On September 28, 2016, Nationally renowned historian John R. Gillis gave a public lecture on “Maine and the New North Atlantic” at USM; this event is part of USM Digital Humanities’ initiative to expand USM’s international research and study abroad programs to Iceland and the North Atlantic.
We normally think of seas as natural phenomena, fixed in shape and exempt from historical change. But the very idea of the sea is a human product and northern waters have been changing for as long as humans have sailed them. The Vikings gave the North Sea its initial form and meaning. Later, it was shaped by the French, England, the Dutch and the Spanish Basque. When they drew back and the United States declared its independence, it became a very different thing, much smaller and oriented north/south rather than east/west. Now, in this era of global trade and the opening of the North West Passage, a New North Sea is emerging, one that once again ties together northern Europe and North America. Portland appears to destined to play a key role in this development.
In his lecture, Professor John R. Gillis explored how coastal and island peoples in Europe and America have shaped the North Sea and how, in turn, it has shaped them. He also visited Professor Lisa Hibl’s class (Director, Russell Scholars Program) at the Gorham campus. Books John Gillis authored include The Human Shore: Sea Coasts in History and Islands of the Mind: How the Human Imagination Created the Atlantic World.