“Mobility and Migration in the Early Modern Mediterranean”
Prof. Eric Dursteler, Brigham Young University
Friday, March 16
3:00 – 4:30 PM
Sakamaki Hall A-201, History Department Seminar Room
The migration of tens of millions of people has been one of the defining features and challenges of the early 21st century. Europe has become one of the primary destinations, and the Mediterranean one of the chief points of entry into the continent. In response, European leaders have attempted to make the Mediterranean and its outlying islands, bulwarks in a watery cordon intended to seal out the waves of increasingly desperate refugees and migrants from Africa, the Levant, and beyond, fleeing political, economic, and social turmoil and devastation. This rests on the assumption that some sort of inherent disconnection cleaves Europe from the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean, and that the sea serves as a fluid rampart that has long preserved this natural, historical rupture.
Viewed from the perspective of the pre-modern era, however, this is highly problematic. For many years scholars thought that the sea functioned as a barrier to movement, forcing its diverse populations to remain fixed in place. More recent scholarship, however, has shown that Mediterranean peoples were highly mobile, and that the sea’s liquid landscape facilitated rather than blocked movement. Indeed, mobility was deeply rooted in the collective mentality of the region and was one of the Mediterranean’s distinguishing characteristics.
This paper will examine the motivations and mechanics of Mediterranean mobility in the early modern era. Labor mobility, including trade, shipping, agriculture, pastoralism, fishing, and soldiering, was a primary impetus for many. Natural occurrences such as drought, famine, disease, or earthquake drove many migrants. Political and military events could also influence migration patterns. Peasants throughout the Mediterranean, for instance, often expressed their dissatisfactions with their feet by fleeing Christian for Ottoman rule. Movement in the opposite direction also occurred, though with less frequency. Viewed over the longue durée, current migration, rather than an exception, fits into a historical pattern of mobility and connectedness that the Mediterranean has historically served to facilitate rather than barricade.
Image provided by: Eric Dursteler