At first glance, the collection of essays in this book might appear to be the proceedings of a conference but in fact they originate from a rather different, indeed unique, type of event. In March 2000, 36 university history teachers and 75 students from across Europe gathered together at the University of Ghent for an intensive ten days of interactive courses and workshops. Those present were part of the European Commission-promoted project known as CLIOH, which signifies the connection between the muse and a new approach to European history 'creating links, insights and overviews for a new History agenda’.
CLIOH is a partnership including Eastern and Central European Countries and now expanded into CLIOHnet Its background was the connections formed between university history departments as a result of the European Credit System Pilot Project (ECTS) to aid student mobility by enabling them to transfer credits from one university to another. The experience gained of different approaches to the teaching of history demonstrated the potential of innovation and the value of opportunities to learn from and share experiences in studying the past. A series of programmes, six between 1998 and 2001, brought together teachers and students with the aim of exploring the variety of ways in which those with different national backgrounds approached aspects of European history.
The European Commission’s Culture 2000 Programme progressed the project further by funding the publication programme 'Clioh’s Workshop 1’. The Sea in European History was the first of three 'Notebooks’ to appear.
The Sea in European History treats the subject in a broad chronological framework starting with Ancient History, though 19th and 20th centuries feature less than earlier periods. The geographical range is rather more restricted with the North Eastern and Central European examples predominating. Ports, loosely defined, are the first subject to be covered. Cristofori, drawing strongly on textual analysis explores the Graeco-Roman perceptions of the maritime sphere while Torresani similarly focuses on cognition, providing an introduction to historical cartography issues. Stabel examines the Hanse reflecting on the breadth of its role as commercial, cultural and linguistic conduit, while Faber traces the intriguing political economy of Habsburg Trieste. Seberechts, writing on interwar Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg and Vanfraechem on Antwerp labour both take more descriptive approaches.
Migration is the unifying theme of the next section, though the sea connection, a minor aspect of these contributions, is somewhat tenuous. Salvaterra provides an introduction to the sources of evidence for sea migration in the Roman Empire, while O’Connor looks at the Hiberno-Spanish catholic connection in the early modern period. The role of religion is also the theme of Lederer’s chapter on forced Protestant migration from Salzburg in the early eighteenth century. Norman and Runblon take a long view of trends in Scandinavian migration from the sixteenth century.
The remaining chapters focus on the uses of the sea. Sea resources are the subject of Candow’s discussion of European involvement in the fisheries of the North West Atlantic and of Nielson’s more local example of North Norway. Averkorn examines the significance of the sea for the protagonists in the Hundred Years War, and Morgan considers the consequence of Ireland’s strategic position for Spanish ambitions in the sixteenth century. Bialuschewski reassesses the evidence on piracy in the early 18th century, while Witt focuses on another type of maritime worker, the merchant captain.
How we should evaluate this volume as contribution to maritime history? The CLIOH context is central here. Though it would be possible to treat it as a collection of short articles on a variety of aspects, revealing considerable evidence of expert scholarship and insight, to adopt such an approach would be to miss the point. Its editors make it clear that The Sea in European History is intended as a teaching aid, aimed initially at the 38 participating universities in the CLIOH network, although available to the general public. It is evident that its subject matter, like other volumes in the Workshop I series, Nations and Nationalities in Historical Perspective and Political Systems and Definitions of Gender Roles, has been selected because of its undoubted suitability for study by an international group, rather than for its own sake. It differs from a 'Reader’ in that it contains specially commissioned original contributions rather than a selection from already published studies. Most of the sixteen chapters, based in the original presentations but revised in response to points raised in discussion, include a selection of documents in their original script and language, with translations into English which connect the text with primary sources in the 'Special Subject’ fashion familiar to generations of UK history students.
The test of this volume, as its publishers recognise by encouraging feedback from users , must be how well it works in a teaching and learning context, something which a reviewer cannot adequately judge. Certainly its exceptionally attractive, clear layout with maps and illustrations make it accessible and inviting. Regrettably, however, there is no guidance given as to how the contents might be used – a surprising omission given the opportunity to draw on the experience of interaction at the Ghent workshop. A teacher might, indeed, be hard pressed to develop that interdisciplinary and comparative history from what is offered here. This demands engagement with the range of examples, the discovery of parallels, the identification of distinctions and, above all, the attempt to find explanations for similarities and differences. The volume would have been considerably strengthened had there been an introductory chapter highlighting such issues and providing an introduction to the methodological issues raised. As it is, The Sea in European History perhaps conveys less than it might of the intellectual excitement and stimulus which those who gathered together under the CLIOH mantle at Ghent must have experienced.