An astonishing project is under way to build a “digital time machine” that will show us in fine detail the lives of ordinary Venetians across a thousand years of history. It is made possible by the persistence of the republic’s bureaucracy, which, when Napoleon extinguished the Republic of Venice in 1797, left behind 80km of shelving full of records of births, deaths, trades, building, land ownership, private letters, ambassadors’ reports and even medical information. All this is now to be digitised, cross-referenced, and analysed, and all its secrets laid bare to provide a picture in unprecedented richness and detail of the lives of individuals and the development of society over many centuries. Obviously, this is wonderful for historians and indeed anybody with an imagination alive today. One wonders, though, what the Venetians would have made of it, had they known their lives and letters would be so carefully anatomised after their deaths.