Sundar Henny

Sundar Henny

Deborah Loeb Brice Fellow
Floating States of the Mediterranean: Towards a Global Microhistory of Ships
Sundar Henny


Sundar Henny received his PhD from the University of Basel in 2012. He currently is an affiliated senior scholar at the Historical Institute of the University of Bern. In the past he has worked on early modern ego-documents, conjectural history in the German Enlightenment, and cross-cultural encounters at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem during the 16th century. He was awarded two major research projects ("Early Postdoc Mobility" and "Ambizione") by the Swiss National Science Foundation. He has been a visiting researcher at the universities of Cambridge, Haifa, and Princeton and has taught at several Swiss universities. His work has appeared in Intellectual History, The International Journal of the Classical Tradition, and Renaissance Quarterly.

Project Summary

This project focuses on a specific and iconic form of society: shipboard communities. Drawing from travelogues, it studies assemblages of people on the Mediterranean Sea during the long 16th century. Often a single ship would transport a dazzling variety of people, animals, and objects. Like floating Petri dishes, such ships provide social samples that can be observed under changing circumstances. Hitherto, historians working on ships have focused on naval and economic questions or on the more insular societies of ocean-going ships. This project will address the full gamut of beings and objects that comprised Mediterranean shipboard communities via two article-length studies. The first study will reconstruct shipboard cosmopolitanism and social life on a specific voyage to the Holy Land in 1519. This voyage–aboard two Venetian ships–gave rise to firsthand accounts written in Dutch, French, German, Italian, and Spanish, and its pilgrims commissioned numerous works of art upon returning home. These various sources will be drawn together so as to reassemble the social life of the ships. The second study will analyze the peculiar practice of tossing mummy parts overboard. The question of whether mummies might provoke storms was hotly debated both on ships themselves and in works of literature. Mummies at sea tell us a great deal about the social aspect of seafaring and about attempts to distinguish between magic, religion, and science in the early modern era.