L'histoire maritime est un clé de l'histoire générale. Jean Meuvret, 1962
Most, or at least much, of Mediterranean history could be said to be maritime history, or the history of the relationship of the many peoples who live on its shores with their ancient sea. Almost sixty years after Fernand Braudel wrote La Mediterranée, research on Mediterranean history touches on most of the disciplines he had recourse to in his analysis of production et circulation in the sixteenth-century Mediterranean - economics, sociology, politics, geography, demography and technology. But it is perhaps due to the tremendous impact that his unrivalled masterpiece has had on the writing and practice of history that no one has yet attempted to produce such a grand synthesis for the centuries that followed, which while seeking to give a broad overview also provided detailed and incisive insights on production and circulation in the Mediterranean. It may also be that there is never likely to be a single, complete history of “The Mediterranean.“
On the eve of the “Age of Exploration,” the Mediterranean seemed like the centre of the world to many of its inhabitants, but during the course of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it came to be dwarfed by the “discovery” of lands across the infinitely larger Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans. During these centuries European powers were absorbed with extending their control over these far-off dominions, and the Mediterranean slipped out of the limelight. But it was destined to recover much of its former prominence and to re-establish itself at the centre of the world's sea routes as a consequence of two major developments - the advent of the industrial revolution, and the ensuing technological innovations of the steamship and the telegraph, and the opening of the Suez Canal in the nineteenth century. As a consequence of Suez, and the eventual replacement of coal by oil as the principal source of fuel for ships in the following century, the Mediterranean became Europe's shortest route to and from the East and to this day remains one of the busiest sea-lanes in the world.
La Mediterranée may also be held partly responsible for the post- Second World War birth of maritime history as a sub-discipline of history in its own right.