£35 – £45

Crossing Boundaries? ​Trade and Connections on the Medieval Mediterranean

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Woolf Institute

Madingley Road

Cambridge

CB3 0UB

United Kingdom

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The Mediterranean Sea in the Middle Ages remains a rich subject of research. The discovery of new sources and the development of new methodologies have ensured that discussions around the Sea and the people who occupied its shores are as lively and cutting-edge as ever. To add to this, current events in the region make now an especially pressing time to revisit key debates surrounding the medieval Mediterranean, namely the influence of conflict and opportunity on the movement of people across its waters, the existence of trade as a connector of different peoples, and the role of merchants in working together – or, at least, trading with one another – in times of tension.

These debates, however, presuppose that the medieval Mediterranean was a sea of boundaries: boundaries between religions, boundaries between cultures, and boundaries between rival powers. Although obstacles preventing communication and connection across the Sea certainly existed in this period, it is difficult to clearly define Mediterranean ‘boundaries’ or to identify where they lay, if at all. States and institutions, for example, certainly aimed to construct boundaries through the regulation of contact and exchange, but with the absence of any pan-Mediterranean maritime law, or the ability to effectively police the Sea, this was never fully achieved.

Recent scholarship has shed some light on the crossing of perceived boundaries, but this has largely taken an “official” or “top-down” approach. For example, much attention has been given to the formal commercial agreements made between states of different cultural and religious backgrounds, as well as to the activities of their representatives in overseas port-cities and foreign courts. While this is important, comparatively little attention has been paid to the people who actually crossed these boundaries and those intimately involved in such crossings, or their collective exploits on and around the Sea. These were not only merchants, and neither were they all frequent seafarers – in fact they could be anyone from a maritime customs official in Barcelona to a ship’s cook from Crete – but their experiences are excellent perspectives from which to approach many practical aspects of medieval maritime mercantile history, including the existence, or absence, of Mediterranean boundaries.

This conference aims to highlight the lives of the peoples involved in maritime mercantile activity in the medieval Mediterranean and the worlds which they occupied, especially as they relate to boundaries in the context of cross-cultural and inter-confessional exchanges. Particular attention will be paid to merchants and trade as connectors of peoples between whom boundaries and obstacles preventing communication and connection can be perceived.

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Woolf Institute

Madingley Road

Cambridge

CB3 0UB

United Kingdom

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