports. Like maritime trade routes, their currents swell and ebb by the season, sometimes fading to a trickle due to conditions deep in their hinterlands. Rivers in spate can jump their banks and carve out new channels to accommodate the increased volume of water, just as maritime trade routes skirt pockets of geographic, bureaucratic, or infrastructural resistance to meet the demands of markets. And traced on the page or a globe, the sea routes of any age bear an uncanny resemblance to rivers. Indeed, to carry the analogy further, rivers and manmade canals are tributaries and distributaries that link with sea routes to form far-ranging networks and webs – a more dynamic image for a global age than that of globular, selfcontained seas and oceans. Like all historical metaphors, systems, and paradigms, however, that of the river is deficient, and I offer it only to reinforce the notion that rivers and other inland waters must be considered an essential component of maritime history, and that no single analogy is universally applicable.
John Gillis concludes by asking about my own relationship to the sea. I have never understood why maritime historians seem to get asked this question more than others – ‘You’re an economist? How interesting. Have you ever been part of an economy?’ – though I suspect it may have to do with Broeze’s concern over ‘the inspiration of the sea in culture and “ideology”’.83 Be that as it may, in Josh Smith’s formulation, I am ‘a bit of a traditionalist’, although I am not strictly an academic. (And at the risk of seeming unappreciative for Gillis’s accolade, I am in no way ‘the [or even “a”] leading historian of ship building and naval technology’.) To the extent that I am interested in making maritime history accessible to a broad public, I also have what Smith would characterize as ‘utilitarian’ tendencies.84 I have served as a trustee of the American Sail Training Association and Maine Maritime Museum, and worked on several tall ship gatherings, though much of my professional career has been as an academic and trade nonfiction editor and writer. As for hands-on experience of the sea, I try to live by Commander Walker’s advice to the Swallows: ‘If not duffers won’t drown’.85
36. Patrick Manning, Navigating World History: Historians Create a Global Past (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003), 170.
37. Steve Gosch, ‘Cross-Cultural Trade as a Framework for Teaching World History’, The History Teacher 27, 4 (1994), 425–31, 429.
38. Peter Spufford, Power and Profit: The Merchant in Medieval Europe (London, 2002), 16.
39. Daniel Finamore, ‘Introduction’, in Daniel Finamore (ed.), Maritime History as World History (Gainesville FL, 2008), 1.
40. Poul Holm, ‘Danish Maritime History, 1976–1992: A Review’, in Frank Broeze (ed.), Maritime History at the Crossroads: A Critical Review of Recent Historiography, 81–112 (St. John’s, 1995), 81.
41. Manning, Navigating World History, 332.
42. William Blake, ‘Auguries of Innocence’, Songs of Innocence and of Experience (London, 1789).
43. Frank Broeze, ‘From the Periphery to the Mainstream: The Challenge of Australia’s Maritime History’, The Great Circle 11, 1 (1989), 1–13, 2.
44. Finamore, ‘Introduction’, 1.
45. 1.2 million seafarers: Round Table of international shipping associations, http://www.marisec. org/shippingfacts/worldtrade/world-seafarers.php.
46. Broeze, ‘From the Periphery to the Mainstream’, 6.
47. Amélia Polónia, ‘Maritime History: A Gateway to Global History?’, in Maria Fusaro and Amélia Polónia (eds), Maritime History as Global History (St. John’s, 2010), 1.
48. Gelina Harlaftis, ‘Maritime History since Braudel’, in Gelina Harlaftis and Carmel Vassallo (eds), New Directions in Mediterranean Maritime History (St. John’s, 2004), 1.
49. William Henry Flayhart, III, ‘Oceanic Historiography: The American Dimension’, in Broeze (ed.), Maritime History at the Crossroads, 250.
50. M.E. Moseley, Maritime Foundations of Andean Civilization (San Francisco, 1974).
51. Poul Holm, David J. Starkey, and Tim D. Smith, ‘Introduction’, in The Exploited Seas: New Directions for Marine Environmental History (St. John’s, 2001), xiii.
52. Harlaftis, ‘Maritime History since Braudel’, 2.
53. Polónia, ‘Maritime History: A Gateway to Global History?’, 6.
54. Manning, Navigating World History, 10.
55. Étienne Anheim, Romain Bertrand, Antoine Lilti, and Stephen Sawyer (eds), The Annales and History on a World Scale (Paris, 2014), http://annales.ehess.fr/index.php?252 (accessed 14 April 2016).
56. Although Buell seems keen on finding errors, his suggestion that I ignore Quanzhou in favour of Hangzhou is not borne out by the text. The name Quanzhou occurs twenty-five times, those of Hangzhou and Lin’an (not Linyi, which is in modern Vietnam) 21 times.
57. William H. McNeill, ‘The Changing Shape of World History’, in History and Theory, Theme issue: World Historians and Their Critics 34, 2 (1995), 14.
58. McNeill, ‘The Changing Shape of World History’, 15.
59. Marshall G. S. Hodgson, ‘Hemispheric Inter-regional History as an Approach to World History’, Journal of World History 1 (1954), 717.
60. World History Association, ‘What is World History’, http://www.thewha.org/world_history. php (accessed 30 October 2015).
61. Philip D. Curtin, Cross-Cultural Trade in World History (Cambridge, 1984), ix.
62. Janet Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250–1350 (New York, 1989), 4, 354.
63. Andre Gunder Frank, ‘A Plea for World System History’, Journal of World History 2, 1 (1991), 18.
64. Frank, ‘A Plea for World System History’, 3.
65. J. C. Van Leur, Indonesian Trade and Society (The Hague, 1955), 261.
66. Paine, The Sea and Civilization, 225.
67. Polónia, ‘Maritime History: A Gateway to Global History?’, 15.
68. On cultural convergence and difference due to globalisation, see Manning, Navigating World History, 232.
69. ‘previously unsuspected’: Manning, Navigating World History, 115.
70. Joshua M. Smith, ‘Far Beyond Jack Tar: Maritime Historians and the Problem of Audience,’ Coriolis 2, 2 (2011), 2; emphasis in original.
71. Martin W. Lewis and Kären Wigen, ‘A Maritime Response to the Crisis in Area Studies’, The Geographical Review 89, 2, Oceans Connect (1999), 161–68.
72. Jerry H. Bentley, ‘Sea and Ocean Basins as Frameworks of Historical Analysis’, The Geographical Review 89, 2, Oceans Connect (1999), 222.
73. Manning, Navigating World History, 155.
74. Bentley, ‘Sea and Ocean Basins as Frameworks of Historical Analysis’, 215.
75. Manning, Navigating World History, 92, 218, 270–71. Alas, there is nothing new under the sun. More than a hundred years earlier Alexander von Humboldt had described the Caribbean as ‘a Mediterranean in several ways’ (Humboldt, Voyage aux régions équinoxiales (1817), vol. 4, 205–06, in Rebok, ‘A New Approach’). And in the United States, DeWitt Clinton exhorted the people of New York State to dig the Erie Canal to facilitate the exploitation of the Great Lakes and ‘unite our Mediterranean seas with the oceans’ (‘Memorial of the Citizens of New York’, 215).
76. Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell, ‘The Mediterranean and “the New Thalassology”’, American Historical Review 111, 3 (2006), 737–8.
77. Bentley, ‘Sea and Ocean Basins as Frameworks of Historical Analysis’, 215.
78. ‘Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Muqaddasi, The Best Divisions for Knowledge of the Regions: A Translation of Ahsan al-Taqasim fi Mar.ifat al-Aqalim, trans. Basil Anthony Collins (Reading, 1994), 9.
79. Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, trans. Franz Rosenthal, 3 vols. (New York, 1958), 1.77 (vol. 1, 99); see also Dionisius A. Agius, Classic Ships of Islam: From Mesopotamia to the Indian Ocean (Leiden, 2008), 44–8.
80. Hugh R. Clark, ‘Maritime Diasporas in Asia before da Gama: An Introductory Commentary’, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 49, 4, Maritime Diasporas in the Indian Ocean and East and Southeast Asia (960–1775) (2006), 385.
81. Oceans Connect, special issue, The Geographical Review 89, 2 (1999). AHR Forum, ‘Oceans of History’, American Historical Review 111, 3 (2006), 717–80.
82. Kären Wigen, AHR Forum, ‘Oceans of History – Introduction’, American Historical Review 111, 3 (2006), 717. So, too, Horden and Purcell, ‘The Mediterranean and “the New Thalassology”’, 723: ‘History of seas appeals to this project because the layout of sea and land makes the oceans and their embayments a way of approaching most parts of the world. By a simple metaphorical extension, “virtual seas” can be included, too, spaces of danger and variable communications – mountain ranges, forests, or arid wildernesses such as the Sahara’.
83. Broeze, ‘From the Periphery to the Mainstream’, 6.
84. Joshua M. Smith, ‘Toward a Taxonomy of Maritime Historians’, International Journal of Maritime History 25, 2 (2013), 1–16.
85. Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons (London, 1930), 14.