Part I: The Italian States before Unification
Lights and Shadows
In 1967 Luigi De Rosa noted that maritime history in Italy, particularly relating to economic aspects such as ports, transport, insurance and so on, has never been abundant, even on the Middle Ages, one of the periods most studied by economic historians of the Italian peninsula and islands. Thirty years later not much had changed when Paolo Frascani noted the slow progress in the field and deplored the lack of attention to relevant sources and documents. Even today, maritime history continues to play a secondary role in Italian historiography, while innerable documents on the Italian states during the modern age remain unexplored. Yet in recent decades a number of changes have been progressively shaping maritime history so that it
does not deal with res gestae and distinguished and successful figures, but rather with millions of unknown and insignificant seamen, merchants and shipbuilders; cargoes of salted fish, wheat, timber, and colonial products; and slaves and emigrants: in short, with all the men and merchandise that made up the economies of the lands facing the ocean, as well as with all those who every day wrote and are still writing the history of the sea.
These topics are, indeed, becoming more popular among the Italian scholars who research maritime activities in the Italian states before Unification (1861). The new topics now emerging are not only due to research by individual scholars but even more important to the inter-disciplinary studies, conferences and workshops which deal with different aspects of maritime history. The conference on Peoples of the Mediterranean Sea, held in Naples in 1980, marked a turning point in the study of various aspects of Mediterranean life in the modern age (ships, seamen, merchants, trade, fishing, etc.). In the same decade, renewed attention was given to both the symbiotic relationship between port and town in the meeting on “Port Cities in the Mediterranean“ (Genoa, 1985) and to ports conceived as the core of economic activity at the conference on “Ports as an Economic Enterprise” (Prato, 1987).
Ports in central and southern Italy between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries were also considered from an innovative perspective due to inter-disciplinary research carried out by historians of architecture and of economics.