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Braudel Revisited: The Mediterranean World, 1600-1800

Author(s):Piterberg, Gabriel
Ruiz, Teofilo F.
Symcox, Geoffrey
Reviewer(s):Ağır, Seven

Published by EH.NET (February 2011)

Gabriel Piterberg, Teofilo F. Ruiz and Geoffrey Symcox, editors, Braudel Revisited: The Mediterranean World, 1600-1800. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010. vi + 281 pp. $65 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-1-4426-4133-4.?

Reviewed for EH.Net by Seven A??r, Economic History Program, Yale University.

?Fernand Braudel?s monumental study of the Mediterranean in the Age of Philip II is undoubtedly one of the most important historical works written during the past century? (p. 3). This sentence summarizes the editors? motive to revisit Braudel?s Mediterranean after the ?linguistic turn? in historiography.? Piterberg, Ruiz and Symcox organized a series of conferences (in 2002-03 at the UCLA Center for Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Studies) ?to assess Braudel?s influence on contemporary historical practice, and to see how the methodological and conceptual frameworks of his great book — its geohistorical plan, its comparative approach, its macrohistorical, multidimensional perspective, its timescale shifting from the longue dur?e to the staccato rhythm of political events, embodied in its tripartite division into structures, conjunctures, and events — have withstood the test of time? (pp. 3-4). The 11 papers in this volume are drawn from the papers presented at those conferences.???

The volume is not, on the face of it, aimed at economic historian (except one article that explicitly deals with economic history). It should, however, prove valuable to any scholar interested in the ways in which aesthetic, religious and political culture interacts with economic phenomena. The essays in this volume are well worth exploring also for those who want to keep up with the historiography of the Mediterranean region.

The book is divided into two parts. First two essays aim to ?think with Braudel? by analyzing ?the text itself, the assumptions behind it, and its intellectual resonance? (p. 4). In a sense, these studies can be seen as shedding light on the limits of Braudel?s own historiographical agency by studying the ?intellectual landscape? in which he wrote his magnum opus. The essays of the second part aim to ?think beyond Braudel? by ?looking at the different forms of scholarship it had stimulated, and then reassessing it in the light of current historiographical concerns? (p. 4). Most essays in this part follow in the footsteps of Braudel in their subtle focus on ?the interrelation between change and the near-permanent in history? (1973, p. 892).? Yet, they do this in an innovative way that incorporates the current historiographical concerns into a broad, multidimensional perspective of research. The primary locus of interest in La Mediterran?e — Mediterranean landscape; quantitative measures of population and of other economic variables; the material culture of production, trade and consumption — has little space in this volume. Instead, most studies here bring into light ?the near-permanent? in those fields that were at the backstage of the Braudelian universe ? the aesthetic, religious and political culture of the Mediterranean. It is also through their attempt to break away from the identification between macrohistorical perspective and structural analysis that these studies offer us a complicated view of agency that emerges through the multifaceted interaction between events, conjuncture and structure.

In the first essay of the volume, Lucette Valensi examines the social conditions of Braudel?s scholarship and investigates the reasons for his neglect of aesthetic and religious culture. She places the personal psychology of the author within the surrounding intellectual ethos to explain how the broad lines of his intellectual construction shaped the characteristic form of his project: Braudel?s need to establish his separate intellectual identity along with the current of ?solid, secular materialism? embedded in two intellectual sources of the period — Marxism and geographical models — led him to be ?the painter? of his macrohistory, in which there is ?little room for individual agents? (p. 31).?? While Lucette Valensi links Braudel?s materialist approach both to the wider intellectual currents and to his personal psychology, Geoffrey Symcox focuses on other intellectual trends that might have shaped Braudel?s interpretative schema. His analysis starts with an examination of the role of cities in La Mediterran?e and shows that a geohistorical conceptualization of the city with a primary emphasis on its economic functions relegates cultural and aesthetic aspects of the urban space to secondary place. Symcox explains this conceptualization of city with reference two trends: the quantitative cast of the Annales school during the post-war period that favored use of quantitative and empirical data and the pull of structuralism that developed in line with the intellectual dialogue Braudel engaged in with the master of structural anthropology, Claude L?vi-Strauss.

In the first essay that sets out to ?think beyond? Braudel, Jane Hathaway depicts the characteristics of bilateral factionalism in various societies of the Mediterranean and illustrates how this pervasive and persistent political culture shaped the way the conjectural events played themselves out. Studying various examples of bilateral factionalism throughout Mediterranean history, Hathaway shows the constant role of factional identity in channeling societal forces under critical economic, political and military stress. Furthermore, depicting the atavistic qualities of bilateral factionalism, it expands the Braudelian notion of structure to incorporate political culture. In this sense, her study is an illustrative example how macrohictorical perspective could benefit from localized studies of events with the help of conceptual depth. While Hathaway focuses on the political culture of the masses, Leslie Pierce elaborates the political culture of an imperial regime. Examining how the Ottoman rule integrated different ethnic and religious communities into a workable polity by creating a culture that spoke several languages at once (polyglottism, in her own words), she sheds light on the imperial institutions that ensured the longevity of the regime. As geographical landscape is the base upon which material culture of the Mediterranean world was formed in Braudelian analysis, the ?broad landscape of difference? is the base upon which political culture was shaped in Pierce?s study (p. 78). Pierce?s essay could also be read in dialogue with Hathaway?s analysis, as ?the art of arbitrary patronage? seemed to have served the Ottoman elite not only by enabling them to manipulate polyglottism for their own advantage (p. 87), but also by providing them with a language to control, at least to a certain extent, ?bilateral factionalism.?? ?evket Pamuk?s article is also about the Ottoman lands, but with a different focus. This is the only article in this volume that adopts an explicitly macro perspective and directly deals with the economic history of the Mediterranean. Drawing upon recent research, Pamuk evaluates the impact of Braudel on the study of the Eastern Mediterranean, revises some of his main arguments and contributes to the current debates in the field. While Pamuk notes the differences between Ottoman and European institutions that have been subject of recent interest in Ottoman studies, he does not forget to point out the pragmatism and flexibility of the Ottoman institutions. As such, his essay illustrates the extent to which Braudel?s judgments on the Eastern Mediterranean have stood the test of time, while providing a more complicated picture about the degree and nature of the economic unity in the early modern Mediterranean. Bryan Givens? study on Sebastianism examines the long life of a popular millenarian legend in early modern Portugal. In a way similar to Braudel?s perception of geographical landscape as a historical structure upon which the economic culture raised, Givens studies the religious landscape of Portugal on which a certain form of millenarianism emerged and evolved. Like Hatkaway?s and Pierce?s essays, Givens? study reveals a cultural language through which the effects of economic, political, and social changes were negotiated and the limits of human agency were set. It is through this perspective that Givens demonstrates the ability of Sebastianism to resonate with the already held cultural values and beliefs and explains its success among various forms of millenarianism. Like Givens, Allan Tulchin?s essay deals with a subject that has attracted relatively little attention in La Mediterran?e. Juxtaposing quantitative evidence and narrative sources, Tulchin reconstructs the development of the Protestant movement in N?mes and presents an exemplary framework in which the complicated interaction between economic and religious could be studied. Using micro narrative as an analytical tool, he is able to present how religious ideology interacted with the political and economic conjuncture and contribute to our understanding of the religious change in the Mediterranean. Matteo Cassini?s study on the explosion of Baroque culture in Venice and how it shaped the dialogue between different sectors of Venetian society is another example of a micro study that embraces an analytical perspective. Cassini places the Baroque culture in Venice within the deep structural elements of the social culture in the city and illustrates its relation to the particular political and economic conjuncture in which it flourished. By studying public and private celebrations, it sheds light on how the social culture reproduced itself and created a unified political topography in which the political events as well as economic conjuncture played out themselves. As such, Cassini?s study opens up a space for human agency to be found somewhere in this interaction between events, conjuncture and the artistic landscape. Like some other articles in this volume, Carroll B. Johnson?s work explores the language of the Mediterranean landscape through situating an individual event and its fictional representation within the macro context of economic and social exchange. Examining Cervantes? public representation of himself in relation to the actual context of his captivity by the Muslim corsairs, Johnson unveils the relationship between the discourse of ideological antagonism and the economic rapprochement between Muslims and Christians of the Mediterranean. James Amelang?s study, like the first two articles in this volume, is more about Braudel and the limits of his historiography than what has been little studied. Noting the central role of the tension between the question of change versus history in Braudelian historiography, Amelang explores how two contemporary minds of Braudel dealt with this tension. He shows that while Braudel tried to reconcile history and timelessness through seeking the imprint of the Mediterranean landscape on its history (destiny), Ernesto de Martino and Carlo Levi turned towards the unchanging face of culture through ethnography and anthropology. Juxtaposing Braudel to his contemporaries, the article helps us to understand his peculiar approach within the intellectual confines and possibilities of his times.? Gary Tomlinson?s study illuminates the links between poststructuralist writing and Braudelian geohistory and helps the reader to comprehend the historiographical place of the present volume with further clarity. Pointing out the nihilistic strain in poststructural historiography, Tomlinson underlines the need to study culture?s relationship to the social world in a way that would help us see human agency in a better light. His study exemplifies such an attempt by demonstrating how the amalgam of conscious intent and ?quiet and consistent forces? of cultural landscape shaped the European music and Wagner?s projects in particular (p. 251).?

Although the studies in this volume cover an astonishingly wide range of subjects, they are not devoid of a common tone and a shared perspective. The volume could have even been richer, if the authors discussed the implications of their analysis from a broader, comparative perspective by moving between the Mediterranean world and the beyond at times. Also an essay from the recently developed field of consumption studies, in which scholars competently link the aesthetic and economic phenomena both at the micro and macro levels, would nicely fit into this volume. Nevertheless, the studies here contribute greatly to Mediterranean history and historiography. Most articles in this volume focus on the micro phenomena of religious and political nature (histoire ?v?nementielle), which had little place in the Braudelian ocean of history. Yet, these studies follow in the footsteps of Braudel in their multidimensional and analytical approach and provide conceptual tools challenging the assumptions of one-way causality between the economic realm and the political, religious and aesthetic culture. Hence, the essays in this volume not only demonstrate the relevance of Braudel?s historical approach after the cultural, linguistic turn in historiography; but also provide interested historians vital research questions at the frontier of these fields.

Seven A??r is Postdoctoral Associate at the Economic History Program at Yale. She is currently working on the transformation of Ottoman grain trade policies during the late eighteenth century.

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Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Social and Cultural History, including Race, Ethnicity and Gender
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Middle East
Time Period(s):17th Century
18th Century