Sea Power in History

From the sketchbook of Captain Coulton Elliott, R.N.R. [1871-1927], image reproduced by courtesy of F.E.C. Gregory.

This module examines the major concepts and themes of Sea Power. Exploring the role of sea power in war and peace from the ancient world to the 20th century, it challenges students to rethink ideas about the use of navies, the wider meaning of sea power, its place in politics and society, and ultimately to move beyond the primacy of battle in conventional narratives of the course of naval history. 

‘Sea Power in History’ commences with a series of thematic sessions. These introduce students to the classical theorists of maritime strategy who wrote in this period, the global dimensions and logistical underpinnings of sea power, maritime culture in society, and the interweaving of sea power with the evolving political philosophies of these centuries. The second part of the module traces these themes through a chronological approach. These themes are explored from a variety of perspectives, encouraging a holistic, international approach. In turn, the module engages in transnational and intellectual approaches to maritime history. It stresses the importance of the sea as the global commons and chief arena of international convergence, and examines the role of sea power in the development of international law and ideas about world order. Students will therefore gain a wider understanding of the role of sea power in the creation and shaping of the modern world.

Indicative topics

  • Week 1: Naval History and Maritime Theory: Alfred Thayer Mahan and Julian Stafford Corbett
  • Week 2: The World Economy, Logistics, and Sea Power
  • Week 3: The Cultural Identity of Sea Power
  • Week 4: Sea Power in the Ancient World
  • Week 5: Reading Week
  • Week 6: War at Sea in the Age of Sail I: 1571–1674
  • Week 7: War at Sea in the Age of Sail II: 1675–1783
  • Week 8: French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars
  • Week 9: Navies in the Nineteenth Century
  • Week 10: International Law and Sea Power
  • Week 11: First World War
  • Week 12: Second World War
  • Week 13: Cold War