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The Sea

Thalassography and Historiography

Peter N. Miller

Publication Year: 2013

The Sea brings together a group of noted contributors to evaluate the different ways in which seas have served as subjects in historiography and asks how this has changed---and will change---the way history is written. The essays in this volume provide exemplary demonstrations of how a sea-based history-writing that focuses on connectivity, networks, and individuals describes the horizons and the potential of thalassography---the study of the world made by individuals embedded in networks of motion. As Peter N. Miller contends in his introduction, writing about the sea, today, is a way of partaking in the wider historiographical shift toward microhistory; exchange relations; networks; and, above all, materiality, both literally and figuratively. The Sea focuses not on questions of discipline and professionalization as much as on the practice of scholarship: the writing, and therefore the planning and organizing, of histories of the sea.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Bard Graduate Center Cultural Histor


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. 2-9

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Series Editor’s Preface

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pp. ix-x

Why invoke a neologism? While Alexander Agassiz’s historic voyages in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico in 1877 and 1880 were published as a “Contribution to American Thalassography,” the term has generally lain dormant. Even a recent attempt to encourage more thinking about the sea used the term Thalassology. ...

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pp. xi-xii

In 2009, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the trans-oceanic voyage that created New Amsterdam, two professors at the Bard Graduate Center, Deborah Krohn and myself, along with a curator at The New-York Historical Society, Marybeth DeFilippis, organized an exhibition about the life of a woman who was born in Amsterdam, ...


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pp. xiii-xiv

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Introduction: The Sea Is the Land’s Edge Also

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pp. 1-26

The opening of Roberrt Musil’s Man Without Qualities is as good an introduction to the problematics of thalassography as it is to a long novel about the end of the Habsburg Empire. Musil was trying to locate his story, not without some irony and even perhaps some satire, in space and time, ...

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One. Two Men in a Boat: The Braudel-Goitein“ Correspondence” and the Beginning of Thalassography

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pp. 27-59

The concluding section of Abraham ibn Daud’s Sefer ha-Qabbalah (c. 1261 CE) tells the story of four men—rabbis—in a boat sailing from Bari. The boat is captured by Muslim pirates and three of the rabbis are distributed, or ransomed away, to the cities of Fustat (Old Cairo), Qairawan, and Cordoba. ...

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Two. Atlantic and Caribbean Perspectives: Analyzing a Hybrid and Entangled World

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pp. 60-83

How has a thalassographic prism enabled new approaches in the historiography of the Atlantic world? In order to answer this question, I delve into the writing of Atlantic history since its coming of age in the last two decades. I distinguish five different ways to write Atlantic history: one school stresses agency, another adaptation, ...

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Three. Tide, Beach, and Backwash: The Place of Maritime Histories

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pp. 84-108

The aim of this chapter is precisely that of the gathering at which its oral precursor was read—to investigate the nature and potential of “the new thalassography” as a scholarly initiative, while it is indeed still relatively new. Thalassography has hitherto been a maritime mirroring of geography, ...

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Four. The East Asian “Mediterranean”: A Medium of Flourishing Exchange Relations and Interaction in the East Asian World

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pp. 109-144

The present contribution uses the macro-geographical space of an “East Asian Mediterranean” in order to characterize multilateral exchange relations in the East Asian world that have traditionally been investigated as relations of various independent nation-states or countries (territorial area studies), ...

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Five. Metaphorical Perspectives of the Sea and the Sulu Zone,1768–1898

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pp. 145-173

My initial encounter with the Sulu Zone, located between the Asian mainland and the large islands of Mindanao, Borneo, and Sulawesi, began forty-five years ago. I first learned of the Sulu Archipelago and the maritime world of the Samal Bajau Laut when I received my Peace Corps posting in 1967, ...

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Six. Connecting Maritime and Continental History: The Black Sea Region at the Time of the Mongol Empire

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pp. 174-197

The Athenian, the Venetian, the Portuguese: three thalassocracies of different scales that became political Leviathans of their own age, and as such established their power onto “their” seas and oceans.1 But maritime history, as David Armitage reminds us, is not just the struggle between states and empires. ...

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Seven. An Ocean of Islands: Islands, Insularity, and Historiography of the Indian Ocean

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pp. 198-229

In his marvelous philosophical novella starring self-enlightened hero Ḥayy b. Yaqẓān (Alive son of Awake), the Andalusian philosopher Abū Bakr Ibn Ṭufayl (d. 1185/6) situates Ḥayy’s home in an equatorial island “lying off the coast of India below the equator,” and characterized by “the most tempered climate on earth.”1 ...

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Eight. Skerries, Haffs, and Icefloes: Small Seas and Maritime Histories

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pp. 230-250

Writing in the North American Review at the end of the nineteenth century, Charles Minor Blackford triumphantly declared that “the progress of thalassography has been so rapid and so great during this century, that it can be sketched only in bare outline.” ...

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Nine. The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Peiresc

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pp. 251-276

In the early 1930s, while a lycée teacher in Algiers, Fernand Braudel met Nicolas Fabri de Peiresc (1580–1637). He seems to have been assigned the task of making sense of the correspondence between Peiresc and Sanson Napollon, governor of the French presidio of Bastion de France between 1628 and 1633. ...

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Afterthoughts: Histories in Bottles

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pp. 277-284

We had all heard of the proverbial message-in-a-bottle long before it was immortalized by Sting and The Police in a song from their album Reggatta de blanc in 1979. It symbolizes the dilemma of the Robinson Crusoe figure, the castaway on an “island lost at sea” sending out a message not to anyone in particular but to everyone in general, ...

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pp. 285-288

Nicola Di Cosmo is the Henry Luce Foundation Professor of East Asian Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study since 2003. Previously he taught at Harvard University and at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. His main research fields are the archaeology and history of ancient China, Chinese military history, and Mongol and Manchu history. ...


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pp. 289-293

E-ISBN-13: 9780472029013
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472118670

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Bard Graduate Center Cultural Histor
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OCLC Number: 843880834
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Sea

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Oceanography -- History.
  • Seas -- History.
  • Seas -- Historiography.
  • Seas -- Social aspects -- History.
  • Ocean and civilization -- History.
  • World history.
  • Material culture -- History.
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