I am a student of early human history; in my teaching and research, I cover a span of time from humanity’s deep history in Africa to Mediterranean Europe in the later middle ages. The overarching intellectual project of my work in recent years has been to identify and develop new frames or narratives for binding human history together into a seamless whole. I work under the assumption that history is not a political science designed to explain the present. It is an anthropological science designed to help us understand humanity. In everything I do, I hope to show how the intellectual projects that drive transnational and global histories work equally well across time, and to offer the deep past as the new intellectual frontier of historical research and historical framing in the twenty-first century.
Within this broad set of interests, I have two specialties. The first derives from my work as an archival historian of Mediterranean Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, where my work has been based on the mass of archival documentation from the period. Much of my past research using this documentation has concentrated on the social and cultural history of the city of Marseille, where I have a published on a variety of subjects ranging from women, Jews, and demography to law, violence, and space. Recently, I have added Italian history to my repertoire through research on the judicial records of the city of Lucca in the fourteenth century. My current project, "Goods and Debts in Medieval Mediterranean Europe,” is a study of transformations in material culture through the lens of debt recovery. Since the archival richness of Mediterranean Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries is almost entirely unknown to everyone except the specialists in the field, I have been working with a team of graduate students and colleagues to find ways to digitize and present samplings of archival material.
Within the broad field of deep human history or early global history, my specialized research has centered on the study of brain and behavior. My 2008 book, On Deep History and the Brain, proposes the idea of a “neurohistory,” a history, as I define it, that explores how cultural structures shape patterns of the brain-body system and alter forms of endocrine regulation. This viewpoint allows us to add a new interpretative dimension to our understanding of cultural transformations; it offers a way to incorporate the neurosciences into history without having recourse to historically sterile versions of evolutionary psychology (notably approaches that rely on strong theories of massive modularity and evolved dispositions). I am also interested in exploring human history using intellectual tools borrowed from complexity theory and systems approaches. In tandem with my current project on material culture, I have made a special study of goods, ornaments, and clothing in deep human history.