Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2010.
The Malta Historical Society was officially created on 12th April 1950, by a team of academics and intellectuals, with the declared intention of promoting ‘a scientific approach to the study of Maltese History’. The initiative had been taken by Mgr Arturo Bonnici, Professor of Church History at the then Royal University of Malta, who was chosen first President, a post to which he continued to be elected until his death in 1978. In the sixty years of its existence, the Society has lived up to this founding principle through scholarly activities that include, among others, publications, lectures and seminars. Dr Albert Ganado, a founding member and past President, traces the beginning of the Society in an erudite contribution to this book of collected papers. The Malta Historical Society has much to be proud of. I wish, nonetheless, to make a special mention of its annual journal, Melita Historica that, since its first issue in 1952, has played a key role in laying the foundations for a rigorously-disciplined academic approach to the writing of history.
In the first number of Melita Historica, Professor Arturo Bonnici perceptively noted the need ‘to fill the lack of a suitable organ for the publication of individual research.’ This has been the mission of the journal which, under a series of distinguished editors (a full list is provided on page 12), has established itself as a respected academic review. Melita Historica is the natural heir of Archivium Melitense that had ceased publication with the outbreak of the Second World War. This had been the organ of the Historical and Scientific Society which, founded at the turn of the twentieth century, had an affinity with the academic programme of the Malta Historical Society but had included a wider agenda that gave equal weight to historic and scientific research. The very valid contribution to Maltese history made by Archivium Melitense is gratefully acknowledged by the Malta Historical Society. On a personal note, I wish to pay a very special tribute to the seminally important medieval archival research of Mgr. Alfredo Mifsud.
This book of collected papers, that the Malta Historical Society is publishing to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of its foundation, gives pre-eminence to an English translation, with a critical commentary by Professor Godfrey Wettinger, of Albert Mayr’s ground-breaking essay Zur Geschichte der älteren christlichen Kirche von Malta, published in Historisches Jahrbuch, xvii, 1896. It does so not only because of the importance of Mayr’s essay to Maltese historiography but, more especially, because although it was written more than half a century before the Historical Society came into being, it is a first class example of the scientific approach to history that inspired its founding members. The German scholar [p.vi] was a first great pioneer in the demythologisation of the fabrications and legends that distorted Maltese history and his critical analysis of the Early Christian and Byzantine periods has been vindicated by later research. The study is in many ways a benchmark in the historiography of the Maltese Islands and the Malta Historical Society is rendering Mayr belated justice by making it, at long last, available to a much wider circle of scholars and researchers. Professor Wettinger’s commentary discusses it in a meaningful context and builds on its documentary evidence and conclusions.
One of the great merits of the present publication is its healthy mix of established and emerging historians. The papers cover a wide bracket of history-related subjects that, in their different approaches, collectively and individually make a very valid contribution to Maltese studies. It is a book that does credit to the scholarly traditions of the Malta Historical Society and has the necessary credentials of a work of reference.
Mario Buhagiar PhD (Lond), FSA (Lond)
President, The Malta Historical Society