Map Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean


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OSPM Module 4: Download Complete Teaching Module (3 FILES)


OSPM Module 4: Download Complete Teaching Module (3 FILES)


Module 4: Mediterranean Transformations in a Changing Global Context, 1450-1800

This period in history sees the expansion of European states into the Indian Ocean and across the Atlantic to the New World, and these enormous changes have tended to make many assume that the Mediterranean became, quite literally, a backwater. The Mediterranean has also been seen as the dividing line between East and West, across which Muslim and Christian civilizations struggled for dominance. The topics in Module 4, which covers the early modern period from 1450-1800, reveal a more complex reality. While Europeans were sailing around Africa and discovering the New World, the Mediterranean actually remained an important locus of trade, politics, and culture. And while there was certainly conflict between Muslims and Christians, there were also alliances across religious lines and a whole lot of division and fighting within each of those broad faith groups. In this module, students will trace a variety of connections and tensions across the societies of the Mediterranean. Students will create their own attack ads as they debate the ideas of golden age and decline with reference to Hapsburg Spain and the Ottoman Empire, and map a number of Mediterranean movers and shakers as they criss-cross the region for trade, pilgrimage, war, and exploration. They will look at Mediterranean economies as they create, trade and consume commodities like sugar, coffee and silk—as well as enslaved human beings. They will also look at a cosmopolitan Mediterranean city through time, and examine the various peoples that made the city of Salonica tick.


Barbara Petzen


Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: A World History Curriculum Project for Educators


Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University




2014, Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University, published under Creative Commons – Attribution-No Derivatives 3.0 License


Teachers’ Introduction to Module 4

A generation ago, historians might have seen the Mediterranean as a dividing line between civilizations, the West and Islam. However, the period from 1450-1800 clearly demonstrates that the Mediterranean connected civilizations—it was the scene of an enormous number of transactions and transfers—human, mercantile, cultural and artistic, biological, military, and technological. Of course, those connections weren’t always positive or peaceful, but neither were they all negative or warlike. The “clash of civilizations” scenario assumes that religious identity was the paramount factor in political and cultural alliances, but an examination of the many sources for this period shows that in fact allegiance was often based upon economic interest, political convenience, ethnicity, or other factors.

Not only were these two “civilizations” in fact deeply connected with one another, they were both deeply split within. In both cases there were deep religious splits, and competition among a variety of state actors that exploited those religious differences. At the same time, it is important to recognize that however much the Muslim and Christian states of the Mediterranean were linked by pragmatic trade and politics, they still perceived one other as “other,” and often expressed a rhetorical antagonism toward the non-believer to define themselves and claim legitimacy.

This period is often referred to as “early modern.” The terminology is debated, both because the idea of what constitutes modernity is not entirely clear, and because the term early modern implies that the defining characteristic of the age is its inevitable march towards “modernity”—whatever that is. Thinking as historians, we should take care not to imagine that the future of the region was predestined in 1450, or 1492, 1798, or any other date.

Nonetheless there are a set of characteristic transformations that we can see across much of the region, if unevenly: population rise (or recovery, after the plague), urbanization, commercialization of markets, a rise in volume of long-distance trade, merchant capitalism, early industrialization, and the rise of centralized, bureaucratic states. All of this happens in a context of the spread of gunpowder warfare, the opening up of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans to European exploration and exploitation, and a long series of severe climate events and wars in the 16th and 17th centuries. In many ways, the Mediterranean was a transitional zone between the rising nation-states, the Atlantic system, and growing industrialization north and west of it and the agrarian economies, empires and land-based trade south and east of it. The Ottoman Empire shows elements of both systems, especially in the reform movements of the 17th and 18th centuries, Ottoman connections to the Atlantic trade, and new social and cultural movements often led by new urban social groups (think merchants in coffeehouses).

Far too often, this period is considered as the point at which the Atlantic and Indian Ocean voyages of discovery by Europeans made the Mediterranean a backwater, effectively obsolete in history. This module will examine the ways in which the Mediterranean and its peoples dealt with the challenges and opportunities of the colonial and imperial expansion of various European states, along with the changing technologies, economic pressures and social upheavals of the age. The peoples of the Mediterranean were by no means left out of history, but remained active and innovative players on the world stage.



Barbara Petzen, “OSPM Module 4: Download Complete Teaching Module (3 FILES),” Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: Teaching Modules , accessed August 3, 2020,