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For Feruccio Berolo, ballet dancer and ballet master, who loved Venice so much; my friend who was one of Venice's first victims of Covid-19.
It is a great pleasure to write the word; but I am not sure there is not a certain impudence in pretending to add anything to it. Venice has been painted and described many thousands of times, and of all the cities of the world is the easiest to visit without going there.
I am a historian of Venice. Since the mid-1980s, I have spent a lot of time in the Venetian state archives. In recent years I have barely crossed their threshold. I have stopped researching the city's past. I have, instead, spent a decade and a half researching what other historians said about Venice's past. Rarely does a day pass when I do not spend some time pondering what scholars wrote about the Republic of Saint Mark. Most of what they wrote is repetitive and dull. Historians spend a lot of time taking in each other's washing. They often launder it badly; sometimes they deliberately stain or tear it; sometimes they are just careless when it comes to folding. In the trade this is called historiography.
The Venetian Republic came to an end suddenly in 1797. Contrary to what many long-dead historians wrote, and a lot of living ones – unthinkingly and incorrectly – echo, the Most Serene Republic did not expire because of a century or so of decadence and decline. A myth persists that Venice's ruling elites had become effete and effeminate by the eighteenth century; that the men who ran Venice were either inflexible relics of a faded glory, or fops, addicted to coffee and gossip, the whorehouse and the gaming table. But repetition does not equate to fact. When Venice fell, it was a vigorous imperial power: to the west its territories stretched almost to Milan, encompassing the rich and populous mainland territories of the Po Valley; to the east, they reached deep into the Julian Alps, and down the Dalmatian Coast. In the 1790s, the winged lion still lurked, carved protectively into the walls of Adriatic ports; the Venetian gonfalone, the symbol of St Mark fluttered over the smattering of Greek islands that the Ottomans had never managed to seize.
In contrast to the largely critical historiography on the Italian portion of the system established at the Congress of Vienna, this chapter argues that most Italians were happy to see the establishment of a Habsburg hegemony, in part as the main driver for reform within the peninsula. Moreover, the major European powers welcomed the Austrians as guarantors of stability in a traditionally contested area, where unrest or international rivalry risked triggering European war. Confronted with Catholic majorities or significant Catholic minorities in most major European states, it was considered crucial within the new climate of collective security to defend the Papacy, while simultaneously encouraging successive Popes to forestall domestic unrest through adopting more progressive politics. The Vienna Settlement in Italy should not be viewed teleologically as a failure, but rather as yet another example of cooperation between states.
Christopher Duggan made extensive use of the correspondence of the American Times journalist William James Stillman in writing his important biography of Francesco Crispi. This article focuses on Stillman’s published works that deal with the Italian statesman, principally his 1898 history of Italy since 1815, the first and only English-language biography of Crispi until Duggan’s, and the journalist’s own autobiography. It argues that, despite Stillman’s much vaunted love for Italy, he in fact despised most Italians, and saw in Crispi’s virtues a rejection of typical Italian conduct. While Stillman was extreme but not altogether unusual among British and American commentators on Italy in his passionate support for Crispi, his contempt for Italians was surprisingly widespread among late Victorian observers of the new nation.
The history of the Habsburg Empire in the post-Napoleonic era is frequently approached from the perspective of its various component nationalities. These were traditionally portrayed in the historiography as engaged in more-or-less open struggle with control from Vienna. This article argues that the over-privileging of such national categories can distort the picture. By looking at a number of case studies – the naming of Lombardy-Venetia, the Biblioteca italiana, the Panteon veneto – the relationship between Venice (and its Terraferma) and Habsburg rule during the second Austrian domination is examined. It will be argued that it is more profitable to see Venetian identities (municipal, local, Italian, and as part of a wider transnational European culture) as capable of working for as well as against the empire, and that Habsburg policy was as often concerned with managing potential local rivalries (notably between Lombards and Venetians) as with controlling a perceived Italian threat. It is also suggested that, while cultivation of local identity was often used to reinforce the national, the Austrian authorities were also happy to annex both to further imperial interests.
This article examines Austrian policy towards the Italian states from the Congress of Vienna to the revolutions of 1848. It argues that the paramount concern of Habsburg policy was not revolution, but rather the maintenance of a hegemonic position in the peninsula against threats from the Habsburgs’ traditional enemy - the French. Revolution caused significant concern only because it might provide the French with a pretext for intervention in the peninsula. Consequently a number of strategies were adopted both to forestall insurrection (vigorous policing, encouraging moderate reform programmes, armed intervention), and to retain influence over the peninsula's rulers (diplomatic pressure, dynastic and military alliances, promises of assistance against unrest). However, by the 1830s the Austrians were faced by increasing challenges to their position of dominance. This was in part because of the personal ambitions of individual Italian rulers, but it also reflected the changing situation in Paris after the July Revolution, and in Vienna after the death of Francis I.
Much recent historiography has adopted a revisionist approach to Habsburg policy in restoration Italy, jettisoning the ‘black legend’ which long surrounded Austrian rule of Lombardy-Venetia. Nevertheless the Habsburg police still tend to be portrayed as essentially repressive, constantly preoccupied with the threat of revolution. This case study of the police in the Venetian provinces during the reign of Francis I challenges such a view. It looks first at the problem of establishing forces of law and order in the aftermath of Napoleonic rule, demonstrating how under-funding conservatism and a desire for uniformity with the rest of the empire meant that the Venetian constabulary was often ill-suitedfor the prevention of crime. Then follows an examination of the part played by the police in the administrative machine. This emphasises a number of roles performed by higher-ranking police officials and the secret police, and suggests their major concerns were not merely with the threat of revolution, but with gathering information essential for efficient government, and with maintaining a watchful eye over other branches of the bureaucracy. These in turn contributed considerably to the efficiency of Habsburg rule and the remarkable political passivity of the Venetian provinces in this era.