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Professor David Abulafia FBA

Professor David Abulafia, FBA

Emeritus Professor of Mediterranean History, Cambridge University

Papathomas Professorial Fellow, Gonville and Caius College

Gonville and Caius College
Cambridge CB2 1TA

Office Phone: 01223 3 32473

Subject groups/Research projects

Ancient and Medieval History:

Mediterranean history, and maritime history more broadly, including the three major oceans, particularly before about 1550.

Departments and Institutes

Gonville & Caius College:
Papathomas Professorial Fellow

Research Interests

David Abulafia is a maritime historian whose research on medieval Mediterranean trade, in Sicily, the Balearic Islands and the Levant, has led him to write a large history of the Mediterranean across time, entitled The Great Sea, which was awarded the British Academy Medal in 2013.  He maintains a strong interest in medieval and early Renaissance Italy, with an emphasis on southern Italy and the major islands; his works include a biography of Emperor Frederick II and a series of articles about the kingdom of Naples in the fifteenth century from economic, cultural and political perspectives.  His interest in the meeting of religions in medieval Spain and Sicily led him into the Atlantic, and a study of the first encounters between Europeans and the native peoples of the eastern and western Atlantic around the time of Columbus. He has now published a history of the oceans for Penguin Books in the UK and Oxford UP New York in the USA, The Boundless Sea, reaching back into the ancient and medieval periods to see how and with what results the oceans became connected through long-distance trade.  He has spent his career in the History Faculty at Cambridge University where he is Professor of Mediterranean History [now Emeritus] and where he continues as Papathomas Professorial Fellow of Gonville and Caius College.

Research Supervision

Topics of Ph.D. students recently supervised have included Jewish landholding in Aragon-Catalonia, the role of the cross in the crusading movement, chivalry in fifteenth-century Spain, Jews and Muslims in the Iberian fueros, China in the late medieval imagination, the origins of the labour system in the Caribbean c1500.  Current Ph.D. students are studying public banks in Barcelona, mercantile letters in Italy and Germany c.1500, and maritime religious cults in the Mediterranean.

Other Professional Activities

He is a Fellow of the British Academy (elected to its Council in 2015), and Chair of the Medieval Studies section at the British Academy.  He is also a Member of the Academia Europaea.  As Legatum Fellow at the Legatum Institute, a think-tank in London, he has been offering sections of a course in the history of capitalism, and this course has now transferred to the Erasmus Forum, of which he is a Fellow.  He is a member of the Academic Board of the newly-founded University of Gibraltar, where he has been appointed Visiting Beacon Professor.  He is a Visiting Professor at the College of Europe, Natolin (Poland), a branch of the College of Europe based in Bruges.

Key Publications

  • The Two Italies. Economic relations between the Norman Kingdom of Sicily and the northern communes 1977; Italian edn., 1991.
  • Italy, Sicily and the Mediterranean, 1100-1400, [collected studies] 1987.
  • Frederick II. A medieval emperor London and NY, 1988; third English edn., 2001; Italian edn., 1990; German edn., 1991.
  • Spain and 1492: unity and uniformity under Ferdinand and Isabella, 1992.
  • Commerce and Conquest in the Mediterranean, 1100-1500, [collected studies] 1993.
  • A Mediterranean Emporium: the Catalan Kingdom of Majorca 1994; Spanish edn., 1996.
  • The Western Mediterranean Kingdoms, 1200-1500. The Struggle for Dominion 1997; Italian edn., 1999; Spanish edn., 2017.
  • Mediterranean Encounters, Economic, Religious and Political, 1100-1550, [collected studies] 2000.
  • The Discovery of Mankind: Atlantic Encounters in the Age of Columbus, 2008; Spanish edn., 2009; Italian edn., 2010.
  • Il Duomo di Monreale: lo splendore dei mosaici with M. Naro, 2009; French edn. 2013.
  • The Great Sea: a human history of the Mediterranean, UK and US edns., 2011; Dutch edn., 2011; Greek edn., 2013; Turkish edn., 2012; Korean edn., 2013; Spanish edn., 2013; German edition, 2013; Italian edition, 2013; Romanian edn., 2014; Portuguese edn. (Brazil), 2014; Chinese edn. (Taiwan), 2017, China (Mainland), 2018; other editions under contract in Japan and Lebanon.  Updated Penguin mass-market paperback edn. (UK), 2014.
  • The Boundless Sea: a human history of the Oceans, UK and US editions, 2019; forthcoming in German, Spanish, Italian and Chinese editions.

 Edited works

  • (ed.) Church and City, 1000-1500. Studies in honour of Christopher Brooke ed. with M. Rubin and M. Franklin, 1992.
  • (ed.) The French descent into Renaissance Italy, 1494-5. Antecedents and effects 1995. Italian edn., 2005.
  • (ed.) En las costas del Mediterráneo occidental. Las ciudades de la Peninsula Ibérica y del reino de Mallorca y el comercio mediterráneo en la Edad Media ed. with B. Garí, Barcelona, 1997.
  • (ed.) The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 5, c.1198-1300, 1999 [paperback 2015].
  • (ed.) Medieval Frontiers: concepts and practices, ed. with N. Berend, 2002.
  • (ed.) The Mediterranean in History [English, American, French, Spanish, German, Greek, Turkish editions], 2003.
  • (ed.) Italy in the Central Middle Ages, 2004.