Maritime History I, the Age of Discovery

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John B. Hattendorf (ed.), Maritime History I, The Age of Discovery, Krieger Publishing, Malabar FL (1996), 346 pp., US$39.00 hard covers, US$29.50 paperback; II, The Eighteenth Century and the Classic Age of Sail, Krieger Publishing, Malabar FL (1997), 319 pp., US$34.50 hard covers, USL29.50 paperback.

The two volumes in this valuable set derive from lectures presented at successive Summer Institutes in Early Modern Maritime History at Providence, Rhode Island, in 1992 and 1993. As Hattendorf points out in his preface, the Rhode Island sessions were designed to deal with `the full scope' of maritime affairs including technology, navigation and cartography, economics and cultural exchange - and to distil the material into an introductory text for undergraduates. Broadly speaking, Maritime History achieves these objectives.

Both volumes begin with a brief definition of maritime history by the editor. Besides setting the scene for students unfamiliar with the subject, Hattendorf makes a perceptive effort to describe an inherently inexact discipline: maritime history, according to Professor Hattendorf, is a 'humanistic' study `of the many dimensions in man's relationship with the sea'. The sheer diversity of this relationship is revealed by the first volume. As its title suggests, The Age of Discovery deals with Europe's first great period of exploration and colonisation during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The volume contains seventeen essays divided into four thematic sections: the late medieval European background (Richard W. Unger), Portuguese overseas expansion (Charles Verlinden, George Winius), Spain's conquest of the Atlantic (Felipe Fernandez-- Armesto, William D. Phillips, Carla Rahn Phillips) and, finally, a broad summary of Atlantic European interest in the wider world (A. N. Ryan). Each section reveals similar themes. We are told of practical limitations in shipbuilding, navigation and geographical knowledge. Subtly different motives for exploration and colonisation emerge for the main protagonists, as do differences in their methods of colonial exploitation. The resulting impression is of an exciting period of new possibilities, shaped in part by personalities and commercial rivalry - but, as Professor Verlinden rightly points out, the results of this early maritime endeavour were equally determined by `currents, winds, and chance' (p. 73). Though all the contributors should be congratulated for their clarity and succinctness, several chapters nonetheless stand out. Unger's broadbrush summary of the European context, Fernandez-Armesto on the ocean's chivalric significance, and Ryan's concluding discussions of European interest in Asia, the New World and the North West Passage. The title of the fourth and final section -The world encompassed' - reminds us not only of Geoffrey Scammell's important contribution to this field but also that maritime achievement was the crucial interface between the Old and New Worlds, between European history and world history.

The second volume is arguably the weaker of the pair, not on account of the individual contributions, which are of uniformly high quality, but rather because the sum of the contributions lacks the obvious coherence of the first volume. …


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