Table Topic: “Connecting Ocean Rims”
Connecting Oceanic Realms beyond Eurocentric Myths –
Trade and Encounters between the Mediterranean Africa and the Atlantic World (15th-17th Centuries)
In the early modern period, during the so-called “age of discoveries”, unprecedented connections emerged between Africa, Europe and the Americas. By highlighting pre-existing contacts between sub-Saharan Africa and the European subcontinent and by discussing the role of the Mediterranean in the making of the Atlantic world, Roberto Zaugg and Carlo Taviani will try to overcome Eurocentric myths of discoveries and adventures. Thereby they will focus both on the slave trade and the circulation of objects and materials. While the transatlantic slave trade and the plantation complex in the Americas are well-studied topics, the early phase of Euro-African relations at the beginning of the sixteenth century – that is, just after Europeans had arrived in the New World – is still under-researched. In many cases, we do not know when and by whom the early slave voyages were organized. We still need further inquiries to understand how, precisely, the trade in African captives from the continent and from the Atlantic archipelagos – São Tomé, Cape Verde, the Canaries, and Madeira – became a regular, complex process, and how the very early plantations in the Atlantic world were established. The so-called explorations and subsequent trade of the sixteenth century were conducted under the flags of the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, which controlled and exploited the environments and people of Africa and the New World: as a result, the traditional narrative is that Spanish and Portuguese traders initiated the transatlantic slave trade. This process and the variety of involved actors are, however, much more complex and call for a trans-imperial approach to the history of the Atlantic world.
Carlo Taviani is studying how Italian traders from the Mediterranean shores (and particularly the Genoese) transplanted institutions, knowledge, technologies and capital from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, contributing to establish both the slave trade and the plantation complex. They innovated complex financial tools and transplanted them to the Atlantic. The manner in which this was carried out is the missing and unstudied link in a chain of transmissions and transplantations that cross the Mediterranean to the Atlantic from the end of the fifteenth to the early sixteenth centuries that can help explain the genesis of the transatlantic slave trade. He is research associate at Villa I Tatti (The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies), fellow of the Deutsches Historisches Institut in Rom and has worked on Renaissance Italy, political conflicts and finance. His current project deals with the Genoese traders in the Atlantic.
Roberto Zaugg is Assistant Professor in Early Modern History at the University of Bern. After studying in Florence and gaining a PhD in Naples, he has taught at universities in Basel, Paris and Lausanne. In his PhD thesis he has examined the condition of foreigners in eighteenth-century southern Italy. Over the last years he has been working on a seventeenth-century manuscript journal by a German craftsman, which relates the author’s journeyman migration through the Holy Roman Empire and the Dutch Republic as well as two voyages aboard Dutch and Brandenburg slave ships. Together with a team of PhD students he has recently started a new project on economic and cultural entanglements between the Italian peninsula and the Atlantic world.