Le Noir et le Bleu: An Exhibit about the Mediterranean in Marseilles

The exhibit's catalog

The exhibit’s catalog

Fernand Braudel (1902-1985) declared “J’ ai passionément aimé la Méditerranée” in the preface of the first edition of La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen a l’ époque de Philippe II (1949). Archaeologists of my generation had to read or at least leaf through this three volume magnum opus written during Braudel’s captivity in concentration camps in Mainz and Lübeck during WWII (and delivered in lectures to fellow prisoners).  “Had it not been for my imprisonment, I would surely have written a much different book…” wrote Braudel in his “Personal Testimony.” Much more about Braudel’s life and work can be found in the excellent biographical essay by historian William McNeill (Journal of Modern History 73:1, 2001, pp. 133-147); McNeill himself was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama on February 25, 2010.

Braudel belongs to the first generation of post war “savants” who tried to reconfigure the Mediterranean world after the destruction and the division that WWII brought to the shores of the “Middle Sea.” This new “mediterraneité” would be inclusive and post-colonial –at least in the erudite world of scholarship.  Although Braudel’s approach has been criticized for overlooking certain fundamental conflicts (e.g., the clash of Islam and Christianity and the clash between Catholics and Protestants), it has cast a long shadow over subsequent study of the Mediterranean.  More than three decades would separate Braudel’s last revision in 1966 (and translation into English in 1972) from the next major tome written about the Mediterranean by an ancient historian (Nicholas Purcell) and a medievalist (Peregrine Horden).  Published in 2000, their study (The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History) is Braudelian both in size and depth and covers the period from about 800 B.C. through medieval times.  While receiving both praise and criticism, Purcell and Horden’s book has rightly become a classic. Read the rest of this entry »


The Not-So-Shallow Waves of Cold War Cultural Diplomacy

The marble carvers, carpenters, and workers who participated in the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos, 1955.

The marble carvers, carpenters, and workers who participated in the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos, 1955.

“Often one senses the feeling – and I have occasionally heard it put into words- that since Greece has culture and America money, each should contribute its own commodity to the collaborative enterprise.  It is a European outlook, of course; not limited to Greece.”

The excerpt above was written in 1958 from the pen of John (Jack) Caskey, Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (1949-1959).  It epitomizes the perception that most Europeans had of America even after European culture had entered into its American phase. It is also a passage quoted in a brilliant review of the development of the Greek-American relationships from 1947 to 1961, published with the title “Shallow Waves and Deeper Currents: The U.S. Experience of Greece, 1947-1961. Policies, Historicity, and the Cultural Dimension,” by Evanthis Hatzivassiliou in Diplomatic History, vol. 37 (2013), pp. 1-28. Read the rest of this entry »