EH.net is owned and operated by the Economic History Association
with the support of other sponsoring organizations.

Europe and the Maritime World: A Twentieth Century History

Author(s):Miller, Michael B.
Reviewer(s):Sicotte, Richard

Published by EH.Net (June 2013)

Michael B. Miller, Europe and the Maritime World: A Twentieth Century History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. xvi + 435 pp. $99 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-1-107-02455-7.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Richard Sicotte, Department of Economics, University of Vermont.

In Europe and the Maritime World, Michael Miller describes the process of globalization in the twentieth century through the prism of maritime history.? Miller, professor of history at the University of Miami, organizes his study into two parts.? In the first part, entitled ?Networks,? the author describes the interrelationships of shipping, ports, trading companies, commodity trades, commercial and transport intermediaries and business culture, as they existed in the world up to around 1960.? The network of networks that Miller describes comprised nothing less than the world ocean-borne trading and transport system.? The second part of his book, entitled ?Exchanges,? depicts the evolution of this system from World War I to the present day.? In this part, Miller?s focus is on the ?exchanges? between ?maritime history and the larger currents of the twentieth century.?? The four chapters cover World War I, the interwar period, World War II and reconstruction, and the period from the 1960s to the present.? The scope of the book, therefore, is very wide.? Indeed, the author states that Europe and the Maritime World is ?better understood as an investigation into how the modern world has worked.?

Miller argues persuasively that the ?commercial maritime world? helped to shape the modern world?s organization of consumption and production.? The inclusion of ?Europe? in the title is appropriate.? Much of the book discusses the activities of European individuals and firms, although the geographic scope of their activities is worldwide.? Dutch, German, Belgian, French and British firms predominate, which is justified, Miller argues, on the basis that Europeans were the principle builders and operators of the global trading and transport system up to 1960.? This is not to give the impression that the system evolved out of some coordinated European plan.? Indeed, Miller?s descriptions succeed in conveying how the competitive and cooperative decisions of millions of people over a century developed this system.? It is just simply that European shipping, trading and logistical firms were the major players, particularly in trans-oceanic transport.? In some fascinating descriptions of Asian commerce, Miller describes how through competitive advantage, network relationships and colonialism, Europeans also came to integrate themselves into and influence the shape of local feeder networks there as well.

One of the many strengths of this volume is its encyclopedic display of maritime and commercial history.? The book is a virtual one-stop shop for valuable information and citations on seemingly every topic in those already very broad areas. Among the many topics that I found especially strong were Miller?s discussions of ship agents, freight forwarders, the cruise industry, oil shipping and trade, and the European-based business culture that supported the network linkages.? Perhaps most importantly, Miller provides a sense of how the individual network industries interact with one another.? Through the labor market, competition, collusion, mergers and acquisitions, individual employees and firms move across and interact with counterparts in other parts of the commercial and transport system.

Miller argues that the shock of World War I was a body blow to the system, but also one that created opportunities for the creation of new linkages and the rise of alternative centers of influence, especially in the Americas and Asia.? During the interwar years, Miller is careful to juxtapose the contraction of world trade in goods and immigration to the United States with the expansion of tourism, migration elsewhere, the creation of some new important commercial relationships, and the qualitative deepening of the system in other respects.? Indeed, Miller believes that the view held by many economic historians that the interwar years were a period of de-globalization is deeply misplaced.? He argues that view is conditioned by the influence of a social scientific approach that puts metrics of market integration at the center of the definition of globalization.? Miller takes issue with that perspective, and believes that an alternative historical approach that emphasizes what he calls ?global connectedness? is more fruitful.? His goal is to tell the tale of globalization as a ?story of progressions and mutations [rather] than one of interruptions and new beginnings.?? The last two chapters of the book, in that regard, are excellent depictions of the evolution of the world commercial system since World War II.? Through his descriptions of ports, entrepreneurs, firms and industries, the reader gets a nice sense of the tumultuous interplay between air transport, containerization, de-colonization, world economic growth and the maritime trading system.? I would have liked to read more about the evolving intermodal relationships between rail, trucking and shipping, but it seems absurd to criticize the book for not doing more when its scope is already so wide.

Miller?s narrative history is founded on a truly impressive command of an incredible variety of subject matters.? The author has read extremely widely, combed many archives, and interviewed numerous individuals in a number of countries.? The bibliography is outstanding and will be extremely useful as a starting point for research on any number of industries or themes touching on globalization during the twentieth century.? There are seven informative tables, but the book is not a go-to source for quantitative data.? There are a number of evocative photographs that are well chosen and complement the narrative wonderfully.? I am confident that this book will be an indispensable source and inspiration for future work on globalization, especially as it relates to international maritime history.

Richard Sicotte has published several articles on ocean shipping, and is currently investigating price discrimination and cartel organization in the ocean shipping industry.

Copyright (c) 2013 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (administrator@eh.net). Published by EH.Net (June 2013). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://www.eh.net/BookReview

Subject(s):International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Transport and Distribution, Energy, and Other Services
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII