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Journal of World History 11.2 (2000) 384-387

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Book Review

The Portuguese Empire, 1415-1808

Spain's Men of the Sea: Daily Life on the Indies Fleets in the Sixteenth Century

Spain's Men of the Sea: Daily Life on the Indies Fleets in the Sixteenth Century. By PABLO PÉREZ-MALLAINA. Trans. by CARLA RAHN PHILLIPS. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. Pp. xi + 289. $29.95 (cloth).

The Portuguese Empire, 1415-1808. By A. J. R. RUSSELL-WOOD. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. Pp. xxxiii + 289. $16.95 (paper).

In focus, scope, and subject, these two volumes are so different that it may initially be unimaginable to link them together. One deals with the Portuguese; the other, the Spanish. One author embraces the widest historical themes across four centuries; the other looks at Spanish sailors and the minutia of their daily shipboard life in a single century. One book originally appeared in England; the other is a translation from Spanish of a volume originally published in Seville. Despite these contrasts, there are some similarities. Both volumes originally appeared elsewhere in 1992, and both now come from The Johns Hopkins University Press. Much more importantly, both volumes make, in their own separate ways, a major contribution to world maritime history.

Professor Russell-Wood's volume is a brilliant survey and synthesis of Portuguese overseas history, focused in an unusual way. Originally published in Manchester, under the title A World on the Move: The Portuguese in Africa, Asia, and America, 1415-1808, Russell-Wood has attempted neither to supersede Charles Boxer's magnificent survey of all facets of the Portuguese empire in The Portuguese Seaborne Empire (1959), nor to summarize the large literature on specific aspects and varied regions that the Portuguese empire involved. Instead, in the context of the present-day historiographical fragmentation in his field, he has linked many aspects of the Portuguese empire together with his interpretation of it as a "world on the move." By this phrase, he characterizes the means by which the Portuguese, both overseas and within the metropolitan government in Lisbon, retained their loyalty and their sense of identity as both Portuguese and as Catholics, while at the same time they asserted and maintained control over a far-flung empire.

In dealing with their empire, the Portuguese were simultaneously managing issues involving several native cultures, across several oceans, and on several continents. As Russell-Wood has so elegantly phrased it, "The Sea provided the nexus for this far-flung world and it is the sea which provides the context for this story of a world on the move" (p. 27). Introducing his study with a summary of Portugal's role [End Page 384] in the Age of Discoveries--that is clearly designed to counter the common overemphasis on Spanish activities that has tended, in recent years, to overshadow Portuguese achievements--the author looks at his subject in terms of six major themes. First, he examines transportation, looking particularly at the ships, wind patterns, and practical aspects of movement at sea under sail, as well as at the caravans, canoes, and carts that coupled movement on the sea with that on land.

Having described this pattern of geography, he moves on to look at the people. He examines their flux and reflux along the sea and land routes, thematically grouping them in categories such as migrants and settlers, with the dramatically varying characteristics of the servants of the Crown, Christ, and Mammon, while also paying appropriate attention to the voiceless, the individual, and the group as well as the carriers of disease. Carrying people was not the only function of ships at sea and Russell-Wood also describes the ebb and flow of commodities, the dissemination of flora and fauna, and the transmission of styles, mores, and ideas. In his final chapter on "movement in word and image," the author provides a helpful guide to the published official and unofficial travel accounts from the...