Out of the blue sea into the port city - a culture of the sea? An ethno-historical exploration of the concept of coastal societies using the example of the port city of Bremen in the 19th century.
Jan Oberg (University of Bremen)
Paper short abstract:
The sea, by historians and anthropologists is often regarded as a transfer medium for culture. This paper deals with the hypothetical linkage between the sea, maritime economy and local culture and examines the concept of coastal societies by using the example of Bremen in the 19th century.
Paper long abstract:
Historians and anthropologists have been exploring coastal regions and port cities as centers of crosscultural exchange and places of the transit of people, goods and ideas for quite some time. In many a study the sea is considered as a transfer medium for culture. My contribution deals with this hypothetical linkage between sea, seatrade, shipping and local culture using the example of Bremen in the first half of the 19th century, when the North German trading city experienced an unprecedented boom in the maritime economy. I retrace the cultural effects of this development and examine the thesis of the particular character of coastal societies by using an ethnographic, actor-oriented approach. The ethno-historic view of Bremen's everyday life suggests that "maritime culture" in Bremen was complex, often contradictory, speckled with certain cultural representations and varied significantly from ideas of cultural homogeneity and cultural interconnectedness, which frequently are prevalent in the concept of coastal societies. In Bremen, the quality of dealing and exchanging with foreign people and culture was characterized by forms of domination, questions of economic profitability and social and cultural practices of distinction and exclusion. Thus the idea of coastal societies, as expressed for example in the concept of the North Sea as a cultural unity with a certain "maritime culture", can also be interpreted as a mental map and a product of national and global/local historiographies.
Into the blue - cultures of the sea