General History Departmental Seminar

Medieval-Renaissance Studies Association

'Whatever God Provides':

Shapes of Risk and Sacred Materiality

in Medieval Mediterranean Trade, ca. 1100-1400

Dr. Sarina Kuersteiner

The Haifa Center for Mediterranean History (HCMH)

Even though Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traders used similar contracts and formulas to stipulate transfers of risk and allocations of future profit, only Christians began to sell and buy risk as an intangible commodity with a contract we know as “insurance” by ca. 1350. Previous scholars have mostly highlighted medieval European businessmen as the ones who invented the financial tools such as “insurance” that enabled Europe’s economic success in the early modern and modern periods. Analyzing contracts and letters of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian traders, my research shows instead that the history of European economic institutions is complicated, contingent, and to a large extent the product of cross-cultural encounters that took place in the global medieval world. In this talk, I examine traders’ religious practices to help explain differences and similarities in their conceptions of risk. Risk involves assumptions about divine providence – explicitly stated in contractual formulas – and how to access it in this world. Hence, looking at how people connected risk to the sacred can reveal different shapes of risk.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022, 12:15

Room #146, New Library Wing,

University of Haifa

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