Union in Separation
Trading Diasporas in the Eastern Mediterranean (1200-1700)
University of Heidelberg, 17-19 February 2011
“Union in Separation” is a three-day international conference hosted by the Transcultural Studies Programme at the University of Heidelberg. The conference focuses on transcultural diasporic communities in the medieval Mediterranean with specific respect to their role in trade between perceived separate cultural areas.
The term “transculturality” tends to be used to designate the hybrid character of modern-day societies and to ultimately argue that separate cultural units (defined as the sum of elements that characterise the aggregate identity of a society) do not exist. However, regardless of whether it is possible to speak of separate ‘cultures’, they certainly persist in peoples’ mind. These mindsets, their making and their impact on societies is what historians should investigate.
The study of Mediterranean diasporas lends itself well to this endeavour, as it allows to understand the construction and deconstruction of cultural differences as well as the potential integration into a host culture. In order to analyse these processes, we suggest exploring commercial exchange and its legal framework as two interrelated phenomena.
Medieval Mediterranean trading diasporas, such as Venetian merchants resident in Mamluk Alexandria, operated both within and outside formal legal structures. However, their status as religious minorities also posed strong challenges to their business. For instance, far-reaching privileges granted by the Sultan to Christian merchants coexisted with, and were frequently challenged by, orthodox Islamic law or local legal practice. Thus, a primary interest of historical transcultural research is to gather evidence on informal mechanisms that facilitated trade-given cultural hurdles. This will shed light on the form and scope of cultural exchange.
The conference will bring together academics from a wide variety of fields, including medieval studies, economic history, legal history, and cultural studies.
For further information on the conference in general, public lectures and the provisional programme, please visit our website:
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