Networks of Knowledge in the Early Modern Mediterranean

AHA Session 18
Thursday, January 2, 2014: 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Thurgood Marshall Ballroom South (Marriott Wardman Park)
Anthony Grafton, Princeton University
Francesca Trivellato, Yale University

Session Abstract

Recent research has underscored the human networks through which diverse political and sociocultural entities interacted in the early modern Mediterranean. Historians have studied cultural mediation at the points of interaction between empires, the circulation of news, rumor and gossip across imperial and regional boundaries, and the human networks that brought information about Mediterranean beliefs and practices to early modern scholars’ attention. These parallel developments all offer new insight into how the circulation of people and goods across the early modern sea established trans-Mediterranean networks of information and knowledge production, enriching the perspective on commerce and communication provided by an earlier generation of economic and social historians. Yet these diverse contributions have yet to cohere into an integrated vision of how modes of knowledge production and circulation worked across the early modern Mediterranean’s political, religious and ideological divides, and how they shaped different orders of knowledge, both formal and informal, written and oral.

This panel brings leading specialists from different subfields together with younger scholars to articulate shared insights into the workings of human networks of information across the Mediterranean and their impact on early modern culture. The panelists study an age when the European ideological disparagement of the Ottomans coexisted with curiosity, knowledge-gathering and emulation. Trans-imperial and trans-Mediterranean networks were central to all of these processes. The Mediterranean that emerges from this new scholarly work is not the fault-line in a clash of civilizations but an integrated region in which networks could serve both to sustain new forms of interaction and knowledge as well as to support shifting processes of identity formation.

The panelists will address several common themes. One set of themes focuses on language: the role of translation and of linguistic boundary-marking, the existence of specialized ‘trading zones’ with their own rules for translating information, and oral and epistolary transmission. A second thematic cluster looks at intermediaries and vectors: the role of informants and go-betweens, and of objects of trade as nodes of knowledge production. A third theme is the diverse human networks that were enrolled in the circulation of knowledge: religious networks, diplomatic delegations, communities of merchants, and specialized research missions. Finally, the panelists will discuss continuity and change in the development and maintenance of these networks of knowledge, and their role in the rise of a civilizational ideology that ultimately made them invisible and made the early modern Mediterranean appear as a boundary line between Christians and Muslims.

The broader significance of this research reaches well beyond the early modern period and beyond the study of the Mediterranean itself. The panel speaks to themes of historical import: European encounters with others, especially long-familiar others, the genealogies of Orientalism, and the role of transnational human networks in the production of knowledge and the formation of ideologies.

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