Empires of Exchange: The Visual Cultures of Power, Mobility, and Erasure in the Mediterranean


Program Description

Empires of Exchange is an optional 3-credit Signature Seminar offered to students attending the Syracuse Florence Center. The seminar invites you to consider:

  • What economic, religious, and cultural connections do Ravenna, Venice, and Trieste share?
  • How do the art and architecture of the past impact today’s contemporary concerns of European political identity?

This traveling seminar investigates artistic exchange between the medieval and early modern cities of Ravenna, Venice, and Trieste to discover Roman, Slavic, Byzantine, Spanish, German, French, Arab, Ottoman, Muslim and Jewish influence on Italian art and culture. Throughout the seminar, you will experience the rich diversity of the Italian Peninsula’s north-eastern territories, arriving all the way to its border. Through the themes of political power, cultural mobility and erasure, and the dynamics of shared urban spaces, you will analyze how the Mediterranean Sea connected Jewish, Christian, and Muslim peoples.

While the course focuses on the art and architecture of each region in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period (1000-1700), consideration is also given to the modern afterlives of these sites. Ultimately, you will examine how the medieval and early modern past still inform contemporary concerns on immigration and European political identity.

Program Dates

Empires of Exchange is typically offered as a pre-semester seminar in the fall. It begins before the Florence Center semester program starts and returns to Florence upon completion. Visit the Program Dates page for specific seminar dates.

Site Visits

  • Basilica San Vitale in Ravenna
  • Basilica San Marco in Venice
  • Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice

Course Information

HOA 300 – Empires of Exchange: The Visual Cultures of Power, Mobility, and Erasure in the Mediterranean (3 credits)

Your Seminar Leader

The seminar will be led by Professor Sean Nelson, whose research and teaching interests focus on cross-cultural dialogue between Early Modern Florence and the Islamic lands, predominantly the Mamluk Sultanate and the Ottoman Empire. He has received research fellowships and grants from the Kunsthistorisches Institute in Florence, the Max-Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, and the Getty Foundation, Los Angeles as a fellow of “Connecting Art Histories”, among others. He has published essays on the collection of Islamic spoils in The Grand Ducal Medici and the Levant: Interlacing Cultures from Florence to the Eastern Mediterranean (1532-1743) and Pisa: The Eccentric City.

Eligibility and Admission

Empires of Exchange is open to students admitted into the Syracuse Center semester programs in Florence. Interested students must complete the Signature Seminar questionnaire in the OrangeAbroad portal. A $300 deposit will be required to hold your place in the seminar. Further details will be provided by your program advisor.

Enrollment in the seminar is limited. In the event that there is insufficient interest in the seminar, Syracuse Abroad may choose to cancel the program and your deposit applied to your semester charges.

Note: you are required to register for at least 13 additional credits for a minimum of 16 credits for the semester. You should further understand that, if you register for more than 19 total credits, you will be charged additional tuition fees for each credit over 19, and you may not register for more than 22 total credits without prior academic approval.


An Empires of Exchange seminar fee will be posted to your Syracuse Bursar account in addition to the semester program fee.

The seminar program fee covers transportation during the program, entrance fee to all seminar sites, and hotel accommodations. Check with your financial aid office to determine if financial aid can be used towards the seminar fee. View all Cost & Aid details.


Contact your International Program Advisor at syrflorence@syr.edu