Peiresc + Braudel + Goitein

The Mediterraneans of Fernand Braudel and S.D. Goitein seem almost diammetrically opposed. The former’s is strong on structure and weak on people, the latter strong on people and weak on structure. Both, however, provide valuable perspectives from which to read and understand Peiresc. From Braudel, who actually encountered Peiresc’s manuscript remains while a young teacher in Algeria, one can extract the categories for studying the material maritime life that is described or alluded to Peiresc’s volumnious correspondence. From Goitein, whose focus is on fine-grained reading of merchants’ letters, one gains a feel for the wider horizons of merchant culture, and the ways in which merchants defined Mediterranean space. This, in turn, helps us understand Peiresc’s intuitive grasp of the value of commerce and merchants for his intellectual project.

The affinities to Peiresc, and the utility of Braudel and Goitein for subsequent students of the Mediterranean, defined my initial interest in this area. It was amusing, then, to note that Braudel made not a single mention of Goitein in the second edition of The Mediterranean, and that Goitein averred not having read Braudel until some time in the middle of the 1970s. The “miss” was monumental, and fascinating. (I have tried to discuss the implications of this "miss" in articles devoted to the new histories of early medieval Europe and Samuel Kassow's study of Emmanuel Ringelblum.)

But there was no miss. For Braudel and Goitein, it turns out, not only knew of each other, they actually corresponded. And they came far closer to collaborating than could be realized from the outside. Archival research into a part of the Goitein correspondence has allowed me to reconstruct this relationship, which deepens our understanding of two of the great historical titans of the twentieth-century, and also of the forces shaping historiography in the twentieth century.

A first pass at this material was presented in a session devoted to the work of Goitein at the 2010 annual meeting of the Medieval Academy of America: "Goitein and Braudel: The Story of a Failed Collaboration," a second at a workshop on the Mediterranean at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence, "Peiresc and the Mediterranean: Braudel and Goitein."

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