|Is the modern Mediterranean one place, with a common history? Or several, riven by colonialism? Viewed from a global perspective, the Mediterranean region has enjoyed a common historical experience since 1500. Increasingly semi-peripheral with respect to the world capitalist system, and characterized by weak states, delayed or muffled class formation, agrarian backwardness and the persistence of pastoralism, the coming to modernity of the Mediterranean foreshadowed the historical experience of the Third World in its unity and diversity. |
A comparative history of the modern Mediterranean may allow us to explore the possibility of regional rather than one-size-fits-all European models of modernity. Only by situating the Mediterranean in a regional and global context can we question entrenched culturalist narratives that foreground religion and eradicate history. By directing our attention to the eco-historical, structural and institutional contexts within which modernity emerged, the Mediterranean becomes a crucial laboratory to rethink the place of regional histories in global history.
In the course of long nineteenth century the Mediterranean region as a whole (and not just the Muslim parts) was transformed in response to global patterns of change. These included the industrial and democratic revolutions, massive population increases, the advent of fossil fuel, and modern communications (steamships, railroads, telegraph, telephone). These transformations and other had massive impacts upon Mediterranean societies, provoked waves of peasant protest as well as unprecedented migration both within and beyond the region.
For example, if the region was transformed by the same eco-historical and structural changes, why map them as civilizationally cause? Similarly, if the Liberal Reform package was introduced across the entire region in some instances by governmental decision (France, the Ottoman empire, Egypt) and in others (Spain, Italy, Algeria) at the point of a bayonet, what explains the divergent outcomes? If across the region bad religion and bad culture are the leading explanations for backwardness, perhaps we need a different explanation. The Mediterranean is a splendid social laboratory for asking these and other questions.