Atlantic Italies Network
Coordinators: Silvia Marzagalli (Université Côte d’Azur) and Roberto Zaugg (Universität Bern)
Fernand Braudel’s seminal thesis on the Mediterranean world in the age of Philip II vividly depicted the ‘Northern invasion’ of the Mediterranean at the end of the 16th century. Following Europe’s ‘discovery’ and colonization of the Americas, and Portuguese and Dutch penetration of Asian markets, this ‘invasion’ confirmed, in Braudel’s eyes, the shift of Europe’s political and economic core from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. Despite current reassessment of Braudel’s thesis, the predominant grand narrative about early modern Europe’s ‘expansion’ and economic development still considers that – after having been a propulsive centre in the Middle Ages – the Italian peninsula underwent a process of steady decline and marginalization in the age of Atlantic trade.
This interpretative framework resulted into different historical foci. While the history of Europe’s Atlantic engagement was concerned mostly with the ‘triumphant’ cases of Portugal, Spain, the Dutch Republic, France and England, scholars of Mediterranean history mainly dealt with intra-Mediterranean relations. Although research in both Mediterranean and in Atlantic history has fuelled vivid debates about cross-cultural contacts in the pre-industrial world, they tend in general to develop as separate fields.
This network tackles the pertinence of these traditions. By highlighting the porous borders of early modern empires and reconstructing trans-imperial connections between and beyond them, it examines the multifold entanglements between the Mediterranean space and the Atlantic world from the late 15th to the early 19th century. It focuses on the “Italies” – that is the plural and internally fragmented Italian-speaking areas – and their connections with the Atlantic world prior to the (well-studied) late-nineteenth-century mass migrations to the Americas. How did Mediterranean/Italian commodities enter Atlantic markets, what role did they play in shaping processes of cultural change, and what kind of meanings did consumers in the Americas and Africa assign to them? How did Atlantic commodities arrive in Italian societies and how did they transform the patterns of consumption and the material culture of both popular and elite households? What strategies did actors from an allegedly peripheralized region develop to connect themselves to the thriving oceanic trade routes, which interstices did they occupy, and what kind of patronage relations did they profit from? What kind of mobility patterns and what channels of knowledge circulation emerged between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic? How did Atlantic powers and interests shape political and economic decisions in Italian peninsular states before Italian independence? And what kind of efforts –both diplomatic and informal– were undertaken by the governments of the Italian states to defend their interests in the Atlantic space? By tackling these questions, we aim at shedding new light on inter-continental entanglements in the early modern age and at contributing to a renewal of both Atlantic and Italian history.