We contend that the harvest of marine resources played a critical, but as yet underappreciated and poorly understood, role in global history. In a review of the field of marine environmental history and archaeology we conclude that while much progress has been made, especially in the last two decades, fundamental questions remain unanswered. In order to make full use of the rapid growth of Big Data and ongoing methodological breakthroughs there is a need for collaborative and comparative research. Such joint efforts on a global scale must be guided by a focus on common, simple yet challenging, questions. We propose a Human Oceans Past research agenda to call for multi- and trans-disciplinary archaeological, historical and palaeoenvironmental/palaeoecological research to investigate: (1) when and where marine exploitation was of significance to human society; (2) how selected major socio-economic, cultural, and environmental forces variously constrained and enabled marine exploitation; and (3) what were the consequences of marine resource exploitation for societal development. We contend that this agenda will lead to a fundamental revision in our understanding of the historical role of marine resources in the development of human societies.