Connectivity in the Premodern Mediterranean

Connectivity in the Premodern Mediterranean

This Research Focus Group brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars and students whose work touches on the Mediterranean in different ways, providing an opportunity to rethink the meaning of the Mediterranean and what constitutes—and distinguishes—“Mediterranean themes.” The focus will be on global connections, both across the Mediterranean region, and further afield.

We consider the “problem” of the premodern Mediterranean by investigating it from the margins. The past two decades has seen an explosion of studies on the premodern Mediterranean. This florescence coincides with an upsurge of interest in global and world approaches to history, which seek to expand, challenge, and revise canonical fields in the humanities. At the heart of these inquiries is the recognition that traditional categories of analysis—especially those of the nation and religion—have distorted our image of the premodern past, emphasizing a fixity of identities and separation of peoples that did not exist. Characterized by tremendous ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity, the Mediterranean challenges persistent narratives in the academy, especially those that separate east from west, the northern hemisphere from the south, and Christianity from Islam.

Despite the supposed openness of Mediterranean studies, its adoption by scholars in the humanistic disciplines has been uneven. Most studies have been conducted by specialists of Spain and Italy, so that these two places become metonyms for the entire region. The frequent omission of northern African and eastern Mediterranean lands creates the mistaken impression that they are characterized by the same patterns of cross-cultural and interfaith exchange that dominate the western Mediterranean. Further, historians and art historians have far outpaced other disciplines in embracing a Mediterranean framework, so that the important roles played by literature, theater, and music in expanding the cultural boundaries of the Mediterranean are often forgotten or overlooked. Yet literary, theatrical, and musical cultures were also key to the constitution and dissemination of Mediterranean themes and identities. A focus on these regions and cultural areas of production is thus essential for capturing the complexity and interconnections of the premodern Mediterranean, and its place in world history.

Our theme for 2019-20 is “Transmission and Reception.” We are planning on a speaker series related to this theme and other activities, which we will announce here.

Bernadette Andrea, English

Heather Badamo, Art History