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Interpreting Dragomans: Boundaries and Crossings in the Early Modern Mediterranean

  • E. Natalie Rothman (a1)

Early modern observers rarely failed to comment on the perceived diversity of peoples, customs, and languages of Mediterranean societies. This diversity they sought to capture in travel narratives, costume albums, missionary and diplomatic reports, bilingual dictionaries, and a range of other genres of the “contact zone.” Modern scholars, too, have celebrated the early modern Mediterranean's ostensibly multiple, diverse, and even “pluralist,” “cosmopolitan,” or “multicultural” nature. At the same time, in part thanks to the reawakened interest in Braudel's seminal work and in part as a much-needed corrective to the politically current but analytically bankrupt paradigm of “clash of civilizations,” recent studies have also emphasized the region's “shared,” “connected,” “mixed,” “fluid,” “syncretic,” or “hybrid” sociocultural practices. Of course, these two analytical emphases are far from mutually exclusive, as recently underscored by Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell's comprehensive, longue durée model of diversity-in-connectivity. Yet, neither Horden and Purcell's structuralist “new thalassology,” nor other studies of the early modern Mediterranean have offered a systematic account of how “diversity” and “connectivity” as both the flow of social practices and the categories for speaking about them have been articulated through specific institutions and genres.

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