About Maritime History

Maritime history is the study of people and their activities in, on, around and under the waters of the world. This includes oceans, estuaries, rivers, and creeks.

The late Professor Frank Broeze, a cofounder of the Australian Association for Maritime History, defined maritime history as being the study of the relationship between man and the sea. He believed that maritime history should be defined as widely as possible and identified six broad overlapping categories: using the resources of the sea and its subsoil, transportation, political power projection, scientific exploration, leisure, and culture and ideology1

Maritime history encompasses a wide range of subjects including exploration, trade and dominion, naval history, ships and shipwrecks, whaling and fishing, piracy, maritime law, ports, yachting and other leisure pursuits.The broad range of displays within Australian maritime museums is evidence of scope of maritime history.

Similarly, the Australian Association for Maritime History’s publications, public lectures and other activities regularly feature a broad range of maritime history topics.3

Maritime historians use global, national, regional and local approaches of study; and often cross boundaries incorporating other disciplines such as marine science, archaeology, climatology and cultural history.

Maritime history is also a pathway to the study of world history. Historians such as Gelina Harlaftis4 and Felipe Fernandez-Armesto5 describe maritime history as being international and comparative in scope with a global perspective6.


1. Broeze, Frank “From the Periphery to the Mainstream: The Challenge of Australia’s Maritime History”, The Great Circle 11/1 (1989), pp. 1-14.

2. The Wikipedia entry for maritime history has an extensive list of subjects: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maritime_history

3. For further information visit www.aamh.asn.au and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Association_for_Maritime_History

4. “Maritime History or the History of the Thalassa” in Gelina Harlaftis, Nikos Karapidakis, Kostas Sbonias and Vaios Vaiopoulos (eds), The New Ways of History, IB Tauris, London 2009. Accessed 12 September 2012 from http://marehist.gr/download.php?f=/articles/maritime_history.pdf

5. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto in Finamore, Daniel (ed.), Maritime History as World History (University Press of Florida, 2004)

6. There is a lively debate on the definition and practice of maritime history. See: Joshua M. Smith “Far Beyond Jack Tar: Maritime Historians and the Problem of Audience” in   CORIOLIS Volume 2, Number 2, 2011. Accessed 12 September 2012 from ijms.nmdl.org/article/download/9836/6717