Islamic History as the History of the West: The Pre-Modern Mediterranean & The Sea in the Middle


Posted by the University of Pittsburgh:

Join authors Thomas Burman (Notre Dame), Brian Catlos (CU Boulder) and Mark Meyerson (U Toronto) in conversation with John Esposito on the subject of their new text book, The Sea in the Middle: The Mediterranean World, 650-1650, and the accompanying source anthology, Texts from the Middle: Documents from the Mediterranean World, 650–1650 (U California, 2022). Eschewing the established historical meta-narrative which centers the history of narrow pre-Modern West on Latin Europe, these books present a history of the pre-Modern Abrahamic West – one that stretches from the Indus to the Atlantic, south through the Sahel and north to the Baltic – in which the Mediterranean is the dynamic center of contact, conflict and acculturation among individuals and communities from Africa, Europe and West Asia, who identified as Christians, Muslims and Jews. This perspective integrates the history of the Islamicate, Christian and Jewish worlds, by avoiding facile essentializations and plumbing a rich and complex history. Data-driven rather than aspirational the resulting narrative presents this Mediterranean-centered “the West” as the foundations of the Modernities that emerged over the course of the last few hundred years. This is book and reader for the diverse student bodies of the twenty-first century, and provides a complete package for college and university professors how wish to engage with this perspective in their teaching. Useful as a coursebook for undergraduate surveys, the set is also suitable as a supplementary or introductory text for upper-level undergraduates and for graduate seminars, and even advanced high school classes. The authors will discuss the motivations and methods behind this project, and how this book can be used in the classroom.


Dr. Brian Aivars Catlos is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder and Research Associate in Humanities at the University of California Santa Cruz. His work centers on Muslim-Christian-Jewish relations and ethno-religious identity in medieval Europe and the Islamic World, and the history of the pre-Modern Mediterranean. In addition to many articles, he has written The Victors and the Vanquished: Christians and Muslims of Catalonia and Aragon, 1050–1300 (Cambridge: 2004),Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors: Power, Faith and Violence in the Age of Crusade and Jihad (Farrer, Straus & Giroux: 2014), Muslims of Medieval Latin Christendom, 1050–ca. 1615 (Cambridge: 2014) and Kingdoms of Faith: A New History of Islamic Spain (Basic: 2018). He has won numerous prizes and distinctions, including the MAA’s Haskin’s Medal and MESA’s Albert Hourani Prize, and his work is translated into ten languages. The Sea in the Middle: The Mediterranean World, 650-1650 and Texts from the Middle: Documents from the Mediterranean World, 650-1650 (with T. Burman and M. Meyerson) were published in August 2022 by U California. His current project, The Age of Convergence, proposes a model (based on “Mutual Intelligibility, “conveniència” and “Dynamics of Scale”) for analyzing individual and group identity in the pre-Modern Mediterranean. He co-directs the Mediterranean Seminar, an international forum with over 1800 members world-wide, and serves on numerous journal and monograph boards.

Dr. Mark D. Meyerson began his teaching career at the University of Notre Dame. He is now Professor in the Department of History and the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto, where he teaches premodern Spanish and Mediterranean history and the history of violence, and has supervised some 25 PhD dissertations. Among his publications are: The Muslims of Valencia in the Age of Fernando and Isabel: Between Coexistence and Crusade (U California, 1991); ‘A Great Effusion of Blood’?: Interpreting Medieval Violence, co-edited with Oren Falk and Daniel Thiery (U Toronto, 2004); Jews in an Iberian Frontier Kingdom: Society, Economy, and Politics in Morvedre, 1248-1391 (Brill, 2004); and A Jewish Renaissance in Fifteenth-Century Spain (Princeton, 2004), which was runner-up for the National Jewish Book Award, USA, and the Koret International Book Prize for the Best Book in Jewish History. With Thomas Burman and Brian Catlos, he has co-authored The Sea in the Middle: The Mediterranean World, 650-1650 and the accompanying source anthology Texts from the Middle: Documents from the Mediterranean World, 650-1650 (U California, 2022). He is currently completing a monograph, Of Bloodshed and Baptism: Violence, Religion, and the Transformation of Spain, ca. 1300-1614, to be published by Oxford University Press.

Thomas E. Burman taught at the University of Tennessee for twenty-five years before becoming Robert M. Conway Director of the Medieval Institute and Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame in 2017. His scholarly work focuses on the intellectual, cultural, and religious interactions between Medieval Christians and Muslims in the western Mediterranean. His first book, Religious Polemic and the Intellectual History of the Mozarabs, c. 1050-1200 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1994)examined the learned culture of the Arabic-speaking Christians of Islamic Spain, while his Reading the Qur’an in Latin Christendom, 1140-1560(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007) traced the reactions of medieval and early-modern Europeans to Islam’s holy book, whether they read it in Latin translation or the Arabic original. It won the American Philosophical Society’s Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History and was named a Choice Outstanding Academic title. In 1992-93 he was Rockefeller Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of Islamic Societies and Civilizations at Washington University, St. Louis; in 2002-03 he was an NEH Fellow and also Abdul Aziz Al-Mutawa Visiting Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies; in 2013-14 he was again an NEH Fellow. He is currently writing a book entitled Ramon Marti and the Religions of Many Books. He has given invited lectures at institutions such as Columbia University, Dumbarton Oaks, the Warburg Institute at the University of London, Ohio State University, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.