The II International Congress of Historical Sciences was initially planned to have taken place on 16-25 April 1903. Its preparations were entrusted to the President of the Organizing Committee Enrico Teodorico Luigi Giovanni Maria Count San Martino and Valperga, President of St. Cecilia Music Academy in Rome and the city councellor for education. The person directly responsible, however, was the archaeologist Ettore Pais, professor of the Federico II University in Naples and director of the Naples Archaeological Museum, a disciple and friend of Theodor Mommsen. Historian Giacomo Gorrini was the secretary of the Organizing Committee, composed moreover e.g. of archaeologist and architect Giacomo Boni, archaeologist Luigi Ceci, who was the principal opponent of Pais, as well as historians Giovanni Monticolo, Niccolo Barozzi, Guglielmo Berchet, writer and deputy to Parliament Pompeo Gherardo Molmenti, and Count Filippo Nani Mocenigo. The Committee included moreover e.g. sculptor Adolfo Apolloni, lawyer Carlo Fiorilli, senator and diplomat Giuseppe Greppi, economist Francesco Saverio Nitti, and philosopher Benedetto Croce. The hostile approach of the Italian academic community to Pais, regarded as a traitor due to his support of the theories of German scholars concerning the origins of Rome, led to the dismissal of the Committee and the postponing of the organisation of the Congress for indefinite time.
The new Organizing Committee, appointed by the minister of education Nunzio Nasi, was presided by historian, senator and former minister of education Pasquale Villari, appreciated in Italy and internationally as an expert on Girolamo Savonarola and Niccolo Machiavelli. Gorrini was reappointed the Committee’s secretary. The other members were literature scholar Domenico Pietro Antonio Camparetti, politician Paolo Boselli, and historians Oreste Tommasini and Count Ugo Balzani. Two representatives of the ministry of education supervising the work of the Committee were senator and linguist Graziadio Isaia Ascoli and writer and literary critic Alessandro D’Ancona. The Committee, convening for its first meeting on July 10 in the company of representatives of the major scholarly institutions of Italy, presented to King Victor Emanuel III the general draft (concept?) of the new Congress on December 21.
Ultimately, the Congress took place on 1-9 April 1903. Although the number of sections was far smaller than initially planned in 1902 (eight instead of twenty), the agenda was quite extensive. It included not only history and auxiliary sciences, but also a number of other scholarly disciplines loosely tied with the historical sciences. The first section was dedicated to ancient history, epigraphy and classical languages and literatures, the second to medieval and modern history, the third to literary history, the fourth to archaeology, numismatics and the history of art, music and theatre, the fifth to the history of law and socio-economic sciences, the sixth to the history of geography and historical geography, the seventh to the history and philosophy of religion, the eighth to the history of mathematics, physics and medicine. The venue was a former Jesuit building of the Roman College (Collegium Romanum). Only sections four, five and six were held, respectively, at St. Cecilia Academy, the building of the Legal Association (Circolo giuridico) and in the offices of the Italian Geographic Society (Societa geografica italiana).
Scholars could participate actively in two ways, either by delivering rapid communications reporting only the community of historians the most recent developments and discoveries, followed by no debate; and by delivering papers with research proposals and collective editorial projects. Italian was the official language of the Congress. It was spoken not only by the local scholars but also by most of the international speakers, with the exception of the French, who solely used their mother tongue. The section dedicated to classical languages and literatures was conducted in Latin.
By comparison with the previous Congress, the number of participants was truly extraordinary. Out of a total of 2,060 invited guests, it was attended by around 1,500-1,800 participants; 450 of the guests delivered papers. Most were Italians (1,144, who delivered 188 papers), but there was also a large number of Germans (358, with 18 papers), French (194, with 28 papers), citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (97, with 6 papers), the English (74, with 5 papers), Russian subjects (47, with 5 papers), and Belgians (31, with 1 paper). Germany was represented e.g. by a classical philologist Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, who presided over the section dedicated to classical languages and literatures, theologian Adolf von Harnack, lawyer Otto Gierke, rector of Berlin University, and diplomacy scholar Paul Kehr. France was represented e.g. by a classical philologist and medievalist Paul Meyer, geographer Vidal de la Blache, and historian Gabriel Monod, editor of Revue Historique. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was represented e.g. by Ludo Moritz Hartmann, a scholar researching the medieval history of Italy, and Church historian Ludwig von Pastor, director of the Austrian Institute of History in Rome. Lawyer James Bryce came from London while historian and philologist Vasily Ivanovich Modestov from Petersburg.
The launch of the Congress was preceded by a meeting (April 1), during which the details of its inauguration were hammered out. Presidency of the Congress was entrusted to Pasquale Villari, with von Harnack, von Pastor, Meyer, Bryce, and Modestov as his deputies. The honorary presidents included, apart from Italian Minister of Education Nunzio Nasi, Mayor of Rome Prospero Colonna and Minister of Foreign Affairs Enrico Costantino Morin and Theodor Mommsen, who was absent. The Congress was launched on Capitol Hill, in the Conservators’ Palace, in the presence of King Victor Emanuel III and Queen Helen of Montenegro. The session was inaugurated by Mayor Colonna and Minister Nasi, who stressed the universal contribution of Rome and Italy to the human civilisation.
The two were followed by Congress President Villari, who delivered a plenary lecture. The Italian historian observed that while the 19th century was an age of the development of nationalities and emancipation of the working class, the mission of the 20th century would consist in raising the material and intellectual level of people of Africa and Asia. Furthermore, reviling nationalism, Villari stressed that due to their location between America and Russia the countries of Europe should strive to reach an agreement. As to historical disciplines, Villari observed that history is the only true foundation of the social sciences, which are a prerequisite for the understanding of the surrounding world. He moreover called for comparative studies, claiming that one cannot comprehend the history of any nation without a broader perspective, not collaborating with scholars from other countries.
The Congress offered an opportunity to demonstrate the progress of the disciplines that had developed so vehemently in the latter half of the 19th century, such as archaeology, biographical studies, history of culture, and Bible studies. It was also a major stage in the process of departing from historical idealism for the sake of alternative concepts. This is borne out by the statements made by Ludo Hartmann and Benedetto Croce. First and foremost, however, the Congress was a debate forum for the discussion of all kinds of research proposals and projects. Many concerned philology, source texts edition and lexicons. For example, proposals were put forth to carry out work on a set of Latin proper nouns (Felice Ramarino) and on the bibliography of Greek and Latin classics (Remigio Sabbadini). Another proposal called for the establishment of an international team collecting Greek literary papyri (Girolamo Vitelli). Other projects focused on the middle ages, e.g. by discussing the utility of a set of Italian medieval epigraphs (Francesco Novati) and Italian diplomatic documents (Luigi Schiaparelli). In turn, Alessandro D’Ancona suggested the publication of a biographic and bibliographic dictionary of Italians. Some proposals related to paleo-ethnology (Luigi Pigorini) and historical geography (Giuseppe Dalla Vedova). Although not all of the above suggestions were acted upon, the Congress contributed to the debate on various research questions.
Some of the participants presented already published texts or ongoing research and editorial projects. A heated debate among the Italians was triggered by a reprint of a series of chronicles edited by Ludovico Antonio Muratori: Rerum italicarum scriptores. Coming out in the Scipio Lapi publishing house, they were re-edited by Giosue Carducci and Vittorio Fiorini. During the session presided over by the Belgian historian Paul Fredericq, an adoption of a resolution supporting the initiative was proposed in the presence of over 400 participants. However, due to the opposition of the Italian Historical Institute, who according to its bylaws dealt with editing source texts, among others, a call was ultimately accepted commissioning the publication of the text, without specifying the publisher. The debate, apart from Villari, was attended by influential historians from abroad, such as Robert Davidsohn from Gdańsk, an eminent expert on the history of Florence, and Gabriel Monod. The Congress was moreover an event during which scholars advised one another about the most recent archaeological discoveries. For example, Luigi Pigorini provided a meticulous description of the archaeological excavations carried out by a team of Italian archaeologists in Crete.
The Congress meetings were supplemented by a versatile program of accompanying events (exhibitions, concerts, parties). Of special significance was the unveiling on September 2 of a reconstructed map of ancient Rome, Forma Urbis Severiana, made in Rome by Rodolfo Lancini in collaboration with the German Archaeological Institute. An exhibition of the topography of Rome in the Victor Emanuel II Library was launched the very next day. The agenda of accompanying events included moreover a concert of sacred music composed by Italian masters, directed by Raffaelo Terziani, and a mandolin concert in the Coliseum.
The organisers offered a number of sightseeing tours, including to Norma, Sermoneta and the archaeological excavations in Norba. A trip to Sicily was originally planned for September 14-22. According to plan, a cruise ship was to drop anchor in a number of locations on the coastline and the participants were to visit e.g. Messina, Taormina, Catania, Siracuse, and Palermo. On the way back, they were to make stops at Amalfi, Sorrento and on Capri. For lack of a sufficient number of registered participants, however, the tour did not take place.
A lot of attention was paid to the Congress by the Italian press, not only by the newspapers issued in Rome, but also those from other cities. This was due to the support offered to the Congress by the Ministry of Education and interest displayed by the royal couple. The overall assessment of the Congress was favourable, but there were also words of critique. There were reservations as to the extensively broad range of topics and the presence of disciplines indirectly linked with the historical sciences. Due to the predominance of issues related to linguistic and literary studies, the playwright Giuseppe Giacosa complained in Corriere della Sera that the session dedicated to the history of science was not treated seriously enough. Dissatisfaction was expressed about the form of proceedings, i.e. no debates after the statements, as well as the noninnovative character and the local scope of the issues addressed. The opinions expressed by international press varied; they were more critical in Germany and England and rather favourable in France.
The Congress gave rise to 12 volumes of documents, published in the years 1904-1907 by Accademia dei Lincei. Incidentally, the Congress led to individual publications, such as the text of a lecture by Giacomo Boni, delivered during a tour of the Forum Romanum.
Atti del Congresso Internazionale di Scienze Storiche (Roma, 1-9 aprile 1903), vol. 1-12, Roma 1904-1907
„Corriere della Sera”, 1903, nr 60, s. 2, nr 63, s. 1, nr 64, s. 1, nr 90, s. 1, nr 91, s. 2, nr 92, s. 2, nr 93, s. 1, nr 96, s. 2, nr 97, s. 2, nr 98, s. 2, nr 113, s. 1, nr 188, s. 1
K.D. Erdmann, Die Ökumene der Historiker. Geschichte der Internationalen Historikerkongresse und des Comité International des Sciences Historiques, Göttingen 1987