Before it developed into a field with journals, job titles and call for papers, ‘the Mediterranean’ invariably brought to mind Ferdinand Braudel’s 1949 The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. More recent work has turned away from his definition of the region through its geographical, aquatic and geological borders. Instead, along with Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell, the Mediterranean has increasingly been read as a region of ‘connectivity’—religious, social, political, ethnic, cultural—as lived by the inhabitants themselves. Such an understanding of the Mediterranean allows scholarship to focus on transnational, transimperial and non-Western relations and identities that might be obscured when examining geography or national borders. Focusing on the range of shifting and polymorphous movements of peoples and of categories in the region, this work has remained largely a history of the early-modern period. This is one key reason why Patricia Lorcin and Todd Shepard’s edited collection is a critical contribution both to Mediterranean Studies and French Studies. The essays in this volume are a representation of a broad range of research that spotlights the late eighteenth century to the twentieth century, demonstrating some of the intricate processes, moving pieces and categories that have made up a modern Mediterranean. This is, without question, a Mediterranean that lives through and is produced by the work of European imperialism. Yet, crucial to this volume, is that the research within examines non-European actors who, in discrete ways, gave meaning to the otherwise wobbly space of the Mediterranean. As Lorcin and Shepard explain in the introduction, the volume follows historical actors connected to France. They might also be considered vectors through which we can examine both the making of France and that of the Mediterranean. The intention here, however, is that the Mediterranean becomes the centre and France becomes its periphery. To this end, the essays in this collection span work on coinage, revolutions, mountains, deserts, cities, earthquakes, schools, medicine and concentration camps. Of particular note, is the scholars’ respective study of terminologies and categories that take new form at that moment and subsequently propel new social realities. Take, for example, Mary Dewhurst Lewis’ chapter that examines how different legal regimes and legal definitions in colonial Tunisia set in place what she calls ‘a pan- European legal identity’ before the existence of a unified Europe. This exploration of judicial boundaries between natives and those who benefited from French legal codes traces not simply the creation of a new ‘European colonial class’ but also of the term ‘European’ itself and its successive cultural meaning. Andrew Arsan’s work on the ‘imaginative labour’ of Lebanese thinkers who gave intellectual weight to the political and affective relationship between France and Mount Lebanon, along with Julia Clancy-Smith and Susan Miller’s chapters respectively on French education of women and Jews, examine new and local languages of personal, community and national liberation fashioned through this formation. As this collection shows, the Mediterranean is less a clear entity or set of meanings, but a process through which certain social realities are constructed. The volume is therefore at its most successful in highlighting the transformative nature of diverging discourses around France on populations across the French Mediterranean. This is a collection dedicated to finding ways of decoupling research on the Mediterranean from European state actors and refocusing attention on local actors from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. France nonetheless still stands at its centre. For this reason, it would have been useful to speak to the choice of organizing the collection around the ‘French’ Mediterranean, what particularities of local and imperial entanglements it brings, along with its specific historiographical and theoretical frameworks. The collection otherwise runs the risk of undermining the conceptual value of the Mediterranean as a useful alternative to national categories. This wide-ranging collection, however, remains an exciting and important contribution to French and Mediterranean Studies, bringing together a set of interdisciplinary scholars who were trained in areas outside of France into conversation with scholarly conversations in French history. It cautions its reader not to transpose one national history on another, even in an area where, as Braudel tells us, families, states and enterprises were transposed in just this way only a few centuries before. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of French History. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
French History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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