It’s a funny thing, being a historian.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Venice recently. It’s really fascinating. Recently, however, I was watching a TV program about cooking. Well, not watching, exactly – my wife was doing that; I was just sitting in a vegetative state on the sofa, eyes glazed over, passively taking it in. The presenter was talking about Italian food – and then she said that she specially likes a dish from Venice. I then woke up with the thought: is Venice a part of Italy?
Now, I know perfectly well that Venice is indeed in Italy. However, most of its history is not: it has a very distinctive history as a Mediterranean maritime power. If it had affiliations to anywhere, it was to the Byzantine empire. It really only became absorbed into the Italian political and cultural sphere from the end of the Middle Ages – which is getting out of the realm of history and into that of current affairs!
Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. The point is, however, what happened in history is often quite different from what you’d expect to have happened just by looking at the situation now. Which makes the whole thing so darned interesting.
By Peter Britton