Renaissance and Reformation Mediterranean
by
Eric R Dursteler
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 April 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0025

Introduction

The field of Renaissance Mediterranean studies for the period 1300–1700 has produced several of the great works of 20th-century historical scholarship, and because of the transregional character of the Mediterranean, which deprivileges the nation-state, the region continues to attract significant interdisciplinary scholarly research. While much has been written about aspects or parts of the Mediterranean, this entry will focus primarily on works that attempt to address the larger questions of the Mediterranean as a broad entity. Thus, the criteria for selection has been to favor texts that address historical issues in a broadly Mediterranean framework, rather than studies that focus more narrowly on regions of the Mediterranean. Because of the unique challenges presented in studying a geographically large and culturally diverse region, one with tremendous linguistic variation and different national historiographical traditions, a large number of works that attempt to treat the Mediterranean are collaborative collections of essays.

General Overviews

Braudel 1972 (originally published in French in 1949) is the seminal work. Horden and Purcell 2000 builds on Braudel’s idea of Mediterranean unity, arguing that Mediterranean unity is a product of connectivity between microregions. Wright 1999 is also Braudelian, and sees evidence of Mediterranean unity in the region’s culinary history. Abulafia 2003 and Matvejević 1999 both seek to understand the Mediterranean by going beyond the heavy environmental focus of Braudel 1972, emphasizing individuals, culture, society, and politics. Norwich 2006 is strictly narrative and political.

  • Abulafia, David, ed. The Mediterranean in History. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003.

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    This lavishly illustrated volume contains eight essays surveying Mediterranean history from prehistorical to contemporary times. The impact of the physical setting is emphasized, but not to the same extent as Braudel 1972 or Horden and Purcell 2000. Rather, the role of individuals and the influence of political, social, and religious factors are privileged.

  • Braudel, Fernand. The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. 2 vols. Translated by Siân Reynolds. New York: Harper, 1972.

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    One of the classics of 20th-century historiography, this work set the paradigm for Mediterranean studies and remains an essential point of reference. Braudel approaches the history of the sea from a long-term perspective, examining the deep structural features that form the sea and that inform the more transitory human social, cultural, and political aspects of Mediterranean history. He insists on the fundamental unity of the Mediterranean, joined by all the deep geological, climatic, and environmental structures he describes.

  • Horden, Peregrine, and Nicholas Purcell. The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.

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    An influential study that builds on Braudel’s vision (Braudel 1972) of Mediterranean unity by looking at Mediterranean social, economic, and cultural history from antiquity to the Middle Ages in a broadly multidisciplinary fashion. Argues that Mediterranean unity is a product of ease of communication and connectivity between the various microregions that comprise it. This work revived the study of the Mediterranean as an entity, and has spawned significant debate.

  • Matvejević, Predrag. Mediterranean: A Cultural Landscape. Translated by Michael Henry Heim. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

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    Attempting to move beyond the broad treatments of Braudel 1972 and Horden and Purcell 2000, this work focuses more subjectively on the cultural world of the Mediterranean, and argues for the role of religious, linguistic, culinary, and intellectual factors on the shaping of the sea’s history. Emphasizes the heterogeneous yet unified character of Mediterranean culture.

  • Norwich, John Julius. The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean. London: Chatto and Windus, 2006.

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    An expansive history of the Mediterranean from antiquity to World War I, written by one of the great masters of narrative history. Heavily focused on great individuals, politics, and battles, with little attention to society, art, literature, or culture.

  • Wright, Clifford A. A Mediterranean Feast: The Story of the Birth of the Celebrated Cuisines of the Mediterranean, from the Merchants of Venice to the Barbary Corsairs; with More Than 500 Recipes. New York: William Morrow, 1999.

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    A fascinating and eclectic work that is half cookbook and half historical survey. Building on Braudel’s thesis of the unity of the Mediterranean, the author attempts to show this unity through a study of the cross-pollination of the region’s cuisines.

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