David Abulafia

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David Abulafia, FBA
File:David Abulafia.jpg
Abulafia in 2010
Born David Samuel Harvard Abulafia
(1949-12-12) 12 December 1949 (age 70)
Twickenham, Middlesex, England
Nationality British
Ethnicity Jewish
Alma mater King's College, Cambridge
Notable work The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean (2011)

David Abulafia, FBA (born 12 December 1949) is an influential English historian with a particular interest in Italy, Spain and the rest of the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. He has been Professor of Mediterranean History at the University of Cambridge since 2000 and a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge since 1974; his current position in the college is that of Papathomas Professorial Fellow. He was Chairman of the History Faculty at Cambridge University, 2003-5, and was elected a member of the governing Council of Cambridge University in 2008.

He is a Fellow of the British Academy and a member of the Academia Europaea. In 2013 he was awarded one of three inaugural British Academy Medals for his work on Mediterranean history.


Abulafia was born at Twickenham, Middlesex, into a Sephardic Jewish family that left Spain for Galilee around 1492 and lived for many generations in Tiberias. His wife Anna Sapir Abulafia is a historian of Jewish-Christian relations and is Professor of the Study of the Abrahamic Religions at Oxford University, and a Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall. He was educated at St. Paul's School and King's College, Cambridge.

He has published several books on Mediterranean history, beginning with his book The Two Italies in 1977; here he argued that as far back as the twelfth century northern Italy exploited the agricultural resources of the Italian south, and that this provided the essential basis for the further expansion of trade and industry in Tuscany, Genoa and Venice. He edited volume 5 of the New Cambridge Medieval History and the volume on Italy in the central Middle Ages in the Oxford Short History of Italy; he also edited an important collection of studies of the French invasion of Italy in 1494-5 as well as a book on The Mediterranean in History which has appeared in six languages. He has given lectures in many countries including Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Finland, Norway, the United States, Japan, Israel, Jordan and Egypt.

One of his most influential books is Frederick II: A Medieval Emperor, first published in England in 1988 and reprinted many times in several Italian editions. Here he looks at an iconic figure from the Middle Ages from a new perspective, criticizing the views of the famous German historian Ernst Kantorowicz concerning Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, whom Abulafia sees as a conservative figure rather than as a genius born out of his time.

He has been appointed Commendatore dell'Ordine della Stella della Solidarietà Italiana by the President of Italy in recognition of his writing on Italian history, especially Sicilian history, and he has also written about Spain, particularly the Balearic islands. He has shown an interest in the economic history of the Mediterranean, and in the meeting of the three Abrahamic faiths in the Mediterranean. Not confining himself to the Mediterranean, he has also written a much-praised book on the first encounters between western Europeans and the native societies of the Atlantic (the Canary islands, the Caribbean and Brazil) around 1492; this book is The Discovery of Mankind: Atlantic Encounters in the Age of Columbus (2008).

In 2011 Penguin Books (and, in the U.S., Oxford University Press New York) published his The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean, a substantial volume that sets out a different approach to Mediterranean history to that propounded by the famous French historian Fernand Braudel, and ranges in time from 22,000 BC to AD 2010. The book, which received the Mountbatten Literary Award from the Maritime Foundation,[1][2] rapidly became a bestseller in UK non-fiction and was widely acclaimed. It has been translated into Dutch, Greek, Turkish, Spanish, German, Italian, Korean and Portuguese, with further translations under contract.

He is the chairman of Historians for Britain, an organisation that lobbies for a change in the UK's relationship to the EU. According to Abulafia, the process of European Integration is a myth used to silence other visions of European community.[3]



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