Paper in Motion: Information and the Economy of Knowledge in the Early Modern Mediterranean

Paper in Motion homepage

This online exhibition consists of 93 different documents in Hebrew, Arabic, Latin, Dutch, Spanish, German, Italian and Armenian, from archives in the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Egypt and Malta, all of which house paper-based records of administrative, financial and commercial activity between the late fourteenth and early eighteenth centuries. The exhibition thus samples some of the most relevant paper-based formats and documentary genres used to codify commercial information and financial value by different communities around the Mediterranean.

The exhibition was organized by José María Pérez Fernández (U. of Granada), Giovanni Tarantino (U. of Florence) Matteo Calcagni (European University Institute), as one of the activities conducted by “Paper in Motion”, which was in turn one of the four Work Groups of the PIMo COST Action. People in Motion (PIMo): Entangled Histories of Displacement across the Mediterranean (1492–1923)

Some relevant contents include the following:

  1. An introductory essay on PIMo and its aims, which include an inherently interdisciplinary and innovative approach to the movement of people, ideas, things and paper across the Mediterranean over the course of its long history.
  2. An essay on the intellectual background and the methodological approach that underpins the exhibition, which combines economic and cultural history, diaspora studies, the history of emotions, the history of communication and media history.
  3. An essay on trade and tolerance in Early Modern Europe that confirms the interdisciplinary scope of the PIMo project, which is the general framework for the virtual exhibition.
  4. Section 1 in the exhibition, Paper Trails of the Global Mediterranean, displays documents in Hebrew, Arabic, Ottoman, and Armenian alongside other multilingual documents in several European languages, all of which illustrate the Global connections of the Early Modern Mediterranean, and constitute useful primary sources for the use educators and researchers at different levels, from undergraduate to graduate students as well as doctoral candidates. Each of the document has a commentary that contextualizes it and stresses its relevance. Some of these documents are here published for the first time: a particularly relevant case is that of three documents in Hebrew from the Datini Archive in Prato, which illustrate how Jewish Hispanic converts used the trade and financial networks provided by the Datini company to flee the Iberian Peninsula soon after the pogroms of 1391
  5. Section 2, Paper and Communication includes several relevant documents. One of them is a letter penned by Margherita Datini, the wife of Prato merchant Francesco di Marco Datini. This is one of the nearly 270 letters that she wrote between 1384 and 1418, which famously constitute the largest group of letters in the vernacular by a lay woman in the late fourteenth century. This section also includes a so-far unpublished Portuguese document that illustrates how paper became part of the administrative and communicative infrastructure for European colonization and global trade.
  6. Section 4, Paper Trails of Human Goods, include paper records that illustrate different aspects of the slave trade around the Mediterranean and also across the Atlantic over the course of different periods.
  7. Section 5, Paper and Politics, Piety and Finance, includes documents that illustrate the close relation between disciplines as diverse as the history of religion, financial history and the history of political institutions.