In my investigation I’am studying the formation process of personal identities of slaves and captives in Naples and Valencia during the 16th and 17th centuries. At that time, Naples and Valencia were two of the most important mediterranean slave markets as well as trading cities of the Spanish Monarchy.
This article aims to discuss two major currents in historiography but also social sciences, which are very linked to one another:
1) The first historiographic mainstream the investigation aims to contribute concerns the formation of personal identity in the ancien régime. Historiography has already clarified that the concept of personal identity was not a fixed one but usually subject to negotiation in highly variable situations. However, the literature has focused especially on the role played by religionand Holy Inquisitionin influencing/determining personal identity. For instance, it has studied in depth changes related to religious conversions, a widely debated issue also with regard to the biography of slaves and cautivos. Focusing on the ‘identity’ of slaves in a more all-round way, will make it possible to examine the topic from a different and complementary viewpoint, concentrating on the role played by economic negotiations on the formation of personal identity. This was a ‘negotiated identity’ in the true sense of the word, the process of which needs to be reconstructed. Henceforth, this research aims to look at the question more closely than historiography has done to date, analysing a genuine market of personal identities, that of those sentenced to forced labour. The key factor in rendering a man a slave wasn’t his faith, but his belonging to one or another group during the war; we can often find owners and slaves sharing the same religious faith. After having been captured there was a negotiation concerning the price of a man, touching on not only economic aspects, but also social and legal ones. In my opinion, the main point of reference for such a study is the recent research focusing on micro-sociology of prices. This literature has been able to show that prices are commonly used to measure social relationsrather than the intrinsic value of things. Negotiation processes therefore contain important information about things and people. The idea is that the economic value of a man contributes to define his social identity. How much is a man worth and how much is a woman worth? To what extent do social estimation and economic value coincide and influence each other? These are fairly up-to-date issues that a history project can help take into consideration from a different perspective. Historiography has started to examine the question in areas that are very different from slavery. In particular, a recent research has studied the social estimation processes in early modern England, explicitly linking them to the economic value that individuals thought they had.
2) The second historiographic mainstream this article aims to examine is the firmly established branch of study of Mediterranean slavery. Mediterranean slavery in modern times has been the subject of a specific debate, from the pioneering works of Verlinden and Pryor, Vicenta Cortés Alonso on Valencia followed by Graullera Sanz through to the recent summaries by Stella, Fiume, Bono, Philips for Spain and to an entry in the Cambridge World History of Slavery of 2011 written by W. G. Clarence-Smith and D. Eltis specifically dedicated to the topic. Historiography to date has not identified a sole slavery model, distinguishing different types in both time and space. More specifically, slavery in the Mediterranean has been an important field to revise the topic of personal identity in the ancien régime. Stories such as Leo The African, Martin Guerre and Samuel Pallache show how personal identity in modern times wasn’t a still, permanent fact, but rather a malleable one, adaptable to the context and influenced by various factors. In this regard, historiography has especially focused on the path of renegades, who had different points of contact with slaves, and a real cultural link between the Mediterranean’s two shores (Christian and Islamic), who are of great interest for this study. A major part of available works has dealt with two sub-topics: captives, and hence the link between captivity and privateering; and what we can call the redemption economy. Starting with the problem of the Mediterranean privateering and the associated phenomenon of redemption of captives, historiography has focused on the inter-religious phenomenon, the mobility of individuals and the mixing of cultures, and hence on the presence of European captives in Islamic countries and the parallel one of Muslim captives in Europe, especially in arsenals and aboard galleys. Another related body of literature concerns the redemption economy that, in recent years, has been looked on as a lubricant of trade and exchange between the Mediterranean’s two shores.
At a scientific level, as mentioned, the intention is to make a significant contribution not only to historiography on Mediterranean slavery, but also to the mechanisms of constructing personal identity via social and economic estimation. The sources used in this project make it possible to look at these two points in an in-depth and innovative way, thanks to a series of detailed information obtained regarding the biography of individuals sentenced to forced labour, the economic negotiation of slaves and the role the latter played in calculation of their price. I believe this research could result in building a micro-sociology of individuals sentenced to forced labour under the ancient regime, analysing a very diverse array of social categories. Hitherto, the study should lead to reconstructing a genuine marketing relationnel of personal identity in the ancien régime, also in relation with the gender aspect, through the analysis of a mass biography, along the lines of what Shepard did for early modern England.