Kirk, Thomas Allison 1962-

views updated

Kirk, Thomas Allison 1962-


Born 1962. Education: European University Institute, Florence, Italy, Ph.D.


E-mail—[email protected]


Scholar, educator, and writer. New York University in Florence, Florence, Italy, adjunct professor of medieval and Renaissance studies; University of Sienna, Sienna, Italy, instructor in English language and academic writing in the faculty of letters.


Genoa and the Sea: Policy and Power in an Early Modern Maritime Republic, 1559-1684, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 2005.


Thomas Allison Kirk teaches medieval and Renaissance studies at New York University in Florence and at the University of Sienna in Italy. Kirk's first book, Genoa and the Sea: Policy and Power in an Early Modern Maritime Republic, 1559-1684, was called "well researched and fluently written" by M. Elisabetta Tonizzi in a review in the Journal of Transport History. In his book, Kirk provides a counterbalance to the numerous studies that have been published which focused on Florence and Venice in the early Mediterranean world. As a result, Kirk offers a unique analysis of the Mediterranean world and the changing relationship between that world and the rest of Europe at a time when sweeping political and economic transformations were taking place.

"British and American works have tended to give pride of place to the republics of Florence and Venice, often to some aspect of the former's turbulence and its transformation into an ‘absolutist’ state in the sixteenth century or to the seemingly eternal stability of the latter," the author writes in the preface to Genoa and the Sea. "Although some effort has been made in the past two decades to redress this bias in more general works dealing with the entire peninsula, all in all the imbalance remains. One of the aims of this study is to contribute to our understanding of the diverse society of early modern Italy."

Genoa and the Sea examines the republic's maritime policy and, in the process, discusses the construction of the standing military fleet, fiscal policy regarding port traffic, shipping policies, and the efforts to increase port traffic and maritime commerce. "Here, political debate, commercial structures, and international relations all come together to form a unique vantage point for observing the transformations taking place in Europe, against the backdrop of European expansion and the ongoing struggle between Spain and France, early modern Christendom's superpowers," the author notes in the book's preface. "Particular attention is given to those projects that in one way or another were put into practice, and especially to the modifications made between formulation and realization. It is precisely these modifications that serve as a key to understanding the priorities set by the men of the day, but they also reveal contemporary perceptions of the social and economic worlds and the ways in which those two worlds interacted."

Overall, Genoa and the Sea discusses Genoa's attempt to evolve in an ever-changing political and economic landscape as it worked to revive shipbuilding and maritime commerce to counterbalance the city's volatile financial interests. Kirk pays special attention to the city's free port policy that was designed to attract merchants and stimulate trade. Noting the author's "surprisingly narrow" focus, Evelyn Welch went on to write in her review in the Historian: "Yet Kirk is able to use the documentation on this debate to develop a discussion on a very important topic: how does a small but potentially economically powerful city-state compete with imperial powers who refuse to recognize its sovereignty?"

As he relates the story of Genoa's transformation into a major European economic center, as opposed to being just another maritime republic, the author clearly illustrates that Genoa was more than a mere satellite state of the House of Habsburg. In the first part of the book, the author focuses on the history of Genoa to the mid-sixteenth century, with an emphasis on the city's political, economic, and institutional affairs. He then focuses on the maritime policies that developed on through to the 1680s. "The picture that emerges is hardly one of stagnation, since Genoa for the whole of the seventeenth century managed to face with success the challenges of a rapidly changing world," noted Niccolo Capponi in the Renaissance Quarterly. The author goes on to analyze how the people of Genoa came to recognize their true place in the world at that time. As noted by the author in the book's preface, this period was "marked by the loss of Genoese illusions regarding the republic's ability to compete militarily with nation-states and national navies." The author adds: "This analysis of events should prove useful to current research on the relationship between the establishment of permanent navies and state building." The book includes maps and figures, an updated bibliography, a detailed list of primary sources, and several appendixes.

The author received many favorable reviews for his unique examination of this era in the Mediterranean basin. "Kirk deftly controls his material and provides a study that accounts for enough factors without overburdening his analysis or confusing his strands of narrative," wrote Joseph P. Byrne in History: Review of New Books. Maria Fusaro noted in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History that the author "provides plenty of food for thought regarding early-modern Italy," adding that the book "hopefully will stimulate more research into how the Italian states confronted their relative political and economic decline."



Kirk, Thomas Allison, Genoa and the Sea: Policy and Power in an Early Modern Maritime Republic, 1559-1684, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 2005.


American Historical Review, April, 2006, Jan Glete, review of Genoa and the Sea, p. 583.

Bookwatch, December, 2005, review of Genoa and the Sea.

Business History Review, winter, 2006, Luisa Piccinno, review of Genoa and the Sea, p. 818.

Choice, April, 2006, D.C. Baxter, review of Genoa and the Sea, p. 1471.

English Historical Review, December, 2007, Gervase Rosser, review of Genoa and the Sea, p. 1402.

Historian, spring, 2007, Evelyn Welch, review of Genoa and the Sea, p. 155.

History: Review of New Books, summer, 2005, Joseph P. Byrne, review of Genoa and the Sea, p. 157.

Journal of Interdisciplinary History, winter, 2007, Maria Fusaro, review of Genoa and the Sea, p. 454.

Journal of Modern History, September, 2007, Francesca Trivellato, review of Genoa and the Sea, p. 690.

Journal of Transport History, March, 2006, M. Elisabetta Tonizzi, review of Genoa and the Sea, p. 161.

Reference & Research Book News, August, 2005, review of Genoa and the Sea, p. 43.

Renaissance Quarterly, spring, 2006, Niccolo Capponi, review of Genoa and the Sea, p. 154.


Johns Hopkins University Press Web site, (May 14, 2008), brief profile of author.

New York University in Florence Web site (May 14, 2008), brief profile of author.