The Italian Public History Manifesto

This post has been published in three languages, English, German and Italian on September 19, 2019 as “Il Manifesto della Public History Italiana” – The Italian Public History Manifesto – Das italienische Public-History-Manifest, in Public History Weekly 7 (2019) 27, September 19 2019, DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2019-14196

As we know, the social role of historians as experts and potential influencer of contemporary debates because of their knowledge of the past and their critical skills applied to original sources, is challenged today. This is what denounced in 2015 Jo Guldi and David Armitage in a Manifesto that has been widely commented worldwide and translated into Italian.[1]

Digital History as the focal point of the Italian Manifesto

Because of the digital context framing Armitage and Guldi’s reflections, the Manifeste des Digital Humanities discussed collectively five years before during THATCamp Paris in 2010, must also be mentioned here.[2] Digital (public) History overhauls the field of history, revamping traditional ways of dealing with archives and producing academic scholarship and integrates the role of the public into the virtual realm through web practices and projects. Digital (public) History helps modernizing the historical profession with new sap. Similarly to the History Manifesto, an Italian PH Manifesto starts in saying that public history wants to regenerate a public sense of history because, if the past is everywhere, history that makes sense of the past is often absent of public discourses.

Written by the members of the AIPH Steering Committee the Italian PH Manifesto[3], was presented and discussed during the regional PH conference in Piedmont on May 7, 2018, for the first time publicly.[4] After Turin, the draft has been further questioned by members of the association in the AIPH mailing list and Facebook group,[5] and during the June 2018 2nd AIPH Annual Assembly in Pisa.[6] Together with the Italian original, the AIPH published a English translation of the Manifesto’s final text that incorporated some of the comments received.[7] A topic model (tag cloud) of the Manifesto has been generated.[8] The tag cloud “reveals” the large variety of PH practices in the Peninsula.

Fostering Public History in Italy

But who are the Italian Public Historians? Italian public historians often do not know about the discipline; they operate in the cultural market and in public institutions;[9] more recently, trained public historians entered the job market of cultural professions with a master’s degree in public history or in the communication of history.[10] Indeed, the Manifesto claims that there’s a necessity to provide specific skills through “a new university research and teaching area which aims at the formation of Public Historians”, preparing them to different jobs in the public and private sectors, mainly in heritage tourism and in the many areas covered by the Ministry for Heritage and Cultural Activities (MIBAC).[11] The Italian Manifesto recognizes also that Public History promotes and valorizes “innovative and high-quality researches, whose results are obtained through participative practices and methodologies that may consent the emergence of new documents”.

Academic historians participate to public history projects, as consultants to curators in museums and exhibitions, as experts in the media or, when they thwart instrumental and political uses of the past in the media and when they interact with different publics outside the classroom. They perform what is called in Italy, the “third mission”, after teaching and researching.[12] When actively practiced, the third mission becomes an integrated part of the professional activities of academic historians who apply their skills and knowledge of history in society.

Public History helps to publicly understand the present

The Manifesto states that, independently of who’s practising it, what is even more important in making history in public, is the provision of professional skills to the public because “history as critical knowledge and the methodologies of historical research are necessary for the resolution of today’s issues”. Public historians share their historical methods with the public; in doing so, they reinforce a wider critical thinking. They disclose the complexity of history and teach how to evaluate sources and evidences of the past in their context; this critical knowledge, applied within groups and communities, serves the purpose of understanding better the roots of Italian collective memories through the shared authority practice, a method close to how anthropologists work with communities.[13]

      The Public History Manifesto contribute to building a conscious Italian citizenship and avoids walls and divisions between communities, when these communities fear the globalization processes and “otherness”. Public History practices offer occasions and tools for the critical comprehension of historical contexts and of present processes, helping to confront their complexity” and “allows to overcome the fears and prejudices that are multiplying in the contemporary world”. In this case. “Public History is a precious resource for social cohesion, promoting comprehension and the encounter between people of different provenience, of different generations and with sometimes conflicting memories.”

The Italian Manifesto: an Italian path to Public History

The final paragraph of the manifesto deals with the specificity of an Italian tradition confronted to an International discipline.[14]

In Italy, […] both the lesson of oral historians – with their reflections on the concept of “shared authority”, on the value of individual and collective memories and on the processes of their construction – and the lesson of microhistory, that has profoundly innovated historiography starting from the study of circumscribed territorial realities, are essential for Public History. Finally, we cannot forget Italy’s unique experience in managing and enhancing its historical, archival and artistic heritage, unique in the world in terms of architecture, landscape and archaeology.”

It is evident here that an Italian national path to PH results from the history of the development of historical sciences in the country and of the way historical institutions and historians’ practices developed from the 19th century onwards and more specifically after World War II.

Further Reading 

  • Lorenzo Bertucelli: “La Public History in Italia. Metodologie, pratiche, obiettivi”, in Paolo Bertella Farnetti, Lorenzo Bertucelli and Alfonso Botti, (eds.) Public History. Discussioni e pratiche, Milano: Mimesis, 2017, pp 75-96.
  • Agostino Bistarelli, “Il vantaggio dell’arretratezza? Innovazione e tradizione nella via italiana alla public history,” in Italia Contemporanea, n.289, April 2019, pp.97–105, DOI:10.3280/IC2019-289004
  • Mirco Carrattieri, “Per una public history italiana,” in Italia Contemporanea, n.289, April 2019, pp. 106–121, DOI:10.3280/IC2019-289005
  • Serge Noiret, “An overview of public history in Italy: No longer a field without a name”, in International Public History, 2/1, 2019, doi:10.1515/iph-2019-0009

Web Resources 

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[1] Jo Guldi and David Armitage, The History Manifesto, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2014, http://historymanifesto.cambridge.org/files/9814/2788/1923/historymanifesto_5Feb2015.pdf. In Italian see Renato Camurri, Jo Guldi David Armitage: Manifesto per la storia. Il ruolo del passato nel mondo d’oggi, Roma, Donzelli, 2016. (Introduction by Renato Camurri and translation by David Scaffei). For the Italian debate, see “Historians of the world, unite! Tavola rotonda su “The History Manifesto”, di Jo Guldi e David Armitage” in Ricerca di Storia Politica, ottobre 13, 2015, URL: http://www.ricerchedistoriapolitica.it/tavole-rotonde-e-convegni/historians-of-the-world-unite-tavola-rotonda-su-the-history-manifesto-di-jo-guldi-e-david-armitage-2/ and «The History Manifesto»: a discussion, introduction by Serge Noiret, with contributions by Ramses Delafontaine (ed), Quentin Verreycken, Eric Arnesen”, in Memoria e Ricerca, 1/2016, pp. 97-126, DOI: 10.14647/83225;

[2] Marin Dacos: Manifeste des Digital humanities, à THATCamp Paris, May, 18 and 19, 2010, URL: http://tcp.hypotheses.org/318

[3] From then, the Manifesto has been rewritten for their own professional cause, by Italian geographers, also confronted with a social and academic crisis of their discipline, in November 2018. (Manifesto per una “Public Geography”: discutiamone! https://www.ageiweb.it/eventi-e-info-per-newsletter/manifesto-per-una-public-geography-discutiamone/)

[4] Polo del Novecento https://www.polodel900.it/ (Program: https://aiph.hypotheses.org/3009)

[5] AIPH, https://www.facebook.com/groups/associazioneitalianapublichistory/

[6] Metti la storia al lavoro! Seconda Conferenza AIPH, Pisa 11-15 giugno 2018, Book of abstracts della Seconda conferenza AIPH di Pisa, https://aiph.hypotheses.org/7389

[7] Il Manifesto della Public History italiana, https://aiph.hypotheses.org/5442 translated into English as The Italian Public History Manifesto, https://aiph.hypotheses.org/3193

[8] Stefan Sinclair and Geoffrey Rockwell Voyant-Tools has been used for creating the tag cloud, https://voyant-tools.org/

[9] The Manifesto mentions that public historians foster the cultural industry and tourism, through “the promotion of the Italian historical, material and immaterial cultural heritage, in all its forms”, (Il Manifesto della Public History italiana, cit..)

[10] University of Modena and Reggio Emilia: Master in Public History http://www.masterpublichistory.unimore.it/site/home.html; Master on the communication of history (Master in Comunicazione Storica) at the University of Bologna, http://www.mastercomunicazionestorica.it/; Master Comunicare la Storia, Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici dell’Università di Roma 3, http://umanistici.lms.uniroma3.it/comunicarelastoria/master; Master in Public History, Fondazione Feltrinelli, Milano, http://www.fondazionefeltrinelli.it/publichistory/

[11] Ministero per i beni e le attività culturalihttp://www.beniculturali.it/mibac/export/MiBAC/index.html#&panel1-1

[12] “…with the introduction of the Self-Assessment, Periodic Evaluation and Accreditation (AVA) system, the Third Mission is recognized to all effects, as an institutional mission of universities, alongside teaching and research”, Agenzia Nazionale di Valutazione del Sistema Universitario e della Ricerca (ANVUR): Terza Missione e Impatto Sociale di Atenei ed Enti di Ricercahttp://www.anvur.it/attivita/temi/

[12] Francesco Faeta: “Public History, antropologia, fotografia. Immagini e uso pubblico della storia”, in Rivista di Studi di Fotografia, N°5, 2017, pp.52-63, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14601/RSF-21199.

[13] See Thomas Cauvin and Serge Noiret: “Internationalizing Public History”, in James B. Gardner and Paola Hamilton (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Public History., Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2017, pp.25-43; Thomas Cauvin: Public history: a textbook of practice., New York: Routledge, 2016; Serge Noiret “A proposito di Public History internazionale e di uso e abuso della storia nei musei”, in Memoria e Ricerca, n.1, January-April 2017, pp.3-20”, Thomas Cauvin: “The Rise of Public History: An International Perspective”, in Historia Crítica, n.68, 2018, pp.3-26, DOI: https://doi.org/10.7440/histcrit68.2018.01; David Dean and Andreas Etges: “What Is (International) Public History?”, in International Public History, 1/1, 2018, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/iph-2018-0007

 

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