Book Review – ‘Law, Labour, and Empire: Comparative perspectives on Seafarers, c. 1500–1800’ by Janice Gooch

By Janice Gooch, published October 2020


This book is the result of a conference entitled ‘Working lives between the deck and the dock’ which had the primary goal of investigating the legal and economic status of seafarers in the Mediterranean during the ‘long’ seventeenth century (1570–1730). The book covers the same period, but expands the work to look globally.

The preface starts by stating ‘Seafarers were the first workers to inhabit a truly international labour market. They worked in an economic sector – the maritime one – which throughout the early modern period drove European economic and imperial expansion, technological and scientific development and cultural and material exchange around the world.’ It promised to be an interesting book bringing together new ideas and exploring links and areas that have been forgotten by modern historians. The subject matter is relatively under-researched, it looks to bring together the lives, employment and contracts of sailors, and how they were treated in the globally expanding new world. Yet the book does not develop or provide evidence for this statement. It is, instead, a rather disjointed collection of essays which feels as if the researchers have undertaken individual research, presented their findings and then had to desperately try and relate them to each other’s findings …

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Filed under: Mediterranean
Subjects include: Manpower & Life at Sea

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