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Seascapes: Maritime Histories, Littoral Cultures, and Transoceanic Exchanges

Jerry H. Bentley
Renate Bridenthal
Kären Wigen
Copyright Date: 2007
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Historians have only recently begun to chart the experiences of maritime regions in rich detail and penetrate the historical processes at work there. Seascapes makes a major contribution to these efforts by bringing together original scholarship on historical issues arising from maritime regions around the world. The essays presented here take a variety of approaches. One group examines the material, cultural, and intellectual constructs that inform and explain historical experiences of maritime regions. Another set discusses efforts—some more successful than others—to impose political and military control over maritime regions. A third group focuses on issues of social history such as labor organization, information flows, and the development of political consciousness among subaltern populations. The final essays deal with pirates and efforts to control them in Mediterranean, Japanese, and Atlantic waters.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6424-8
    Subjects: History, Transportation Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)
    Kären Wigen

    To judge from movie marquees, tourist brochures, or bestseller lists, seascapes loom large in the public imagination. Yet on the mental maps of most scholars, oceans are oddly occluded. Geographically marginal to the grids of academic inquiry, the watery world seems to fall between our conceptual cracks as well. When not ignored altogether, maritime topics are routinely relegated to subfields on shipping or migration, pirates or fisheries. That ocean basins are sliced in half on our classroom maps only reinforces their academic invisibility. By contrast, the prestigious, central fields—as defined not only by cartographers but by doctoral committees, job...

  5. Constructs

    • One Islands in the Making of an Atlantic Oceania, 1500–1800
      (pp. 21-37)
      John R. Gillis

      Civilizations think about islands in very different ways. The inhabitants of precolonial Polynesia saw themselves as inhabiting a sea of islands, connected rather than divided by water and thus more like an aqueous continent. “Their universe comprised not only land surfaces, but the surrounding ocean as far as they could traverse and exploit it,” writes Epile Hau‘ofa, “Their world was anything but tiny.”¹ For them the sea was home, a place rather than an interval between places. Connected to the sea around them, islands were not perceived as small or insular. They were the center of the world, and every...

    • Two Vessels of Exchange: The Global Shipwright in the Pacific
      (pp. 38-52)
      Hans Konrad Van Tilburg

      Maritime ethnographers and archaeologists have always held the ship to be more than a simple inanimate object. Instead, it is a complex cultural artifact, a record of specific seafaring traditions and regional variations. And ships, which carry numerous items of trade, can themselves be traded, altered, and redefined. The transoceanic exchange in this case is the adoption and continued use of traditions in nautical technology, in shipbuilding. The ships are signposts of sailors on the move across the Pacific. The focus is on two case studies of the vessel as artifact—Chinese junks in California and Japanese sampans in Hawai‘i....

    • Three Maritime Ideologies and Ethnic Anomalies: Sea Space and the Structure of Subalternity in the Southeast Asian Littoral
      (pp. 53-68)
      Jennifer L. Gaynor

      Conceptions of sea space have been integral to political imaginaries in Southeast Asia.¹ While in other parts of the world, national ideologies were often expressed in relation to a homeland, for Indonesia and the Dutch East Indies before it, geopolitical notions of place included the seas in increasingly explicit and more territorialized ways. Touching on imperial, colonial, national, and postnational settings, this piece concentrates on how the space of the seas was articulated in maritime ideologies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

      In addition to examining maritime ideologies from different historical moments, I also explore how they may inform our...

  6. Empires

    • Four The Organization of Oceanic Empires: The Iberian World in the Habsburg Period
      (pp. 71-86)
      Carla Rahn Phillips

      Globalization arguably began, not with the voyages of Columbus, but with the treaties that claimed to divide the non-European world into Portuguese and Spanish spheres of influence, including exclusive seaborne channels of exploration and communication. In the early sixteenth century both Iberian powers established commercial and governmental outposts in the Americas in accordance with those treaties and reached agreement regarding spheres of influence in Asia. Nonetheless, the rulers of Portugal and Spain each saw their interests as spanning the whole globe. By the late sixteenth century various other European powers challenged the monopolies claimed by the Iberian states, which were...

    • Five The Ottoman “Discovery” of the Indian Ocean in the Sixteenth Century
      (pp. 87-104)
      Giancarlo Casale

      Vasco da Gama’s successful voyage around the Cape of Good Hope in 1497 has long been recognized as a major turning point in world history, marking the beginning of direct and continuous contact between the civilizations of Western Europe and the Indian Ocean. Much less well known to modern scholarship, by comparison, is the Ottoman Empire’s rival and contemporaneous expansion into the lands of the Indian Ocean following Sultan Selim I’s conquest of Egypt in 1517. Because the Ottoman state and the merchant communities of the Indian Ocean shared the same religion (Islam), most modern scholars have simply assumed that...

    • Six Lines of Plunder or Crucible of Modernity? The Legal Geography of the English-Speaking Atlantic, 1660–1825
      (pp. 105-120)
      Eliga H. Gould

      As Max Weber wrote inThe Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the essence of modern capitalism is its commitment to quotidian regularity, gradual accumulation, and the rule of law; but for these qualities, the ethos of the commercial bourgeoisie would be indistinguishable from that of the premodern brigand. For Weber, the chief exemplar of capitalism’s rational side was Benjamin Franklin.¹ Perhaps that is why historians have so eagerly sought modernity’s roots in the western Atlantic, with the American colonies supplying what Robin Blackburn calls the “forced draught” of change in areas as varied as market discipline, social and...

    • Seven Transgressive Exchange: Circumventing Eighteenth-Century Atlantic Commercial Restrictions, or The Discount of Monte Christi
      (pp. 121-134)
      Alan L. Karras

      InAn Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith asserted that human beings have a propensity to “truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.”¹ In this view of the world, trading developed because individual people knew—almost innately—what they wanted, as well as how and where to acquire it. But residents of the eighteenth-century Atlantic World were not free to engage in any commerce that they might find advantageous. Instead, an extensive series of commercial regulations defined acceptable trading partners, products for exchange, and methods of distribution. Such governmental constraints interfered with...

  7. Sociologies

    • Eight “Tavern of the Seas”? The Cape of Good Hope as an Oceanic Crossroads during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
      (pp. 137-152)
      Kerry Ward

      The Cape of Good Hope was the major crossroads for European ships traversing the Atlantic and Indian oceans between Europe and Asia, until the opening of the Suez Canal in 1989. Situated at the southernmost tip of the African continent, the stunning vista of Table Mountain, the spectacular scenery of the Cape Peninsula, and the tumultuous seas helped give rise to the romantic notion that the Atlantic and Indian oceans actually met at Cape Point.¹ Today this fiction fuels Cape Town’s tourist trade — every year thousands of tourists traipse to the tip of the Cape Peninsula to gaze at the...

    • Nine That Turbulent Soil: Seafarers, the “Black Atlantic,” and Afro-Caribbean Identity
      (pp. 153-168)
      Alan Gregor Cobley

      For much of their history, from the dawn of human settlement to recent times, the islands of the West Indian archipelago have been peopled by the product of seaborne diasporas. Beginning with the Amerindians over 5,000 years ago, the ebb and flow of human conflict and expansion has contributed to successive waves of inward and outward migration affecting the Caribbean basin, each of which has left an imprint on the land and on the societies that emerged there. The sea has been a source of livelihood and of food, a route for commerce and communication, a bringer of danger and...

    • Ten Race, Migration, and Port-City Radicalism: West Indian Longshoremen and the Politics of Empire, 1880–1920
      (pp. 169-185)
      Risa L. Faussette

      The association of migration to Panama with death, as the epigraph to this chapter suggests, reflected the harrowing conditions of building one of the world’s most complex waterways. Although West Indian workers were commonly viewed as shiftless, ignorant, and unreliable tropical laborers, they performed the lowest paid and most dangerous assignments on the isthmian canal project. Subject as they were to exhaustion, disease, explosions, and landslides, an estimated 15,000 West Indians perished in Panama during the canal construction era.¹ Injuries and accidents resulting in death became so common among West Indians that “the greeting ‘Well, who’s dead this morning?’ became...

    • Eleven South Asian Seafarers and Their Worlds: c. 1870–1930s
      (pp. 186-202)
      G. Balachandran

      Despite providing the plots and the characters for some outstanding works of historical scholarship in which they appear to offer unrecovered redoubts of lost ideals (whether revolutionary republicanism or radical Afro-American cosmopolitanism), seafarers have not been an enduring focus of interest to the historical profession.¹ What is true of seafarers in general is no less true for Indian seafarers. In 1944 Indian seamen stranded in California by the war were hired to play extras in crowd scenes in the filmCalcutta. This might have been a metaphor for their roles and visibility in contemporary society and modern scholarship.

      Until about...

  8. Transgressors

    • Twelve Marking Water: Piracy and Property in the Premodern West
      (pp. 205-220)
      Emily Sohmer Tai

      Discourse around the political entity, orpolity, has often been informed by concretized notions of what Marvin Becker called the “territorial state”—defined by Max Weber as a “compulsory organization with a territorial basis.”¹ Weber’s reference to compulsion nonetheless implies that the state is an improvised, artificial construct.

      In this essay I argue that maritime theft, orpiracy, exposes the economic and political dimensions of a consequent antagonism between land and sea, originating in the ways in which water submerges the territorial parameters that support a state’s claim to sovereignty. While the ostensible objective of maritime predation is economic gain,...

    • Thirteen With the Sea as Their Domain: Pirates and Maritime Lordship in Medieval Japan
      (pp. 221-238)
      Peter D. Shapinsky

      “The greatest pirate in all of Japan . . . is called the Noshima Lord. He is exceedingly powerful. On these coasts and the coasts of other provinces, all are afraid of him and send him tribute every year . . . so our Vice-Provincial [Gaspar Coelho] . . . sought a meeting with him to secure a guarantee of safe passage.” ¹ So wrote the prolific Jesuit chronicler, Luis Frois, in 1586 regarding Noshima Murakami² Takeyoshi, lord of a powerful seafaring family. No desperate bandits sailing on the peripheries of society these. In politically decentralized but commercially vibrant fifteenth...

    • Fourteen The Pirate and the Gallows: An Atlantic Theater of Terror and Resistance
      (pp. 239-250)
      Marcus Rediker

      In the early afternoon of July 12, 1726, William Fly ascended Boston’s gallows to be hanged for piracy. His body was nimble in manner like a sailor going aloft; his rope-roughened hands carried a nosegay of flowers; his weather-beaten face had “a Smiling Aspect.” He showed no guilt, no shame, no contrition. Indeed, as Cotton Mather, the presiding prelate, noted, he “look’d about him unconcerned.” But once he stood upon the gallows, he became concerned, although not in the way anyone might have expected. His demeanor quickened and he took charge of the stage of death. He threw the rope...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 251-254)
  10. Index
    (pp. 255-261)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 262-262)