Binghampton University has awarded $75 000 to its Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies to create a series of interdisciplinary programs about economics and trade in medieval and early modern society.
The award is the largest share of $250 000 in funding that the New York state university announced today towards ten different faculty projects to foster campus-based academic research.
The Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies will use to award to create an interdisciplinary institute, “Global Trade and Commerce: Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspectives,” which will include a conference and other associated events throughout the year. This programming is intended to promote the cross-cultural study of evolving global markets and the challenges of international trade, transport, commercial banking and credit from the 4th through 18th centuries.
According to Karen-edis Barzman, director of CEMERS, the program will be taught through a series of conferences, lectures, workshops and courses on campus. The department plans to produce a four- to eight-part documentary series on the subject to be broadcast on local TV station WSKG, with the help of funding from PBS.
“Of particular interest to WSKG is the added focus on the commodities behind this expansion of trade, particularly those consumable products we take for granted today as cheap sources of energy and snack foods for a global market, like coffee, sugar, chocolate and tobacco,” Barzman said.
The conference, “Negotiating Trade: Commercial Institutions and Cross-Cultural Exchange in the Medieval and Early Modern World,” will focus on the social, economic, legal, and administrative institutions that mediated between local and foreign merchants, state officials, creditors, money exchangers, and brokers. We have conceived “institutions” as a broad category including formal, informal, permanent and temporary organizations, associations, conventions, and practices. The scope of the conference is both global and interdisciplinary; two keynote addresses, 2 plenary papers and over 40 additional presentations will make possible cross-regional comparisons and the analysis of convergences and differences from a broad range of disciplinary and methodological perspectives.
In addition to the conference in September 2010, the institute will host various workshops and colloquia on topics related to the globalizing of trade and capital in the medieval and early modern world. A primary consideration will be the commodities behind this expanding trade, many of which are popular items taken for granted today – spices and stimulants of non-European origin (sugar, coffee, tea, chocolate, spices), which were transformed from humble comestibles at the edges of the “civilized” medieval world to luxury commodities in trans-regional, early modern emporia and, finally, to “staples” (cheap sources of energy and pervasive “snack” foods) in the current global culture and economy. Global markets in wheat, flax, rice, tea, tobacco, cotton, wool, silk, porcelain and other raw materials and crafted items (subsistence and luxury) will also be considered in this year-long initiative that crosses multiple disciplinary boundaries, even as the merchants and goods to be considered crossed sovereign borders of incommensurate and sometimes irreconcilable cultural differences.
Faculty and graduate students working with the program will also collaborate with middle and high school teachers from the Teacher Center of Broome County to help bring elements of the curriculum to secondary-level schools, Barzman added.
Other projects being funded range from the development of a new minor in immigration studies to improvements in Binghamton’s online courses.
“We looked for ideas that were interesting, engaging and provocative,” said S.G. Grant, dean of the School of Education. Grant led a four-person committee of faculty from the School of Management, Harpur College and the Watson School that recommended 17 of the 38 faculty-submitted proposals to Provost Mary Ann Swain, who then decided which projects would be funded.
Proposals were recommended based on their ability to generate work collaborations among the faculty of Binghamton’s six schools and their potential for future external funding, Grant said.
“We also looked at the potential impact a proposal would have both on campus and off campus,” he said.