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ABULAFIA David - Maritime History: the Mediterranean and Other Seas (20h)

How does on write the history of a sea?  This is a space on which – setting aside for the moment islands – there are no permanent residents living in a fixed place.  The sea is a place of constant movement, not just the physical movement of the water but the human movement of those crossing its surface.  Reconstructing the experiences of those who crossed the sea takes one to the problem of people’s motives in so doing.  The merchant, the migrant, the missionary, the mercenary – these are all categories of sea-goer that one finds within both the Mediterranean world and on the oceans beyond.

Here, a very long time-frame will be adopted, to show how maritime trade in particular has transformed the shores of the Mediterranean and the hinterlands of the three continents that meet on its shores.  The theme in studying the Mediterranean is at what stage the sea became an integrated trading zone and what breaks in continuity can be identified, such as the calamity following the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West.

What was the cultural impact of this trade?  Thanks to archaeological research and the discovery of increasing amounts of archival material it is possible to see what goods crossed the sea and who handled them.  It is possible to talk about long-distance artistic and literary influences.   It I also possible to trace the spread of religious ideas around the Mediterranean, with the diffusion of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the three Abrahamic religions, around its shores.

This trade was not just in objects; it was also, sadly, in human beings. Maritime history embraces the history of the slave trade, which was also, probably, the main way in which women travelled across the Mediterranean, since trading activities were generally conducted by men, and men crewed the ships as well.

Having looked at the Mediterranean, it is worth asking whether similar examples of cross-cultural contact effected through intense trading networks can be found elsewhere in the world, in what some historians have called other Mediterraneans, such as the Baltic/North Sea complex, the South China Sea, the Caribbean, etc.  With the vast expansion of Atlantic, Indian Ocean and Pacific history, the question arises whether writing the history of the oceans before and after Columbus and Vasco da Gama is a different sort of task – not just in scale but in methodology.  The relevance of this to European studies is not in doubt, as a central question is the way European nations remodeled the trade of the entire globe after 1500, a question that also bears heavily on the problem of the origins of globalization.

Whether dealing with the Mediterranean or other seas, the role of islands needs to be considered.  Sometime rather small places such as Majorca, Cyprus or, in the oceanic world, the Cape Verde Islands or Cuba, became important emporia linking opposing shores.  Similar questions arise about the port cities around the shores of the Mediterranean and other seas, which often became home to many ethnic and religious groups – how harmonious was their existence?  What sort of influence did one group have on another? These are the types of question that need to be asked. // ECTS Card

Professor: David ABULAFIA