Lecturing at Catholic

Mediterranean history at Catholic (University of America) (Washington DC)

I am at CUA (in Washington’s “Little Rome”) to lecture, give a grad seminar and talk about our summer school for historians in the Maremma. CUA students took part in a summerschool that Dr. Jennifer Davis (from CUA) and I led in 2016. Now we are looking at a new program for May-June 2018, focusing upon Vetricella, the marvellous early medieval site at the heart of my nEU-Med project (with the University of Siena).

Catholic University of America

It’s my first time at CUA so I take advantage of the audience and try out my new ideas on the history of the Mediterranean, adding my footnotes – using archaeology – to the great works by Fernand Braudel, Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell, David Abulafia and Cyprian Broodbank. My footnote focusses upon the collapse of the ‘Corrupting Sea’ as a region of connectivity in the later 7th century, and its revival by stages, first in the mid 9th and then at the end of the 10th centuries. My framework is drawn from the Adriatic Sea region. Will it work for the Tyrrhenian Sea regions and the rise of places like Pisa? I am hopeful that the key site in our nEU-Med project, Vetricella, where our excavations have just re-started, will support my thesis. On a thoroughly wet day, the Mediterranean theme and slides conjure up a lively debate after the talk.

CUA's Basilica

Dinner with Jennifer, the chair of the department, Kate Jansen and the venerable Philip Rousseau is a delight as our conversation ranges from Mediterranean history – viewed by each differently, the sublime English of John Le Carré’s new novel, The Legacy of Spies, and Philip’s childhood memory of returning from Washington with his naval father, after arranging the Lend-Lease shipping that kept Britain going in the war, and recalling their aircraft carrier sending shells towards an enemy cruiser beyond the horizon. Like all history departments, CUA is rich in personalities, but seems special for its collegiality.

In the basilica

CUA is dominated by its huge neo-byzantine basilica. This is the national shrine to the Immaculate Conception, a church that was built between the 1920s and 1959, and is one of the biggest churches in the world. With its mosaic-decorated dome and its vast nave, besides its crypt covered in dedicatory inscriptions, it is a semiotic treat. Of all its fascinating modernist details, my eye settles upon the wooden thrones made for each pope who has passed through this capital. The care for detail is worthy of a university that boasts one of North America’s strongest cohorts of medievalists, and has a real affinity with Rome and its changing place in the Mediterranean.

Pope Francis's throne

The seminar illuminated by Little Rome’s late afternoon sunshine reminds me of the real pleasures of teaching: engaged, inquisitive students asking thoughtful questions and enriching the process of research.

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