第 22 期   2017 年 4 月出刊   


  上圖為梁元禎老師專著: Family and Empire: The Fernández de Córdoba and the Spanish Realm


Mediterranean Studies: The Purposes of Research,
Teaching, Collaboration, and Public Service

梁元禎 Yuen-Gen Liang(臺大歷史系副教授)

In 1987, the Palestinian Intifada rose up against Israeli occupation, with images of angry youths casting stones at menacing tanks shocking television viewers around the world. In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, deploying a battle-hardened Iraqi army that had only recently been fighting Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and gassing Kurdish communities. In 1991, an American-led coalition forced the invasion army to withdraw, in the process bombing Iraq “back to the Stone Age.” Later that same year, representatives from various nations assembled in Madrid to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts, negotiations that ultimately failed to resolve decades of hostilities that continue to fester today.

Though these events in the Middle East seemed to take place far away from a childhood in Taipei and Los Angeles, they captured my attention when growing up. They led me to study and teach Middle Eastern and Mediterranean histories. From Taiwan and the United States, this interest took me to Syria to study Arabic as a Fulbright scholar, Spain to research and write my dissertation as a graduate student at Princeton University, and many other countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. Even now, and perhaps more than ever, events in the Middle East and Mediterranean play a critical role in our world, and it is crucial to learn and share knowledge about these regions and their peoples.

▲The pantheon of the Dukes of Cardona at the Monastery of Poblet in Spain

Students study Middle Eastern history wondering why conflicts seem to dominate the region, puzzled by the role religion plays in these affairs, eager to learn about people’s everyday lives, or just curious about another part of the world. My courses provide foundational knowledge about the Middle East from the late Roman and Sasanian empires in the 500s C.E. to the uprisings of the “Arab Spring” in 2010. The early years of this history are as compelling as any in human experience and they are some of my favorite to teach. The nomads of pre-Islamic Arabia; the life of the Prophet Muhammad; the conquest of a new world empire; the development of Islamic personnel, institutions, and beliefs in diverse urban settings; Arab Muslims and their relations with Persians, Berbers, and Turks and Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians; the stunning art and architecture – these and other topics constitute the emergence of a new “civilization.” The rapid and early expansion of the Islamic polity put Arab Muslims in the midst of millions of non-Arabs and non-Muslims, and the creativity spurred by these contacts and relationships reveal fascinating stories of both conflict and accommodation. Highlighting premodern history helps broaden knowledge of Middle Eastern history beyond the “disintegration” that dominate news about, and awareness of, the region in the modern and contemporary periods.

Situating Middle Eastern history in a larger geographic context is just as important. Though the Middle East has long been connected with Central and South Asia (and via the Silk Route to East Asia), my research reaches toward the Mediterranean world to the west. In 711, an army of Arabs and Berbers crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco to the Iberian Peninsula and in a few short years conquered the Visigothic Kingdom. Until 1492, a Muslim state ruled part of the Iberian Peninsula, and Muslims or Moriscos (Muslims forcibly converted to Christianity) resided in Spain until at least 1609. The Iberian Peninsula has long been connected to North Africa and the broader Islamic world, and the Spanish Empire in North Africa forms the central focus of my research today. I examine how different territories and peoples came together to form the Spanish Empire, a question that could also be asked of Spain’s contemporary rival the Ottoman Empire or the Abbasid Caliphate of the eighth-tenth centuries. My book Family and Empire: The Fernández de Córdoba and the Spanish Realm (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011) reveals the role that family networks played deploying its members to conquer and govern territories such as Córdoba, Granada, Toledo, Navarra, and Algeria; fashioning social ties to bind local notables to the family and consequently the state; passing down knowledge, skills, and experiences to future generations of officers; and adapting life-cycle practices such as marriage, child-birth, and careers. Prioritizing martial-administrative professions, the Fernández de Córdoba family even cloistered whole generations of daughters in the family convent in its transformation from local to international pursuits. Exploring connections between Spain and North Africa also spawned two collections of essays which I co-edited: The Forgotten Empire: The Spanish-North African Borderlands (Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, 2011) and Spanning the Strait: Studies in Unity in the Western Mediterranean (Brill, 2013).


▲ The founding board of the Spain-North Africa Project. From left to right:
Yuen-Gen Liang, Abigail Krasner Balbale, Andrew Devereux, Camilo Gómez-Rivas

The ties between the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa are long-lasting, fully-lived, and finely-textured. To research their many different facets requires dialogue, sharing, and collaboration. In 2010, I founded Spain-North Africa Project (http://spainnorthafricaproject. org) to pursue these goals. In seven years, the organization has presented four conferences, published three collections of essays, and assembled a membership of more than 200 multi-disciplinary scholars in twelve countries on four continents. Situating the Middle East and Spain in a larger Mediterranean context of interactions and doing so in a collaborative manner is also a part of my work as a consultant on the Advisory Board of the Mediterranean Seminar, an association of more than 1,000 scholars worldwide (www.mediterraneanseminar.org). Coming back to Taiwan in 2016, I am eager to help develop Mediterranean studies in Asia as a member of the founding council of the Asian Federation of Mediterranean Studies Institutes (AFOMEDI: www.afomedi.org). Connecting the Mediterranean to broader global dynamics, I also serve on the founding editorial board of the academic journal The Medieval Globe (https://mip-archumanitiespress.org/series/arc/tmg/).

▲The Asian Federation of Mediterranean Studies Institutes’ first international conference

Research, whether individual or collaborative, produces and advances knowledge. For such information to be useful, it needs to be disseminated. Along with publication and presentation, teaching passes down understanding and forms new generations of learners. The discipline of history provides critical knowledge about human experience in the past, ways of doing things that may be very different from our methods. Exploring such experience builds empathy and it also increases awareness of alternatives to the conditioning that modernity and the nation-state have imposed on each one of us. My teaching ultimately helps students recognize both the conditioning and the possibility of options. As such, this liberal education frees them to make decisions based on a careful assessment of evidence and analysis of different perspectives. A history education starts with content, indeed evidence – the who, what, when, and where of history. It then adds critical thinking skills such as analysis and interpretation and oral, written, and visual presentation abilities. Combining them creates argumentation, and it is this persuasion that helps build leadership. I founded the Wheaton Institute for the Interdisciplinary Humanities (WIIH: www.wheatoncollege.edu/wiih) to teach undergraduates these skills and to apply them to professional settings and career development. My NTU course “History, the Public, and the Market” also asks students to identify the utility of studying and practicing history in the twenty-first century and implement such training through a collaborative project that ultimately produces a history product for a broader, non-academic audience. For example, students from my Fall 2016 course performed research on the leprosy sanitarium Le Sheng (樂生). They disseminated the history of the institution, the lives of residents, and recent controversies surrounding MRT appropriations on a website called “Y-Junction 1962” (http://yjunction1962.wixsite.com/yjunction1962-eng). Along with the website, they created a role-playing video game in which the player who has lost his/her memory suddenly wakes up in the sanatorium and must come to understand the mysterious lesions on his/her body, the conditions of daily life in the sanatorium, the existential crisis of being quarantined from the rest of the world, and the fellowship that the community of residents ultimately provide. These students presented their project to an interested audience of Taipei’s Rotary Club, including the ambassador of Nicaragua who, upon arriving to Taipei in 1963, used to attend mass at Le Sheng’s Catholic church.

▲Students of the Modern Middle East history course in Fall 2016

My dedication to research, teaching, institution building, application of humanities training to professional settings, and collaborative work follow the examples of my mentors professors Ira Lapidus of U.C. Berkeley, Anthony Grafton and Molly Greene of Princeton University, and Teofilo F. Ruiz of UCLA. It is with deep appreciation that I apply the purpose they instilled to my own work. I hope to share this knowledge with my colleagues and to pass it down to my students.


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