MCCD (Mediterranean Compared & Connected Diplomatics)

org. by Paul Bertrand – H37


The primary objective of MCCD (Mediterranean Compared & Connected Diplomatics) is to understand diplomatics, i.e. documentary practices (legal documents, contractual or judicial practice, management and administration) in the different areas of the Mediterranean basin, from the 8th to the 16th century PCN, by comparing them and questioning potential connections between them. The comparative approach makes it possible to visualize the specificities and differences and to feed the methods of their analysis. The connected approach seeks to historicize the relationships between documents, people and institutions that produce, use and preserve them, by examining their differences and similarities. Ultimately, this connected approach wants to determine if there may have been any connections between these documents, men and institutions, and then to explain them.

The first step in this long-term research consists in structuring the disciplinary field: identifying the researchers who are active in it and who want to collaborate; bringing them together; offering them a place and spaces for discussion; proposing a place for online and Open Access publication, authorized by a solid and recognized scientific committee; building together a project proposal that will give a decisive and innovative boost to this new field of research. This project, which is funded by a FNRS research credit for the next two years, will be further strengthened.

 State of the art

The weak point of global and/or connected history studies, which have the wind in their sails, is in the objects and groups studied in parallel or in connection. Very often, these objects are difficult to compare and associate. Broad studies of global history, dealing with objects from so far, from a so large perspective, that their specificities can be erased, are eminently beneficial. But at a monographic level, these studies are more difficult to implement, as methodological biases remain dramatically important, particularly the question of the equivalence of concepts and the comparability of objects. However, some disciplinary fields allow these studies by reducing bias or by taking them into account naturally. The field of study of writing/graphic practices is one of these: documentary objects are among the easiest objects of the past to compare and study in parallel. In this context, the dynamics of Compared Diplomatics that have emerged in non-French-speaking scientific circles, around some important initiatives from Arab-Muslim or Hebrew studies, constitute an important support point (Marina Rustow, Judith Olszowy-Schlanger, Konrad Hirschler, Elisheva Baumgarten, Eve Krakowski, Judah Galinsky, Suzanne Akbari, Sabine Schmidtke, Christian Müller, Frédéric Baudin, among many others). In this new disciplinary segment, the concept of “Diplomatics” is equivalent to the French-speaking concept of “scripturalité” or the study of graphic cultures. It is therefore not a question of diplomatics in the strict sense of the term, but of a social, political and cultural history of the practices of the (pragmatic) written word and graphic cultures.

Research Project

Rather than seeking globalizing explanatory models, MCCD (Mediterranean Compared & Connected Diplomatics) will seek to define, for example, whether documentary creations, uses and preservation processes that are so similar that they appear to be connected are the product of influences and model flows, or whether they are linked to different development processes within each space. The spaces will obviously not be considered as coherent, but it will be necessary to distinguish sub-areas, specific areas, documentary islands, as European or Arab diplomacy has already attempted to do.

Documentary functions, their uses and transformations will be addressed in this sense. The question of the document’s place in social, political, economic and cultural transformations will also be raised: do societies, social groups, larger or smaller religious or secular communities, urban nodes or rural or desert spaces, political institutions at all levels have comparable, similar or dissimilar documentary practices, connected or not? Does the diplomatic writing justify them, identify them, support them, serve them, strengthen them? How do they get it? Do they transform it to adapt it, make it evolve or lose interest?

Finally, it is the place of the writing of diplomatics within societies that will have to be studied, but also the construction of writing societies in their relations with other forms of communication (symbolic, oral, pictorial, epigraphic, narrative…).

The chronological area, to be defined precisely during the two years, will be deployed between the 8th and 16th centuries, i.e. between the Carolingian moment and the moment of the deployment of colonialist Europe outside its borders, from the birth of the Arabic-Muslim world until the eviction of the Abbasids by the Ottomans, from the end of the Aksum kingdom to the arrival of the Portuguese in Ethiopia. The defined area, for the time being, is organised around the Mediterranean in the broadest sense (Europe, South-West Asia, Near and Middle East, North Africa to the Horn of Africa (esp. Christian Ethiopia). It will be advised within two years whether it should be reduced or expanded. The Far East could also be associated, in a comparative way or even within the framework of a connected approach (paper culture, Silk road…).

The approach implemented within MCCD will involve a framework of critical precautions, which will have to be defined over the course of the two years: the common vocabulary, the definition of concepts, the calibration of the chronology, the taking into account of different rhythms and perceptions of space…

Several areas of analysis will have to be defined:

  • an overview of the available corpora and a reflection on losses over the course of history
  • a typological analysis of the documents
  • a material (codicological), quantitative and/or qualitative analysis
  • a textual analysis based on digitized corpora (data mining, datavisualization, automatic indexing…)
  • to be continued…

In parallel, institutions producing, using and preserving documents will be the subject of comparative studies, either from sources or based on existing studies.

The analyses will encourage alternating distant and closed reading practices.

The main concrete objectives in the first step of this project are:

  • Gather most researchers specialized in the field around workshops in webinars and physical meetings to discuss documentary objects and historical files
  • Consolidate the dynamics of the emerging field by developing joint publications and promoting the publication, through a specialized peer review, of scientific contributions concerning the theme, through the creation of an overlay journal managed at UCLouvain and IRHT (Paris). Publish there the results of the workshops.
  • Prepare a Companion with all researchers involved in the project, about MCCD.
  • … to be continued

A first unformal discussion about this project will take place at the vIMC Leeds 2020, as a fringe event, on 7 July, from 19:00 to 20:00 UK time.

To access it, follow the zoom link:

Identify yourself clearly (name and surname) when entering the “room” so as not to be excluded by the moderator


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