The Malta Independent 25 September 2023, Monday
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Discussing further rupture

Sunday, 17 September 2023, 08:40 Last update: about 10 days ago

written by Mark A. Sammut Sassi

'Further Ruptures: A Historical Perspective - Proceedings of History Week 2021'

Edited by: Noel Buttigieg and George Cassar

Published: Malta, 2023 (The Malta Historical Society)

Pages: 56


Further Ruptures: A Historical Perspective - Proceedings of History Week 2021 is an addendum to Rupture: A Historical Perspective - Proceedings of History Week 2021, reviewed last week. It contains three papers.

I shall follow the same approach as for the first part of the Proceedings, kicking off with the defects. Like the first part, this volume too would have benefitted from an index, short biographies of the participants and an abstract for each paper - defects that can be easily remedied in the next History Week Proceedings. A more obstinate defect to correct is the integration of words written in Arabic script within a broader text all written in Latin script. The Arabic text on page 28 is a series of letters, not words, as the software must have read it from left to right (as in Latin) rather than right to left (as should be in Arabic). The resultant effect is that the letters making up the words and the words themselves are in the wrong order. They aren't a mirror image, however, as the form of the letters is incorrect.

The first of the three papers deals with the rupture(s) the Suez Crisis (1956) caused in Malta and, to a certain extent, the rest of the British Empire. André P. Debattista's take is blended: part history, part political science. The end result is extraordinary: informative, unbiased, flowing and clear. The paper is an insightful analysis - short and to the point - of the Maltese, Mediterranean, imperial, and international pressures on the rupture that happened in 1956-58, which, following Mintoff's botched attempt to integrate Malta constitutionally with the United Kingdom, had the ultimate effect of speeding up Malta's Independence process. The paper blends historical detail with scientific analysis: a true pleasure for the intelligent reader.

The editors wisely put George Cassar's paper on Malta's quest to join the European Union exactly after Debattista's paper. It is evident to the intelligent reader that the editors intended each rupture (Integration-Independence and EU membership) to counterbalance the other. The thematic juxtaposition works out exquisitely. The ordering of different texts within a compilation is commonly treated as a fruitful subject of study.

Take Biblical Studies, for instance: great significance is attached to the ordering of books in the Protestant Bible as compared to the Catholic version. It is evident that I'm not suggesting that the ordering of the papers in the Proceedings has the same hermeneutical significance as the ordering of Scriptures - I'm simply pointing out the fact that ordering impacts the interpretation of the contents. This surely applies to these Proceedings.

Unlike Debattista's paper, Professor Cassar's paper lacks the political science dimension - but it is a faithful, albeit not unbiased, historical account of the long and winding road leading to Malta's EU membership. The author roots for the pro-membership current, but I do not find this objectionable from either the methodological angle or any other angle. This stylistic juxtaposition too (Debattista's dry, scientific approach and Professor Cassar's quasi-partisan approach) works well, as it showcases two different though equally valid approaches to history-writing. It is acceptable to write history and take a stance - the important thing is to declare such a stance or at least make it obvious so that the reader can discern it. Writing in the review History and Theory in 2000, Professor C. Behan McCullagh argued that "it is not detachment that is needed, but commitment to standards of rational inquiry". Applying this guideline to Professor Cassar's paper, I find that indeed the author was not detached, but he did commit his historical analysis to high standards of rational inquiry. Indeed, despite the constraints of brevity, Professor Cassar's paper manages to capture and portray the more salient moments of that saga of a generation ago.

The third and last paper, penned by Noel Buttigieg, is the most original of these Proceedings. It is not what one would usually expect from "history". It's a short paper in which the author records for posterity the results of a survey carried out to gauge ruptures, if any, in the culinary habits of the Maltese as a reaction to the Covid pandemic and lockdown. The idea was obviously ingenuous and the results highly interesting as they document the stresses and anxieties felt during those terrible months of rupture. The author theorises on the return to "normality" upon the end of the pandemic - though one should "plan not for a 'new' normal but for a 'better' normal" (p. 55).

Like the first part of the Proceedings, the second part too is a valuable addition to Melitensia collections and history buff libraries.

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