In July 2004 Dr Patricia Skinner and her student Tehmina Bhote were awarded approximately £65,000 by the Leverhulme Trust for a 3-year research project entitled, ‘Medieval Cultures in Contact: Merchants, Objects and Cultural Exchange in Southern Italy’.
i. To study the main routes of physical movement and points of contact between different ethnic and religious groups within medieval southern Italy through three approaches: a focus on mercantile activity from c.900 to c.1250, using the relatively mobile Amalfitans and Jews as a main case study (but with due attention paid to their typicality); a study of documented exchanges of objects which were not linked to trading activity; a study of extant objects of this period of southern Italian provenance and a reconstruction of their medieval movement, where possible;
ii. to reconstruct the communications routes used by these groups, and points of interaction between them;
iii. to integrate the object-centred approach of museology with a historical study in order to trace whether the movement of objects can reveal undocumented points or routes of exchange not visible in the written sources;
iv. To challenge the historical paradigm of the ‘melting pot’, which is often applied to this region, and instead to examine how identities were related to location and surrounding pressures.
The aims above will be tackled in two strands, more details of which can be read in other sections of this website.
The first strand is being conducted by Patricia Skinner. She is using one of the most visibly mobile groups, the Amalfitans, to examine whether the expansion of their trade routes within southern Italy (especially after the Norman conquest, when their external trading activities seem to have lessened somewhat) can be taken as a model for the movement of people and goods within the peninsula, and will relate this research to the preceding ‘Amalfitan diaspora’, as Amalfitans left Italy and established themselves elsewhere in the Mediterranean. What happened to an Amalfitan’s identity when he or she moved beyond the confines of the Amalfitan territory? She will be comparing this case with the surviving evidence for the Jewish communities of southern Italy, again tracing movement and communication, and asking whether and how far we can isolate a specifically ‘southern Italian’ identity among Jewish writers in surviving texts and other evidence.
The second strand is being undertaken by Tehmina Goskar (née Bhote) and will form her thesis, due for submission in Summer 2007. The working title of her thesis is, ‘the material cultures of exchange and movement in early medieval southern Italy’. Her main point of departure is from an object-based viewpoint, and aims to establish a database of securely-documented or still extant southern Italian material objects. To complement object-based study, she is in the process of translating and analysing southern Italian charters, mainly from the regions of Apulia and Campania to ascertain what evidence for object-movement there was on a local and personal scale. Tehmina aims to marry the museological (or cultural anthropological) technique of creating ‘object biographies’ to understand how tracing the life-story of an object can reveal movement, exchange, use and ownership in the regional context of southern Italy and the Mediterranean.