Methodology

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Audience by the Qadi of the French Consul of İzmir Laudiencedu in a 17th-century engraving by Jean du Mont

In scrutinizing the nature of a trans-cultural space and of identity as a dynamic process, I use an interdisciplinary approach since multiculturalism is a vibrant issue in humanities as well as in social sciences and cultural anthropology. In doing this, I obtain my case-studies through microhistory, the small scale investigation that focuses on groups and/or individual case-studies, a well-established methodology in early modern cultural history.[1] I trace groups’ histories and individual paths starting from the analysis of travel accounts of Italian, French and English travellers and then putting them into dialogue with different kinds of archival sources. The truly interdisciplinary nature of my methodology primarily resides in this combination of insights from borderland studies and comparative literature in the study of travelogues and other genres of writing. I involve in my analysis food studies, visual studies, and linguistic studies, since I use three main identity markers as analytical tools, i.e. foodways, clothing and language. Coming back to Pitton de Turnefort, we can highlight in his passage that expression of European “being” passed through the possibility to eat and drink as in Europe (“Taverns are open all Hours...”), be dressed with European elements of style (“Every body takes off his Hat...”), speak their own mother tongue (“they speak nothing but Italian, French, English or Dutch”). I consciously excluded from my parameters religion, the last aspects underlined by Pitton de Turnefort (“They sing publicly in the Churches...”). For “religion’s long standing status as the definitive dividing line in many evocations of the sea,”[2] there are many contributions to scholarship on the topic. My aim is, instead, to place relevance on aspects of material life that were (and still are) meaningful in constructing cultural hierarchies, useful to the mindset in mapping and giving order to diversity. The use of foodways as an identity marker has been deeply enquired by the historiography,[3] as well as clothing, the first visual identifier that must immediately state the group of belonging.[4] Moreover, in the Mediterranean food is also connected with the elaboration of the paradigm of an enlarged Mediterranean cuisine and/or diet, an Anglo-Saxon conceptualization of Mediterranean foodways that is present in global eating culture from the middle of 20th century.[5] The third parameter I have chosen, language, is a more elusive category. Previous research has underlined, due to the multilingual nature the Mediterranean area, that there was not a strong connection between the origin of the speaker and language, the last being more a means of communication than an identity marker.[6] Nevertheless, I engage it in this sense, since language could be employed as a sign of status in the foreign community. This last observation introduces the subcategories of analysis, social class and gender. Material life, in fact, is de facto influenced by both economic capacity and by the individual possibilities to access it, in which social level and gender played meaningful roles. Women represented an active bridge through communities and a key element in social mobility. Research on Malta, Izmir, Livorno and other port-cities has highlight womens’ multilingual skills, their openness to fashion contamination, and their willingness to interreligious marriages. Information on material life is obtained through travel accounts and verified through archival sources from several European archives.
I carry out a comprehensive review of Italian, French and English travel literature from 1650 to 1750 in the rich library collections of the Washington DC metro area, while the archives I scrutinize are, for each port-city:

  • Izmir: Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu (Roma, Italy),
  • Archvio Storico de Propaganda Fide (Roma, Italy),
  • The National Archives (London, UK)
  • Malta: Archivio dell'Inquisizione di Malta (Mdina, Malta);
  • Archivio Segreto Vaticano (Roma, Italy)
  • Livorno: Archivio dell’Inquisizione di Pisa (Pisa, Italy);
  • Archivio di Stato Firenze (Florence, Italy)
  • Marseille: Archives départementales des Bouches-du-Rhône (Marseille, France)

Originality and innovative aspects of the research programme:
The original and innovative contribution of my research to further the knowledge of Mediterranean Studies relates to four main aspects on which the project is built upon. They are:

  1. The choice of the case studies: MedRoute aims to go beyond the over-localized approach to which Mediterranean studies have become increasingly subject, with strict circumscriptions of the area of investigation for fear of the label of mid-level generalization researches. My case studies are located in both the eastern and western Mediterranean and include very different kinds of urban entities, intending to overcome the difficulties represented by a poly-semantic Mediterranean space and offering an opportunity of a truly innovative methodological contribution. The complexity of the Mediterranean can be better expressed through the comparison of distant environments encompassed by the Mare Nostrum.
  2. The choice of the identity markers: the employment of the triad foodways-clothing-language represents an innovative approach to the studies of foreigner communities in early modern Mediterranean ports.
  3. The choice of the periodization: the period under scrutiny, late 17th -early 18th centuries, is significant for charting cultural changes and remains little studied in comparison to the more canonical 17th century.
  4. The choice of the narrative device: Using the ‘route’ is functional not only to research’s building but also to its literary expression in the stage of the outcomes’ writing, fostering their diffusion also outside the academia. In fact, the route is a fascinating device, potentially attractive also for non-specialized readers.

The model proposed by MedRoute has high potential for further expansion, being an attractive framework in which other scholars could study other trade routes and port cities, possibly resulting in the creation of interactive maps of Mediterranean routes and multicultural areas touched by them. Finally, on a more general level, MedRoute offers some means to better understand problems linked to multicultural environments. From this perspective, it will offer a contribution to modern policy making providing examples of possible answers in the building of a more balanced equilibrium between different groups sharing the same space, especially in light of the recent displacement of people in Europe from areas affected by wars.


  1. Carlo Ginzburg, John Tedeschi and Anne C. Tedeschi “Microhistory: Two or Three Things That I Know about It” Critical Inquiry, 20 (1993), pp. 10-35. ↩︎

  2. Eric Dursteler “On Renaissance Bazaars and Battlefields: Recent Scholarship on Mediterranean Cultural Contacts” Journal of Early Modern History, 15 (2011), p. 426. ↩︎

  3. Eric Dursteler, “Bad Bread and the ‘Outrageous Drunkenness of the Turks’: Food and Identity in the Accounts of Early Modern European Travelers to the Ottoman Empire”, Journal of World History, 25 (2014): 203-228; Allen J. Grieco and Peter Scholliers, “Food exchanges in history: People, products,and ideas (IEHCA’s European Summer University, 2008): introduction”, in Food & History, 7 (2009), pp. 105–110. ↩︎

  4. Giovanni Ricci, Ossessione turca. In una retrovia Cristiana dell’Europa moderna (Bologna, 2002). ↩︎

  5. Allen G. Grieco, “¿Cocina mediterránea o dieta mediterránea (del siglo XIV a principios del XVI)?” in La Alimentación mediterránea: historia, cultura, nutrición, ed. F. Xavier Medina (Barcelona, 1996), Clifford A. Wright, A Mediterranean Feast: The Story of the Birth of the Celebrated Cuisines of the Mediterranean, from the Merchants of Venice to the Barbary Corsairs; with More Than 500 Recipes (New York, 1999); Vito Teti, Il colore del cibo. Geografia, mito e realtà dell’alimentazione mediterranea (Roma, 1999). ↩︎

  6. Eric Dursteler, “Speaking in Tongues: Multilingualism and Multicultural Communication in the Early Modern Mediterranean” Past and Present, 217 (2012), p. 47-77. ↩︎