Call for papers: Maritime Networks as a Factor in European Integration – 50th Study Week (May 13th-17th 2018)

Prof. Wim Blockmans presents the 50th Study Week.

Full text in English/French/Italian.

Participation form (.doc).

To celebrate the 50th Settimana (13-17 May, 2018), a comprehensive theme has been chosen, that takes Fernand Braudel’s concept of the Mediterranean as a starting point. His vision of a closed sea as a geographical opportunity for economic integration beyond the diversity of religions, languages, and ethnical and political entities, continues to function as a model for studies in a wide range of contexts. It has been applied to prehistoric archaeology as well as to the contemporary East- and South-East-Asian seas. The ecological and the cultural dimensions of Mediterranean interactions have been elaborated in the very long term. Other European seas have been studied as particular units, of which the fairly closed Baltic is a classic case, but open seas followed suit.

Maritime empires are another classical field of studies which are ripe for comparative analysis. Through its numerous seminars and publications, the Centre GISEM has contributed considerably to the study of European integration from the 13th to the 16th century. The endeavour for the 50th Settimana should go beyond the study of single systems in isolation to combine different analyses of closed and open seas or coastal areas, in order to understand the integrative role played by maritime connections around Europe. These have been underestimated as a basis of European civilization through their ongoing massive exchange of persons and goods. Since transport on water was easier in pre-industrial societies than overland, it appears to be time to draw attention to the ways by which these linkages operated on the scale of the European continent and with its Asian and North-African trading partners.

Our approach rests on a whole set of theories, which we should aim to interlock:

  • the Braudelian idea of an economic unity in a particular geographical setting,
  • the theory of gateways and market hierarchies,
  • network theories as systems of geographical and personal interactions,
  • the NIE focus on institutional arrangements,
  • world-system theory, as confronted by theories on state formation,
  • theories of cultural interactions.

The Settimana aims to build on great research traditions on a regional or thematic basis, which have seldom been integrated on a truly continental scale. Immanuel Wallerstein elaborated Braudel’s concept by conceptualising its intercultural and transnational dimensions, and its role in a system of division of labour. He called it ‘a “world” system, not because it encompasses the whole world, but because it is larger than any juridically-defined political unit. And it is a “world-economy” because the basic linkage between the parts of the system is economic’. The institutional and legal approaches have been studied under the aegis of the Société Jean Bodin, and our Istituto organized the 2005 Settimana on Richezza del Mare, Richezza dal Mare which delivered the gorgeous catch of 1239 pages which mainly dealt with the products of the sea, although some contributions hint to our direction. In 2008-2009, the University of Athens launched a programme on ‘The Mediterranean and its Seas: Natural, Social, Political Environments and Landscapes, 15th-20th centuries’. The network and diaspora aspect have also beensubject of volumes. It is time now to link the various aspects and regional research traditions into a coherent approach assessing:

  • on which geographical, nautical, technical, economic, legal, social and cultural unities the various regional networks emerged, and how they functioned,
  • the character and role of the maritime ports as nodal points between sea routes and their hinterland, via rivers, canals and roads,
  • the personal and family ties between merchants and shippers in various ports,
  • how the regional networks became connected and in the course of time integrated into ever larger unities,
  • how private networks, constructed bottom-up by organizations of merchants and shippers, dealt with local authorities and, increasingly, with states and empires to protect their interests, mostly remaining on their fringes.

We welcome papers coveringthe time period from 1000 to 1800.

We are interested in papers that deal with one or more of these questions:

  1. How did shipping routes serve as a connecting force?
  • • What were the binding elements of a particular network?
  • • Geographical characteristics (distances, sailing conditions) leading to common features such as types of ships, geographic knowledge, cultural proximity, and common, similar or mutually known and understandable commercial and legal practices ?
  • • How could thresholds (e.g., Gilbraltar) be overcome?
  • • Market connections based on complementary exchanges?
  • • Regular and frequent relations leading to mutual trust?
  1. How did nodal points bring together different commercial spheres?
  • • Location advantages connecting different transport systems on particular routes, e.g., before ca. 1300 Mediterranean-Atlantic, Baltic-North Sea; sea-river system; sea-land routes.
  • • Harbour infrastructure, facility of access, protection, capacity, ship repair, provisioning.
  • • Which features helped to make port cities function as the fundament of polynuclear social and economic networks?
  • • Local institutions in port cities facilitating contact between buyers and sellers: efficiency, rapidity, autonomy, expertise, reliability, level of specialisation (f. ex. fairs, brokers, banks, stock exchange).
  • • Nature, intensity and value of trade flows.
  • • Control of the hinterland, its extension and economic potential.
  • • Social position of foreign merchants and shippers: closed settlement (funduq, fondaco / Kontor/ ‘Nation’, consulate) type), trading post, open settlement, number and variety of foreigners, duration of stay, level of integration. Diaspora and permanent migration.
  • • Personal and family ties between merchants and shippers in various ports,
  1. To what extent did free trade and protection facilitate the integration of maritime networks?
  • • Self-organization of private companies: outreach.
  • • Was conflict management by local authorities informed by merchants’ expertise?
  • • Supra-local protection by merchants’ organizations or their trusted magistracies?
  • • Dealing with territorial princes and monarchs: risk reduction, protection, mediation between rival states.
  • • Superseding state power or relative autonomy?
  • • Chartered companies as a colonial alternative.
  1. Which features of cultural exchange served to integrate maritime networks or were their particular products?
  • • Commercial contacts require cultural exchanges and produce them. Trade around Europe introduced novelties which were widely adopted and adapted.
  • • Exchange of goods, tastes, other products, other traditions. Openness to otherness, cosmopolitanism.
  • • The day-to-day transfer of information and knowledge in all domains such as geography, seafaring techniques, products, and business organisation.
  • • Linguistic barriers: interpretation, multilingualism.
  • • Ethnicity and religious diversity as barriers? Levels of assimilation.
  1. Intercontinental Exchanges
  • • Transfers to Europe of goods, commercial techniques, knowledge and tastes from the Levant, Northern Africa, the Indies, and the Far East,
  • • Institutional settings for the intercultural exchange (funduq, trading post, market, colony),
  • • Organization of European overseas expansion in chartered companies (Hanses in the 12th-13th centuries, the German Hanse, Casa di San Giorgio, Merchants of the Staple, Merchants Adventurers, Companies of the Indies),
  • • Maritime power as a means to foster national economies in Europe.

Expected results

The results of the selected research for the project will be presented and discussed at Prato in the course of the Study Week 2018. After the discussion at the Settimana sessions, cholars may complete and revise their texts by 30 June 2018. All contributions received by the institute will be subject to anonymous adjudication before publication.


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