Peiresc and the Merchants of Marseille: A Well-Documented Example of Scholarly Collaboration

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 1:20 PM
Thurgood Marshall Ballroom South (Marriott Wardman Park)
Peter N. Miller, Bard Graduate Center
It is of course quite natural that scholars would collaborate with merchants. In the small-scale environments of pre-modern European towns and cities their social worlds would often overlap, as would their dispositions to discovery, communication and novelty. But aside from the growing literature on print shops and printing contexts, we have few examples of learned collaborations between scholars and merchants. The surviving archive of Nicolas Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637) for this, as for so much else, provides a rich panorama of early modern life. Known in his own time and since for his leading role in stimulating and directing oriental studies in Europe, for bringing to Europe manuscripts, books and objects needed for the deeper investigation of oriental languages and literatures, the question of how he was able to do all this has never been asked. The answer takes us from intellectual and cultural history to social and economic  history, and from the little-known provincial erudites and well-known international superstars who fill half his correspondence, to the utterly unknown and almost invisible merchants, mariners and missionaries who fill the other half. We can follow these men as they circulated through the Provençal ports and, especially, Marseille, in the first decades of the seventeenth century, connecting Peiresc in Aix with the worlds bordered by the nearby sea. Outlining the scope of this relationship, and its possible implications for new paths in the study of early modern European history, is the purpose of this paper.