Giovanni Tarantino

PIMo Action Chair

José María Pérez Fernández

Paper in Motion Workgroup Leader

People in Motion

COST Action CA18140

This exhibition and its catalogue are organised and produced by ‘Paper in Motion’, one of the four People in Motion: Entangled Histories of Displacement across the Mediterranean (1492–1923) (PIMo) COST Action workgroups. Its inauguration in Prato on 27 and 28 January 2022 coincided with a symposium on ‘Paper and the Dematerialisation of the Global Mediterranean Economy’, which proposed a series of approaches to paper through the contributions of an international group of experts in different disciplines.

PIMo is a large humanities research network involving 40 countries across Europe and globally. It seeks to investigate multiple historical case studies of the movement of people, objects, ideas and paper through drivers such as religious persecution, environmental and social catastrophe, war, imperialism and slavery, missionary work, scientific and cultural curiosity, and trade. One of the project’s major goals is to provide a critical historical context and increased understanding of the current migration crisis in Europe, specifically in terms of the intensity of the emotional responses of displaced peoples and the communities they orbit and join.
The project grew out of an earlier series of interdisciplinary research seminars held between 2017 and 2018 entitled Entangled Histories of Emotions in the Mediterranean World and convened by intellectual historian Giovanni Tarantino (of the University of Western Australia, before he moved to the University of Florence in late 2018).
The series explored the emotional entanglements which historically shaped life in the Mediterranean populations. The series was jointly promoted by the Society for the History of Emotions and the Australian Research Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. Both Giovanni Tarantino, chair of PIMo, and literary scholar Katrina O’Loughlin, vice-chair, were at length associated with this Australian research institution before moving to new jobs in Europe.
The Australian seminar series, which was mostly held in Europe, provided an inspiring intellectual framework and fertile ground upon which to develop a much more ambitious project and draft our COST Action proposal. Initially quite a small group of colleagues, the original proposers comprised twelve colleagues from eight different COST countries and a variety of disciplines and academic traditions. Of the proposers, 50% were affiliated with universities and research institutions based in ITC countries, 24% were early career scholars and 52% were women. At the very first attempt in late 2018, PIMo was very fortunate to be awarded four years’ funding by the COST Association (2019–23), to be administered by the University of Florence. Over the 50-year life of this highly competitive funding scheme, only a handful of humanities-driven projects have gained support from COST. So, as you can imagine, we were, and still are, thrilled at the outcome.
Over the last 30 months, a global network of scholars has been established from across the humanities and social sciences (220 researchers to date). The participating scholars come from a range of disciplines, and include historians, anthropologists, scholars of literary, visual and material culture, philosophers, mathematicians and maritime scientists. The geographical background and expertise of the PIMo network is equally (and necessarily) as diverse, with participants hailing from 35 COST member countries. PIMo also hosts international partners and observers from Australia, Egypt, Morocco, South Africa and the United States.
At our launch meeting in Lecce in September 2019, the developing network worked to refine PIMo’s key research questions and shared goals: by introducing emotion to the study of dislocated people, the PIMo COST Action asks new questions of historical materials, and seeks to add new layers of understanding to our research findings, in the conviction that emotions follow different logics of place, travel and time. Emotions are part and parcel of all aspects of daily life, and as such are increasingly debated across the social sciences and humanities. This also holds true for migration studies: mixed and contrasting emotions and feelings such as hope and nostalgia, envy, guilt and ambition, affection and disaffection (to name but a few) are an integral part of migrants’ (and merchants’) life experiences. The emotional side of the migrant condition still seems relatively understudied. This is partly due to the dominance of economic and political analyses of migration, which tend to downplay emotional factors or overlook them altogether. But the decision to migrate entails both economic motivations and social and emotional constraints. Furthermore, some of the most emotive issues of our times concern not so much the migrant condition as the politics of the migrant phenomenon: the plight of asylum seekers and refugees tests the limits of trust and compassion; the capacity of societies to integrate multi-ethnic and multifaith denominations in the face of extremism and acts of terror have put multicultural social policy on trial. All these issues are both deeply emotive and deeply political. Indeed, the politics of fear, identity politics and a rise in xenophobia now dominate most contemporary political campaigns – locally, nationally and globally.

In order to manage this large group of scholars, and the ambitious aims of the project, the PIMo COST Action is divided strategically into four thematic workgroups. Each workgroup consists of a leader, a deputy and 45-50 researchers who together develop the direction of the group’s activities within the established research themes, and are responsible for key events and research deliverables. The four workgroup topics are Things, Ideas, Paper and People.
The ‘Paper in Motion’ workgroup, led by professor José María Pérez Fernández (University of Granada), explores paper as a medium for the codification, recording and exchange of information, ideas, emotions and value across the Mediterranean. Although its material nature and the conditions for its production and distribution are our starting points, we view paper as a vehicle for the construction and communication of cultures in all their heterogeneous dimensions. The workgroup also contemplates paper as a trope for the many different sorts of institutions and practices that relied on it as their repository and facilitator. Alongside other important inventions like print, paper contributed to the expression of individual and common identities, and the establishment of networks that facilitated the circulation of people, ideas and objects within the geo-cultural spaces of the Mediterranean.
This exhibition and the symposium which was celebrated to mark its inauguration are part of a series of conferences and workshops, the first of which was held at the Archivo Nacional de Simancas on 17 January 2020. This encounter explored the relations between paper and power, which included the complex administrative structures that resulted from the global expansion of trade and finance, alongside the emergence of modern European states, with their paths of colonial expansion through exploration and conquest. Both developments unfolded in large part thanks to the administrative uses of paper as the infrastructure for their sophisticated bureaucratic mechanisms. Our exhibition and the symposium continued to look into these networks, with a particular emphasis on the primary documents and doctrines that codify and regulate financial and economic information, and above all their entanglement with other practices and institutions.
Early in 2021 (28 and 29 January) the ‘Paper in Motion’ workgroup also organised PIMo’s second annual conference, ‘Paper: Material and Semiotic Mobility across the Global Mediterranean’, held online and hosted by the University of Granada. The videos with the presentations of the conference in Granada have been made available online, on PIMo’s YouTube channel, and a publication with a collection of the most representative papers is also in the works.
The workgroup’s second workshop, ‘Paper Production and Trade: The Onset of the Paper Revolution in the Mediterranean’ (Fabriano, 15 February 2021) addressed the arrival of paper-manufacturing technologies in the south of Europe, all the way from the eastern Mediterranean. Although the pandemic forced us to hold the seminar online, Fabriano was a most appropriate location, given the historical relevance of this town as a paper production centre. Our host, the Fondazione Fedrigoni-Fabriano, keeps this history alive with its museum, cultural activities and publications, which include a forthcoming collection of essays with the papers presented during the workshop. The videos with each of the presentations are also available online on the foundation’s website.
The third of the workgroup’s workshops, ‘Paper and Things: Material Mobility between East and West’, was held in Istanbul and had as its keynote speaker professor Jonathan Bloom, author of Paper before Print: the History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World (Yale, 2001). It took place from 15 to 17 September 2021 and was co-organised by professor Rosita D’Amora, leader of ‘Things in Motion’, another PIMo workgroup. The event was hosted by professor Tülay Artan of Sabancı University and the Sakıp Sabancı Museum. One of the organised activities included a visit to the Süleymaniye Library and its manuscript restoration lab.
This exhibition at Prato was also a prelude to other events and seminars, one of which approached the textual spaces woven by female epistolography, under the title ‘A Web of Sentiments: Letter Writing and Gender in the Early Modern Mediterranean’.This seminar, held in Florence on 7th February 2022, was co-organised by Ida Caiazza (NYU) and José María Pérez Fernández. It was a joint collaboration involving PIMo, the University of Florence, the ‘Women Thinking Love’ Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action (Horizon 2020, Grant Agreement no. 101024624) and the University of Granada ‘Literature and Translation’ research group (HUM383). The ‘Paper in Motion’ workgroup also organised a summer training school on ‘Paper in Motion: Restoration, Conservation, Transmediation’ at the Arnamagnæan Institute of the University of Copenhagen, held between 31 August and 3 September 2022.

Our exhibition consists of 93 different documents in Hebrew, Arabic, Latin, Dutch, Spanish, German, Italian and Armenian, from archives in the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Egypt and Malta, all of which house paper-based records of financial and commercial activity between the late fourteenth and early eighteenth centuries. The exhibition thus samples some of the most relevant paper-based formats and documentary genres used to codify commercial information and financial value by different communities around the Mediterranean. They illustrate relations among these eminently Mediterranean communities as well as their deals with the north of Europe. Above all our exhibition intends to look into the ways in which these documents register information and values that go beyond mere economic data and pertain to other disciplines such as diaspora studies, the history of emotions, cultural studies and the history of communication. More than the merely domestic circulation of these documents, we focus upon the formats, genres and strategies employed for the circulation of such documents across linguistic, cultural, political, ethnic and religious communities, and what these transnational and interdisciplinary entanglements entailed in terms of their formal features, semiotic nature and functions. The exhibition proposes, in conclusion, a selection of paper traces left behind by the movement of people, objects and ideas across the Mediterranean, and as such, it addresses some of the most important objectives of the PIMo COST Action, which include:

  • Redrawing geographical and disciplinary boundaries in innovative ways.
  • Developing new perspectives for the study of circulation, dislocation and dispossession across a region of historical significance and contemporary urgency.
  • Multiplying and cross-referencing primary sources in different partner countries in order to respond adequately to the complexity of comparative historiography within the Mediterranean.
  • Bringing together researchers from multiple academic traditions, areas and disciplines including literary, art, cultural, political and material history.
  • Providing an alternative history of the ‘Great Sea’ by looking at the ‘Mediterranean in the world’ and introducing the study of emotions, firstly to the history of human dislocation, and secondly as a site of hitherto unwritten history.
  • Building a functional and highly creative interdisciplinary network of collaborators from around the world that will carry on the conversation after the grant reaches the end of its duration.

This project has been developed and made possible thanks to the generous support and valuable contributions of the scholars, archivists, librarians and administrators of each of the participating archives and libraries, all of whom have provided images, information and expertise for the captions, as well as essays to introduce and contextualise the documents and the institutions that curate them. A project of this nature must perforce be the result of enthusiastic and devoted teamwork, and we want to take this opportunity to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all those involved, in particular to Caterina Pagnini (University of Florence) for her constant advice and encouragement and Matteo Calcagni (European University Institute) and Chiara Marcheschi (Prato State Archives) for their invaluable contribution to the concept and curation of the exhibition.
Without them, none of this would have been possible.