The Sea in World History
Exploration, Travel, and Trade [2 volumes]
by Stephen K. Stein, Editor
April 2017, 919pp, 7x10
2 volumes, ABC-CLIO

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-3550-6
$218, £168, 190€, A299
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-3551-3
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

The sea has played a key role in shaping human history, having provided a path for exploration and trade, fostered the creation of colonies and empires, and figured in literature, art, and legends.

This two-volume set documents the essential role of the sea and maritime activity across history, from travel and food production to commerce and conquest.

In all eras, water transport has served as the cheapest and most efficient means of moving cargo and people over any significant distance. Only relatively recently have railroads and aircraft provided an alternative. Most of the world’s bulk goods continue to travel primarily by ship over water. Even today, 95 percent of the cargo that enters and leaves the United States does so by ship. Similarly, people around the world rely on the sea for food, and in recent years, the sea has become an important source of oil and other resources, with the longterm effects of our continuing efforts to extract resources from the sea further highlighting environmental concerns that range from pollution to the exhaustion of fish stocks.

This chronologically organized two-volume reference addresses the history of the sea, beginning with ancient civilizations (4000 to 1000 BCE) and ending with the modern era (1945 to the present day). Each of the eight chapters is further broken down into sections that focus on specific nations or regions, offering detailed descriptions of that area of the world and shorter entries on specific topics, individuals, and events.

The book spans maritime history, covering major seafaring peoples and nations; famous explorers, travelers, and commanders; events, battles, and wars; key technologies, including famous ships; important processes and ongoing events, such as piracy and the slave trade; and more. Readers will benefit from dozens of primary source documents—ranging from ancient Egyptian tales of seafaring to texts by renowned travelers like Marco Polo, Zheng He, and Ibn Battuta—that provide firsthand accounts from the age of discovery as well as accounts of battle from World War I and II and more modern accounts of the sea.


  • Provides a broad survey of the importance of the oceans for all of human culture and civilization, including coverage of diverse cultures such as the Polynesians, Vikings, Minoans, and many others
  • Describes the voyages of the great explorers and places them in a broad multinational and multicultural perspective
  • Traces the human use of the sea over time, noting activities and historic events such as piracy, the slave trade, fishing, and whaling, as well as describing commerce in ancient and modern contexts
Stephen K. Stein is a specialist in naval history and the history of technology who has written on topics ranging from ancient battles to aviation to the iPod. His recent publications include From Torpedoes to Aviation: Washington Irving Chambers and Technological Innovation in the New Navy, 1877–1913; "The Greely Relief Expedition and the New Navy" in International Journal of Naval History 5 (December 2006), which won the Rear Admiral Ernest M. Eller Prize in Naval History; "The Experimental Era: U.S. Naval Aviation through 1916" in One Hundred Years of Navy Air Power; and "Interventions in Asia, 1899–1927" in A Companion to American Military History. Stein is associate chair of the Department of History at the University of Memphis and adjunct professor for the U.S. Naval War College (College of Distance Education), for which he teaches courses in strategy.


"A spectacular addition to maritime history, Stein’s comprehensive survey spans human interaction with the deep from 4000 BCE to the present. . . . A worthy addition to any public or scholarly library and the perfect gift book for old sea dogs."—Booklist, September 1, 2017

"This excellent work can serve as an straightforward history text. . . . Summing Up: Highly recommended. High school through undergraduate students; general readers."—Choice, October 1, 2017

"There is enough introductory information so that newcomers will not feel out of their depth and plenty of fascinating details. VERDICT For undergraduates, general readers, and anyone interested in the development of seafaring technology and how nautical travel has shaped the modern world."—Library Journal, December 1, 2017
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