• colonialism;
  • European expansion;
  • imperialism;
  • international relations

ABSTRACT. The definition of oceans as international politicized space is an integral but little analyzed aspect of early modern European expansion, which took place between about 1450 and 1800. In this essay I explore the implications of thinking about the development of European imperialism and global dominance in oceanic terms. I argue that oceanic, rather than terrestrial, dominance characterized early modern European empires, particularly in relation to Africa and Asia, where indigenous political and economic control prevailed. The long apprenticeship in mastering oceanic space contributed to the ability of Europeans to build land-based empires in Asia and Africa in the nineteenth century. As well, the international relationships worked out by Europeans in the nonstate but militarized arena of the high seas contributed to an emergent global order.