A Propos

“Mediterranean Reconfigurations” (ConfigMed) is an international research project hosted by Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne and the Institut d’histoire moderne et contemporaine (IHMC), and funded by an ERC Advanced Grant (n° 295868) from September 2012 to June 2018.

The project analyses long-term historical changes in the Mediterranean over (15th-19th centuries). It challenges totalising narratives that aim to “Europeanise” Mediterranean history as having led somewhat naturally to European domination in the 19th and 20th centuries. A narrow vision of Mediterranean history sees institutional and territorial integration as a consequence of the mere diffusion of European institutional models and legal codifications, linked to a supposed lex mercatoria or law merchant in force in all countries and at all times. The specific approach of this project attempts instead to combine concrete local, regional and thematic approaches, with a focus on trade as the most widely-accepted interaction even in times of sharp conflict, as well as on commercial and maritime litigation as an indicator for the intensity, and changing modes, of intercultural exchange. Using an actor-centred perspective, a variety of individual and institutional actors involved in trade will be considered. Their interactions were based on a combination of shared customs, local practices and legal traditions. Addressing competing instances and drawing on different legal resources, they contributed to a reconfiguration of the legal and institutional landscape.

These issues will be investigated through the comparative analysis of commercial litigation and conciliation concerning trade in Mediterranean port cities, with a focus on disputes involving litigants who were not subjects of the local authorities, or whose legal status was linked to their religious identity. Encounters between Muslim, Jewish, Armenian, Protestant merchants and sailors with different legal customs and judicial practices appear as the social sites of legal and cultural creativity. Through the prism of commercial litigation, we can thus achieve a more precise and deeper understanding of the practices of intercultural trade, in a context profoundly shaped by legal pluralism and multiple and overlapping spaces of jurisdiction. Comparative case studies will offer empirical indicators for regional and more general processes, which we have called ‘Mediterranean reconfigurations’: that is, the changing interplay and positioning of individual and institutional actors on different levels.

This research project contributes to opening new directions of research in Mediterranean and European history. By showing that the “internationalisation” of commercial and maritime law in the last two centuries meant a progressive “legal Europeanisation” of the Mediterranean, it sheds new light on the long-term process that have thus far been interpreted as the “invention” — the colonization — of the Mediterranean.

The Mediterranean Configurations website aims to share the results of the research group, and as far as is possible, to present any current research. It also contributes to informing the research community about publications about the Mediterranean between the 15th and 19th centuries.

Area of activity: History, legal studies, Mediterranean studies, Mediterranean history, Humanities

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement n° 295868.

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