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Identity in the Mediterranean World: From the Middle Ages to Today, 2010-2011

During 2010-11, the Collaborative focused on constructions of identities in the Mediterranean world from the Middle Ages to the present.  By identities we refer both to self-defined cultural identities and identities imposed by others; in each case, more than just ethnicity or race is involved, but also law, class, politics, religion, language, and culture.  Although some scholars have questioned the viability of the Mediterranean as a concept, we suggest that its experience as a major site of long term and ongoing cross-cultural encounter makes it more important than ever to explore the dynamics of the region over a long chronology. Drawing on a variety of disciplinary approaches, we plan to lay the basis for an interdisciplinary understanding of interactions in the Mediterranean world over time and in diverse geographies. Our project focused, in particular, on the linguistic, spatial-occupational, and religious dimensions of diversity that underlie identities.  This project’s aims are to use diachronic comparisons, specific cases in time and space, to rethink existing paradigms for understanding the fixity or malleability of identities and to examine the historical transmission of memories of alliances or animosities associated with identities, while we move to a more nuanced understanding of identities than that of the reductionist “clash of civilizations” that has too greatly dominated the terms of recent public discourse.

Identity as a focus has never been more relevant than at the present moment with its increased movements of peoples as immigrants, refugees, evacuees, transplants. In the medieval and early modern eras, the Mediterranean was a multicultural environment where, for example, peoples of different religious backgrounds, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others – each part of cultures internally diverse – interacted with one another frequently. In the late modern era the Mediterranean has become a vital space of transit for peoples from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia en route to Europe’s southern shores. These 20th and 21st century migrations represent more than just a demographic reversal of earlier movements of peoples outward from Europe; they have raised questions about the extent to which many European societies have organized themselves in highly charged ways around a cultural myth that stresses the distinctions between Northern and Southern identities, between North and South.

Conveners: Kathryn Reyerson (History, College of Liberal Arts), Patricia Lorcin (History, College of Liberal Arts), John Watkins (English, College of Liberal Arts)

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