The Human Shore: Seacoasts In History

Paperback | November 17, 2015

byJohn R. Gillis

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Since before recorded history, people have congregated near water. But as growing populations around the globe continue to flow toward the coasts on an unprecedented scale and climate change raises water levels, our relationship to the sea has begun to take on new and potentially catastrophic dimensions. The latest generation of coastal dwellers lives largely in ignorance of the history of those who came before them, the natural environment, and the need to live sustainably on the world’s shores. Humanity has forgotten how to live with the oceans.

 
In The Human Shore, a magisterial account of 100,000 years of seaside civilization, John R. Gillis recovers the coastal experience from its origins among the people who dwelled along the African shore to the bustle and glitz of today’s megacities and beach resorts. He takes readers from discussion of the possible coastal location of the Garden of Eden to the ancient communities that have existed along beaches, bays, and bayous since the beginning of human society to the crucial role played by coasts during the age of discovery and empire. An account of the mass movement of whole populations to the coasts in the last half-century brings the story of coastal life into the present.
 
Along the way, Gillis addresses humankind’s changing relationship to the sea from an environmental perspective, laying out the history of the making and remaking of coastal landscapes—the creation of ports, the draining of wetlands, the introduction and extinction of marine animals, and the invention of the beach—while giving us a global understanding of our relationship to the water. Learned and deeply personal, The Human Shore is more than a history: it is the story of a space that has been central to the attitudes, plans, and existence of those who live and dream at land’s end.

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Since before recorded history, people have congregated near water. But as growing populations around the globe continue to flow toward the coasts on an unprecedented scale and climate change raises water levels, our relationship to the sea has begun to take on new and potentially catastrophic dimensions. The latest generation of coasta...

John R. Gillis is the author of Islands of the Mind; A World of Their Own Making: Myth Ritual, and the Quest for Family Values; and Commemorations. A professor of history emeritus at Rutgers University, he now divides his time between two coasts: Northern California and Maine.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:256 pages, 8.75 × 6.35 × 0.68 inPublished:November 17, 2015Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022632429X

ISBN - 13:9780226324296

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction

1 An Alternative to Eden
2 Coasts of the Ancient Mariner
3 Sea Frontiers of the Early Modern Atlantic
4 Settling the Shores
5 Second Discovery of the Sea
6 Coastal Dreams and Nightmares

Conclusion  Learning to Live with Coasts

Notes
Index

Editorial Reviews

“Beginning with the appearance of modern Homo sapiens approximately 164,000 years ago, Gillis moves beyond the written records of conventional history to draw on insights from underwater archaeology, physical anthropology, and other fields. Boldly revising familiar narratives of human origins and development, he traces the cultural and material pasts of ‘our edge species.’ . . . Gillis ranges widely—crossing temporal and spatial boundaries, connecting “prehistory” to modern history, and touching down on coastal locales around the world. He does so with remarkable concision: this sophisticated, multimillennial narrative clocks in at just under 200 pages.”