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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: May 2018

“Maltese Maritime Historiography: A Critical Assessment“

from Contributions-Dummy


The most striking feature of the literature on Malta's maritime history is that it has been almost totally monopolized by naval and commercial themes to the exclusion of a wide range of other important matters about the relationship between people and the sea. As a consequence, a substantial part of this essay will centre on publications in these two fields of inquiry, which have in common both similar perceptions of the sea's role in geopolitical events and a spatial focus on Valletta's Grand Harbour, the principal port of the small Maltese archipelago.

Equipped with a critical historical approach, and drawing on postcolonial and other theoretical perspectives, this paper will identify the key notions and methods that characterize the geo-strategic model adopted by traditional Maltese maritime historians. The works under review are marked by a “history from above,” male-gendered approach that is largely Eurocentric. These preconceived notions pervade the bulk of the literature and exemplify Edward Said's claim that cultural practices, discourses and texts cannot be separated from the structures and relations of power. The dominant power arrangements have decisively affected the selection of both the themes and the spatial focus to an astonishing degree, excluding groups such as fishers and those who live outside the Grand Harbour area. The spatial focus highlights privileged views of the past and excludes certain social groups, leading to a conventional history that is replete with “cultural prejudices,” or what Pierre Bourdieu has called “the cultural arbitrary.” This practice of selection nourishes and reproduces the already entrenched geo-strategic model of history as the sole “regime of truth” - the commonsense view of Maltese maritime history. This totalising view of the past projects Malta's colonially-constructed, maritime-frontier function in defence of Western European civilisation as a “natural,” all-determining law of history. More recently, the dominant post- Cold War discourse has reaffirmed and validated the view of the island's history as a frontier within the Western European defence system. In the fashionable discourse of Samuel P. Huntington, Malta therefore could be construed as lying on one of the major “fault lines between Civilisations” which “will be the battle lines of the future.“

Even a cursory review of the historiography of this model demonstrates the presence of the geopolitical perspectives of at least two rival European colonial powers with direct interests in the occupation of Malta in modern times.