painting depicting two men on camels in front of a building with other occupants

Illustration: In this scene from the Maqamat (“Assemblies”) of al-Hariri, the two protagonists of the story —the narrator al-Harith and the hero Abu Zayd— arrive at the gates of a bustling city. Working in Baghdad in 1237, the artist al-Wasisti produced this luxuriously illuminated copy of the tale, which consisted in 50 anecdotes told in rhymed prose interspersed with poetry.
Credit: The Maqamat of al-Hariri, MS Arabe 5847, f138r. Reproduced by permission of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The Mediterranean: a Shared Space between Political Rivalries and Religious Plurality (500-1500)

 Instructor: Sylvain H. Cornac*

Introduction: This course addresses the history of a large space which spanned from the Middle East to North Africa including its variety of peoples, languages and religions. The Mediterranean, as one of the oldest maritime highways connected diverse cultures and facilitated the exchange of commodities and goods (including the burgeoning slave trade) but also arts, technologies and philosophical ideas. As an epicentre of global economy in medieval world, it gave rise to trading networks and political empires. While questioning the conventional Eurocentric notions of the non-Western world, this course retraces a transition in the history of the Mediterranean Sea from the apex of the Byzantine domination of that maritime space to a political and cultural plurality when Constantinople had to combine with the rise of Islam and the multiples powers that emerged within its sphere. The aim of the course is to familiarize students with the non-Western antecedents of premodern global history and critically evaluate the phase of globalization that followed. The course relies on a variety of sources and texts to add depth and explore of lives in the medieval Mediterranean world.

Class Format: We meet once a week for 3 hours.  The normal distribution of time will be split between lectures, class discussions and occasional film screenings. Discussion will be centered on historical documents, images and films.

Aims and Goals: The content of this course allows students to conceptualize the varied cultural, political, intellectual, and economic interconnections that linked the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages and to understand the similarities and differences of various spheres of contact concentrating on the Middle East and North Africa in the medieval Mediterranean world. The course also provides a mentored learning experience of how appreciate the nature of cultural and religious co-existence of Christians, Muslims and Jews, to visualize the limits of cultural and religious accommodation in the medieval Mediterranean world and to picture medieval Europeans’ and “other’s” perceptions of each other.

Assessment: Each section of the course has a combination of a written exam (with both a “take home” and in-class component) and an assignment designed to reflect the course themes and also build specific research and communication skills.

Text:  Course readings will be available on cuLearn. Students also need the book of Barbara Rosenwein, Reading the Middle Ages: Sources from Europe, Byzantium, and the Islamic World (University of Toronto Press, 2014). Additional readings will be available on Library Reserve (ARES).

Questions? Please email me at:

* author of « Jazairi family of scholars », Encyclopaedia of Islam 3rded. (Leyde, Brill : 2015-)

Precludes additional credit for HIST 3905A (offered in Fall 2018).