‘History is not a fishing expedition, historians do not cast their net at random to see what (if any) fish they may catch. We will never find answers to questions that have not been asked’, wrote Antoine Prost in his remarkable book Douze Leçons sur l'Histoire. This is the very spirit, the sum and substance of Océanides.
This international research programme, unprecedented in the breadth of its approach since the publication of the first Encyclopædia, does not aim to write a maritime history of the world; indeed, diverse teams have already done so within various academic initiatives. Rather, building on the proliferation of research into maritime history, particularly over the past 15 years, the goal is to answer the following question: is the sea the differentiating factor in the overall development of populations? What developments can be attributed to the sea, both in general history and in the history of specific entities, particularly political entities? How did the sea modify the course of history for the populations in question? In what ways do maritime activities make it possible to consolidate strength and development by enabling actors to take full advantage of demographic potential and scientific knowledge, as well as geographic, political and financial situations? Is the sea a factor in success, development and/or influence? For the purposes of this study, the ‘sea’ is more than the water and the beach. It also encompasses all activities linked with maritime pursuits, be they on the shore, on riverbanks or even far inland.
This research programme is organized around simple questions that apply everywhere and throughout history:
• Is the sea the differentiating factor in world history, part and parcel of the most distinguished accomplishments?
• What additional advantages did the sea provide to the groups that engaged in maritime activities (regardless of the nature of the populations in question: social groups, tribes, peoples, cultural entities, regions, cities, states, etc.) compared to other groups that remained firmly on dry land? How did the sea influence development and leadership, however these phenomena may be manifested in relation to economy, culture, forms of political organization, technical progress, etc., and how have these contributions continued to the present day?