Women, Family, and Society in Medieval Europe: Historical Essays, 1978-1991

By David Herlihy; A. Molho | Go to book overview

MY LIFE IN THE PROFESSION

I would first of all like to express my gratitude to Professor Bolelli, to the Galileo Galilei Prize Foundation, and to the Italian Rotary Clubs for the great honour shown me today.

I have been asked to reflect very briefly on the reasons why I chose to study the economic and social history of Italy in the Middle Ages. Today, looking back over more than thirty-five years of research, I can easily give answers. It is less easy to explain why, as a young student, I entered upon the path that I have followed.

There are four reasons why today I do what I do: the dazzling wealth of Italy's historic tradition; the importance of the Middle Ages within that tradition; the special interest of economic and social history; and the extraordinary documentary wealth of the Italian archives.

It is hardly necessary for me to emphasise, before this audience, the wealth of the Italian historical experience. This is the capital country for two institutions that have powerfully shaped Western civilization: the ancient Roman empire and the Latin Christian Church. The art of the Italian Renaissance redirected and reeducated the aesthetic tastes of Europe. Its thought and philosophy of the same period taught all Europeans to look at themselves, their societies and their social institutions in novel ways. This list of achievements could easily and endlessly be enlarged.

I have often wondered how it was that this peninsula came to play so large a role in European cultural history. Here are a few, unformed thoughts.

Italy was and is a land poorly endowed by nature. But that poverty may also have given a psychological stimulus to its peoples. To compensate for material deprivation, these peoples were per-

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