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European Frontiers: Rural Spaces and Expanding States

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EUROFRONT (European Frontiers: Rural Spaces and Expanding States)

Reporting period: 2017-08-01 to 2019-07-31

The central aim of the “EUROFRONT” project (European Frontiers: Rural Spaces and Expanding States) is to learn how peripheral communities adapt when they are incorporated into an expanding state system. Our understanding of how states and empires work tends to focus on great public figures and major historical events, while the villagers who lived in rural areas and provided the literal fuel for those systems may be entirely overlooked. Approaching this question from the perspectives of history, archaeology, and ethnography, EUROFRONT set out to investigate two case studies of “frontier zones” that were incorporated into different historical state systems: the area around Zakros on the island of Crete (Greece), and the fertile Cetina Valley in southern Dalmatia (Croatia). Over the past five hundred years, both places existed at the “edge” of different state territories, from those of the Ottoman Empire to the lands controlled by the Venetians and the Habsburgs.

Through its partnership with the host institution (Institute for Mediterranean Studies, Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas) and the secondment institution (Department of Archaeology, University of Zagreb), the project was able to achieve all of its goals in terms of scholarly research, training, and outreach. The project had three overall objectives: (1) to map the archaeological traces of these historical communities (such as houses, roads, and field systems) through on-the-ground fieldwork and from-the-air survey; (2) to scour historical sources about the areas and gather data about historical population; and (3) to use these data to achieve a deeper understanding of the impact of state expansion on local communities and help spread that knowledge to the wider public.

This combined study of historical textual sources and archaeological reconnaissance enabled the team to successfully document the ways in which local communities situated in these areas have adapted over the course of history. One of the key conclusions of the project is that frontier communities are remarkably resilient and actively look for ways to adapt to new economic and political situations that arise from periods of state expansion.
The work carried out for the project falls into three main categories: (1) Remote sensing analysis: An inventory of remotely sensed imagery sources was compiled for each study area and then used to create an initial map of historically and archaeologically important places. The sources ranged from terrain data to orthophotos (highly accurate aerial photos that are corrected for variations in the terrain), topographic maps, geological maps, historical maps produced by the Venetians and Habsburgs, and maps of modern hiking trails. (2) Historical research: Through collaboration with expert historians in both study areas, an inventory of key historical sources was compiled and then used to gather population data for the villages in each region. These sources include Venetian and Egyptian censuses as well as Ottoman tax registers. Additionally, original archival research was carried out in the State Archives in Zadar to search for historical maps of the Cetina Valley, which provided critical information about how the landscape looked before a network of canals were built in the 20th century. (3) Fieldwork: A total of nearly 60 days were spent carrying out fieldwork over the course of the two-year project. The researcher used this time to map historical roads (by hiking them with a GPS device) and assess the condition and age of historical architecture. The fieldwork also involved conducting ethnographic interviews to talk with people about these aspects of their cultural heritage, and over 40 interviews were carried out through collaboration with professional ethnographers and translators. Because of the sensitive nature of personal information, this part of the project came with a set of ethics requirements to make sure that all personal data would be handled both responsibly and legally. All of the fieldwork in Croatia was carried out in partnership with the Cetina Valley Survey, an ongoing archaeological excavation and survey project based in Trilj, Croatia, and directed by Dr Helena Tomas at the University of Zagreb.

The results from the project have been shared in a number of different platforms. Members of the public can read more about the project and access any publicly available data on the project website, including on a page dedicated to sharing data: ( Updates were shared over the course of the two-year project via the website’s blog and on Twitter. Presentations were another key way of sharing results from the project, and the researcher gave nearly ten lectures and public talks at international conferences and in academic departments at universities. Several scholarly, peer-reviewed and open-access publications have resulted from the project or are in the process of being published. Most important was the local outreach that was carried out as part of the fieldwork activities. Working together with other researchers and local experts, the EUROFRONT team touched base with leaders in the and citizens of the local communities, many of whom volunteered to give interviews as part of the ethnographic component of the project.

Another key aspect of the project was the cross-transfer of knowledge through training activities. The researcher gained firsthand experience in project management, as well as training in a range of technical fields, including photogrammetry, drone operation, ethnographic interviewing, textual encoding, and data visualization. She also received training in several languages that enabled her to work in different countries and search for historical resources. In return, the researcher provided training to her colleagues and students through course instruction, field practicums, and one-on-one consultations on topics like GIS, satellite remote sensing, 3D modelling, and Ottoman-period history and archaeology.
Aside from the training activities mentioned above, the main impact of this project is societal in nature. The key findings from the project have implications for all kinds of frontier situations beyond those that existed solely in history. Frontiers are not only a historical phenomenon, but can exist wherever two political powers meet, or even within a single country or region. The current globalized economy can be perceived as a kind of “expanding state” that directly impacts local communities, particularly through store ownership, tax revenue, employment, and so on. Through its simultaneously historical and modern (ethnographic) perspective, this project is able to contribute to discussions of community resilience, what it means to be “peripheral,” and how to best craft policies that account for local residents of these spaces. Key results of the project have already been shared through public portals (e.g. website, talks, and publications), and additional forthcoming papers will expand the impact of the project to an even wider audience.