Guest Editor's Introduction: The Sea in World History.
In this passage, the author of the Christian book of Revelation speaks of all of those who will be judged at the coming of the Son of Man in the end times. As we expect, he names all of the souls that have died (all those who reside in Death and Hades). But then unexpectedly, he mentions all of those who died and were in the sea, as if the sea is a separate Hades to which maritime souls are consigned upon their tragic and watery death. How odd that maritime deaths should be treated as a category apart from all other deaths. It's not that the peoples who wrote the Hebrew and Christian testaments were unfamiliar with the seas, living as they did in the larger Mediterranean world, a world in many ways defined by the sea and other bodies of water (The Red Sea, the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee, the Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates, and the Mediterranean). So why a special category of death reserved for the unfortunate souls of seafarers?
I think the answer lies in the fact that the sea is a geographical liminal state if, by liminality, we mean a state of disorientation between two known states of existence. The sea is an in-between place politically, in the sense that no one "owned" the sea in early modern times; and it was an in-between place spiritually in the sense that when one died at sea, one was truly "lost." The body was given up to the deep, rather than being buried alongside ancestors in one's home country. In other words, death at sea was a special kind of death made more terrifying by the fact that when one was consigned to the sea, one was lost in every sense of the term. This is why, I think, our apocalyptic author takes special pains to mention those lost at sea. The Last Judgment will be thorough, according to the author; even those lost in the sea will not be left out at the end time. Comforting, I suppose, in an apocalyptic kind of way.
Maritime history has seen somewhat of a surge in popularity in recent years as evidenced by the robust discussion around Lincoln Paine's recent work The Sea and Civilization. Piracy as a discipline of study is also on the rise it seems, especially in non-western studies, as historians grapple with the sometimes fluid distinctions between legitimate trade, piracy, and the in between spaces of the Ocean. This volume of the World History Bulletin is timely, therefore, and presents four excellent essays that present four unique discussion of the sea in world history. R.S. Deese provides an analysis of Elizabeth Mann Borgese's role in defining the ocean as the heritage of all people, a sort of maritime "global commons" that led to the 1982 Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Eva Maria Mehl offers a study of The Spanish Empire as a "polycentric monarchy" in which several peripheral nodes of power in both the Atlantic and Pacific worlds retained considerable decision making authority despite the perceived absolute nature of the Spanish monarchy, a situation that was facilitated by the vast distances to be traversed across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Malcolm Campbell offers a critique of recent histories of the ocean and seeks to highlight a particularly overlooked aspect of maritime history, namely the intersection of the Pacific and Indian Oceans as well as the lands that bordered that intersection. He traces the borders of these two great oceans from early modern times to the era of imperialism and highlights the north-south movement of peoples along this border, in contradistinction to the usual pattern of maritime history that pays more attention to the east-west pattern of trade and conquest. And finally, Shaheen Kelachan Thodika presents an analysis of the "Kappapattu," a poem written in 18th century Malabar by a Sufi poet, widely understood to be an allegorical treatment of human life and the ship. Shaheen relates this poem to the larger Indian Ocean World and explores the connection of religious themes with themes such as port life.
Each of these four papers, while disparate in theme and time period, deals with significant aspect of the sea and its relationship to the political, economic, and cultural lives of those who lived on the edge of as well traversed the sea. While the sea may still be a liminal space for some, for world historians it is increasingly becoming central to understanding the important and ubiquitousconnectionsbetwecn seemingly distant parts optge world.
(1.) Lincoln Paine, The Sea and Civilization (New Ynck. Alfred A Knopf, 2013).
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|Title Annotation:||Special Section: The World And The Sea|
|Publication:||World History Bulletin|
|Article Type:||Guest commentary|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2016|
|Previous Article:||Letter from the President of the World History Association.|
|Next Article:||From World War to World Law: Elisabeth Mann Borgese and the Law of the Sea.|