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As the world’s media focuses on Sicily and the unfolding human tragedy that is the migration and refugee crisis, a group of academics have gathered in Sicily under the auspices of the EU FP7 MEMOLA project. The project seeks to understand the historical processes of cultural change that occurred a millennium ago, yet have left a very tangible legacy in the form of landscape, language, people and culture that contributes to our sense of Europeaness. Specifically, our period of study includes the movement of people and ideas from North Africa to the southern shores of Europe, the interaction between Islamic and Christian worlds, laying the foundations, amongst other things, for an intensification of agricultural production that led to short term instability, but ultimate prosperity.

The project is historical in its focus, but with a strong commitment to public engagement. The academics from across Europe (Spain, Britain, Ireland, Albania and Italy) are conscious that the historical processes they investigate have human mobility at their centre, and it is such processes that have shaped Europe into the tolerant and diverse continent that is its today. From this perspective, it is timely to remind ourselves that the tragic events currently unfolding are part of long established and episodic set of processes that should be considered normal, yet nonetheless perilous and dreadful in human terms.

As an academic group, we recognise the ethical basis of our work and seek to draw attention to the bi-directional connections over time across the Mediterranean that have served to enrich and diversify Europe. The events of recent days have shocked many European citizens, with some considering them extraordinary events with grave implications for the economy and culture of Europe. In contrast, our historical studies serve to suggest that the present events have clear precedents, which reminding us of our rich and diverse heritage. The horrors that are unfolding kilometres away from where we discuss events of the distant past draw our attention to the dire human experiences that comprise our historical past. We hope that our work cautions against concerns that promote an isolationist view of Europe. Instead, we remember the historical precedents for this week’s events, while reminding us of the human character of those involved, something that history too often forgets.



The MEMOLA project aims to undertake a specific historical and archaeological study of four Mediterranean mountain landscapes in Spain (Sierra Nevada), Italy (Monti di Trapani and Colli Euganei) and Albania (Vjosa Valley). The project brings together a network of archaeologists, historians, environmental scientists, soil scientists, botanists and agronomists to quantitatively assess the long-term historical uses of water and soils and how these have been utilised by different communities within the study areas.

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Dr ROGER C P DOONAN +44114 2222939

Dr PETER M DAY +441142222917

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