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As the waves flow. Dealing with the sea’s danger during the 17th and 18th centuries in the Mediterranean area

If sea offers, like other anthropized environments, a space of exchange for resources and commercial goods necessary for the development of the maritime economy in modern times, it also represents a danger for the actors of seafaring nations. Recent research on maritime history has not only focused on how human societies imagine the sea, but more and more on how it concretely disturbs their activities. Although part of a phantasmagorical imaginary created by the literary and pictorial production, the sea is a natural border characterized by a permanent instability, endangering, on a small and large scale, economies and also sailors, traders and travellers who were its main stakeholders.

On the front line, the ports of the Mediterranean space are one of the privileged contact zones. This panel propose to study their frail relationship with nature through their infrastructures and the individual and collective actions established to adapt and tame such dynamic and unpredictable marine environment. While its risky dimension seems to have been perceived as safer during the 17th and 18th centuries, in this period the repercussion of nature’s behaviour reached far beyond the immediate protagonists and surroundings. The intensification of global maritime traffic produced further connections to which the sea served as an intermediary; inevitably, both the outcomes and fate of seafaring was, thus, shared by many.

The challenge of this panel lies in studying the different human abilities and reactions in dealing with the destructive violence of the sea. It will not only focus on the danger posed directly by the sea to ships, human life and cargoes (for instance challenges posed to navigation by weather and geography) but also on dangers brought by sea when navigation constituted a medium for many threats (such as corsairing and the spreading of diseases). Through quantitative and qualitative methods, from social and economic history to cultural history, the panel proposes to study the interactions that took place in Mediterranean waters and how these interactions were shaped by nature and its hazards. The panel, thus, proposes a transnational and comparative approach in analysing the copying mechanisms established by different seafaring nations when navigating the Mediterranean Sea. The challenges posed by nature were indeed often confronted collaboratively and collectively.

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