Networks and Knowledge: Synthesis and Innovation in the Muslim-Christian-Jewish Medieval Mediterranean

OverviewAimsAbout the InstituteFaculty & Directors, ParticipantsCourse StructureUnitsSchedule, ProjectsLibraries and Archives

Our Institute sets out to provoke a rethinking of the history of the Middle Ages, c. 1000–1500, through the optic of the medieval Mediterranean, emphasizing questions of religious and ethnic pluralisms, cultural contact, hybridity, transculturation, and the negotiation of identities. As a region whose history of connectivity can be documented over at least two and a half millennia, the Mediterranean has recently become the object of innovative scholarship in various disciplines. Rather than focusing on the internal structure and development of discrete entities (political states, ethnic or religious groups, cultural traditions), these approaches tend to shift their attention to a study of interconnectedness and dynamics of interaction. In contrast to traditional accounts that cast the Middle Ages as the lull between the loss of the culture of classical antiquity and its "rebirth" in Renaissance and that define Modernity as the product of a northern European Enlightenment, our approach reveals that many "modern" ideas, institutions, and technologies in fact first crystallized in the medieval Mediterranean. A short list of examples might include: municipal republics, double-entry accounting, neo-Aristotelian logic, vernacular literature, paper, rice cultivation, universities, and codified public law (on the Roman model).

The emphasis on contact and circulation invites a nuanced reconsideration of recent (and not-so-recent) conceptualizations of modes of interaction between Christian, Muslim, and Jewish societies. Paradoxically, the medieval Mediterranean—often cast as a site of the origin of Christian-Muslim hostility, in the form of the Crusades—has also been idealized as the site of "convivencia," the harmonious coexistence of Christian, Islamic, and Judaic cultures. The facility with which ideas and technologies traversed the Mediterranean is testament to the commonalities underlying the superficial, if dramatic, contrasts between ethnic and religious groups. By moving from an essentialist to a process-oriented understanding and emphasizing the variety of interconfessional interactions in the medieval Mediterranean, we situate "Holy War" as one pole of a spectrum that includes co-existence, accommodation, and outright cooperation.

At the crossroads of northern European, African, and Middle Eastern cultures, linked (via long-distance trade) to South and East Asian influences, the Mediterranean played a key role in the emergence of the modern West in ways the emerging field of Mediterranean Studies has begun to document. Our contribution to a revised genealogy of modernity begins with an insistence on understanding medieval phenomena—the early commercial development of centers like Venice or Genoa, the recovery of Greek learning and Aristotelian method through the translation of Arabic texts—not teleologically (tracing the origins of the rise of capitalism or the sources of "western" scientific method) but synchronically (acknowledging the vitality, for example, of Latin Europe's economic and cultural links to the Islamic world). Only through such situated analyses of medieval Mediterranean versions of phenomena such as identity construction, cultural and confessional interactions, modes of political organization, commercial exchange, colonialism, and perceptions of others can we effectively assess and understand these phenomena in subsequent periods.


  • To encourage understanding of cultural interaction and creation in the multi-confessional Medieval Mediterranean.
  • To encourage interdisciplinary research and teaching that crosses and challenges national and ecumenical divisions.
  • To give college and university professors and highly-qualified graduate students the opportunity to study and to work collaboratively under leading scholars in a range of fields. 
  • To give participants the opportunity to use the archives, libraries and facilities available in Barcelona.

About the Institute:

  • Organized by the Mediterranean Seminar, a forum for promoting research and teaching in the emerging discipline of Mediterranean Studies
  • Our third NEH Summer Institute on Mediterranean Studies to be held in Barcelona (click for detailed information and reviews of our 2008 and 2010 Institutes)
  • Once again, our faculty includes some of the most creative and exciting scholars in the field.
  • Includes a varied program of presentations, seminars, collaborative and technical workshops, field trips, aprés-Institute, and plenty of time for independent reading and research

Faculty & Directors:

  • Brian A. Catlos (Religious Studies, University of Colorado at Boulder; History, University of California Santa Cruz), co-Director & Faculty
  • Sharon Kinoshita (Literature, University of California Santa Cruz), co-Director & Faculty
  • Charles Burnett (History of Islamic Influences, Warburg Institute), Faculty
  • O. Remie Constable (History, Notre Dame University), Faculty
  • Peregrine Horden (Medieval History, University of London), Faculty
  • Karla Mallette (Romance Languages & Near Eastern Studies, University of Michigan), Faculty
  • G.A. (Gerard) Wiegers (Religious Studies, University of Amsterdam), Faculty
  • Fernando Salmón (History of Science, Universidad de Cantabria), Faculty


  • Justine Andrews
  • Nicole Archambeau
  • Lisette Balabarca
  • Julia Banzi
  • Brian Becker
  • Joshua Birk
  • Judith Bishop
  • Jonathan Brockopp 
  • Thomas M. Capuano
  • Lucia Finotto
  • David M. Freidenreich
  • Valentina Izmirlieva
  • Marie Kelleher
  • Brian Long
  • Courtney Luckhardt
  • Suzanne Miller
  • Gregory Milton
  • Roberta Morosini
  • Alex Novikoff
  • David Owen
  • Emily Rose
  • Brian Sandberg
  • Marina Tolmacheva
  • Theodore Van Loan

Course Structure:
The Institute combines colloquia, lectures, workshops and independent study.  Each participant will be expected to attend the formal study sessions, and work on a project of his or her own proposing. The course is divided into three broad thematic units (see below). There will be two faculty for each unit, each of whom will present one formal colloquium and moderate two workshop sections, each with 12 participants. The final week will consist of workshops under the guidance of the Co-Directors, and participant presentations. In addition, guest faculty from Barcelona will give presentations on the Archive of the Crown of Aragon, and themes related to each unit. There will be optional hands-on introductions to the Archive of the Crown of Aragon for those interested in undertaking archival research. Two “field trips” are planned: a walking tour in Barcelona and a trip to Girona.  At the moment these are tentative, contingent on budgetary factors.  The Institute may not be able to cover the full cost of these activities. The language of the workshops and colloquia will be English.

Course Overview

This NEH Summer Institute was held between July 2 – July 27 in Barcelona, Spain. For the duration of the institute, most participants stayed in accommodations that had been arranged by the directors. The majority of the events took place at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) in Barcelona's Ciutat Vella (Old City), where Spain's national research council has a branch, the Institució Milà i Fontanals. CSIC is home to an important Department of Medieval Studies, of Musicology, and History of Science. Its library was available for our use and had an excellent and up-to-date collection of material in Castilian, Catalan, English and other European languages.

The Institute program was divided into four one-week units ("Circulation, Distribution, and Exchange"; "The Textual Mediterranean"; "The Mediterranean Science"; "Results and Synthesis.") Weeks 1–3 each featured two distinguished Faculty members, while week 4 featured a series of workshops and discussions led by Institute Co-directors Brian Catlos and Sharon Kinoshita, as well as presentations from participants themselves. Each Faculty member delivered one plenary lecture, conducted two seminars, and participated in a range of activities—tours, receptions, and a working dinner—which assured maximum interaction with the participants.

The 24 participants in our Institute came from 15 states, from large research institutions and small teaching colleges. They spanned all ranks of the profession (from Full to Visiting Assistant Professors to graduate students) and represented a range of departments: History, Art History, Religious Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, Jewish Studies, Languages and Literatures (English, French, Italian, Spanish, Slavic), and Ethnomusicology..

Approximately four weeks before the start of the Institute, the participants were provided with a bibliography of readings assigned by the Faculty members. In Barcelona, our program was designed to encourage conversations not only among specialists but across disciplines and fields of linguistic expertise. To that end, the 24 participants were divided into two cohorts of 12 (for seminars with each of the visiting faculty members), and into discussion groups of four, which met weekly for conversation about their individual projects. Over the course of the Institute, each participant had the opportunity to attend a working dinner with one of the visiting Faculty members, and our weekly plenary sessions provided an opportunity for parrticipants and faculty to converse informally.

This program would not have been possible were it not for the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities and other sponsors and supporters in Catalonia, the UK, and the USA.


  •  Circulation, Distribution, and Exchange: Unit I introduces two main themes of our month-long Institute. Peregrine Horden ("Mobility and Communications in the Medieval Mediterranean") sets the stage by approaching the medieval Mediterranean not (merely) as a body of water or as the collection of lands rimming its shore but as a region defined by mobility and communication. Olivia Remie Constable ("Looking Across a Shared Table: Changing Christian Attitudes towards Muslim Food and Foodways") follows with an examination of the circulation of foodstuffs and culinary practices, looking at the changing ways they establish commonalities or reinforce distinctions between different religious communities. 
  • The Textual Mediterranean: Expression, Translation, Communication: Unit II examines the geography of textual and oral transmission in the high and late Middle Ages. Charles Burnett ("The Topography of Translation") charts the translation movement of the tenth to the thirteenth centuries through a focus on its different Mediterranean sites, examining how the different histories of places such as Antioch, Toledo, Pisa, and Barcelona resulted in the different kinds of material translated there. Karla Mallette ("Books without Text, Tales without End: Negative Evidence and Literary Transmission Networks in the Late Medieval Mediterranean") turns to the circulation of "popular" literary traditions such as the Thousand and One Nights whose movements through space and across languages cannot be charted by traditional philological means.
  • Pasts and Futures: The Mediterranean Science: Following on the spatial emphasis of Unit II, Unit III sets the question of the transmission of knowledge in historical/diachronic perspective. Fernando Salmón ("Medical Knowledge, Daily Life Experience and the Epistemic Authority of the Patient in the Medieval Mediterranean") looks at the genealogy of the discourse of medical knowledge, examining how the voices of patients are embedded in Mediterranean textual traditions inherited from the past. Gerard Wiegers will give a talk titled "The Role of Jews, Muslims and Christians in the transmission of knowledge about Islam to the Western World: A Comparative Perspective."
  • Results and Synthesis: In week IV, Institute Directors Brian Catlos and Sharon Kinoshita will lead a series of workshops and discussions that will review and synthesize the presentations and seminars of the preceding three weeks, providing the Summer Scholars with time both to reflect on and assimilate the materials covered. The week culminates in a mini-colloquium at which Summer Scholars will present the results of their projects, considering the implications of the Institute for their own pedagogy and/or research.

The program has been designed in order to give ample time for participants to engage in their own work, and to fit with the Spanish schedule. 
Most of the Institutes formal activities will take place between 4:30 and 7:30pm, Monday to Friday.
There will be occasional morning lectures, and a full day of orientation at the beginning.
The field trip to Girona will be a full-day affair.
Participants are required to take part in all of the formal activities of the Institute during the whole four weeks.

Each participant will be expected to develop a project over the course of our four week Institute, some or all of which may be published in whole or part in print form or on the Mediterranean Seminar web page. Projects may take a number of forms depending on participants’ technical and linguistic skills and interests. This might include a synthetic, historiographical or theoretical essay based on secondary sources, a work of original research based on documents available online or at local archives, or a curricular project, such as a syllabus and lesson plans for an interdisciplinary Mediterranean Studies course. We suggest you familiarize yourself with the materials available in Barcelona as you develop your project proposal.  

Libraries and Archives:
Using archives and libraries in Barcelona: Most archives and libraries require official ID; you may be asked to show your passport. Library and archive hours vary; in July some open only during the morning (until 2pm).