Material Connections: Mobility, Materiality and Mediterranean Identities

Case Studies

Materiality, mobility and identity represent the intellectual tools we adopt to gain insights into how Mediterranean peoples literally and conceptually constructed new worlds in both the distant and recent past. At the core of our approach stands the interdisciplinary study of material culture: we use materiality as a dynamic, meaningful and unifying concept for exploring the themes of mobility and Mediterranean identities from a comparative perspective.

All team members will explore how ‘things’ mediate the experience of both ancient and modern Mediterranean peoples, and how these experiences were — and are — shaped and informed by long-term collective memories of movement, migration, colonisation or localisation.

Because no single society, polity or region constitutes the ideal unit of analysis, and because there may be as many social boundaries or connections within a single culture or polity as there are between different ones, this project adopts a broad, comparative research perspective based on seven interlinked case studies associated with the Mediterranean islands and their nearby mainland shores. These case studies focus on the prehistoric and early historic periods (Early Bronze Age— Roman period), but also involve more recent cases from two different Mediterranean regions. Such an approach makes it possible to examine the Mediterranean world comparatively, interactively, and from an interdisciplinary perspective over a time span of some 5000 years.

Because of the diversity in the materials, landscapes and histories of the regions involved in these case studies, the methodology described here is intended to be inclusive and general rather than exclusive and specific. The basic material evidence investigated in all case studies constitutes various objects — e.g. figurines or metal weapons, or broader material culture categories such as pottery, monumental architecture, mortuary data, and floral or faunal remains — that played a critical role in cultural encounters. A key question guiding all studies is whether and to what extent the items concerned were involved in facilitating contacts between two or more social groups or, alternatively, in creating distance between them. The notion of the ‘social biography’ of objects provides the conceptual tool for assessing the perception, use and meaning of these objects in diverse contexts of migration, colonisation or hybridisation. A parallel line of investigation focuses on the landscapes and seascapes in which the cultural and social encounters took place and in which objects both old and new were hybridised, integrated or created anew.

Further details to follow.

Satellite view of the entire Mediterranean