North Americans are witnessing an explosion of interest in the Mediterranean that is transforming their research, their teaching, and even institutional relations.1 In some ways, this is a strangely belated phenomenon. Area studies programs have been around for a long time. They first appeared in the United States after the Second World War and developed in clusters that followed the geographies of the Cold War: Russian and Eastern European studies, Uralic and Altaic studies, East Asian studies, African studies, Middle Eastern studies, Latin American studies. But since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the center of academic gravity has shifted. Scholars and administrators alike have exchanged the model of a world divided into discrete regions for one emphasizing it as a network of densely interrelated social, economic, political, demographic, and communications exchanges. Global studies initiatives are on the rise and, in many places, are receiving funding that once went to traditional area studies programs. The Mediterranean resurgence—marked by new courses, programs, conferences, and institutional initiatives from Kansas to Korea—comes at a strange time, and it seems to fly in the face of general academic trends. At this crucial moment in the development of our interdisciplinary field, we need to reflect on both our history and our future as Mediterraneanists in a global academy.
The older area studies model rendered the Mediterranean all but invisible. As numerous scholars have noted, each of the older programs focused on a place that had either embraced communism or seemed poised to embrace it in the future.2 World War II had exposed the extent to which only a small cadre of specialists knew anything about East Asia. Americans were just as ignorant [End Page 149] about Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, places where the Cold War might turn hot at any moment. Now perceiving the Western Eurocentrism of U.S. education as military unpreparedness, the government invited such organizations as the American Council of Learned Societies, the Social Science Research Council, and similar organizations to form an Ethnographic Board charged with dividing the world into strategic areas suitable for interdisciplinary study. Title VI of the 1958 National Defense Act contributed millions of dollars into the development of such programs, as did private agencies like the Ford Foundation.3
For some scholars, like the contributors to Masao Miyoshi and Harry Harootunian’s landmark collection, Learning Places: The Afterlives of Area Studies, the area studies paradigm was bankrupt from the start because of its origins in Cold War politics.4 It never transcended its original conception as the study of enemies and potential enemies. But their dismissal ignores a more complex story. These programs prospered because they could answer to multiple constituencies. Conservative legislatures and granting agencies were eager to support them as a weapon against Marx, Lenin, Mao, and Castro. At the same time, however, area studies programs attracted some of the most progressive PhD candidates because they offered an alternative to the emphasis on the European West in departments of history and the modern languages. As a result, the social and intellectual changes of the late 1960s enhanced the prestige of the same programs that had been founded to defend the capitalist West. Many of them had well-established PhD programs with alumni working around the world in colleges and universities, foreign offices, the United Nations, and numerous government and nongovernmental agencies.5
Unlike their predecessors in the early Cold War period, graduates of area studies from the late 1970s on profited from the discussions of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality that had begun to characterize curricula in the humanities and social sciences. That topic in itself is worth an essay. But my principal concern here is with geography. Even though 1980s and 1990s area studies programs were open to new methodologies, their Cold War geographies remained intact and prevented the creation of programs in Mediterranean studies. As far as Europe went, the division between the communist East and the capitalist West claimed precedence over the older division between the Roman, Mediterranean world of the South and the barbarian, primarily Germanic lands...