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First International Napoleonic Society Congress Held in Italy

By J. David Markham

The first Congress sponsored by the International Napoleonic Society was held in Alessandria, Italy, June 21-26, 1997. INS President Ben Weider was the official host of the Congress, and it was through his generous support of the INS that the Congress was possible. The Congress was co-hosted by the Commune of Alessandria, the Province of Alessandria, the NorthWest Military Region, and the Regional Government of the Piemonte. Moreover, numerous other historical societies and business establishments participated, including such well-known names as Michelin and Borsalino. The cooperation of the military district made it possible to hold the Congress in the Cittadella of Alessandria. This was the first civilian event ever held in the Cittadella.

Over forty scholars from around the world, many of them with worldwide reputations, presented papers on a wide range of Napoleonic topics. Participating scholars represented much of the world, including Russia, Eastern and Western Europe, Australia, Israel, and North America.

The Congress was organized and coordinated by INS Executive Vice-President J. David Markham, but the real credit goes to the Italian organizers Vittorio Scotti Douglas (a scholar from Milan) and Giulio Massobrio (Director of the library, archives, and museum in Alessandria). Together, they put on an unparalleled Congress. Each evening, participants were treated to a gourmet meal prepared by a Cordon Bleu chief. There was a music concert and champagne dinner in the courtyard of the Ghilini Palace. And not just any music was played. Several Napoleonic pieces were played, but the highlight was the world premier performance of music composed to be played for a visit by Napoleon. Napoleon's visit was canceled, and the music was thought to be lost. In addition to hearing it in concert for the first time, participants were given a compact disc of the entire concert.

Participants also toured the Museo del Risorgimento in Milan, the town of Lodi, and the museum and battlefield at Marengo. The town of Alessandria made temporary changes to street and plaza names to honor the Congress, and over 90 shopkeepers put sometimes quite elaborate Napoleonic displays in their windows. There was also a fine Napoleonic exhibition sponsored by the museum.

One of the personal highlights for all who attended was the active participation of David Chandler. It was obvious to all that David is well on the road to recovery from his stroke, as he presented analysis of the battlefield and participated in numerous discussions in the sessions.

Another highlight was the presentation of the Marengo Medal of the regional Government to Ben Weider, David Chandler, and David Markham by Count Calvi di Bergòlo. Presented on the grounds of his hereditary Renaissance Castello di Piovera, the medal recognizes the special efforts made to bring knowledge of the region to the world. It was given with full military honors; a night to be remembered.

The proceedings of the Congress will be produced, and made available to INS Fellows within the next year.




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