Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2010.

[p.3]

THE BIRTH OF THE MALTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Albert Ganado*

In this year, that is 2010, The Malta Historical Society is celebrating its Diamond Jubilee. Few are those who know and less are those who remember how it all came about sixty years ago. This note is meant to place on record a few facts on the graceful birth of our Society.

It was Monsignor Professor Arturo Bonnici who, a few years after the end of World War II, launched a public appeal through the columns of Leħen is-Sewwa (the Catholic Action newspaper) for the setting up of a historical society. Writing on 14 January 1950, he stressed the need of researching and recording scientifically our past history as national greatness was intimately bound with what transpired throughout the ages. The past events of Malta were still buried to a large extent in public and private archives, and a proper history of Malta, in accordance with modern methodology, was still to be written.

The writer’s plea was wholeheartedly supported by the editor of the paper (18 January 1950) who took the opportunity to complain of the poor standard of the teaching of Maltese history in our schools, the lack of encouragement for the study of archival material, and the failure to reopen the National Museum. Likewise, a contributor to the Times of Malta (21 January 1959), signing himself Commentator, praised Monsignor Bonnici for his initiative and deplored the general decadence of studies and standards in Malta which had adversely affected historical research. The contributor blamed the Royal University of Malta for being ‘lost in the wilderness of top heavy administration’, thus making very little original contribution to Maltese historical research.

On 28 January 1950, Monsignor Bonnici wrote in Leħen is-Sewwa a second article with the same title as the previous one, Għall-Ġieħ ta’ Malta, in which he expounded on the subject of modern historical criticism and expressed strong frustration at the absence of a scientific cataloguing of the manuscript collection and the Order’s Archive at the National Library.

[p.4] It was against this background that a meeting of all those interested in the advancement of Maltese History was called for 2 March 1950. It was held at the University Library in St Paul Street , Valletta, and about fifty people attended. The Rector of the Royal University, Professor Dr Joseph Manché, was asked to take the chair.

The first point that came up for discussion was whether to revive the Malta Historical and Scientific Society, which had been dormant since the war started, or whether to form a new Society. Chevalier Hannibal Scicluna, Librarian of the Royal Malta Library, was strongly in favour of reviving the old Society. It was pointed out that this Society had been instituted ‘with the object of promoting the study of the History and Archaeology of the Maltese islands and of other scientific subjects of local interest’ (sec. 1 of the statute); the Society most of those present had in mind was limited to historical research, with the exclusion of scientific subjects. At the end of the debate, in which about six of those present took part, the meeting decided by 46 against 9 votes that a new Society be formed which would be more in keeping with the times.

After this decision, the meeting passed to the election of a Provisional Committee of five to draft a statute, with the following result:

Rev. Professor Edward Coleiro

38 votes

Dr Joseph G. Baldacchino

31 votes

Dr Albert Ganado

30 votes

Rev. Professor Joseph Sapiano

29 votes

Rev. Dr Philip Callus

25 votes

Ms Hilda Castaldi

23 votes

Chev. Hannibal P. Scicluna

20 votes

The Provisional Committee held three meetings and prepared a draft statute which was submitted to a meeting of the founder members of the Society held at the same venue on 12 April 1950. Monsignor Bonnici was in the chair and Dr Albert Ganado was appointed Secretary pro tempore. Copies of the draft statute were circulated and the Chairman informed the meeting that, after lengthy discussions on some points, the draft had been agreed to by all the Committee members. The Chairman opened the discussion on the draft and comments on various sections were made by Professor Coleiro, Professor Sapiano, Dr Baldacchino, Dr Ganado, Mr Roger Degiorgio, Mr Edward R. Leopardi, Mr Ivan Dedomenico, Mr Joseph L. Pace, Mr Joseph F.X. Porsella Flores, and Mr Emanuel Bonavia. Amendments to sections II (1), III (1) (2) (3) (4), IV (1), V (2) (a) (i) (ii), VIII (1), and IX were introduced. After the approval of the Statute,[2] the meeting authorized the [p.5] Provisional Committee to remain in office until the first General Meeting of the Society and to collect subscriptions for 1950.

The first General Meeting was held at the Library of the University on 26 April 1950 with twenty-one members present: Monsignor Professor Arturo Bonnici, Rev Professor E. Coleiro, Mr Edward R. Leopardi, Chev Vincenzo Bonello, Dr Edward Sammut, Mr Roger Degiorgio A&CE, Rev Giuseppe Mizzi, Mr Maurice Verzin, Dr Oliver Gulia, Mr Godfrey Wettinger, Rev Philip Callus, Rev Anthony Borg, Dr Alexander Cachia Zammit, Mr Josie Montalto, Mr Joseph F.X. Porsella Flores, Mr Joseph L. Pace, Mr Joseph Galea, Mr George Mifsud Montanaro, Professor Dr Joseph Manché, Mr George Vigo, Dr Albert Ganado.[3]

After the election of Monsignor Professor Arturo Bonnici by acclamation as President of the Society, the meeting proceeded to the election of the other eight Committee members. The following were elected:

Dr Albert Ganado

19 votes

Rev Professor Edward Coleiro

18 votes

Dr Joseph G. Baldacchino

16 votes

Rev Professor Joseph Sapiano

14 votes

Chev Vincenzo Bonello

13 votes

Dr Edward Sammut

12 votes

Professor Dr Joseph Manché

12 votes

Rev Dr Philip Callus

8 votes

Since then, Annual General Meetings and the election of a new Committee[4] have been held regularly without interruption. Elections have been held every year till 1998 and bi-annually since 1999.

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The first page of the first Committee Meeting of the Malta Historical Society
held at the Library of the (then Royal) University of Malta on 13 May 1950



* This article first appeared in the Malta Historical Society’s Newsletter, Issue No. 1, December 1998. It is being reprinted with very minor emendations.
Comm. Dr Albert Ganado
is a founder member, and past President, vice-President, Secretary pro tempore and Treasurer of the Malta Historical Society, and presently a member of the Committee. For Dr Ganado’s author profile, cf. p. 341 infra. 1.

[2] The first statute of the Society was published in the first issue of Melita Historica in 1952, pp. 56-57.

[3] Together with this list of 21 members, six other gentlemen had paid the 1950 subscription to the Malta Historical Society before the General Meeting but did not attend. They may, therefore, be counted among its founder members. They were: Dr Joseph G. Baldacchino (who, in fact, was elected to the first committee), Mr Carmel Bonavia, Mr Emanuel Bonavia, Notary F. Catania, Mr R.J.D. Cousin A&CE, and Dr George Zammit. The number of members rose to 60 by 1952: c.f. Melita Historica, i,1, 63-64.

[4] The Minutes of the first twenty General Meetings of the Society, held between 1950 and 1955, were published in the first four issues of Melita Historica which comprised Volume I, (1952-1955) on pp. 58-60, 117-118, 187, and 268.