By Dylan Langdon
The island of Lampedusa, located between Sicily and Tunisia, is just as important in the migration of people from Africa to Europe today as it was in medieval times. “The island is the center of many humanitarian issues now and in the past,” said Brown University historian Amy Remensnyder, who was the keynote speaker at a recent UC Santa Barbara History Department colloquium honoring retiring professor Sharon Farmer.
Remensnyder explained that African immigrants use the island today as a stepping stone on their treacherous journey to Western Europe, a migration route that hasn’t changed since the medieval era. The island was originally barren, but now contain a few small settlements there. Today, it has limited space for the immigrants, leaving many underfed and forced to sleep in inhumane conditions, she said.
Remensnyder spoke at the colloquium as a tribute to Farmer, a UC Santa Barbara’s Medieval Studies professor, who is retiring at the end of the 2019 academic year. Over her career, Farmer has earned many awards, including a Guggenheim award for her research. Farmer tutored Remensnyder while she was a graduate student,at Harvard.
Another six of Farmer’s previous students presented their research that day.
Remensnyder’s talk, “Island Histories, Sea Grammar and the Multiconfessional Mediterranean: The Case of Lampedusa,” focused on the island’s interfaith character in medieval times. Lampedusa sits precariously in between Muslim Tunisia and Christian Italy.
While there was generally conflict when mariners of each side met each other, there was little bloodshed on Lampedusa. This was because mariners who landed on Lampedusa were usually in fragile states, Remensnyder said. There was an unspoken rule that there would be no violence between faiths on the island.
This led to the only known joint Muslim and Christian shrine, where adherents of each religion would pray to their god and stockpile supplies for the next person who sought refuge there. “I was surprised by the fact that Muslims and Christians were able to share a shrine at all,” said undergraduate political science major Justin Capone.
The six student speakers presented on topics ranging from the women at the court of Charles VI to the persuasive power of catholic bishops. Each speaker credited Farmer with heavily influencing their own research.
Sharon Farmer earned her PhD from Harvard University in 1983. Her research focus Medieval Studies with particular focus on religion, gender and social issues. “It is always difficult when someone like Sharon [Farmer] leaves,” said Edward English, a professor of the History department. “It will probably take two or three years to replace her.”
Dylan Langdon is a third year UC Santa Barbara student majoring in Communication. He covered this event for his Writing class Journalism for Web and Social Media.