John R Gillis

Current Projects

His latest book, The Human Shore: Seacoasts in History, is now available from the University of Chicago Press. It begins with the first humans to approach the shore, tracing coastal migrations around the world before turning to the ways that coasts and coastal people have figured in globalization over the past several centuries. The book will conclude with an assessment of the current crisis of coasts in the context of massive environmental and cultural change.

Gillis's work is deeply influenced by the environmentalist Rachel Carson and the cultural geographer Yi-Fu Tuan. As in his Islands of the Mind, Gillis is concerned not only with the material conditions of coasts, but with their cultural meanings. He challenges the conventions of both maritime and territorial history which have treated coasts as belonging either to water or to land by showing they are ecotones, combining both elements, a unique environment that has produced a distinctive culture that is now threatened with extinction.

For a preview of The Human Shore: Seacoasts in History, link to Gillis, "Being Coastal," California Coast and Ocean,vol.23, nr I (2007), 10-15.

"To understand why people crowd the coasts the way they do, it is necessary to know how they live by them mentally"   John Gillis


"Like the sea itself the shore fascinates us who return to it, the place of our own ancestral beginnings...There is also, I am convinced, a deeper fascination born of inner meaning and significance."    Rachel Carson


“Every person in this world has a coast, an edge, a boundary, a transition zone between themselves and the world."   John A. Murray


Coasts are "obstinately discontinuous, abysmal, anti-rational, impossible to fix."   Paul Carter


"The seashore is a place that is noplace...a border of endless embassies."    Rebecca Solnit