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The Freshening of American
Maritime History
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Keeping america’s maritime past a vital part of our national consciousness would seem to be an “all hands” effort from our relevant cultural institutions. Yet for the last half-century, American historians teaching at the country’s major research universities and leading liberal arts colleges have kept pretty much to their bunks. Nothing so much distinguishes the recent state of maritime history from other specialties within the larger project of American history than the absence of academic engagement. By default, American maritime history today relies primarily upon independent scholars, writers, and government-employed or museum-based educators for its public visibility.1 This situation has its upside. Non-academically affiliated writers such as Mark Kurlansky, Lincoln Paine, Jonathan Raban, and John Rousmaniere have provided the American maritime history-reading public with a varied body of work distinguished by literary merit seldom found in fields dominated by academic historians. So, too, forays of more broadly engaged writers such as Dava Sobel, Evan Thomas, Peter Matthiessen, and John McPhee have helped to sustain a substantial read