Published: June 20, 2022

A new book by a religious studies professor and CAS affiliate explores the West’s origins in the ambiguities, intersections and nuances of the Mediterranean.

European history has long been written in the tales of kings. Together with two colleagues, a University of Colorado Boulder professor wants to reframe that narrative away from the upper echelon to instead focus on the melting pot region reminiscent of today’s society: the Mediterranean.

The version of history that’s commonly taught, focusing on medieval Christian Europe, was usually dominated by white Christian males in academia and in primary sources, according to Brian Catlos. As a result, it excluded other perspectives of how Western civilization developed, such as those of the Jewish and Muslim faiths, women and lower-class peoples throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, creating an incomplete picture of a shared world history.

In his upcoming co-authored textbooks to be published by the University of California Press, The Sea in the Middle and its sourcebook companion Texts from the Middle, Catlos, graduate director in the religious studies department and director of the CU Mediterranean Studies Group, presents a new narrative of history for students and educators that examines how the cultural hot bed of the Mediterranean fundamentally contributed to Western civilization and modern culture.


The Sea in the Middle Book Covers

Book covers for The Sea in the Middle and Texts from the Middle.

“The development of what we call the West has been looked at from a pretty exclusive, Eurocentric perspective,” Catlos says. “For a long time, the way history was written was the history of kings, princes, knights, popes and bishops, essentially the (Western European) upper-classes. And the problem with that approach is that it's full of built-in biases.”

For Catlos, studying history is like holding up a mirror to our present culture, with our beliefs and identities affecting how we look back and observe the trajectory of history.

“We think of history as facts,” Catlos says. “But it's also a reflection of ourselves and the way we see the world and our own aspirations.”

According to Catlos, the way history was traditionally studied and taught began to shift in the late 20th century, where “academia became more diverse, and what's regarded as our mainstream society became more diverse, ethnically and religiously most of all. They started broadening our view of history because they wanted to talk about the roots of their own experiences.”

With this expansion of scholarship to once-excluded perspectives, “it became pretty obvious that what we call the West, this narrow definition of medieval Christian Europe, was not appropriate. Instead, what we see in fact is a whole interconnected system that involved people from Africa, West Asia, Europe and people who came from different ethnic backgrounds, who were physiologically different and who were culturally and religiously different.”

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