italian version

Oral Sources and Archives: Projects, Personal Histories, Proficiency and Passion
review by Nadia Truglia

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I believe that the palpable enthusiasm among scholars of Human Sciences who met in Poggibonsi (SI) on the 20th-21st April was due in part to the powerful title of the book that was presented at the conference setting the tone for the entire event. “I custodi delle voci” is a meaningful title for all who are interested in oral and intangible heritage: from academics who work with oral sources to scholars who resist the practice of the throwaway and who, having discovered, studied and written about  the “voices”, have subsequently become their loving  guardians.
A pressing pace marked the day and a half of work. The presenters of the afternoon of the 20th were the curators of the book, local administrators (Commune of Poggibonsi and Region Tuscany) and various representatives of Oral Archives Tuscany All were united by their firm conviction that collecting, preserving and valorizing of oral sources is not only advisable but highly desirable because of their powerful cultural and social value. To this end, Pietro Clemente as well as Gian Bruno Ravenni strongly affirmed the need for serious and constant commitment from local Administrations in the stewardship of archives, museums and libraries, all of which are now recognized by the Code for Cultural Assets and the scientific community as effective instruments of cultural policy and social inclusion.
Such considerations on cultural policies that concern (or should concern) oral sources archives framed the following animated discussion, coordinated by Natalia Cangi of the Archivio Diaristico Nazionale di Pieve S. Stefano (Arezzo) with the participation of the representatives (founders or directors) of some of the most important oral archives in Tuscany. The various testimonies (space allows me to cite only a few examples) portrayed the current situation of oral archives by describing the “life story” of each one. Thus, Francesco’s intervention (the people of Nomadelfia Archives prefer to use their first names) drew the participants’ attention to an impressive archives for the documentation of the religious community founded by Don Zeno, and emphasized the value of its management. Ivan Della Mea, Istituto Ernesto de Martino, went over the past of this memorable archives (for oral history and Italian anthropology) from the 1960s up to now, describing an almost mythic,voluntary migration towards the South (from Milan to Sesto Fiorentino). He added that despite titanic efforts to carry on the collection work of founder Gianni Bosio, this archives is currently at risk of being closed down and accused the society of careless naivety.
Equally welcome were the contributions of collectors who operate on a smaller scale, like Mario Catastini. A former elementary school teacher, he has collected 1091 audio records on the life of his same village: births, funerals, market purchases and fights etc, from 1961 up to now.  It is a unique archives that grew out of a strong desire for human contact: “….I bought the recorder to preserve the voices of my parents, to make them eternal, to always have them with me, and with the Geloso (a recording device named after its inventor) I worked this miracle because I could hide it and its microphone was extremely sensitive. I would put it under the table and then deliberately set them off, which was quite easy. It was enough to mention that my dad had come home later because he had probably stopped at the local inn. So they would start to quarrel and it was very satisfying for me. In the beginning, I bought it only as an instrument to preserve my parents’ and my other relatives’ voice […] it wasn’t until the 1970s, when I started to visit current historical archives, that I used my recorder as an essential instrument to reconstruct the identity of the communities where I worked as a teacher.”
  Oral archives usually collect materials produced, for the most part, by historians and anthropologists during their field research. The morning of the 21st, began with a reflection on the research carefully observing the dialogue between the researcher and the interviewee. Elena Bachiddu elaborated on the significant experience of the most important magazine in our field, Lares (a four-monthly magazine of anthropologic studies) and of her experiments in transcribing oral sources onto paper. Valentina Zingari, speaking partly of her French experience, gave spatial and conceptual points of view, describing projects of museums built on the foundation of  some oral collections. My contribution “Vincenzo Agnoni, detto Scorzone, 86 anni, pastore, Cori” was a reflection on problems, including the ethical, connected to the research of oral sources, and raises the following query: given that this type of research has a rational, dialogic nature, is it possible to sketch out cognitive parameters beforehand or, is it better to let each single testimonial unfold without the presence of a preconstructed frameworks? Eleonora Censorii’s contribution introduced the theme of popular theatre; Francesco Zanotelli’s presentation covered business development in the area of Poggibonsi; Fabio Malfatti illustrated the potential of Transana software for the analysis of audio data, while Elio and Lucio Varriale showed parts of their videos that portray a private family archives. Maria Lai, an noteworthy artist from Sardinia who I was lucky to meet in Rome a recent conference (“Il museo verso una nuova identità”, organized by Marisa Dalai), offered this thoughtful comment: at the beginning of the visitors’ path in every museum, she would like to place a sign with a sentence that her Italian teacher used to say frequently when reading poetry: “It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand. Just follow the rhythm.” In the same way, the variety of talks, discussions and other contributions of a conference also leave their mark when they are neither banal nor merely reassuring.
In the afternoon, the microphone was given to the representatives of different archives, invited by Pietro Clemente, coordinator of the round table, to express their point of view regarding the SIMBDEA proposal to create a federation of cultural institutions; an association of associations, inviting oral source archives to join SIMBDEA in view of possible convergences of practical, technical interests, as well as cultural and social missions. Clemente invited them to reflect on the fact that “given the type of work we do, we are in some way brothers, cousins associable in a project I would sum up with Don Dilani’s words: to solve a problem alone is greed; to solve it together is politics”. Each participant at the round table gave a brief history of the institution they represented in what seemed to me to be a strong declaration of identity (and the desire not to give it up). Nevertheless, they all responded positively to Clemente’s invitation, to take into consideration the possibility of changing their statute. Only time will tell whether Clemente’s definition of, citing the words of Walter Benjamin, “the childhood of an event” will lead to future development. Nevertheless, I would like to underline the presence of a widespread (albeit cautious) desire to leave behind such rigid and pointless disciplinary boundaries.  
It seems relevant here to mention the central points of the debate between Giuseppe Paletta and Pietro Clemente. Dr. Paletta encouraged the audience to consider enterprise as both community and culture, and expressed his hope for heuristic approaches to further study, not only historical but instead linked to anthropological methodology (i.e. studies on the imaginary, on symbolism, representation and so on). Clemente responded by thanking Paletta, adding that, “from his words comes the appeal to enlarge the anthropological consciousness of modern times”. These hopes are received with enthusiasm by those who are tired of anachronistic narrow-mindedness in the discipline (of records preservation).
 To conclude, the conference imparted a healthy sense of openness by promoting firm connections between historians and anthropologists, scholars and administrators, academies and enterprises, museums and archives. The common thread that binds all participants is, of course, oral sources, regardless of how they are studied or used. Now it’s the voices themselves that should become the guardians.

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