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Peiresc's Mediterranean World

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Antiquarian, lawyer, and cat lover Nicolas Fabri de Peiresc (1580–1637) was a “prince” of the Republic of Letters and the most gifted French intellectual in the generation between Montaigne and Descartes. From Peiresc’s study in Aix-en-Provence, his insatiable curiosity poured forth in thousands of letters that traveled the Mediterranean, seeking knowledge of matters mundane and exotic—travel times and insurance premiums, rare manuscripts and objects from the Orient. Mining the remarkable 70,000-page archive of this Provencal humanist and polymath, Peter N. Miller recovers a lost Mediterranean world of the early seventeenth century that was dominated by the sea: the ceaseless activity of merchants, customs officials, and ships’ captains at the center of Europe’s sprawling maritime networks. Peiresc’s Mediterranean World reconstructs the web of connections that linked the bustling port city of Marseille to destinations throughout the Western Mediterranean, North Africa, the Levant, and beyond.

As Miller also makes clear, Peiresc’s mastery of practical details and his collaboration with local traders and fixers as well as scholars shed new light on the structure of knowledge-making in the age of Bacon, Galileo, and Rubens. Miller shows that Peiresc’s pursuit of Oriental studies, for example, depended crucially on his abilities as a man of action. Exploring the historian’s craft today against the backdrop of Peiresc’s diverse research activities, Peiresc’s Mediterranean World suggests new possibilities for scholarship on the past, but also for the relationship between the writing of history and its readers.

Edition Number:
Miller Peter N
Release Year:

Peter N. Miller is Dean and Professor at the Bard Graduate Center.

  • Note on the Text
  • Introduction
  • 1. Prologue: Algiers, June 1932
  • 2. Marseille-Aix
  • 3. Marseille and the French Mediterranean
  • 4. Contingency
  • 5. Peiresc’s Letters
  • 6. Writing to the Levant, 1626–1637
  • 7. Peiresc’s Names, or, On Reading the Namescape
  • 8. The Problem of Detail
  • 9. The Postal Link
  • 10. The Last Mile (Mule Is King)
  • 11. Marseille’s Merchants
  • 12. Marseille’s Merchant Families
  • 13. Financing, Disbursing, Reimbursing
  • 14. Sanson Napollon
  • 15. Naturalizing Merchants
  • 16. North Africans in Marseille
  • 17. Northerners in the Mediterranean
  • 18. Ship’s Captains and Patrons
  • 19. Tasks Entrusted to Captains
  • 20. Port Practices: Packaging—Plague—Quarantine
  • 21. Setting Sail
  • 22. Merchant Routes
  • 23. Mapping the Mediterranean
  • 24. Sicily
  • 25. People in Motion
  • 26. Ottoman Empire News
  • 27. Time and Timings
  • 28. Corsairs
  • 29. Ransoming
  • 30. End Points
  • 31. Merchants as Intellectual Partners
  • 32. Before Statistik
  • 33. Peiresc’s Mixing in Cairo’s Consular Politics
  • 34. Peiresc and Travel
  • 35. Where Mediterranean Meets Orient: Ethiopia, India, Yemen
  • 36. At the Still Point
  • Appendix A. Peiresc in History, 1637–1932
  • Appendix B. Peiresc’s Letters to the Levant, 1627–1637, Analyzed
  • Appendix C. Patrons and Captains
  • Abbreviations
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index
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