Since the study of maritime history is a relatively recent development in Spain, it seems appropriate to look briefly at its meaning. Maritime history encompasses everything that has to do with the sea, and as a consequence it constitutes a meeting point for a number of sub-disciplines. On the one hand it has to do with maritime economic history, which looks at the economic activities related to the sea: maritime commerce, with its mercantile, financial and juridical aspects, and related branches such as corsairing, contraband and shipwrecks; shipbuilding and the materials used in this activity, such as wood, linen, hemp, copper and tar; and fishing or the collection from the sea of mammals, fish, pearls, corral, tortoise shell or sponges, as well as salt, seaweed, amber and so on. On the other hand, it also has to do with recent urban history, as a consequence of its interest in port history, in aspects such as material, sanitary, administrative, fiscal and defence infrastructures. In addition, it is also worth highlighting that while some of the activities carried on in relation to the sea have to do with the urban economy, and only remotely with the rural economy through a number of crops destined for industrial use, another set of activities is carried on outside both town and country: on the high seas themselves.
Maritime history also has a social history facet to it via the study of the actors involved: merchants, in the widest possible sense of the word; entrepreneurs, such as shipowners and victuallers; the many types of mariners; trades to do with dockyards, such as ship carpenters and caulkers; callings to do with ports, such as agents, supercargoes, brokers, pilots, stevedores, dockers, divers, lighthouse keepers and so on; and finally occupations associated with the provision of services to seafarers, such as innkeepers, prostitutes and the like. It is a wide conception which also throws light on aspects of labour history, such as hiring and firing, training, accidents, class struggle and related individuals, including “passengers,” be they voluntary, such as migrants, or forced, as in the case of galley rowers, captives and slaves.