Red Sea Conference XI, FROM LOCAL TO GLOBAL – The role of local communities throughout the Red Sea history, Barcelona, June 5–7, 2024
The XIth Red Sea Conference will be held between the 5th and the 7th of June of 2024 in Barcelona, being hosted by the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the Centro Superior de Investigaciones Científicas. This event follows the lead of the previous Red Sea Project conferences, that since 2002 have become the main international forum for the study of the Red Sea as a geographical and historical unit from a broad chronological perspective. The XIth conference will focus its interest on the peoples and cultures of the Red Sea, reassessing the role of the local communities in its history.
The Red Sea as a subject of study has attracted the interest of researchers from different fields in the last two centuries. Understood as a geohistorical unit where complex interactions occurred, the Red Sea connects several geographical and cultural spaces: for instance, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Ocean, the Eastern Desert, or the Horn of Africa. However, traditionally the historical analyses of this region have seen the predominance of a global perspective, meaning that the main focus was done on the large states and empires that controlled the area, with a perspective based on international networks and contexts that favoured aspects such as cosmopolitism, long-distance trade, international diplomacy, and the insertion of the Red Sea in a world-system.
In this vision, local communities had a secondary role, sometimes appearing as a mere passive actor in the complex political, socioeconomic, and cultural dynamics of the region.
The Red Sea Conference XI wants to continue with the long tradition of the Red Sea Project conferences, that have offered a forum for discussing subjects concerning the history of this area, such as trade and travel, peoples and cultures, natural resources, cultural connections, hinterlands and forelands, human interaction with maritime and littoral environments, networks, and edges and transitions. In this regard, the aim of the conference is to reassess the role of the local communities in the Red Sea. We consider that the large amount of new evidence referring this aspect suggests the need of retaking the issues linked with the local population that, no matter who controlled the area, lived and worked there. Thus, we invite proposals for papers that will explore the relationship of these local communities with the landscape, the natural resources, the sea and its trade, and with the major political powers that influenced the area along history.
We propose several themes for the participants regarding this subject:
- Economy: from an economic point of view, several aspects can be analysed regarding this matter. Especially important would the “trade issue” and the role of these local communities in the Red Sea commerce. So, what was the role of the local communities within the long-distance trade networks? Until what extent can we identify the small-scale trade networks? On the other hand, regarding the productive regions, what was the participation of these population in the extraction of resources such as gold, precious stones, quality stone, etc.? Did they have an active role in the management of the resources? What was the status quo in front of the large state’s interests?
- Political structure: concerning politics, it is a key aspect to understand how these communities fitted within the political powers that controlled the region, especially considering the important variability of ethnic and politic realities. How were these local communities considered by these larger states? What degree of political contact existed between them? And when the greater political powers receded, what happened in these communities? What was the role of the nomads? Can we talk about “nomadic states”? Is it possible to detect the role of local minorities in the region?
- Social and cultural sphere: the recent work in the Red Sea has allowed the obtention of new data, especially from archaeological contexts, opening new ways of studying the social and cultural aspects of these communities. New approaches regarding elements such as the languages and writing systems, the religious beliefs, the cultural practices, the ethnicity or identity, or the cultural and social interaction between local communities and states/empires are welcome. Was there an “acculturation” of this population?
- Material culture: how can we trace these groups of people living in the Red Sea region? Again, the material culture is one of the most direct pieces of evidence for this purpose. New data coming from the study of the pottery, glass, metallurgical items, statuary, small finds, etc. from several sites can help us to get a better understanding of these local communities. But, in fact, what is “local”? Can we really differentiate something “local” from something “global” in the material culture?