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NEH Summer Institute


Thresholds of Change: 
Modernity and Transformation in the Mediterranean 1400-1700

Dates: June 18-July 14, 2018
Location: Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, Collegeville, Minnesota

This Institute aims to help present and future higher education instructors of humanities (history, languages, and literature), as well as art, geography, and environmental studies, to gain insights from the Mediterranean past for use in undergraduate surveys or topical courses. Possible uses include, but are not limited to: class session(s) in comparative or topical courses on world cultures and/or globalization and modernization; infusion of Mediterranean content in surveys of Western and World history, culture, and civilization; crafting of shorter or longer Mediterranean history modules, and/or the development of semester-long or quarter-long Mediterranean Studies syllabi or parts thereof; compilation of relevant bibliography for student use, and/or translation  of primary or secondary sources, excerpts or full texts; as well as compilation of digital visual sources databases. 

The Institute is open to advanced ABDs and college and university faculty of all ranks and standings, from non-tenured/non-tenure track instructors/faculty to senior faculty, as well as to qualified independent scholars.  The Institute will invite participants to engage the main narratives of what is arguably the period of the deepest and most impactful transformation of the region, the transition from the late Middle Ages to the Early Modern era, familiarize them with the major themes, approaches, and accomplishments of recent research in the period, network them with leading scholars in the field, and provide them with an opportunity to work in the widest-ranging collection of pre-modern and early modern Mediterranean primary sources in the USA, the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library.  The ultimate objective of the Institute is to showcase the importance of Mediterranean matters in the undergraduate students’ acquaintance with change under the impact of modernization and globalization.

On this page, you’ll find information and/or links:
Institute Overview (below)
Faculty and Staff
Slack Channel (invitation required)
Contact HMML


Application Basics
Application Deadline:
March 1, 2018
Notification Date: March 28, 2018
Acceptance deadline: April 6, 2018

Stipend and Conditions
Individuals selected to participate in Thresholds of Change will receive $3,300.  Participants who use campus housing and meal plan will have the sum of ca. $ 2,410.80 withheld (housing ($1,512 and meal plan 898.80).  The remainder, ca. $889.20 (subject to minimal adjustment), with be disbursed in the form of a check/direct deposit upon arrival at HMML/CSJ.  Participants who do not stay on campus and/or do not use the meal plan will receive the full stipend. Please note: given the Institute’s location, arranging for alternative housing and meals will be quite difficult and will require independent transportation and daily commute.  We therefore strongly encourage participants to choose the campus housing and meal plan.  Stipends are intended to help cover travel expenses to and from the project location, books and other research expenses, and ordinary living expenses. Stipends are taxable. Please note that supplements will not be given in cases where the stipend is insufficient to cover all expenses.  We estimate that stipends will be enough to cover all expenses associated with participation in the Institute, including travel to/from the Institute location, but in the case of foreseen shortfall we encourage participants to seek assistance from their home institution or another source.

Intellectual Rationale

Introduced in the last quarter of the past century, Mediterranean Studies is now an expanding and dynamic area of the interdisciplinary humanities. The steady increase of the field’s weight and importance are due to its growing contributions to the principal currents of intellectual engagement of our progressively globalizing world and the realization that it offers a store of most pertinent examples of past and current experiences within such an environment. This recognition was underpinned by a major heuristic shift. During most of the twentieth century, studying the Mediterranean meant the empirical scrutiny of Mediterranean cultures confined by their modern national borders. It was the history of fragments, of discrete phenomena in a seemingly disconnected region. Aspects of national histories—Italian, Spanish, southern French and, to lesser degree, Balkan and Near Eastern—gained a respectable footing in US colleges and universities’ curricula. Then, in the early 1970s, came the translation of Fernand Braudel’s ground-breaking The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, which advocated the study of the region as an intricately connected whole. Influenced by this work, the last two decades witnessed a dramatic spike of interest in the past and present of the Mediterranean. Scholars in a roster of disciplines turned to the Mediterranean to make it an exemplary field of novel insights in history, politics, religion, economy, society, language, and literature, among other fields. This was not a chance development. The eager absorption of the heuristic impulse inaugurated by Braudel reflected the deepening engagement of ongoing globalization, of which the Mediterranean, the “liquid continent,” has always been a case study in a nutshell. Long scrutinizing the region as a mosaic of unrelated phenomena, scholars now discover its astonishing interconnectedness.

The transition from studying things “in” the Mediterranean to things “of” the Mediterranean, and the exploration of the linkages between conditions of “fragmentation” and “connectivity,” revealed a high level of integration and stimulated the articulation and exploration of new heuristic concepts, such as hybridity, transnationalism, acculturation, and other interfaith and cross-cultural phenomena. With a jolt, Mediterranean matters emerged as a principal area of intellectual inquiry into the impact of so many of the experiences which the modern globalizing world struggles to comprehend. While the potential of this intellectually fertile turn is still being explored, the past several years witnessed yet another trend, questioning the dichotomy of the “in” v/s “of” the Mediterranean. A new intellectual framework emerged, calling for a re-evaluation of local and particular history to highlight the interdependence of constants and dynamics in the region, both its integration and its encompassing connectivity to the larger world. Even more poignantly, acknowledging the impact of Mediterranean Studies and inspired by its achievements, similar takes on the global pre-modern economy (Wallerstein), the Indian Ocean (Chaudhuri), and South Eastern Asia (Anthony Reid) were attempted. World history began taking its clues from the Mediterranean.

The fertility of the intellectual inquiries on Mediterranean matters enabled the establishment of the Mediterranean Studies discipline in US higher education. Back in 2004, when the Director of the Institute began teaching Mediterranean history, there was practically no textbook available for higher education instruction, save for the just-published Abulafia, The Mediterranean in History (2003): a well-produced and lavishly illustrated chronological collection, but of uneven quality. A decade later, there are several surveys: Norwich’s The Middle Sea (2011), Abulafia’s The Great Sea (2011), Dursteller & O’Connell’s The Mediterranean World: From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Napoleon (2016), Catlos, Meyerson, & Burman’s forthcoming The Sea in the Middle: The Mediterranean World, 650-1650 (2018), a sourcebook by Cooke, Göknar, & Parker, Mediterranean passages (2008), and a companion, Horden & Kinoshita’s A Companion to Mediterranean History (2014). Organizations, such as the Mediterranean Seminar, initiate, sponsor, and network scholarship in the area worldwide, and the field is covered in several journals focused on Mediterranean Studies.

Established as Mediterranean Studies have become, with their roster of trend-setting studies and teaching tools, analytical and critical strategies, theoretical insights, and empirical examples and models for other intellectual inquiries on globalization, the field is still underrepresented in humanities’ curricula on campuses across the US. Hence the Institute’s goal, to acquaint college instructors with the potential of the themes and approaches elaborated by Mediterranean Studies, orient them in the principal achievements of its practitioners, invite them to reflect on the latter, and facilitate their infusion in required and elective undergraduate surveys and topical courses.

This Institute will focus on exploring Mediterranean themes, which while essential for the understanding of the region as it was confronted with modernization, on the one hand, provide knowledge-producing models for comparative approaches to modernity’s advent in a global context, on the other. Such aspects include, but are not limited to, the exploration of Mediterranean cultures as based on identities vested in relationships rather than things; have tendency to consume goods and time without exclusion of others; their prevailing forms deny fundamentalism and homogenization and function through multiplicity of ideas and practices; shape societies that foster the co-existence of contradictions (in religious, political, economic, social and cultural forms) that do not require resolution or impose hegemony; feature fluid and permeable frontiers between universal faiths (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) and polities (empires, nation-states, city-states); produce hybrid identities (merchant-corsair-state official, renegade and crypto-convert); have a multiplicity of co-existing and causally connected times, natural and human-made, the fast-paced and slow time, the “deep history” time, the long-term history and the time of social and political events—and all this existing alongside persisting intolerance, slavery, staggering differences of wealth and status, and an almost permanent state of warfare. Such modes of living, central for the Mediterranean, came under pressure by the forces of globalization and modernization during the transition from the late medieval centuries to the early modern eras.

Not by coincidence recent textbooks either bracket their subject matter within or dedicate their largest segments to this timeframe. While the late medieval centuries solidified traditional Mediterranean ways of life, the advent of early modernity brought pressures to bear on the region, resulting from the intrusion of the “first globalization” as world historians have it. The Atlantic nations—the English, the Dutch, the northern French, and others—entered the Mediterranean to disrupt traditional balances of power; the Portuguese discoveries repositioned Mediterranean economies within the global exchange system; imperial politics yielded to nation-state priorities and those of a multiplicity of “free agents,” and downplayed the role or ideologies; hybrid identities came under pressure to homogenize, often with violent suppression of alterity; systems of economic protectionism and staple economies were confronted with “open ports,” mercantilism, and the liberal market, on the one hand, and the rise of predatory economies on the other; novel technologies, above all in military and naval affairs, highlighted the role of social choices over natural constraints.

Exploration of such pressures, pertinent to any discussion of globalization and modernization’s impact, and the Mediterranean cultures’ responses—struggling to adapt while preserving their essential cores—will be the focus of the proposed Institute. As modernity’s advent cuts across so many conventional divisions, we will explore the Mediterranean specifics of its traditional systems’ transformation and discuss their implications for teaching globalization through the lens of Mediterranean matters along four main lines of inquiry: traditional constants of connectivity (nature, contact languages, identities); vectors of disruption (war, technology, alien intrusion); responses (new networks and restructuring of economy, politics, and society); representations of adaptation (new visual & textual imagery and narratives of social and cultural entanglement).

Faculty and Staff
Slack Channel (invitation required)
Contact HMML