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CONFIGMED Report Summary

Project ID: 295868
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: France

Final Report Summary - CONFIGMED (Mediterranean configurations: Intercultural trade, commercial litigation and legal pluralism in historical perspective)

ConfigMed’s goal has been to provide a new analysis of historical change in (and about) the Mediterranean over the long run (15th-19th centuries). It has contested traditional narratives that presented Mediterranean history as having led somewhat naturally to European domination in the 19th and 20th centuries, through the mere diffusion and extension of European political and institutional models and legal codifications. The ConfigMed project has focused on commercial litigation as the most telling indicator for the intensity and changing modes of trade and commercial interactions. It has been a collective project involving about twenty researchers from nine (European and non-European) countries, covering a broad array of themes. The project has given rise to ground-breaking research on the collections of several commercial and maritime courts in Spain, France, Italy, the UK, the Netherlands, Croatia, Malta and Turkey. Particular attention has been paid to the large amount of hitherto unknown documents in Arabic and Ottoman Turkish present in European archives.
Several important conclusions of the research have led to the revision of a number of standard narratives in the historiography. First of all, the project helped to challenge the idea of a progressive triumph of legal precedents in commercial and maritime matters. Despite the emergence of a law of nations (ius gentium) built on the principle of the harmonization of rules at the level of an increasing number of (European) States, there was no automatic correlation between the adoption of treaties and the emergence of a harmonized commercial and maritime international law. Until the 19th century and the adoption of national legal State codes, the settlement of disputes was based on a casuistry that took into account the social status of the litigants, and the political and diplomatic consequences of judgment. This did not produce jurisprudential cases, but rather a reservoir of non-systematic precedents.
In this respect, the project has questioned the schematic vision of an institutional, legal and economic divergence between the Ottoman world and Western Europe, based on an alleged superiority of European legal institutions for trade. Detailed studies of European consuls and commercial courts have shown that European institutions could be highly corrupt, costly and biased. Rather than naively relying on the idea of the superiority or effectiveness of specific institutions, emphasis has been placed on the issue of enforcement (of contracts, and above all, of court sentences): litigants sought justice in the place where reimbursement of the injury was most likely to occur.
These various issues have implied working with anthropological, sociological and economical concepts, such as credit, social capital and reputation. The specific challenge of the ConfigMed project has been to analyse social interactions, and to test for the supposed existence of normative, political and cultural boundaries in the Mediterranean, by studying a synchronic and diachronic plurality of jurisdictions. From this point of view, a decisive contribution of the project has been to constantly take into account the legal and normative interactions between the Western European and Islamicate societies, thus calling into question the differentiation between distinct “cultural universes”. The plurality of co-existing religions in the Mediterranean has indeed generated complex configurations at a political, ideological and normative level. Demonstrating the constant presence of Muslim and Ottoman economic actors in the social and economic history of Europe, the ConfigMed project has examined legal situations questioning the universal or situated character of legal categories of commercial and maritime law. It also tested the means for translating claims and rules in countries of ius commune, Muslim law, as well as those of economic actors mobilizing Jewish law. In this regard, it has invited a more precise questioning of the category of “cross-cultural trade”, in particular by qualifying which boundaries are concretely mobilised by commercial and maritime litigation.
Finally, the dispute-centred approach that has been chosen has shown how entangled socio-institutional positions, economic credit, political and diplomatic relations and legal and normative motivations can be in the settlement of commercial and maritime disputes. Consequently, it was possible to highlight the mechanisms of “dispute transformation” and their multidimensional character, and to show the crucial role of maritime and commercial disputes in the construction of the modern sovereign States.
The results of the project have been partially published in journal articles, book chapters, and special issues of scientific journals. A number of monographic studies are to be published in an open access series entitled “Mediterranean Reconfigurations” created in partnership with E.J. Brill (Leiden).

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