Publication Date

December 1, 1996

In the April 1996 issue of Perspectives, John R. Gillis presented his thought-provoking vision of the future of European history in this country. His article raised a number of critical issues that many of us in the field have only recently begun to grapple with. Above all, his compelling comments on the changing status of European history in the American academy challenge us to rethink not only how we should teach European history to undergraduates and train the next generation of historians, but also how we ourselves should think and write about Europe. There will doubtless be considerable debate over whether we should adopt a narrative model that emphasizes the globalization or Europeanization of European history as Gillis suggests. A newly inaugurated graduate program in Mediterranean history at the University of Florida points to yet another possible alternative. In what follows we present a description of this new program.

In 1992, a select committee of Americanists, Europeanists, and Africanists conducted an internal review of the European history graduate program at the university with an eye to making changes that would elevate its profile in the profession. Many committee members initially felt that all we needed to do was to add more faculty lines in order to produce a strong program, but recurrently the issues that Gillis raised intruded into our conversations. What was the future of European history? How should we train graduate students in the late 20th century? What types of jobs will they be competing for in the 21st century?

After many lengthy and probing discussions,the program review committee decided that a fundamental restructuring of the program predicated on a different conceptualization of European history was called for. Rather than retain the traditional focus of European history programs, which emphasize the study of the “big three” European countries-France, Germany, and Great Britain-the new program was to shift the focus to southern Europe and the Mediterranean. And instead of preserving the more prevalent national orientation, the program was to be explicitly transnational, comparative, and interdisciplinary. The blueprint drawn up by the committee was overwhelmingly accepted by the department. We are still in the process of implementing it (a number of crucial hires will be made in the near future), but significant strides have been made and the preliminary results are very encouraging.

As Plato noted, the peoples of the Mediterranean are like "frogs around a pond," linked by geography and consequently connected to one another in numerous ways. There is a coherence to the Mediterranean that transcends mere geography. Located at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and Asia, the Mediterranean littoral has played and continues to playa major role in world history. Since antiquity, much of the region has experienced an interconnected history. Economically, politically, socially, and culturally, there have been and still are fundamental linkages among the peoples of the Mediterranean, between them and Europe, and between them and the Middle East.

Thematically, the Mediterranean world provides an entry point to many of the most important historical developments: empire and state building, culture and identity formation processes, and world-system development, to name only a few. The program is not a Mediterranean studies program per se, but rather it combines a country- or regional-level focus with greater emphasis on the rnacroregional context (both north and south, east and west). Students specialize in a country or subregion, such as Greece, Italy, Spain or the Balkans, and they are trained intensively in the history and relevant languages of that study area. In addition, students have a regional concentration, in either the western Mediterranean (Spain, Italy, southern France, and North Africa) or the eastern Mediterranean (the Balkans, eastern Europe, and the Levant). A transnational and comparative focus is thus explicitly built into the structure of the program. The program also emphasizes interdisciplinarity and cross-regional linkages-among various regions of the Mediterranean world, between those regions and the rest of Europe, and between Europe and other parts of the globe. Consequently, we have established meaningful associations between our European history program and our programs in Latin American history, African history, and U.S. history. We've also created links outside the department with the Departments of Anthropology, Criminology and Law, English, and Religion.

The Program Structure

Each year, two general readings seminars are offered, one in early modern European history and one in modern European history. The content of the seminars changes every time they are offered (in one year the literature of social history is the focus while in the next it may be cultural or economic history), and students may take the seminars more than once. We use these offerings to ensure that students have a solid background in the major themes of European history. Some of our seminars have a more specific national Mediterranean focus, such as "the Spanish Civil War," for instance. Others focus on a major thematic issue but adopt a transnational, European orientation, such as "European nationalisms." Still others are explicitly interdisciplinary and transnational but with a Mediterranean focus: For example, we offer a seminar entitled Gender and Power in Mediterranean Societies. This multitiered approach is reflected in the range of theses and dissertation topics undertaken so far by our students. One recent master's paper, for instance, closely analyzed a land cadastre of an 18th-century aristocratic plantation on a Greek island. The student situated his study in the literature on core-periphery economic development in Europe and the ongoing debates among anthropologists regarding systems on involuntary labor and he compared this Mediterranean system with plantation organizations in the United States and Latin America. Another paper took a more regional focus. In this case, the student analyzed the movement for a Balkan federation in the 1920s and 1930s—a timely topic indeed. Others have been explicitly comparative within a Mediterranean framework, one comparing witchcraft trials in early modern Italy and Spain, and another comparing prostitution and the state's response to it in Greece, Italy, and Spain in the late 19th century. Aparticularly challenging dissertation topic under way examines the controversial work of British and American Christian missionaries in the Balkans, particularly Greece, in the context of the general literature on religion and European empires in the colonial world. Common to all of the seminar offerings and the research topics selected by our students is an emphasis on large problems of interest to historians generally, a comparative methodology that requires interdisciplinarity, and a transnational orientation with a firm empirical grounding in the Mediterranean world.

The program is entering its fourth year and the results so far are encouraging. The building process continues, and we will be hiring new faculty to fill crucial positions. The response among graduate students has been positive—we have admitted larger numbers of students each year. We at strengthening our connections with col leagues and institutions in Europe and already some of our students have studied abroad. Obviously, the program described here is but one possible alternative for addressing some of the challenges facing European historians at the dawn of the 21st century. We think, however, that programs like ours have the potential to contribute in a meaningful way to the future development of the field. Anyone interested in obtaining more information about the program should contact Thomas W. Gallant, Graduate Coordinator, Department of History, University of Florida, 4131 TURL, P.O. Box 117320, Gainesville, FL. 32611-7320.

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