A brief biografy

Federigo Melis was born on 14 August 1914 in Florence, and there he died on 26 December 1973. He accomplished his studies at the Faculty of Economy and Commerce in Rome from where, in 1939, he graduated with full marks and honours. He was immediately appointed to assistant lecturer in Accountancy at the same University with the specialization in History of Accountancy. After the war, he resumed studying, completely devoted to the academic activity.

Untill 1948-49 he remained at the Faculty of Economy and Commerce at the University of Rome, where he became lecturer in 1948. At the same University, besides his courses of History of Accountancy, he carried out the courses in General and Applied Accountancy for veterans, as a substitute for the professor.

From 1949-50 he became lecturer in Economic History at the Faculty of Economy and Commerce at the University of Pisa and, from 1952, he also became lecturer in History of Economic Doctrines. From 1953 to 1957, contemporary with his activity in Pisa, he was lecturer in Economic History and Economic Geography at the just instituted Faculty of Economy and Commerce at the University of Cagliari.

In 1957 he won the competitive examination for Professor and he had confirmed the chair at the University of Pisa where, since 1959, he was called to be a member of the Board of Directors and, since 1962, he became Dean of the Faculty.

In 1963 he became professor of Economic History at the University of Florence (where he remained untill his death) keeping the chair in the same teaching at the University of Pisa up to 1970.

His first work, Storia della Ragioneria, which many people said to be a book about the history of the Italian culture in the XIIIth-XVth centuries, took origin from his studies as a young lecturer to prepare his Roman courses. This work pre-announced a new trend and new research methods in the economic history that, in an absolutely original solid way, he was going to introduce in the world historiography context.

The innovation didn't consist just in introducing the statistics-quantitative analysis (even if it met with many resistances among the historians of those times), but chiefly in the fact that, just starting from his experience in accountancy studies, he had the opportunity to understand, better and before others, the significance of a typical very new source for the economic history studies, constituted by a direct documentation from merchant emanation.

Melis was convinced that, in order to improve the knowledge and the interdependence of the historical phenomena, the economic history, which till then availed itself of notarial, literary and legislative sources, could and had to adopt some new autonomous research methodologies, chiefly applied to the firm documentation and accountancy. The incessant long years of work, which marked his life, has been first of all characterized by a methodical examination of an enormous quantity of Tuscan, Italian and European archives sources, the study of which joined into works still considered to be basic for the economic history, as Documenti per la storia economica dei secoli XIII-XVI (a real systematics of the economic history sources), and Origini e sviluppo delle assicurazioni in Italia.

It was just during his passionate research of these sources that he discovered the Datini's exceptional documentary corpus, in the study of which he immersed himself, and for the exploitation of which he devoted a great part of his energies, infusing them into Aspetti della vita economica medievale (studi nell'Archivio Datini di Prato) (1962).

The international DATINI's ARCHIVE Exhibition, prepared by Melis on 1955, met with an extraordinary success (with the presence at its opening of two Presidents of the Republic: the exing one, Luigi Einaudi, and the entering one, Giovanni Gronchi); but it was also the moment, maybe the highest one, of the disputes and the scientific controversies due to the reaction of those who didn't yet completely share his methodological trend, and the new interpretative methods he was introducing in the Italian economic history.

Just on the occasion of this Exhibition, Melis started to consider the hypothesis to realize a research centre for the pre-industrial economic history in Prato, which should give value to the archives of the merchant of Prato, and which should be as an occasion for meeting and confronting among the great specialists in international economic history. In 1968 he made this idea come true by the foundation of the Istituto Internazionale di Storia Economica "F.Datini", for which Melis had the support of Fernand Braudel and of an important group of scholars, who formed the first Scientific Committee.

It is not by chance that, among the purposes of the Datini Institute, there was even the training and supporting young scholars. Since the hardest periods, when he started to assert with difficulty his new research methods, and more when he had already acquired international renown, he devoted a lot of energy to a didactic activity, even outside the university ambiances, showing that, behind his work as an historian, there was a very civil concept of the educational function of the scientist.

The DATINI's ARCHIVE Exhibition and the international Bank History Exhibition, XIIIth-XVIth centuries, realized with a lot of consents on the occasion of the Monte dei Paschi di Siena Vth centenary of foundation, are just two examples, certainly the most significative. Such a lot of initiatives are to be added to them, in which he placed his knowledges at disposal, always conforming his ways to the needs of the audience he was talking to.

A simple look through his bibliography, which is well over a hundred titles, gives just a limited idea of the quantity of general or specific themes he had the way to study.

His stature as an historian of international value, and the innovative exceptional contributions he had brought to the medieval economic history, were confirmed by six Honoris causa doctorates conferred on him by important Universities: Lovanio (Philosophy and Letters, 1967); Rennes (Letters and Human Sciences, 1970); Valladolid (Philosophy and Letters, 1970); Reims (Letters and Human Sciences, 1972); Varsavia (Letters and History, 1973); Paris Sorbonne (Letters and Human Sciences, 1973).

On 12 October 1962, the Town of Prato conferred on him the Honorary Citizenship.

Honoris causa
© Fondazione Istituto Internazionale di Storia Economica "F. Datini"