Marine animals and maritime communities in the early modern Atlantic



Start . 2017

Duration . 49 months

Principal Investigator Cristina Brito (CHAM)


Main Research Unit

CHAM — Centro de Humanidades


Cátedra UNESCO «O Património Cultural dos Oceanos»
Oceans Past Platform



Over time, humans have been using and exploiting the natural living resources of seas and shores for their own convenience and profit. Coral, pearls, seashells, turtles, fishes, seabirds and marine mammals were, and are still, an important source of resources ranging from exchange currency to food items as even to daily life instruments, and for that reason they have been gathered, captured or hunted. They all became important economic activities in early modern oceans with severe impacts both in the ecology of marine ecosystems and in the human populations who relied on them. Whale hunting, for instances, was the most extensive form of exploitation of a living resource and the history of whaling is a classic example of the relation between humans and a given natural element. This activity can be tracked through time and space, from immemorial times to nowadays, and reveals social, cultural and economic aspects along the histories of coastal human communities. Moreover, it can directly contribute to understand the dynamics of European and native patterns of power related to science and nature and in a two-way circulation of knowledge, particularly of the Iberian, and economic interests of the new world’s nature.  



The main goal of this project is to assess how marine animals were perceived, used and valued by humans, both native and European, on different oceanic regions in the early modern age. This project is conducted through the lens of the Portuguese Maritime Expansion but it is expected to bring contributions in the fields of Environmental History, as also of Atlantic History and History of Natural History.





UNESCO Chair on «The Ocean´s Cultural Heritage» (Web)

Oceans Past Initiative (Web)

APCM - Associação para as Ciências do Mar (Web)