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Response to Review no. 1016

It is a great honor to be reviewed by an eminent historian, to really enter in dialogue with one of the masters of the Mediterranean studies. His historiographical framework, his eulogies and critiques to our work offer a good contribution to the understanding of this field of research, according to a practice that Canguilhem defined as ‘l’histoire des discours véridiques’ (the history of truthful discourses), that is, discourses which rectify, correct each other. Following the same practice, we would like to respond to his main critiques. 

P. Horden offers us several criticisms: this book is, according to him, impossible to review because of the multiple competencies that it would require, since it concerns a period which goes from antiquity to the modern era, and consists of a multitude of case-studies without any general narration, index, or introduction of its problematic (even though it contains a general introduction of 15 pages as well as introductions to each section). He adds that this volume may even be un-publishable in the Anglo-Saxon world, since we have retained the original languages (Spanish, Italian, French, English) of the participants. We are perplexed that the co-author of The Corrupting Sea would challenge the choice to study a long period of time, and likewise by his criticism of the multilingualism: does no-one read anything but English in the whole Anglo-Saxon world, even when studying the Mediterranean, one of the most cosmopolitan spaces in the world? How can one read sources with English only? Isn’t there an ethical and scientific necessity to respect the variety of languages and therefore of historiographies? But perhaps there is in the remarks of P. Horden a certain nostalgia for a time when the English spoke other languages, particularly French, the predominant language of this volume.

While we concede that the absence of an index can make reading more slow (though an index would have made the volume considerably larger, and it is already very thick), it is important for us to respond to these criticisms, which never enter into the content of the articles themselves, and to recall the spirit of the research program, of which the work under review is the result, the problematic that we developed in the course of eight colloquia, and the way in which it has all been directed from 2002 to 2007.

The ambition of this program (La mobilité des personnes en Méditerranée, de l’Antiquité à l’époque moderne. Procédures de contrôle et documents d’identification) was to consider what kind of freedom of movement people enjoyed on land and sea routes before the constitution of nation-states. It aimed to investigate under which conditions (political, economic, social) it had been possible, over the course of many centuries within the Mediterranean basin, to establish or to preserve the freedom of circulation of peoples, and according to what principles; which culture, which logics contributed to the implementation of such freedom or, on the contrary, to its limitation and control; and what were the administrative procedures, the published documents, and the administrative identities brought together to frame this mobility. The comparative element inherent of the program aimed, by moving away from any apparent similarities, to emphasise the differences, the discontinuities, that is to say, the historicity of documents and procedures of identification, their circulation as well – shared experiences, which is one concrete way to think about ‘the Mediterranean’. It focused likewise on the historicity of its norms and categories, in order to understand in which context and in what manner the law took account of the phenomenon of mobility, making it visible to some extent, and consequently grasping the transformation of the relationship between man and space.

This research program was developed in a series of colloquia published in pairs: the first volume (1) was thus devoted to passage across frontiers and mobility negotiated by means of diplomatic arrangements (the right of war, incentives to immigrate, commercial agreements, or embassies). The second (2) dealt with entry into cities and ports and placed its emphasis on the procedures of identification for traveling people. The third volume, the object of this review, comprised the proceedings of two conferences, one concerning mobile populations, and the other all the forms of emigration, whether free or constrained: departures, absences, exiles, and flight. The seventh round-table, on intellectual mobility, appeared in MEFRIM (3); the eighth, La liberté de circuler : concepts et pratiques, is in the process of publication.

Each colloquium, and thus each publication, was supposed to respond to a particular problematic: how to control the flow of people, how to grasp mobility at the moment of passage, entry or departure, how to understand the role of negotiation in the framing of mobility, be it constrained or free, etc. But we have never sought to propose a continuous and unique narrative, nor a picture ‘thoroughly’ ordered by a single director, nor even any definitive conclusions. We must state clearly that in spite of the unity of place and a certain chronological coherence, which justified some questions common to the collection of moments under study, no ‘period’ has seemed to present any real unity, nor have we discovered a linear and progressive development until the constitution (and stabilization) of the territorialized nation-state. It is plurality that characterizes this long period, where the procedures of control and identification responded to multiple logics, sometimes even purely circumstantial ones, and which, far from excluding one another, most often tended to accumulate.

This program was conceived and implemented as traveling or migratory in nature (to Rome, Naples, Aix en Provence, Madrid, Istanbul, etc.), grafting itself onto institutions (especially, but not exclusively, French) working in and/or on the Mediterranean. The diversity of its participants ought to reflect the variety of approaches and points of view. It is this richness and this dynamics that we wanted to defend against the linguistic and problematical constraints that weigh upon research today and that aim to produce formatted publications and holistic works. We perhaps did not go far enough in the pursuit of diversity, and are quite conscious, for example, of certain gaps or imbalances (the near absence, in this volume alone, of the south coast of the Mediterranean). But the program and the respect of plurality of stories undoubtedly permitted the opening of new avenues of research: in a field dominated by demographic, economic, or environmental approaches, we have suggested a transverse approach, by emphasizing the practices of circulation and their logics, the juridical, political, or symbolic forms of their framing, and by investigating, through the study of concrete cases, the influence of the movement of people on the societies of the Mediterranean basin.


  1. La mobilité des personnes en Méditerranée de l’antiquité à l’époque moderne: procédures de contrôle et documents d’identification, ed. Claudia Moatti (Rome, 2004).Back to (1)
  2. Gens de passage en Méditerranée de l’antiquité à l’époque modern, ed. Claudia Moatti and Wolfgang Kaiser (Paris, 2007).Back to (2)
  3. MEFRIM, (2007), 119, 1.Back to (3)