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Becoming Maritime: A Comparative History of Orientation Toward the Sea

Thursday, March 29, 2012
12:00 AM
1014 Tisch Hall

EIHS presents Nicholas Purcell, University of Oxford Starting with Herodotus on the Athenians of the fifth century BCE and Polybius on the Romans of the third, ancient writers recognised and explored a dramatic social and political re-orientation, in which a polity which had been somehow terrestrial was re-oriented toward the world of the sea. This 'becoming maritime' speaks eloquently of the place of maritime communications in ancient horizons, and can therefore contribute interestingly to Mediterranean history - the more so, since, whether consciously or not, many historians of the most diverse periods and places have followed the ancient writers in using sudden maritime onset as a theme in historical narrative. The transhistorical narrative pattern is of considerable interest in itself, but also raises important questions about the underlying social and demographic structures of engagement with the maritime, such as the frequently cited shortage of seafarers in many historical periods.