Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2010.
When the Malta Historical Society was founded in April 1950, the foundermembers approved its first statute – duly published in the first issue of Melita Historica in 1952 on pages 56-7 – and stated, among its aims, that “The aim of the Society shall be the study of the History of the Maltese Islands, and the diffusion of its knowledge” and that “The Society shall undertake the publication of research work on Maltese History.” Throughout its sixty years of existence, the Society’s statute has been amended a number of times but the just-mentioned main aims of the MHS have remained enshrined verbatim within it because they are the principal reasons for its foundation.
It stands to reason that, to celebrate its Diamond Jubilee, the Society embarked, among other activities, on the publication of this book which is replete with “research work on Maltese History” aimed at “the study of the History of the Maltese Islands and the diffusion of its knowledge.” No meaningful celebration would have been consistent with the stated reasons for the existence of the Society without the publication of a commemorative book of academic standard that will live on through time when other more worldly celebrations will, most probably, be forgotten as the years roll on.
The suggestion for this publication was first mooted by Dr Albert Ganado at an MHS Committee meeting held on 10 March 2009. The subsequent discussion resulted in an agreement that the projected hard-cover book would include a short first section that would include information about the Society while a much more extensive second part would consist of a number of academic papers. Subsequently, an Editorial Board, with myself as editor, was nominated mainly to suggest the names of a number of academics who would be requested to submit original papers on any subject provided it dealt with Maltese History, but with the final choice of authors to be taken by the Committee. Quite an extensive list of, and guidelines for, contributors were drawn up and the editor was entrusted with all communications with the proposed contributors, some of whom had to decline the offer due to pressure of work. However, no less than twenty-four authors accepted and subsequently submitted their papers that, after being duly reviewed, are now being published. The list of contributors includes a number of established historians together with emerging ones, a healthy mix that augers well for the future of Maltese (and Gozitan) History.
As planned from the very outset of the project, the first part of the book deals with the Society itself and includes a short but very informative description of how the Society was founded. It may be interesting to note that seven of the xvi founder-members, including the author Dr Albert Ganado, are still alive and six of them have remained members ever since. It is followed by a list of the officials who have served on the MHS Committee throughout sixty years. A cursory look reveals the names of a number of eminent persons who gave their very valid contributions to the study of Maltese History. The list of editors includes the publications of the Society from 1952 to date.
The extensive second part has been divided into another seven sections that, together, cover aspects from the whole spectrum of Maltese History, from prehistory to the twentieth century and including historiography and research. Great importance has been assigned to Albert Mayr’s very important essay on Maltese historiography, published in German in 1896, that is here being published for the very first time in an English translation together with appropriate comments. It is followed by an essay on modern research since this is a subject that is an ongoing and ever-changing area that is continually developing with the ever-expanding tools of the computer age we are living in.
Both contributions in the prehistoric/classical section deal with Gozo while the essays on medieval times shed new light on the Arabic conquest of Malta in AD 870, a little- known period when Malta became a marquisate in the later years of the fourteenth century, how Malta reacted to a great famine in 1468, and ends with a window on social life in Gozo through a court case in 1486.
The period that covers the era of the Order of St John presents us with various aspects of those times. Two studies concern solely the knights and the Order whilst a third deals with the military aspect through new light shed on the work carried out or projected by the Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar. A paper on a Maltese notary of the sixteenth century reveals a number of social aspects in sixteenth-century Malta, such as slavery, whilst a paper about maritime history concerns an aspect that had not, as yet, received its due importance: signalling on the galleys when at sea.
The next section is introduced by new information about the ultimate fate of the Inquisition Archives under the French and bridges the time-line to the British era that starts with Malta’s connections with piracy, as opposed to corsairing, in the first decades of the nineteenth century. The enigmatic Professor Cleardo Naudi is expertly dealt with in a very informative paper that is followed by a detailed exposition of the appearance, and disappearance, of a volcanic island that caused quite a stir in our islands. This section comes to an end with a rendition of a subject one hardly hears about: the fate of the Maltese who lived at Smyrna, modern Izmir, just after the end of the First World War.
The last two sections go hand in glove since they deal with architecture and art. An extensive paper deals with the uses of Malta stone that was exported overseas whilst a great deal of information, social and economic, is expounded in a paper about buildings in Valletta between the end of the eighteenth century and 1839.
[p.xvii] Art is represented by papers on coral-fishing and artefacts – a new but fascinating subject, a discussion about some medieval pieces of post-Muslim sculptures in Malta and Gozo, a discussion on and the attribution of a Spanish equestrian portrait housed in the Presidential Palace at Valletta, and some completely new items of information about Pietro Paolo Troisi, an eighteenth-century artist of many talents.
All the contributors co-operated magnificently – through their original papers, keeping within imposed time limits and their meticulous authors’ proof-reading – in the production of this book and sincere thanks are due to all of them. Most of the papers include colour and black & white illustrations partly provided by the contributors themselves for which I heartily thank them. Thanks are also due to the MHS President and Committee for entrusting me with the editorship of this book, to the members of the Editorial Board for their initial contribution to the project and for reviewing some papers, to designer Mr Richard J. Caruana for advice on the book's jacket, to Ms Joan Abela for her cheerful encouragement, to Mr Salvator Mousù for practical help and, last but certainly not least, to Mr Antoine Falzon and his staff at Veritas Press – especially Mr Duncan Gatt and Mr Karl Fenech of the Design and Setting Section – for their never-ending patience, advice, skill and help. A word of thanks goes also to my son, David, for his solutions to computer-related problems and to my wife, Connie, for her patience and forbearance with a husband who spent most of his quality time in his study and at Veritas Press during the four months when work on this publication was in progress after the initial standardization of the papers had been carried out.
Dr Joseph F. Grima