Southeast Europe has always been a contact zone, a threshold of both sedentary Europe and the nomadic Eurasian steppe. Large empires, such as the Frankish and the Byzantine, the Habsburg and the Ottoman, the Mongol and the Venetian, all had their borders in this region, including their armies, traders, and diplomats. Although exchange by land was significant, I find the ship to be a most compelling agent of cross-cultural exchange in the 16th-century Mediterranean.
The ship is a system consisting of carefully-designed physical spaces and natural elements, alongside social, emotional, and cross-cultural components all interacting on board. I suggest that a strategic juxtaposition of Renaissance ships and cities is useful: ships are smaller, but no less complex cultural units than cities. Vessels are the actual carriers of cultural, intellectual, and trade exchanges between cities. But in addition, ships constitute a world of their own, which shares many – perhaps even all – of the features of the early modern city.
In my research, I am considering how ships connected and divided people, providing them with new experiences, ideas, affiliations, and identities; ships were the most active agents of cross-cultural exchange in both peaceful and confrontational contacts. The characteristic mobility and confinement of ships makes them a most dramatic and intense cross-cultural system. The sources for my historical research are mostly pilgrim accounts, custom books, and city statutes. However, the ship remains an important configuration of cultural exchange in our modern world. This discussion can therefore also evolve in contemporary and local terms to consider the growing influx of refugees to Southeast Europe, and to explore international (space)ships, which demonstrate identical problems of design, materials, confinement, cargos, and cross-cultural relations. The history of the ship in the Adriatic therefore provides a useful paradigm for thinking about contemporary relationships between space and cross-cultural exchange.
Mirko Sardelić is a Research Associate at the Department for History and Social Studies of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts. He is also an Honorary Research Fellow of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (Europe 1100-1800) at University of Western Australia, and Co-Director of the newly-founded Centre for the Study of Emotions in Cross-Cultural Exchange in Croatia (www.ctie.hr). He is mainly interested in research of emotions in cross-cultural settings, and more generally, late medieval and early modern history of Southeast Europe and the Mediterranean.