The Medieval Mediterranean & the Emergence of the West
NEH Summer Institute for College and University Professors
June 30-July 25, 2008 • Barcelona (Spain)

Overview, Aims, Course Structure, Faculty & Organizers, Projects, ParticipantsLibraries and Archives


In traditional accounts, the Middle Ages are typically defined as a rupture entailing the loss of the cultures of classical antiquity, destined to remain dormant until their “rebirth” in the Renaissance. This Summer Institute will stimulate a rethinking of the history of the Middle Ages (1000–1500) through the optic of the Mediterranean. As a region whose history of connectivity can be documented over two and a half millennia, the Mediterranean has in recent years become the focus of renewed interest in a number of disciplines. Compared to more traditional histories of Western Civilization, these approaches shift focus from the study of discrete entities—political states (typically those of northwestern Europe), ethnic or religious groups, cultural traditions—to a study of their interconnectedness and interaction. The program will emphasize patterns of exchange and circulation (of people, goods, and ideas), with special attention to questions of religious and ethnic pluralisms, cultural contact, commerce, hybridity, transculturation, and the negotiation of identities. This conceptual and thematic shift is an important step in reassessing the role of medieval Europe in the emergence of the modern world, with which we aim to inform both scholarly research and post-secondary teaching.



  • To encourage a reappraisal of traditional views of the the ‘West’ in both research and pedagogy by taking into account the tremendous influence of the Mediterranean region in the Medieval era.
  • To encourage interdisciplinary research and teaching that crosses and challenges national and ecumenical divisions.
  • To give college and university professors 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


 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 four broad thematic units. There will be two instructors for each unit; each of whom will present one formal colloquium and moderate two workshop sections. Prior to the commencement of the Institute the participants will be divided into two groups of 12: A and B; each group will have a separate workshop section which each instructor.
In addition, guest faculty from Barcelona will give presentations on the Archive of the Crown of Aragon, and on Barcelona and the Crown of Aragon in the Medieval Mediterranean.
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 work of the Institute will be divided into four one-week thematic units, each featuring two Faculty Members/Visiting Scholars:

  • Mediterranean Spaces considers the nature of the Mediterranean as a geographical and environmental entity, asking how these conditions may have shaped social, commercial, political, and cultural developments.
  • Contact and Diffusion addresses themes as diverse as military encounters, commercial relations, and the diffusion of institutions, technologies, and ideas. Why did some of these “travel” widely and others not? What were the processes of acculturation and adaptation involved?
  • Relations and Transmission continues the inquiry launched in the previous unit, with a focus on forms of expression (languages, literary genres, and other cultural manifestations). What is the relationship between social and cultural histories of the Mediterranean? What varied roles do religious minorities play within dominant cultures around the Mediterranean? 
  • Image and Substance turns to visual modes of expression and material technologies of culture. Under what circumstances could artistic and architectural styles and forms cross religious “divides”? What do patterns of distribution and acculturation reveal about ethno-religious interaction?

Course Overview

This NEH Summer Institute was held between June 30 – July 25 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 Palau del Llocticent (Lieutenant's Palace), in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. This sixteenth-century Viceroy's palace was constructed by Antoni Carbonell, adjacent to the city's royal palace and cathedral. It was home to the Archive of the Crown of Aragon from the eighteenth century through the 1990s. The Archive of the Crown of Aragon is one of Europe's premier archival collections for the Middle Ages. Formally constituted by James II in the early fourtheenth century, it contains documents from the seventh through the sixteenth century, including near complete series of royal chancery and fiscal records. The Palau del Lloctinent is now a state-of-the-art conference facility administered by Archive of the Crown of Aragon for the Spanish Ministry of Culture.

The Institute program was divided into four one-week units, each featuring two distinguished Faculty members. 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 13 states and the District of Columbia, from large research institutions and small teaching colleges. They spanned all ranks of the profession (from Full to Visiting Assistant and Adjunct Professors) and represented a range of departments: History, Art, Jewish Studies, Languages and Literatures (English, French, Italian, Spanish), and Theology.

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 participants and faculty to converse informally.

A volume featuring selected essays based on faculty presentations and participant projects is in preparation.

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 (National Endowment for the Humanities, Institute for Humanities Research (UCSC), Center for Cultural Studies (UCSC), Institut Europeu de la Mediterrànea (Spain), Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Spain), Ministerio de Cultura (Spain), Arxiu de la Corona d'Aragó (Spain), Institució Milà i Fontanals/ Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (Spain), Faculty of Philology, Universitat de Barcelona (Spain), Museu Marítim/ Reial Drassanes de Barcelona (Spain), Patronat Municipal "Call de Girona" (Spain), Museu d'Art de Girona (Spain), The Rough Guides [USA & UK]).

Day One: The Institute officially began on June 30, 2008. The majority of the participants and the first week’s visiting faculty arrived in Barcelona the day before. Unless they had made other arrangements, most checked into the Residencia de Investigadors, a residence picked by the directors to accommodate participants for the initial days of the institute. The first day included welcome and orientation speeches from the directors, laying out the logistical and intellectual terrain of the Institute. The first day also included a walking tour of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, and ended with an opening reception at the Reial Academia de Bones Lletres de Barcelona, sponsored by the Institut Europeu de la Mediterrania.
An opening reception took place at the Palau Dalmau, a fifteenth-century palace in cenral Barcelona, which is the seat of the Reial Academia. The Academia was formally incorporated in 1752, but goes back to 1700, and is the most prestigioius literary-cultural association of Catalonia. The Summer Institute was formally inaugurated by the Directors, along with Dr. Senén Florensa (Director-General of the European Institute of the Mediterranean, Barcelona), Albert Torra (Secretary, Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó), and Dr. Pere Molas Ribalta, (Professor of Contemporary History, University of Barcelona & Director, Reial Acadèmia de Bones Lletres de Barcelona).

Week One: After the first day, participants moved to their “permanent” home for the duration of the Institute, the beach-side Campus del Mar. The first week of the seminar established a regular pattern of lectures and seminars involving visiting faculty, and featured Professors Peregrine Horden and Ross Brann. Professor Horden gave a lecture titled “The Mediterranean and Europe in Late Antiquity: Globalization?” and Professor Brann lectured on “Mediterranean Journeys, Real and Imagined.” Participants went on a walking tour of the Barcelona's medieval commercial core, and received a tour of Barcelona Museu Maritim, with Enric Garcia Domingo (Head of Documentation and Research Director, Drassanes Reials de Barcelona), and Albert Cubeles (Researcher & Historian, Museum of the City of Barcelona). Albert Torra gave a presentation entiteld “An Introduction to the Documentary Sources of the Crown of Aragon” and introduced participants to a range of documentary materials. Professors Maria Teresa Ferrer i Mallol (CSIC) and Roser Salicru i Lluch (CSIC) also gave lectures, entitled “Barcelona Commerce in the 12th to 14th centuries: Expansion and Protectionism” and “Islam and Christendom in Late Medieval Western Mediterranean: A Politico-Diplomatic Overview”, respectively. In addition to attending the seminars led by Professors Horden and Brann, participants also broke into smaller working groups, which began meeting in the first week. The week concluded with a Friday afternoon plenary session of informal discussion, and a reception featuring Carlos López Rogríguez (Director, Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó).

Week Two: The second week featured Professors Julio Samso and Richard Bulliet as visiting faculty, who ran seminars gave lectures titled “Scientific Transmissions in the Western Mediterranean” and “Technology Transfer: Links and Delinks,” respectively. Mid-week, participants went on a walking tour of the city of Girona, including special visits to the Museu d’Art de Girona, featuring Carme Martinell (Curator), and Girona's Jewish History Museum, the Centre Bonastruc ca Porta (sponsored by the Patronat Municipal "Call de Girona").

Week Three: The third week featured Professors David Niremberg and Maria Rosa Menocal as visiting faculty. Professor Niremberg lectured on “Multi-culturalism gone Bad? The emergence of "Raza" in fifteenth-century Spain” and Professor Menocal on “Poetry as an Act of History.” Participants were given a guided tour of the rare book collection of the libary of the University of Barclona, under the care of Neus Verger (Librarian of Manuscripts and Special Collections), which was followed by a reception hosted by Mercè Comes (Vice Dean of Research of the Faculty of Phililogy, Universitat de Barcelona). The week concluded with a plenary session and reception hosted by the Humanities division at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra amd featuring Prof. Maria Morràs (Vice-Rector of Graduate Studies, Universitat Pompeu Fabra).

Week Four: The fourth and final week of the Institute featured Professors Jonathan Bloom and Anthony Cutler as visiting faculty, lecturing on “Paper in the Mediterranean World: 1000–1500” and “Sharing and Refusing in Byzantium and Medieval Islam. Art as a Sign of Cultural Negotiation,” respectively. On July 25, the final day of the Institute, participants presented and discussed their proposed projects. Directors Brian Catlos and Sharon Kinoshita gave a final presentation titled “The Mediterranean in the Past, and the Mediterranean Seminar in the Future.” Participants filled out and submitted their evaluations, and then attended a closing reception at the Reial Academia de Bones Lletres de Barcelona, sponsored by the European Institute of the Mediterranean, where they received their certificates of participation.

Faculty & Organizers:

  • Brian A. Catlos (History, University of California Santa Cruz)
  • Sharon Kinoshita (Literature, University of California Santa Cruz)
  • Jonathan Bloom (Islamic and Asian Art, Boston College)
  • Anthony Cutler (Art History, Penn State)
  • Ross Brann (Near East Studies, Cornell University)
  • Richard Bulliet (Middle East Institute, Columbia University)
  • Peregrine Horden (Medieval History, Royal Holloway, London)
  • Maria Rosa Menocal (Spanish and Portuguese, Yale)
  • David Nirenberg (Committee on Social Thought/ History, U. Chicago)
  • Julio Samsó (Philology, Universidad de Barcelona)



  • Fred Astren
  • Amy Austin
  • Stephen Bensch
  • Ibtissam Bouachrine
  • Peter Cowe
  • Theresa Earenfight
  • John Eldevik
  • Hussein Fancy
  • Nahyan Fancy
  • Eileen McKiernan González
  • Mary Halavais
  • Michelle Hamilton
  • Andrew Kurt
  • Susan Laningham
  • Karla Mallette
  • Leonard Marsh
  • Afrodesia McCannon
  • Anjela Cannarelli Peck
  • Jonathan Ray
  • Miriam Shadis
  • Munir Shaikh
  • Krista Twu
  • Valerie Wilhite
  • Nina Zhiri


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:

Other archives and libraries: Other important local archives include: the Cathedral Archive, Notarial Archive, and Municipal Archive.