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Migration in the early modern world: the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land as a facilitator of the circulation of people in the Mediterranean

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MIGMED (Migration in the early modern world: the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land as afacilitator of the circulation of people in the Mediterranean)

Reporting period: 2016-09-01 to 2018-08-31

The aim of the project was to deepen current knowledge of early modern mobility across the Mediterranean (1600-1800) addressing some methodological problems and focusing on issues that have been neglected by previous historiography: the link between short-and long-distance mobility; and the relation between individual paths and the circulation of entire groups. These questions were addressed through the analysis of people passing through the houses of the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land in the Eastern Mediterranean and of the networks and institutions that facilitated their movement, on both a local (Palestinian) and a regional (Mediterranean) level. Besides advancing Mediterranean historiography on migration, the project aimed to open avenues for further research and to suggest a new methodological approach to the study of mobility in pre-modern societies. More specifically, it proposed to overcome the limits of previous historiography through the meso-level of analysis. In the specific case, this meant the study of the social structures that facilitated and addressed individuals’ short and long distance movement. Mobilizing concepts that have proved useful for the understanding of contemporary mobility, such as “migration network”, and interpreting the Franciscan order’s structures/functions and the complex interactions between all actors in a coherent fashion, the project conceptualized the Franciscans as a migration network. Besides early modern migration, thanks to the broad geographical and thematic perspective, the research also advanced major fields like religious history / confessionalization, intercultural exchanges and history of Catholic parishes. Finally, departing from the analysis of migration in the early modern Mediterranean, the project aimed at contributing to current debate on contemporary migration, enlarging its perspective and challenging its very basic elements.
The work on the project included the reading of secondary literature (mainly during the first year), archival research and collection of relevant data, elaboration of the latter and dissemination through academic articles and conference papers. During the first year, the unforeseen discovery (in the archive of the Roman congregation, De Propaganda Fide) of unknown documents issued by institutions linked to the Custody and spread across Europe, confirmed and strengthened the initial hypothesis of the existence of a Franciscan network that facilitated mobility across the Mediterranean. The collection and the elaboration of the data was followed by the presentation of the research findings in workshops and conferences, among which the Renaissance Society of America Annual Meeting, and the writing of a contribution to an edited volume: “Religious Orders, Networks and (Global?) Mobility”, in P. Nelles, R. Salzberg (eds.), “The Mechanics of Mobility in the Early Modern World”, Amsterdam University Press, 2019 (accepted). In parallel, the researcher also started the collection and analysis of data extracted from the sacramental books of Bethlehem (Archive of the Custody of the Holy Land, Jerusalem) and the construction of an on-line open-access database (presented at the conference “Monasteries in Digital Humanities”, Czestochowa, 2017). The project findings on migration within Palestine have been presented at international conferences and in a journal article currently under review. Besides migration, the research has also been fruitful with regard to the history of Catholic parishes in Palestine. Together with the mentor, Prof. Beat Kümin, the researcher wrote an article on parishes in a comparative perspective. In addition, the researcher wrote a contribution, on Franciscan parish life, mission and the local context, for an edited volume “An Economic integration: Franciscans in Semi-Rural Palestine (17th-Century)”, in B. Heyberger, C. Windler, et al. (eds.), Catholic Missionaries in Early Modern Asia: Patterns of Localization, Routledge 2019 (Forthcoming).
During the two-year action, the researcher has also co-organized the “Sixteenth Warwick Symposium on Parish Research – Parish and Migration”, and one workshop (“Migration in Interdisciplinary Perspective”) with Prof. Beat Kümin and a workshop (“Refugees and Forced Migrations: Addressing New and Old Challenges”) with Prof. Marianna Fotaki.
Concerning the dissemination of the project findings to a non-specialist public, the researcher participated in in BBC4’s ‘Making History’ radio programme (10 July 2018) and wrote three pieces for non-academic journal and on-line platforms among which One of the articles (“Migrants Have Crossed the Mediterranean for Centuries- But They Used to Head from North to South”, published on 26 June 2018) received 11,000 dowloads for the English version and 4,808 for the Spanish translation, and was republished in France and translated in Portuguese. In addition, the researcher and her mentor Prof. Beat Kümin organized a public engagement event: ‘Ideas Café: Parish and Migration in Past and Present’, in St. John the Baptist Church, Berkswell, UK (6 June 2018).
The analysis of the previously-unexplored sacramental books of Bethlehem advanced previous knowledge on Christian mobility in Palestine, questioning previous assumptions regarding the centrality of Jerusalem and of the urbanization process in the area. In this respect, the sources unfolded previously unknown mobility patterns within small areas and the development of new centers of attraction for local mobility. Secondly the research advanced previous knowledge regarding gender dimensions and motivations underlying migration and confirmed the initial hypothesis on the role played by the Franciscans in shaping and addressing Catholic mobility within Palestine. The focus on the Franciscan as “agents of mobility” also allowed the researcher to link the local Palestinian dimension of the project with the regional, Mediterranean one. In this respect the proposed focus on the meso-level of analysis and the conceptualization of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land as migration network proved very useful to understand dynamics underlying Mediterranean mobility and to advance previous scholarship on the topic: 1) shedding light on the role played by networks; 2) unfolding the link between short and long distance mobility and 3) contextualizing individual movements in larger mobility patterns. More broadly the project elaborated a new approach to the study of early modern mobility that, by focusing on the meso-level of networks and organizations, overcomes the limits of current approaches and allows to contextualize the individual dimension in larger mobility patterns. In addition the study of previously unexplored parish books of Bethlehem, and the online database, laid the foundation for further research on the demography of the town and more broadly on the consolidation of Catholic parishes in Palestine. Concerning the impact on society, the number of reads, translations and downloads of the articles together with the feedback of the participants in the public engagement event suggest that the sustained dialogue between historical perspectives and present-day issues that characterizes the dissemination of the project results has proved successful in stimulating public debate on contemporary migration and questioning wide-spread anti-migrants assumptions.