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Greater in Spirit, Larger in Outlook

Mediterranean Encounters

There's a saying: "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it." It comes with a corollary sentiment: "Those who study history are doomed to watch it repeat."

While many people with and without formal degrees or specialized education have an abundance of opinions to share on world events, we would all benefit from learning from a dedicated scholar such as Distinguished McKnight University Professor John Watkins, who teaches in the Departments of English and History.

"What are the lessons of the Mediterranean for modern Americans and Minnesotans? Isolation is not an option," he insists. "Homogeneity is not an option. You cannot close your borders, and you cannot close your minds."

"Mediterranean history unfolds as a series of encounters between peoples from radically different cultures. Few places on the planet place so many people from such widely divergent cultural, linguistic, and religious backgrounds in such close, navigable proximity. After all, the Mediterranean is the great point of connection between three continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe."

From this historic environment of national identities emerging, establishing, then being replaced or altered, we have much to learn in the present day. Can a region retain its identity while trading ideas and coping with migration? More than that, should it? "The Mediterranean is a region of microenvironments, each with their own scarcities and abundances," Watkins says. "Trade between these micro-localities really defined the Mediterranean as a distinct region. You had to trade with those who were radically different from you and your people to survive and thrive." There was conflict, surely, and tumultuous periods of adjustment, but ultimately, "the Mediterranean has provided models of people getting along well enough, and profiting immensely from open trade and the open exchange of ideas."

(Note: course is no longer open for enrollment.)

John Watkins is Distinguished McKnight University Professor in the Department of English at the University of Minnesota, where he also teaches in the Department of History. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Arthur “Red” Motley Exemplary Teaching Award, the University of Minnesota Morse-Alumni Award, and the Ruth Christie Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Published on September 26, 2019