Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 August 2017
A decade ago, I was asked to design an undergraduate course around my own research interests. The biggest challenge was finding a textbook which dealt with the social history of English seamen throughout the early modern period. I never did find anything suitable, opting instead for articles and excerpts from books written by renowned scholars in the field. Clearly, there was a need for a volume which made these writings more accessible and tracked seafarers’ experiences over centuries. To fill this historiographical void, I asked some of the leading scholars from both sides of The Pond whose work had heavily influenced my own to summarise their findings. I hoped that, taken together, their contributions would offer a nuanced portrait of seafarers’ existence, as well as providing us with some sense of what has been accomplished in the field and what remains to be done. Given the broad swath of time that constitutes the early modern period, we've produced a two-volume set: volume I, covering the Tudor and early Stuart period (1485–1649), was published in 2012. It is now time for its companion for the later era (1650–1815) to join it on bookshelves.
The prospect of editing such a project seemed rather daunting. However, I was pleasantly surprised that so many eminent scholars were willing to volunteer for this project, without any prospect of impressment. I provided them with general guidelines concerning the scope of their chapters and the contributors have chosen the content based on what they deemed most important to share with readers. Each scholar has made their reputation by either exploring the ignored aspects of maritime history, or providing fresh perspectives on oftexplored topics, or both. Throughout their academic careers, some have kept their research within the confines of the maritime world while others have published widely in early modern history. What they have in common is that each has made a major contribution to the social history of early modern seamen. I thank them for graciously giving their time, sharing their expertise, and bearing with this project to the end.