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Keynote lecture: Ecological Transformations in the Early Modern Mediterranean: Humans and the Environment

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Tuesday, May 30, 2023, 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm

Ecological Transformations in the Early Modern Mediterranean: Humans and the Environment

The lecture is a part of the CEMS Graduate Conference: Humans and Nature in the Mediterranean Landscape.

The early modern era marks the onset of a long process of ecological transformations across the globe. The rise of empires in the “Age of Discovery” signaled a sharp increase in new forms of mobility—both human and otherwise. Climate fluctuations coupled with new agrarian practices favored the proliferation of certain species of plants and animals while causing, in a cascade effect, a severe loss in overall biological diversity. Emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases circulated the globe causing havoc across populations. The Mediterranean world was no exception to this unsettling ecological state; its repercussions lasted into the modern era. 

In this presentation, I will map out the dramatic changes in the Mediterranean ecologies during the early modern period with a special emphasis on the changing balance between humans and nature in the Ottoman Empire and the world around it. I will draw from historical and scientific studies in equal measure, while incorporating artistic representations of nature with a view to demonstrate the use of interdisciplinary methodologies to explore such complex questions. 

Nükhet Varlık is Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University–Newark. Her research focuses on disease, death, medicine, and public health in the Ottoman Empire. Her first book, Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World: The Ottoman Experience, 1347–1600, is the first systematic scholarly study of the Ottoman experience of plague during the Black Death pandemic and the centuries that followed. It was awarded Middle East Studies Association’s 2016 Albert Hourani Book Award, the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association’s 2016 M. Fuat Köprülü Book Prize, the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean’s 2017 Dionisius A. Agius Prize, and the American Association for the History of Medicine’s 2018 George Rosen Prize. She is the editor of Plague and Contagion in the Islamic Mediterranean, a collection of articles on the social, cultural, and political responses to epidemics in the post-Black Death Islamic Mediterranean. Together with Lori Jones, Varlık is co-editor of Death and Disease in the Medieval and Early Modern World: Perspectives From Across the Mediterranean and Beyond (forthcoming). Her new book project, Empire, Ecology, and Plague: Rethinking the Second Pandemic (ca.1340s–ca.1940s), examines the 600-year-old Ottoman plague experience in a global ecological context. In conjunction with this research, she gathers sources pertaining to the history of plague and contributes to the development of the Black Death Digital Archive. She is also involved in multidisciplinary research projects that incorporate perspectives from molecular genetics (ancient DNA research in particular), bioarchaeology, disease ecology, and climate science into historical inquiry.

You can attend the conference either in person or via Zoom. 

Please note that external guests need to register for events. If you are an external guest, please send an email to by May 29 at the latest. We will request a visitor card for you, which you can pick up from the reception desk when you arrive for the event.

If you plan to attend online, the zoom link:

Meeting ID: 968 9879 4587
Passcode: 223614