Abstract

The small islands of the Mediterranean are generally considered to be marginal spaces, located on the periphery of mainstream processes occurring on the mainland. While we might acknowledge such marginality in terms of limited productivity, islands can also become critical nodes in networks of interaction, often owing to their location along maritime routes and/or desirable resources. This is evident during the Bronze Age, when extensive travel across the Mediterranean is first documented, and in historical times, when the islands were tied into market economies. Focusing on the Aeolian Islands and drawing on parallels both from the Mediterranean and Pacific islands, this article will explore how islanders experienced alternating periods of relative centrality and marginality, their possible reasons and effects, over the longue durée. The article calls for a reconceptualization of marginality, focusing on an island's in-betweenness rather than isolation. Thanks to their “optimal marginality,” islands become productive and innovative spaces.

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