Situated at the crossroad of Africa, Asia, and Europe, the Mediterranean region has long been a contact zone of multiple cultures and religions. A “liquid continent” and a “laboratory of globalization”, it possesses fluid political, cultural, and demographic boundaries and has witnessed extensive entanglements of intra-regional, transregional, and global networks for centuries. While the pre-modern-focused “new Mediterranean Studies” view the region as a connected and integrated whole, historiographies of the modern Mediterranean remain fragmented along sub-regional lines and lack a comprehensive regional approach. This conference, as the sixth workshop of the Research Network “Modern Mediterranean: Dynamics of a World Region” funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation, DFG), brought together scholars working on North Africa, the Middle East, western and southeastern Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and Turkey, and connected histories of areas that have usually been studied individually and separately. By doing so, it transcended national, sub-regional, and continental boundaries and explored how an integrated history of the modern Mediterranean could be written.
The conference commenced with a welcoming remark from the organising team. First, DANIEL TÖDT (Berlin) explained the aims of the DFG Research Network, which included interpreting the history of the Mediterranean differently, transcending fragmented historiographies, and reflecting on how the region, as a space, was invented and shaped in the modern period. MANUEL BORUTTA (Konstanz) mentioned key literature of the field and identified three obstacles to writing global Mediterranean history, namely the “marginalisation” of the region following the rise of the Atlantic economy, the “vanishing” of the Mediterranean with the advent of modernity, and the colonial genealogy of the concept. To overcome these obstacles, Borutta argued that historians needed to develop new categories of analysis, reconstruct the region’s forms of connectivity, and regard the Mediterranean as not only a receiver, but also a producer of modernity. The remark concluded with ambitious but cheerful claims: the global and the regional perspectives are equally important to tease out the dynamics of the modern Mediterranean and can sometimes complement each other; recent centuries saw not only a globalisation of the Mediterranean, but also a Mediterraneanisation of the world.
The first panel “Beyond Mediterraneanism” revisited modern representations of the Mediterranean and examined how dominant historiographies constructed the region as a backward periphery of modernity. FERNANDO ESPOSITO (Konstanz) opened the panel by devising the Mediterranean as a distinct, two-fold “chronotopos” – i.e., the point of departure of the Occidental civilisation and a place outside modernity – and relating the “chronotopos” to historicism and the denial of coevalness in traditional Euro-centric narratives. PAUL SANT CASSIA (Malta) traced the six phases in which Anglo-American anthropologists studied the Mediterranean since WWII and contended that anthropologists could benefit from neighbouring disciplines such as History. Drawing upon his research on migration history, JOSEPH VISCOMI (London) explored how and from which archives the environmental and social histories of the Mediterranean could be written. Each of these presentations was followed by a Questions-and-Answers session, in which themes like the self-Mediteraneanisation of southern Europe, the usefulness of the term “connectivity” in Mediterranean studies, and the possibility to crush hegemonic narratives with materials produced by the privileged population were discussed.
The second panel “The Modern Mediterranean in Global History” probed the position of the modern Mediterranean in Global History and pursued four questions: Why should global historians be interested in the study of the modern Mediterranean? Why should historians of the modern Mediterranean be interested in Global History? What is the colonial and imperial genealogy of the concept of the modern Mediterranean? What are the most important topics that the history of the modern Mediterranean should address? The panellists agreed that scholarships in Global History and modern Mediterranean History could profoundly enrich each other thanks to their common focus on connectivity, intercultural interactions, and transnational networks. They also concurred that most concepts in modern Mediterranean History have colonial and imperial roots and suggested reflecting constantly on the deployment of the concepts, writing histories from below and from the South, and working on micro-history. To the last question, themes ranging from capitalism, empire, environment, and infrastructure to gender, genocide, music, and urban-rural divide all got a mention. The panel then opened the floor for discussion and touched upon topics including the difficulties of doing global Mediterranean History, the uniqueness and distinctiveness of the Mediterranean in the global history framework, and how to train Mediterranean-focused Area Studies students to become global historians.
The third panel was dedicated to “Connecting Mediterranean and Sea Studies”. Contributions by ULRIKE FREITAG (Berlin) and ANDREAS ECKERT (Berlin) looked at neighbouring seas of the Mediterranean. Freitag presented some conceptual insights of Sea Studies and applied them to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. She questioned the often-presumed homogeneity within sea regions and maintained that the use of “the ocean” and “the sea” was only meaningful with careful attention to the scale of discussion and the historicity of connections. Eckert tracked the emergence, heyday, and decline of Atlantic History and reflected on the fuzzy boundaries between national, regional, oceanic, and global histories. The second part of the panel zoomed into the Mediterranean and dealt with two seas inside the region. BORUT KLABJAN (Koper) described the Adriatic Sea as a scene of conflicting interests between empires and Cold War blocs, and argued that the Adriatic Sea could help extend Mediterranean Studies to a broader geographical scale. Scrutinising the interconnections (or “sisterhood”) between Izmir and Salonica, DILEK AKYALCIN KAYA (Rethymno) showed how two Aegean port cities developed hand in hand thanks to steamships, migration, and the Tanzimat reform. The talks fostered extensive discussions among the participants, covering themes such as the usefulness of long-distance and large-scale comparison, the status of institutionalisation of Sea Studies, and the possible differences between inter-city sisterhood by sea and by land.
The fourth panel “Connecting Mediterranean and Area Studies” opened with M’HAMED OUALDI (Paris) pointing out that while Mediterranean History has not been fully integrated into North African Studies, some Maghreb scholars have already demonstrated interest in specific issues of the region. HANNES GRANDITS (Berlin) considered the Mediterranean as a part of a set of connections that changed drastically with time and geopolitics, and called for more attention to the economic and social histories of southeastern Europe. LIAT KOZMA (Jerusalem) examined the shifting popularity of the concept of “Mediterranean” in Israel in relation to the country’s identity construction and the geopolitical realities of the Middle East. CRISTINA LOMBARDI-DIOP (Chicago) closed the panel by recreating a partial genealogy of the ideas developed around the Mediterranean from sub-Saharan Africa. These presentations also stimulated lively discussions, which revolved around the disconnection of historiographies written in different languages, internal divisions (i.e., the North-South and the East-West) of the Mediterranean region, memories and identities of displaced populations, and many more.
The last two panels workshopped seventeen pre-circulated papers and explored new approaches to “Write the Modern Mediterranean”. MANUEL BORUTTA (Konstanz) put spatial history and modern Mediterranean Studies into dialogue and examined the interaction of cultural imagination, social construction, political organisation, and material transformation in the Mediterranean. He then detailed how the penetration of European empires transformed the pattern of the aforementioned interaction since the 1760s. FERNANDO ESPOSITO (Konstanz) explained how the Mediterranean was perceived and projected as “a place of memory” and “a place of another time” in the age of European expansion and empire-building. MAURIZIO ISABELLA (London) investigated revolutionary politics in southern Europe during the European revolutions and challenged conventional Francocentric narratives. PAUL SANT CASSIA (Malta) analysed the recent shift in anthropological studies of kinship in the Mediterranean. PATRICK BERNHARD (Oslo) considered the continuity and connectedness of violence in modern Mediterranean history. ESTHER MÖLLER (Paris) probed the works of religious, civilising, scientific, and humanitarian missions “to, through, but also in and from the Mediterranean”. JASMIN DAAM (Bonn) outlined the history of Mediterranean tourism from the 1860s to the 1960s/70s and discussed the roles of European and non-European actors. FABIAN LEMMES (Bochum) demonstrated that the modern Mediterranean was a laboratory of political ideologies. ARTHUR ASSERAF (Cambridge) pointed out that modern media have significantly transformed the cultural geography of the Mediterranean by creating new connections and altering people’s sense of place. NORA LAFI (Berlin) explored the experiences of female migrants from, and to the Mediterranean in the context of colonisation, thereby connecting the longue durée approach to micro-history. MALTE FUHRMANN (Berlin) discussed the usages and implications of cosmopolitanism in the social history of Mediterranean entrepôts and examined the fluidity of identity of port city residents. ANDREAS GUIDI (Paris) scrutinised the illegalisation of smuggling in the context of territorialisation of the Mediterranean in the nineteenth century. SAKIS GEKAS (Toronto) reviewed key literature on trade networks within and beyond the Mediterranean and contended that global history and cultural economic history could enrich historiographies on the nineteenth-century Mediterranean. HEINRICH HARTMANN (Hamburg) looked at how colonisation, technological and knowledge transfer, and European agricultural policy left their mark on agricultural production in the nineteenth-century Mediterranean. JOSEPH VISCOMI (London) studied the depopulation of a small Italian village and connected environmental, social, and political histories. DANIEL TÖDT (Berlin) brought together modern histories of the Mediterranean and of Africa by analysing the lives of sub-Saharan African seafarers in the “colonial sea”.
In the final session, the organisers revisited the aims of this conference and invited all participants to reflect on a number of questions: How can we combine different approaches to research and write modern Mediterranean history? How do we deal with the conceptual challenges – be it spatial, temporal, or periodisation-wise – that have already emerged in this field? Why should we proceed with the Mediterranean framework and how? The participants also expressed their thankfulness to the organising team and offered insightful feedback. The conference concluded with a consensus that while historiographies on the modern Mediterranean remain fragmented at present, constructive conversations between scholars of different disciplinary backgrounds and regional expertise could help make a difference.
Panel 1 Beyond Mediterraneanism
Chair: Esther Möller (Paris)
Fernando Esposito (Konstanz): What time was the modern Mediterranean?
Paul Sant Cassia (Malta): How to do Mediterranean anthropology today?
Joseph Viscomi (London): On perspective and possibility in Mediterranean history
Panel 2 Round Table: The Modern Mediterranean in Global History
Chair: Georges Khalil (Berlin)
Panellists: Manuel Borutta (Konstanz), Ulrike Freitag (Berlin), Julia Hauser (Kassel), Khaled Kchir (Tunis), Ilham Khuri-Makdisi (Boston), Nora Lafi (Berlin)
Panel 3 Connecting Mediterranean & Sea Studies
Chair: Andreas Guidi (Paris)
Ulrike Freitag (Berlin): Red Sea & Indian Ocean
Andreas Eckert (Berlin): Atlantic Ocean
Borut Klabjan (Koper): Adriatic Sea
Dilek Akyalcin Kaya (Rethymno): Eastern Mediterranean Sea
Panel 4 Connecting Mediterranean & Area Studies
Chair: Cyrus Schayegh (Geneva)
M‘hamed Oualdi (Paris): North Africa
Hannes Grandits (Berlin): Southeastern Europe
Liat Kozma (Jerusalem): Middle East
Cristina Lombardi-Diop (Chicago): Sub-Saharan Africa
Panel 5 Writing the Modern Mediterranean I
Chair: Malte Fuhrmann (Berlin)
Space: Manuel Borutta (Konstanz), Comment: Jürgen Osterhammel (Freiburg)
Time: Fernando Esposito (Konstanz), Comment: Sebastian Conrad (Berlin)
Revolutions: Maurizio Isabella (London), Comment: Ilham Khuri-Makdisi (Boston)
Kinship: Paul Sant Cassia (Malta), Comment: Lene Faust (Bern)
Violence: Patrick Bernhard (Oslo), Comment: Zeynep Türkyilmaz (Potsdam)
Tourism: Jasmin Daam (Bonn), Comment: Valeska Huber (Wien)
Panel 6 Writing the Modern Mediterranean II
Chair: Fernando Esposito (Konstanz)
Missions: Esther Möller (Paris), Comment: Nazan Maksudyan (Berlin)
Ideology: Fabian Lemmes (Bochum), Comment: Sana Tannoury-Karam (Beirut)
Media: Arthur Asseraf (Cambridge), Comment: Frank Bösch (Potsdam)
Chair: Jasmin Daam (Bonn)
Migration: Nora Lafi (Berlin), Comment: Céline Regnard (Aix-en-Provence)
Cosmopolitanism: Malte Fuhrmann (Berlin), Comment: Rim Naguib (Berlin)
Illegality: Andreas Guidi (Paris), Comment: Cyrus Schayegh (Geneva)
Chair: Fabian Lemmes (Bochum)
Trade: Sakis Gekas (Toronto), Comment: Funda Soysal (Istanbul)
Agriculture: Heinrich Hartmann (Hamburg), Comment: Joseph Viscomi (London)
Environment: Joseph Viscomi (London), Comment: Heinrich Hartmann (Hamburg)
Africans: Daniel Tödt (Berlin), Comment: Cristina Lombardi-Diop (Chicago)