Innocents Abroad

Sail with Mark Twain and the other American “Innocents Abroad” from New York in 1867 aboard the luxury cruise ship Quaker City into the Mediterranean and back.  See the sights of 19th century Europe and the Holy Land through their eyes while you learn about the cruise and the passengers his book made famous.

Gallipoli and the ANZACS

The bloody stalemate on the Great War’s Western Front pushed allied strategists into thinking about alternatives.  Churchill’s dreadful idea was an amphibious attack in 1915 through the “soft underbelly” of the Central Powers, the Turkish Peninsula of Gallipoli, to capture Istanbul and open a route to Russia.  The tragic sacrifices of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps during the botched campaign are remembered every April 25th.

The Epic Naval Battle of Lepanto, 1571

Learn how the Holy League’s fleet under the command of Don Juan of Austria shattered the Ottoman Turks’ navy in the Mediterranean in a decisive battle famous in art and poetry.  Both sides appealed for and expected divine assistance.  The costly victory at sea—tens of thousands drowned—helped establish the line between Muslim and Christian worlds for centuries.

 The Crimean War

A glance at the politics, personalities, and poetry of Europe’s great mid-19th century war. In many ways the war, a collision between Tsarist ambitions, Anglo-French suspicions, and Turkish exhaustion, hinted at the shape and cost of terrible conflicts to come–the American Civil War and World War I.

The Hanseatic League

A common European interest in peaceful, profitable trade across borders dates back at least to the mid-12th century, even before there was anything such as “Europe,” in the loose affiliation of German states known as the Hanseatic League.  Its many member cities, spanning seven countries today, dominated North Sea and Baltic trade from entrepôts in Russia, Norway, Flanders (Belgium), and England for more than two centuries, and remained important for a further two hundred years across a trading area that today includes twenty European states.

 Strategic Waters and the Baltic Sea

Restricted waters, narrow straits and passages, and the routes around the capes have shaped the flow of merchant ship traffic and the deployment of naval forces throughout history. The Baltic watershed includes the nine coastal countries and parts of five others that drain into the small, nearly closed sea that lies at the region’s center. Its colorful history reflects the lives of the powerful kings, lords, warriors, and traders of the past millennium.

St. Petersburg and the Romanov Tsars

For two hundred of the three hundred years the Romanovs ruled Russia, St. Petersburg, on the Neva, was their capital.  The glittering chief city of the empire grew around the Fortress of Saints Peter and Paul into the most European of Russian cities.  A rival of Moscow’s for the past hundred years, the sweep of modern Russian history can be understood through St. Petersburg’s succession of name changes: to Petrograd in 1914, to Leningrad, in 1924, and back to the original with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1981.

The Great Age of Sweden and the Death of the Vasa

A decade into the Thirty Years War (1618-48) Sweden’s powerful King, Gustavus Adolphus, suffered a huge embarrassment: in August 1628 his Baltic Fleet’s glittering new flagship, Vasa, 64 guns on two decks, capsized and sank in shallow water on her maiden voyage, drowning perhaps 50 of her crew in sight of hundreds.  Recovered practically complete (but not intact) in 1961, Vasa today is the stunning centerpiece of Stockholm’s maritime museum, reopened to visitors in spring 2013.

 The Heroic Age of Polar Exploration and Roald Amundsen

Centuries of searching for the Northwest Passage between Europe and Asia led to the early 20th century’s era of “heroic” polar exploration, when national bragging rights and not colonial ambitions impelled daring attempts to reach the North and South Poles.   Among these intrepid explorers Amundsen, the Norwegian who actually found a passage across the top of Canada and then in 1911 won the international race to reach the South Pole, stands apart.

Norwegian Explorers and the Swede Olaus Magnus’ famed “Carta Marina” 

A survey of some of Norway’s great explorers presented against the backdrop of Magnus’ fabulous 1527 map of Scandinavia.

Norway’s North Cape and the Cold War

During the Cold War Norway’s North Cape was the maritime counterpart to Germany’s Fulda Gap, both decisive theaters in the war that never came.

The Mary Rose and the Rise of the Tudor Navy

The Tudors created the standing navy, and during Henry VIII’s regime built the well-armed, pioneering Mary Rose, now recovered (she sank in the Solent in 1545) restored and the centerpiece of a new maritime museum in Portsmouth.

Danish History and the Battles of Copenhagen

A look at Denmark’s transition through ten centuries from a global great power and gate-keeper of the Baltic Sea to one of modern Europe’s model states, and a glimpse of Copenhagen, Denmark’s strategic, historic, and beautiful capital.

Maritime Connections and the Great Canals 

The age of canal building, and the great canals, focused especially on the history of the Kiel Canal.

The Guns of August and the 1914 European Cruise of USS Tennessee

The story of the  Navy’s surprising role during the first months of World War I: to deliver gold to prime the continent’s paralyzed banking system; to ease the path home for tens of thousands of stranded American tourists, students and expatriates; and to relocate thousands of impoverished refugees in the Middle east, all desperate to avoid the fighting.

Great Britain, the United States and World War I at Sea

The war at sea before and after America finally joined the fighting in 1917, and of Imperial Germany’s great and fatal gamble on the submarine.

Heimaey, Vestmannaeyjar and the Mt. Kirkjufell Eruption

The surprise volcanic eruption on Heimaey Island (largest in the Westmann Archipelago off Iceland) on January 21, 1973, threatened the fishing town, its harbor, and its people with a fate like Pompeii’s. That nothing so awful happened was thanks to a fast Icelandic and American response to the photogenic catastrophe.

The Catholic Kings of Europe: Portugal, Spain and the Contest for Empire  

For more than century after the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 the kings (and queens) of Spain and Portugal, proud royalty of the world’s soon-to-be first global empires, literally split the unknown world between them.  Their successful quest for wealth and power overseas is a fascinating, colorful (and for those who were native to these distant places, tragic) story.

Skimming the History of the East Indies Companies

Rivals for nearly two centuries, the English and Dutch East India Companies were the first modern, near-global conglomerates; pioneering, fabulously successful joint stock companies that together dominated trade, industry, agriculture, and politics across half the globe.  For many decades the companies exercised sovereign rights over vast colonial possessions (deploying powerful armies and navies to enforce their writ), leaving fingerprints visible even beyond the era of decolonization in the 20th century.

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