Assessing (and Not Assessing) the Italian Contribution to Historiography and Political Thought

Edited by Giuseppe Galasso, one of Italy's most distinguished historians, this large volume seeks to convey the Italian contribution to historiography and political thought from the dawn of the Middle Ages into the present century, though it is overwhelmingly concentrated on the centuries since 1400. It includes six overview essays, but over 70 percent of its bulk consists of short articles, 108 in all, the vast majority on individual figures, and most of them five to seven pages in length. Whereas the approach, through individual figures, makes the volume especially valuable as a reference work, the approach also entails limitations making it hard to delineate and assess a distinctively Italian contribution. Readers must often connect the dots on their own if they are to discern the strands of a distinctive tradition. In his introductory overview, Galasso suggests a special Italian sensitivity to history, or capacity for the philosophy of history, but the suggestion is left vague and is followed up only in the most ad hoc way in the subsequent essays. The book offers little on how Italian idiosyncrasy might have either compromised or enhanced wider impact. Although the extent of Italian international interaction is well documented, there is little attention to reciprocity and the scope for synergy. Nor is there much assessment of the implications of changes in the valences of that interaction over the centuries, especially in breeding self-criticism and sometimes compensatory myth-making that might have further complicated the resonance of Italian offerings. But the volume demonstrates the richness of the Italian contribution and implicitly invites us to better encompass it, perhaps through comparative work and further research on multinational interplay.