My Italian Job

I’ve been invited to give a lecture at a ‘festival of history’ – ‘La Storia in Piazza’ – in the Sala del Consiglio Maggiore of the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa next month. The ‘festival’s theme is ‘Imperi’, and they want me to fill the slot on the British Empire. As well as lectures, there will be ‘exhibitions, games, music, songs, etc.’ ‘Audiences have averaged 25,000.’ Gosh! (I imagine that’s overall, not all packed into my lecture.) I’ll be speaking in English, but simultaneously translated into Italian. Of course I accepted – any excuse to revisit Italy! And I’ve never been to Genoa, birthplace of Christopher Columbus. Kajsa is coming with me.

The title they suggested was ‘L’impero britannico: costruito quasi per caso?’ which is fine, and I shall indeed be talking on that theme; but I’ve chosen to call it ‘Brexit and the British Empire’, to make it more topical. I’ve also learned (from Kajsa) how to use PowerPoint, and have found some fun pictures to go with it. If anyone knows of anyone else who’d like to hear it, preferably in an exotic location with all expenses paid, please get in touch.

The problem with this kind of paper is that I can’t be sure of the sort of audience I’ll be meeting. All I’ve been told is that they will be mainly Italians, and ‘non-specialists’. But how non-specialist? What do they know already – or think they know – of the British Empire, and of Brexit? Will they have heard of Cecil Rhodes? Or of Nigel Farage? Will the simultaneous translator be able to convey the subtleties of my text? Or the jokes? Do they understand cricket? Should I poke fun at Silvio Berlusconi? Or at Columbus, even? What will Italian non-specialists expect? I’ve bombed before with this kind of thing. (For example, my talk to those Swedish lawyers: Any decent lecture needs to be constructed not only with regard to its content, but also with the particular composition of its audience in view. It’s important to pitch it right. I finished writing a version yesterday. Now I need to re-jig it with my hazily-conceived Italian audience in mind.

I’ll let you know how it goes; and – if it hasn’t been too much of a disaster – post it on this site after the event.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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