2018 Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, New Orleans
IAS-Sponsored Session

Beyond Scylla and Charybdis: Exchanges Between Early Modern Sicily, Spain, and North Africa I

The Chicory, The Gallery
Thursday, March 22, 2018, 9:00-10:30am

Organizers: Cristelle Baskins, Tufts University and Elizabeth Kassler-Taub, Case Western Reserve University

Chair: Daniel Hershenzon, University of Connecticut

This set of panels responds to a rising interest in the Italian South and its remarkable geographical and cultural reach in the early modern period. The limited scholarship on fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Sicily focuses on the island’s split identity, its connections to both Spain and Italy. We propose to complicate this scheme by looking to links with North Africa — a region that, as Braudel argued, our “imperfect knowledge” has “left without a name.” Ranging from discussions of the trafficking of African slaves in Palermo to the trans-Mediterranean trade in artistic materials, and the exchange of architectural models on the front lines of war, these interdisciplinary contributions will consider contact between Sicily, the Ottoman world, and North Africa at the height of the early modern period.


Alessandro Vanoli, Independent Scholar
"Hercules in Sicily: The Mediterranean Past in Fifteenth-Century African and Spanish Sources"

The paper intends to analyze reconstructions of the past and political strategies found throughout the late fifteenth-century Mediterranean. From Spanish political use of classical mythology to the idea of the Mediterranean past conveyed by Arabic chronicles and geographic texts, it is possible to highlight a number of common elements: characters and figures, mostly from ancient Greece and Rome, whose new presence reveals a complex circulation of ideas and cultural elements.

Lori di Lucia,University of California, Los Angeles
"Between Sainthood and Slavery: Early Modern Palermo and the Mediterranean-Saharan Slave Trades"

The study of early modern Mediterranean slave trades situates Sicily as a crossroads between West Africa and Europe. In Palermo, an important port city connected to both the Iberian Peninsula and trans-Saharan trade routes, West Africans fought in the military, were baptized in Catholic churches, lived as freemen and even achieved sainthood. In my presentation, I will move between the exceptional example of an African beatified in sixteenth century Sicily and the less well-documented cases of the thousands of enslaved Africans living in Palermo, to explore how West Africans helped shape the early modern landscape of this port city. Ultimately, the trans-Saharan routes that both examples shared will encourage a reconsideration of the edges of the Mediterranean, transforming Saharan borders to passageways.

Lamia Balafrej, University of California, Los Angeles
"Sugar and Marble: The Labor of Diplomatic Exchange in the Early Modern Mediterranean"

This paper is about the interconnectedness of trade, cultural exchange, and labor in the early modern Mediterranean. I seek to bring together two realms of experience that are usually kept apart in the study of the cross-cultural: the circulation and consumption of luxury products such as sugar and marble on the one hand, and the labor systems that produced these goods on the other. The Saadian monarch Ahmad al-Mansur (r. 1578-1603) is known to have used materials from Europe, including Italian marble, to construct the Badi‘ palace. Yet this desire for cosmopolitanism has been treated separately from the political economy that enabled it. As a Moroccan chronicler later reported, marble was likely purchased in exchange for sugar produced by slaves in the South of Morocco. This paper deconstructs the notion of the “Saadian Renaissance” by examining the link between human exploitation and cultural capital in Morocco and the Mediterranean.

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