[During the 2021/2022 academic year, the Gramsci center for the humanities took part in an academic project of the University of the Republic of San Marino entitled The San Marino Political Archives: census, digitization, fruitionCoordinated by Luca Gorgolini (Unirsm), by Michele Chiaruzzi (Unibo; Unirsm), and by our director, Massimo Mastrogregori, the project availed itself of the scientific advice of a research group … Continue reading.
The final outcome of this work will be the publication of a Guide to the recorded archives of personalities and political parties, enriched with more detailed theoretical insights, which will act as a first indispensable tool for accessing the heritages existing on the territory of the Republic; alongside this, as Gramsci center, we have tried to reflect on the formulation of a proposal for the digitization of the identified material, which would provide for its fruition and wider valorizationA video mockup of the portal can be accessed at this link..
In our perspective, however, the occasion was also valuable to set up an initial general study of the different possibilities and forms of transferring, rendering and fruition of archival records in the digital environment. Attention to how the digital revolution is changing the ways in which culture and knowledge are produced, processed, and consumed, in its various declinations, is in fact one of the directives guiding the work of our center since its foundation.
The first fruit of this reflection will be four releases, curated by Andreas Iacarella, which will take the form of an attempt to deepen dialogue and reflection on a theme that appears as urgent as ever to solicit. We are certain that the technical and scientific nature of the discourse cannot be eluded, and that therefore the debate will have to be increasingly brought into a dimension of extreme interdisciplinarity, involving all the actors involved: professionals in communication, knowledge design, information technology, specialists in cultural heritage (archivists, librarians, curators, etc.), as well as historians, art historians and all those categories of scholars who represent the traditional users of archives. The different knowledges will have not only to talk to each other, but to intertwine, to hybridize, certainly losing something of their specificities, to the advantage, however, of a more advanced design of archival digital environments, which can become a vanguard in the construction of the common memory of the communities of reference. With this in mind, what we want to offer is but a small critical contribution to the discussion, with the presentation of some general problems and issues, in the hope that this may provoke further reflection.
Summary of the episodes:
2. Archives in the network: strategies and models
a. From online inventory to digital library: comparing experiences
b. Constructing a narrative: the paths of history on the web
a. The archives of Italian political parties and the challenge of the internet: a bumpy ride
b. Letters and commercials: two successful cases of valorization
c. From Archivi del Novecento to 9centRo: network experiences compared
In the previous episode we tried to illustrate some of the problems and potentials encountered in the digitization of cultural heritage, taking the term in its broadest sense. We will now begin to approach in a particular way the world of archives, identifying through some Italian examples the most adopted types of digital rendering of archival records and their respective limitations.
It becomes clear how the choice of the mode of publication on the web of documents or archival complexes always depends also on the tools adopted, the tool is never neutral, and in this sense the discourse would need a more distinctly technical investigation. In this contribution, however, we will limit ourselves to reasoning from the perspective we have set ourselves, limiting ourselves to presenting some general problems, postponing a dialogue with other professionals to another occasion.
We can basically identify two broad types: a more “neutral” presentation, in which each user can search for documentation for himself within his original organization, as is the case in the archives, or a narrative, the structuring of a path of meaning.
a. From online inventory to digital library: comparing experiences
The digitalized inventory
With respect to the first type, the simplest form that can be encountered is the one that reproduces online the organization of the fund, its inventory in essence, in the form of an archival tree: the user can navigate between the different partitions (series, subseries, files, etc.), read their respective descriptions and, eventually, access the images, which are attached to the descriptions. A good example of this, in its essentiality, is the portal of the Historical Archives of the Senate of the Republic, which brings together the complexes held directly by the Senate and some belonging to external institutions linked by agreements with the Historical Archives. From the main page the user can locate the fund of his or her interest, access the description and archival introduction, and, if it has been digitalized, the fund’s inventory, available in the form of a navigable tree. The portal also offers the possibility of a term search, either free or advanced, in the fonds as a whole, limited, however, to the headwords present in the titles and descriptions of the various units or the indexed names, as well as the dates. Digital images of the documents, when present, are attached in pdf format to the unit description sheet.
It seems immediately clear how such a tool is useful for scholars, allowing consultation of the papers without going to the preservation institutions, but communicates little to a general user. On the other hand, the essential indexing (by entities, anthroponyms, toponyms, etc.) and the lack of transcription of acquired documents make navigation rather cumbersome. The fundamental merit of this type of operation is certainly that of maintaining a strict adherence with respect to the way the documentation is organized in the archives, which allows at least in part to safeguard the context of originOn the importance of context for archival documentation see S. Vitali, Order and Chaos: Google and the Art of Memory, in A. Spaziante (ed.), The future of memory: the transmission of cultural … Continue reading.
Audiovisual in digital
The same model seems to be adhered to by the online portal of the Audiovisual Archive of the Workers’ and Democratic Movement (AAMOD)Both facilities, both that of the Senate of the Republic and that of the AAMOD, are realized through tools of the company Regesta.exe, xFea in the first case, xDams in the second.. Of the vast patrimony preserved by the AAMOD, the film/video library, the paper archives and part of the photo library are accessible online; the first two can be consulted through a digital catalog that adheres to essentially the same structure seen for the Senate archives. That is, the possibility is offered of browsing the tree of the different fonds, more or less in depth, and of accessing the archival descriptions of the various partitions, from the fonds to the individual units, as the case may be; digitizations of the originals can be attached to the individual objects, in pdf if they are documents, in the form of Youtube videos integrated with the description if they are audiovisual material. In addition to this, the free search extended to the entire holdings allows the documentation to be retrieved according to different access keys (people, places, producing subject, etc.) or recurring headwords in the title or description of the object. Note that in this case the advanced search also contemplates, limited to the video library part, an entry “themes,” which is particularly valuable for users; besides, this additional access key does not seem to rest on the creation of a thesaurus or an ad hoc reasoned subject index. Compared to the Senate archives, in this case the search keys for themes, places, people are well highlighted already at the first access to the pageIn the search column, on the right, the items with the most occurrences for each typology are listed.; at the basis of this choice there is surely a greater attention on the part of the institution with respect to a non-specialist public, an attention that also appears to be closely linked to the different nature of the archives preserved. The immediate impact of audiovisual documents on a generalist audience is certainly very strong, especially in case they touch on themes or personalities that belong to the political and civil imagination of a nationConfirming this impression, the videos that have the highest number of views on AAMOD’s YouTube page are: “The Farewell to Enrico Berlinguer,” with 73,403 views; … Continue reading.
The digital library
Still partly preserving adherence to the original organization of documents, a more advanced form of presentation of funds is on the model of digital libraries. This term is now understood to mean “complex, networked systems used for communication and collaboration of entire communities, wherever distributed”S. Giannini, “Archives, libraries and possible communication: the role of technology,” Archives, X, 2 (2015), p. 98.; they bring together collections of materials, both analog and digital, stored in libraries, archives, museums, etc., and offer users a unified point of access to documents and different services. It is clear, then, how these facilities already constitute an appropriate framework in the direction of that interoperability we mentioned in the first installmentSee M. Agosti, N. Ferro, G. Silvello, “Methodological and architectural proposal for distributed and shared management of digital document collections,” Archives, II, 2 (2007), pp. 51-73..
The focus of digital libraries appears to be on servicesOn this topic, see D. Segoni, “The services offered by a digital library,” DigItalia, XVI, 1 (2021), pp. 38-62. and on knowledge sharing, in fact they “aim to be both repositories of various forms of knowledge and the means through which citizens can access, discuss, evaluate and enrich different types of information content, including with reference to the preservation, enhancement and dissemination of cultural heritage”M. Agosti, N. Ferro, “Interoperability between digital library systems,” DigItalia, V, 1 (2010), p. 96..
The ICAR case.
An example of this kind in Italy is the Digital Archive of the Central Institute for Archives (ICAR), a platform that represents a unified access point to the digitized heritage preserved by the State Archives and the Archival and Bibliographic Superintendencies that have joined the project and their descriptions. The holdings can be explored either by institution or fund to which they belong, recalling the inverted tree hierarchical structure already evoked, or through ad hoc user searches on the entire holdings; these can be simple, by keywords, which are retrieved in all fields of the descriptive layout, or advanced. The latter mode allows particularly targeted searches, allowing results to be filtered by chronological extremes, by complexes, and by archival and documentary units (with all the specific parameters involved).
The software metaFADSee L. Cerullo, A. Raggioli, “metaFAD. Sistema di gestione integrata dei beni culturali”, DigItalia, XII, 1/2 (2018), pp. 110-119., which with its metadata structure allows management, description and cataloging of assets of different nature, from archival to art collections; the tool was born with the idea of a complete interoperability between different types of materials, and therefore of descriptive standards, an objective achieved only partially, with the different thematic domains appearing rather juxtaposed to each other.
In fact, the potentiality of building collections or sequences different from the original organization does not seem to be much exploited in the portal in question, in which in addition to access by fond/complex/archival unit and free search, the possibility of exploring the holdings by digitization project, by producing subject, by preserving subject is offered, thus always remaining within archival-type classifications, which communicate little to a non-specialist audience. What is certainly most interesting is that this way of publishing content allows collaboration and sharing by different institutions, which is valuable in a dispersed preservation landscape like the Italian one, and at the same time opens digital archives to national and international aggregators (Cultural Internet, National Archival System, Europeana, etc.), mvoing in the direction of the Linked Open Data paradigm.
Dialogue with users
From a user perspective, the ICAR portal remains unintuitive, as mentioned above, for those not already familiar with archival research, underscoring that its target audience of choice remains scholars and students. With respect to this type of user, the certainly most interesting aspect is the tools offered for viewing digitizations. A digital image of the content is associated with the description of each documentary unit; in the portal viewer this can be modified (rotated, manipulated with respect to brightness, contrast, etc.), annotated in various forms, compared with other images, placed side by side, and finally links can be created to share specific portions of the image.
Another relevant aspect, with respect to the dialogue with users, is how through this type of tool the operational logic behind the processing of cultural property is changedCataloging, metadata, digitization, and publication are not only integrated into a single ecosystem, but are functions of a continuously unfolding iterative process,” which can therefore be … Continue reading. Digitization and management no longer appear as separate operations, but closely interconnected.
Also within the same model, the Digital Pole of Cultural Institutes of Naples is particularly interesting. Realized through the collaboration of five institutesChapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro, Benedetto Croce Library Foundation, Italian Institute for Historical Studies, Pio monte della misericordia, Neapolitan Society of Homeland History., it was the context for the creation and testing of the metaFAD toolL. Cerullo, “The Digital Pole of the Cultural Institutes of Naples,” DigItalia, X, 1/2 (2015), pp. 102-121..
The decision to develop an integrated tool for the cataloging, management and digital use of the library, archival and artistic assets that make up the heritage of the institutes was dictated by the desire to allow more historically contextualized access to highly interconnected complexes. Again, the platform thus makes it possible to unify the different operations and to collect on a single database the records related to the different materials (bibliographic, manuscript, museum, etc.)For technical specifications see the ICAR page dedicated to the project., while preserving the diversity of descriptive tracks.
In its visual appearance, the portal has a more user-friendly layout than ICAR’s. The main page provides access to the list of institutes and their owned digital collections, presented through some representative images. Also shown in the foreground are the “new documents” acquired, as well as the services that the user, after registering for the portal, can request remotely: consultation, digitization and purchase of digital copies of materials.
Searches can be conducted at various levels: on the entire holdings, by simple search keys (“Who,” “What,” “When,” or in all descriptive fields), limited to one or more types of documents (books, manuscripts, graphics, works of art, archival documents) or catalogs (archival, bibliographic, historical-artistic), or among authorities (entities, persons, families). It is then possible to conduct searches directly on the different catalogs (of authorities, archival, historical-artistic, bibliographic), with ad hoc search keys with respect to the type. Regarding the visualization of digitized documents, the viewer offers standard tools (enlargement, different view modes) but is certainly less rich than that of the ICAR Digital Archive.
Strengths and limitations
These two examples, we believe, are sufficient to illustrate the broad outlines of this mode of digital content rendering, the main advantage of which is certainly the possibility of extensive interoperability and unified access to otherwise scattered and dispersed resources. In this, it is also possible to glimpse a social function of tools of this kind, through “the widespread adoption of this new integrated management system by public and private entities, such as local authorities and universities,” it would be possible to carry out “those interventions for the protection and enhancement of archival, historical, artistic and bibliographic heritage that is dispersed and at risk of survival, so that it can finally be ordered, described, digitized and returned to public use.”S. Moceri, “More on MetaFAD: some considerations,” The World of Archives, April 19, 2017.. Not only that, the linking of highly interconnected complexes, such as those of the Neapolitan institutes, but physically separated allows virtually to reconstruct a common historical context of the documents, to place them in an interweaving of histories, to recontextualize them culturally, allowing the development of new lines of researchIbid. .
As evident, we remain here, however, within a communicative paradigm that does not deviate too much from the “pre-digital” one: the inventory, the catalog, the descriptive tracings remain the privileged tools of mediation, albeit in the greater richness of the new research keys offered. Basically, both subtypes we have briefly explored have at their origin the same methodological and conceptual choice: the documentation is explored by each user with the use of search masks that allow for varied paths but, however it is retrieved, the documentation is always located within the original organization. The greatest novelty for the user lies in the possibilities of interconnecting heritages physically located in distinct locations, while preserving the close connection of each document with its context of origin. The choice, at least for the examples seen, is to remain within an audience consisting essentially of specialized users, avoiding hybridization with other modes of communication that, as mentioned in the first installment, could instead represent an unprecedented richness.
b. Constructing a narrative: the paths of history on the web
The discourse changes with the second type of publication we referred to in the opening, that which reflects a project, constituting the equivalent, in the digital environment, of an exhibition. It is clear that at the basis of these operations there is at the beginning a much stronger communicative intent, which can be directed to single communities or to the entire national community, and consequently therefore a focus on a user base that one would like to be more varied than the usual frequenters of archives.
At the origin of projects of this kind is not so much the conservation and management interest linked to specific fonds or institutions, but the desire to propose a narrative, a path in whole or in part predetermined, based on archival documentation coming even from different complexes, but gathered around a theme. Software for the creation of online exhibitions are numerous, we point out, for example, for its wide dissemination, the MOVIO project, created by the Central Institute for the Single Catalogue (ICCU) in collaboration with the Telecom Italia Foundation and GruppoMetaSee M. T. Natale, R. Saccoccio, “MOVIO – Kit for the creation of online virtual exhibitions,” DigItalia, VIII, 2 (2013), pp. 138-153..
Galleries and exhibitions.
The most essential, albeit now largely obsolete, mode of online presentation of digital exhibitions is that of simple galleries: sequences of images on a theme, sometimes even disordered, accompanied by captions or little else. The purpose is essentially to show what is present around a subject, grouping the documents by macrocategories. A very essential example of this is the 14-18: Documents and Images of the Great War project, which began in 2005 under the coordination of the ICCU and has gradually expanded over the years with the aim of collecting on a single platform the evidence (archival, bibliographic, photographic, artistic, etc.) on the Great War preserved by numerous institutesThe complete list of participants is available on the project website..
Access to the documents is basically based on the choice of the material type of objects: photographs, printed matter, manuscripts, graphics, periodicals, relics, monuments and tombstones, and sound recordings. By selecting a category, one accesses a list of the digital objects present corresponding to it, for each there is a rather meager description and indication of the institution of origin, but the documents appear strongly decontextualizedAs for documents of an archival nature, it is difficult, in most cases, to trace them back to the fonds to which they belong.. Even in the search mode by terms, simple or advanced, the only filters that can be entered concern the type and institution to which the document belongs.
With all evidence, the choice of recounting a founding event of the country’s historical memory through a path almost entirely represented by images has to do with the conviction that photographic and iconographic materials are more easily expendable in an environment, the digital one, in which visual culture seems to dominate over textual cultureCf. E. Grossi, “You close an archive, you open a portal. Photo albums of the war in the digital screen of the Centennial,” Novecento.org, 7 (Feb. 2017).. But in this way, the focus is placed mainly on the aesthetic level, emphasizing the “”connotative level (the symbolic, metaphorical, etc. meaning that the image takes on beyond what is materially depicted in it)” rather than the “denotative level,”” that is, what is depicted in it; thus, the focus is placed on “calling to mind the already known, rather than on conveying new knowledge,” relying on photography’s “ability to coagulate memories”S. Vitali, Digital Past. The historian’s sources in the computer age, Mondadori, Milan 2004, p. 100..
Even when these projects have a more advanced technological structuring, the risk of a purely evocative use of images is strong. Take the example, on the same theme, of the project of the Institute for the History of the Italian Risorgimento See the Great War. Images of the First World War, born from the aggregation of materials from different institutes. Here the images are organized according to an ontology, albeit a rather simple one. This allows the digitized resources to be explored not only by thematic galleries, but also by pathways (art and war, women and war, mourning and memory, the image of war, modern memory), which in turn comprise subtopics. However, the images are accompanied by stringent captions, which among other things do not provide any information about the provenance of the documents, and the texts introducing the different themes also appear rather poor. With all evidence, the portal’s communication thus plays on the evocation of the already known, as seen above, fitting into a national public narrative that is basically shared, without suggesting further exploration or problematization.
Ontology is, as seen in the first installment, the tool that enables within these digitization projects the leap toward a more complex, graph-like organization of knowledge. Through the OWL (Web Ontology Language) we encode the “link that relates a node/entity to the rest of the network, its nature, what content it expresses, and the ways in which this content is to be managed/processed/interpreted.”S. Di Fazio, Le ontologie. New paradigms for description and interoperability, talk at the conference Describing archives at the time of RiC, Ancona, Oct. 18, 2017, p. 4.; that is, in essence, “elementary particles of information” are concatenated, radiating and propagating “in multiple directions” starting from a triple (subject-relation/predicate-complement) logical structureIbid., p. 5..
The creation of complex ontologies thus requires considerable epistemological as well as technological work in defining domains in which relations are explanatory and not deficient or contradictory. Thematic contexts must be explored and defined at the outset, a task that is undoubtedly easier when dealing with contained or otherwise homogeneous domains. Such a process has repercussions on the description of the resource itself, it “no longer corresponds to the simple insertion of an information brick placed at a precise point in a complex system,” “one pursues not so much the collection of as much data as possible (e.g., indexing) but rather the explication of implicit facts, the identification of contexts (…) and relationships with contextual elements”(Ibid., pp. 10-11.), so as to increase the complexity and extension of the graph, hence of the knowledge model underlying the system.
The Presidents’ Tale
One project with such an advanced organization is the Historical Portal of the Presidency of the Republic, implemented by the Historical Archive of the Presidency of the Republic, with the collaboration of the company Regesta.exe. The aim was to “create an information system, a digital library and a repository of resources published in Linked Open Data (LOD) format (…), populated by documentary and visual sources appropriately processed, indexed and organized, supplemented by resources from the House and Senate, to be made available to the public” but also “the needs of description and “inventorying” of the archives, including current ones, of the Offices and Services of the General Secretariat” of the QuirinaleM. Giannetto, “Memory in the Time of Networks and Digital. The Historical Archives of the Presidency of the Republic and its Historical Portal,” DigItalia, XIV, 2 (2019), p. 126.. The underlying technological model is rather complex, organized around two ontologies, one for the description of documentation, the other for that of agents and functionsTechnical data can be consulted on the Linked Open Data page of the portal.; in this case, the very limited thematic domain favors, as mentioned, the construction of articulated paths of search and exploration of resources.
The portal has a decidedly welcoming approach to users. Biographies of the various presidents, with each of them associated with events, speeches, documents, images, etc., and the Historic Diary of the Presidency, bearing the entire calendar of the presidents’ public engagements, are offered as immediate keys to access the documentation. In both cases, the pages link to both internal portal materials and external resources from various sources. Also appearing on the homepage are two interactive slideshows (“It Happened Today” and “The Document of the Day”) that seem particularly suitable for soliciting the interest of a generalist audience in the preserved heritage. Interestingly, biographical reconstruction work was also conducted on the General Secretaries and administration figures such as Councilors and Heads of Service. All this denotes a demanding editorial and research work behind the project, evident not only in the underlying technological structure, but also in the wealth of descriptions that are offered to the public to accompany all the different entities and resources. Also offered are preordained thematic paths through the documentation (“”Journey to Italy. Presidents and Italian Society,” “Presidential Lives. From the Birth of the Republic to the Present Day,” etc.) and digital exhibits, as well as the possibility of navigating the archives by exploring the tree of funds, searching by terms, or consulting pdfs of archival directories.
Given the institutional nature of the project, it is evident how it arose around a very strong communicative need, an expression of a “presidential pedagogy that (…) implemented a policy centered on the total openness of the Quirinale Palace to the public”Ibid., p. 127., in which therefore the portal is configured as “a meeting point between the Presidency and the citizenry”Ibid., p. 128.. We found this to be a particularly successful and functional example of storytelling, in relation to its purposes, which provides users with a differentiated set of levels of access to documentation, preserving on the one hand a focus on preservation, contextualization and treatment of archival records, and on the other a narrative and easy interaction requirement that meets a wide audience. The portal provides unified access to a virtual archive actually made up of physically distinct archives, allows them to be interwoven through synchronic and diachronic paths, treasuring the close collaboration between the archival and scholarly communities; it is this collaboration that “rearticulates, qualifies and thickens that historical-temporal framing,” already inscribed in archival traditions, ensuring that the “digitized archival paper is not reduced” to “confusing and immediate information”Ibid., p. 136. but becomes fully a vehicle of meaning and a tool for constructing a conscious memory.
It seems to us through these few examples that we have illustrated, from the user’s point of view, the two main ways that can guide the online provision of archival resources. Of course, each classification appears provisional and susceptible to further study, as the reality of projects and experiments on the Web offers a panorama as varied and intricate as ever.
Other criteria could be chosen as distinctive, such as the one suggested by Stefano Vitali among “digital archives,” based on the online reproduction of entire fonds or at any rate of organic documentary complexes and “on the respect (…) of the archival contexts of origin”S. Vitali, Archival Research on the Web, in R. Minuti (ed.), The web and historical studies. A critical guide to the use of the web, Carocci, Rome 2015, p. 92., and “invented archives,” as defined by Roy RosenzweigSee R. Rosenzweig, The road to Xanadu: public and private pathways on the history web, in Id., Clio Wired. The future of the past in the digital age, Columbia UP, New York 2011, pp. 203-235., which focus “on the reproduction of individual documents, aggregated mostly in (…) virtual exhibitions that cater to an undifferentiated public”S. Vitali, Archival Research on the Web cit., p. 91..
Or, moving to the level of the document, one could recover the distinction proposed by Manfred Thaller, according to whom a digital object can be defined:
“(…) illustrative, if its quality is sufficient to allow a user to make an informed decision about whether access to the original is worthwhile (…).
(… ) readable, if its quality allows the user to access all the information that the creator of the original object wanted to convey to the user (…).
(…) paleographic (…) if the quality allows the user to access all the information that can be derived from the original with the unaided eye (…).
(…) enhanceable if the digital version provides access to information that cannot be extracted from the original with the unaided eye. Image enhancement may, for example, make erasures legible again.”M. Thaller, “From the Digitized to the Digital Library,” D-Lib Magazine, 7, 2 (2001)..
This is just to offer further food for thought and to give an idea of the breadth of the debate on the topic, which involves a multitude of expertise and disciplinary fields. More trivially, one could also point out how there can be mixed forms, in which a digital library-like structure, which makes it possible to recall the tree of funds, is accompanied by paths, exhibitions, and differentiated points of heritage exploration. This mode can be the alternative to the simple exhibition, avoiding both its highly decontextualizing character and its strict predetermination, without going as far as the complexity of articulated ontological models, which require enormous IT, editorial, archival, and research work.
Two good hybrid examples can be, in this sense, the portal of the project A city for archives, which gathers resources on a relevant part of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century archives for the history of the city of BolognaThe project was born on the initiative of the Fondazione del Monte di Bologna e Ravenna and the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio in Bologna and thanks to the scientific advice of a committee of experts. , and the website ASPI – Historical Archives of Italian Psychology, which provides access to the digitized archives of various Italian protagonists of psychology and psychiatryThe portal is created and maintained by the research center of the same name at the University of Milan-Bicocca, which is responsible for censusing, acquiring, sorting and partly digitizing archival … Continue reading
Both projects have in the beginning a very strong and sufficiently circumscribed thematic focus. This peculiarity has been exploited, in both cases, for the construction of varied ways of exploring the heritages that can meet the needs of differentiated audiences. We will limit ourselves here to briefly point out some peculiarities of the two portals.
The first allows, in addition to the more canonical mode of search, a search by “keywords” that is particularly functional: in addition to indexing toponyms, entities, personal and family names, a reasoned index of the topics covered has in fact been created that contains over 1300 terms. It can be fully explored, so that one can locate the headwords of interest for one’s own research. Also intended for researchers is another tool, of particular interest: a “Research Contributions” space that aims to accommodate contributions from scholars useful for deepening the contextualization and historical framing of papers, inventories, archives, subjects and events. This is one of the signs, which are tangible, that the portal was created with a view to a close dialogue with users, which also concerned its very designSee P. Feliciati, Converging Downstream. The study of the users’ point of view of digital cultural environments and the experience of the project “A city for archives,” in F. Ciotti … Continue reading.
The two environments Virtual Paths and Virtual Exhibitions, on the other hand, are aimed at a wider audience: the first allows searching through the reference ontology (in this case, the domain is the city of Bologna), enabling the exploration of the relationships that bind together the various instances (people, places, events, etc. ); the second collects documents according to an exhibition project, in the form of a gallery of images accompanied by captionsFor more on the project, see A. Antonelli, “Istantanea “Una Città per gli Archivi”: istituzioni, fatti, persone, tempi, modi, prospettive e storia di un progetto archivistico … Continue reading.
Integration of knowledge
The portal ASPI – Historical Archives of Italian Psychology offers online consultation of the archives held by the research center of the same name and, thanks to specific agreements, of those kept at other institutions. The intent of the center was to shape a “physical and virtual place of sharing and collaboration between archivists, historians, computer scientists and different users, a shared environment in which it is possible to pool respective knowledge and propose new research.”P. Zocchi, “The Historical Archives of Italian Psychology Project,” Archives, IX, 2 (2014), p. 122.. Next to the descriptive files of the fonds and of the different archival units, specific in-depth spaces (on protagonists, places, journals, paths, etc.)Note that they do not concern only the subjects or entities covered by the archives present online, but attempt to reconstruct the entire panorama of the psychological and psychiatric disciplines in … Continue reading that are enriched by the contributions of specialists and that can serve as keys to access even for the less experienced to the digitized documentation. In fact, online archives, heritages, personalities, and related insights are associated with each content.
In addition to term search, within the highly analytical inventories and other content on the site, semantic search is also possible, which rests on a specific ontology. Search results are also broken down by type to facilitate user orientation. Alongside this, navigation patterns based on a visual approach have been introduced, which are highly intuitive: a map of existing relationships between the surveyed players, a temporal navigation and a spatial navigation.
This portal is thus configured as an advanced example of integration between knowledge and close collaboration between the scientific and archival communities, which has enabled the creation of a platform with a strong dissemination and didactic impact, while preserving for scholars the possibility of direct access to the sources and their contextualization. Indeed, it is precisely the role of scholars that becomes central, at least in the intentions: by integrating in the same place scientific production, archival information and sources, it is indeed possible to build multimedia paths that can accompany the reader, showing in its complexity the nature of the research activity, and shortening the distance between the moment of investigation and the communication of the resultsFor more, see L. Bollini et al., “Le trame invisibili. New ways of online exploration of the Historical Archives of Italian Psychology,” Digital Humanities, 1, 1 (2017), pp. 59-84.. It seems in this way to engage users in the process of discovery, providing not a reconciled image, but a multitude of interwoven stories and narratives; stories that are subject to continuous deepening and reshaping, due to the dynamic, active and collaborative nature of the portalAbout the hypermedia potential of digital historiography, as a process in the making, see S. Noiret, “The “new digital historiography” in the United States (1999-2004),” … Continue reading.
Models of knowledge
We thus seem to have reached a central point in this analytical presentation of ours. Although it is not always easy to determine at the outset what is most accessible, or most appealing, to a nonspecialist audience, and often the fortunes of tools depend more on “what” one publishes than on “how” one does itIt’s the case of the Ancestors Portal, for genealogical research, which despite a poorly contextualized presentation of documents and rather cumbersome navigation, especially in its first … Continue reading, we are convinced that the potential of the digital tool should be explored to the full, even at the cost of losing something in terms of disciplinary rigor. The discussion of the form the archive can take in the digital environment must increasingly become common ground among users, archivists, computer scientists, historians, designers, students, and all categories involved, and question the very forms of description as well as knowledge production.
On the Web, information can be aggregated, disaggregated, and recomposed in ever-changing forms, interweaving and layering complex relationships and readings. As Jim Mussell has stated:
«What is at stake in the shift toward history 2.0 is the status of the archive. No serious historian would deny that history is a process and its findings contingent, but often the admission of history’s dynamism depends on the tacit assumption that the archive remains static, a fixed point of reference through which history corrects itself»J. Mussell, Doing and making. History as digital practice, in T. Weller (ed.), History in the Digital Age, Routledge, London and New York 2013, p. 87..
But historical interpretations do not lie fixed in the traces of the past, “historical significance is a product of discourse rather than intrinsic to anything we inherit from the past”Ibid., p. 88.. Thus, if we begin to question the stability of the archive and its separation from the process of historical research, “if we recognize that in transforming the archive and rendering it processable it becomes something different, then these [digital] resources become constitutive parts of the archive and so subject to analysis in their own rights”Ibid., p. 80.. Thus digital ones are not only tools, but can become new models of meaning, to be interwoven with established hermeneutics, which allow for revealing plots, maps, readings.
While being aware of how much is lost in web mediation and thus of the specific critique that should be addressed to digital sourcesSee S. Vitali, Archival Research on the Web cit., pp. 91-96; Id., “Navigating the Past. Problems of Archival Research on the Internet,” Contemporanea, IV, 2 (2001), pp. 181-204., one should with increasing conviction confront about the possible gains of the new ways of organizing and communicating knowledge. Archival description itself is after all an open, perfectible process, and this nature of it should be enhanced in its impact with digital environments“It no longer makes sense in the interconnected and collaborative society to think of the inventory as a single, perfect and definitive work,” it is necessary “to contribute, in … Continue reading.
Describing, interpreting, and communicating can become increasingly interconnected actions, allowing, among other things, the realization of public and active action, for the valorization of memory and history as critical knowledge of the past. Precisely because the distinction between information and information structure turns out to be artificialS. Vitali, “Navigating the Past…” cit., pp. 194-196., it would be necessary to think more and more deeply about the new digital models for archival records not only from the perspective of standards or “abstract formalization of processes and objects,” but of models understood as “idea of the world and aspects of relevance for our purposes.”G. Michetti, “If a lion could speak, we could not understand it. Cultural heritage communication in the digital environment,” AIB Studies, 58, 2 (2018), p. 219.. Stealing from Giovanni Michetti a quote from Gramsci:
«Model is the typical pattern of a given phenomenon, of a given law. The uniform succession of facts makes it possible to fix their laws, to trace their patterns, to construct their models. Provided that one does not give these abstractions of the intellect absolute values, they have a considerable pedagogical utility: they serve admirably to succeed in placing oneself in the very center of the phenomenal act that unfolds and goes on to elaborate all its possibilities, all its finalistic tendencies. And when one has succeeded in this initial act, the most is done: the intelligence is now able to surprise the becoming of the fact, understands it in its totality and thus in its individuality. The model, the law, the schema are in essence methodological expedients that help one to master reality; they are critical expedients for initiating oneself into knowledge and exact knowing»A. Gramsci, Model and Reality, in Id., The Future City. 1917-1918, edited by S. Caprioglio, Einaudi, Turin 1982, p. 29..
|↑1||Coordinated by Luca Gorgolini (Unirsm), by Michele Chiaruzzi (Unibo; Unirsm), and by our director, Massimo Mastrogregori, the project availed itself of the scientific advice of a research group composed, in addition to the coordinators, of Rosa Gobbi (State Archives of the Republic of San Marino), Isabella Manduchi (State Archives of the Republic of San Marino), Matteo Sisti (Memorie di Marca) and Stefano Vitali (former director of the Central Institute for Archives). The census was carried out by Damiano Muccioli, while Alessandro Fiorentino and Andreas Iacarella worked on the digitization proposal for our center.|
|↑2||A video mockup of the portal can be accessed at this link.|
|↑3||On the importance of context for archival documentation see S. Vitali, Order and Chaos: Google and the Art of Memory, in A. Spaziante (ed.), The future of memory: the transmission of cultural heritage in the digital age, Csi Piemonte, Turin 2005, pp. 95-96.|
|↑4||Both facilities, both that of the Senate of the Republic and that of the AAMOD, are realized through tools of the company Regesta.exe, xFea in the first case, xDams in the second.|
|↑5||In the search column, on the right, the items with the most occurrences for each typology are listed.|
|↑6||Confirming this impression, the videos that have the highest number of views on AAMOD’s YouTube page are: “The Farewell to Enrico Berlinguer,” with 73,403 views; “Napoli,” a 1974 documentary-investigation by Wladimir Tchertkoff, 62,168 views; “Primo Piano. Pier Paolo Pasolini,” a documentary by Carlo Di Carlo, 60,490 views. Data are updated to March 7, 2023.|
|↑7||S. Giannini, “Archives, libraries and possible communication: the role of technology,” Archives, X, 2 (2015), p. 98.|
|↑8||See M. Agosti, N. Ferro, G. Silvello, “Methodological and architectural proposal for distributed and shared management of digital document collections,” Archives, II, 2 (2007), pp. 51-73.|
|↑9||On this topic, see D. Segoni, “The services offered by a digital library,” DigItalia, XVI, 1 (2021), pp. 38-62.|
|↑10||M. Agosti, N. Ferro, “Interoperability between digital library systems,” DigItalia, V, 1 (2010), p. 96.|
|↑11||See L. Cerullo, A. Raggioli, “metaFAD. Sistema di gestione integrata dei beni culturali”, DigItalia, XII, 1/2 (2018), pp. 110-119.|
|↑12||Cataloging, metadata, digitization, and publication are not only integrated into a single ecosystem, but are functions of a continuously unfolding iterative process,” which can therefore be constantly updated according to new needs, representing an example of “continuous cultural delivery.” Ibid, p. 114.|
|↑13||Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro, Benedetto Croce Library Foundation, Italian Institute for Historical Studies, Pio monte della misericordia, Neapolitan Society of Homeland History.|
|↑14||L. Cerullo, “The Digital Pole of the Cultural Institutes of Naples,” DigItalia, X, 1/2 (2015), pp. 102-121.|
|↑15||For technical specifications see the ICAR page dedicated to the project.|
|↑16||S. Moceri, “More on MetaFAD: some considerations,” The World of Archives, April 19, 2017.|
|↑18||See M. T. Natale, R. Saccoccio, “MOVIO – Kit for the creation of online virtual exhibitions,” DigItalia, VIII, 2 (2013), pp. 138-153.|
|↑19||The complete list of participants is available on the project website.|
|↑20||As for documents of an archival nature, it is difficult, in most cases, to trace them back to the fonds to which they belong.|
|↑21||Cf. E. Grossi, “You close an archive, you open a portal. Photo albums of the war in the digital screen of the Centennial,” Novecento.org, 7 (Feb. 2017).|
|↑22||S. Vitali, Digital Past. The historian’s sources in the computer age, Mondadori, Milan 2004, p. 100.|
|↑23||S. Di Fazio, Le ontologie. New paradigms for description and interoperability, talk at the conference Describing archives at the time of RiC, Ancona, Oct. 18, 2017, p. 4.|
|↑24||Ibid., p. 5.|
|↑25||M. Giannetto, “Memory in the Time of Networks and Digital. The Historical Archives of the Presidency of the Republic and its Historical Portal,” DigItalia, XIV, 2 (2019), p. 126.|
|↑26||Technical data can be consulted on the Linked Open Data page of the portal.|
|↑27||Ibid., p. 127.|
|↑28||Ibid., p. 128.|
|↑29||Ibid., p. 136.|
|↑30||S. Vitali, Archival Research on the Web, in R. Minuti (ed.), The web and historical studies. A critical guide to the use of the web, Carocci, Rome 2015, p. 92.|
|↑31||See R. Rosenzweig, The road to Xanadu: public and private pathways on the history web, in Id., Clio Wired. The future of the past in the digital age, Columbia UP, New York 2011, pp. 203-235.|
|↑32||S. Vitali, Archival Research on the Web cit., p. 91.|
|↑33||M. Thaller, “From the Digitized to the Digital Library,” D-Lib Magazine, 7, 2 (2001).|
|↑34||The project was born on the initiative of the Fondazione del Monte di Bologna e Ravenna and the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio in Bologna and thanks to the scientific advice of a committee of experts.|
|↑35||The portal is created and maintained by the research center of the same name at the University of Milan-Bicocca, which is responsible for censusing, acquiring, sorting and partly digitizing archival complexes related to the history of the sciences of the mind in Italy.|
|↑36||See P. Feliciati, Converging Downstream. The study of the users’ point of view of digital cultural environments and the experience of the project “A city for archives,” in F. Ciotti (ed.), Digital Humanities: Italian projects and experiences of multidisciplinary convergence, Sapienza Università Editrice, Rome 2014, pp. 89-112.|
|↑37||For more on the project, see A. Antonelli, “Istantanea “Una Città per gli Archivi”: istituzioni, fatti, persone, tempi, modi, prospettive e storia di un progetto archivistico locale,” Archives & Computers, 2 (2012), pp. 7-36.|
|↑38||P. Zocchi, “The Historical Archives of Italian Psychology Project,” Archives, IX, 2 (2014), p. 122.|
|↑39||Note that they do not concern only the subjects or entities covered by the archives present online, but attempt to reconstruct the entire panorama of the psychological and psychiatric disciplines in Italy between the 19th and 20th centuries.|
|↑40||For more, see L. Bollini et al., “Le trame invisibili. New ways of online exploration of the Historical Archives of Italian Psychology,” Digital Humanities, 1, 1 (2017), pp. 59-84.|
|↑41||About the hypermedia potential of digital historiography, as a process in the making, see S. Noiret, “The “new digital historiography” in the United States (1999-2004),” Memory and Research, 18 (2005), pp. 169-185.|
|↑42||It’s the case of the Ancestors Portal, for genealogical research, which despite a poorly contextualized presentation of documents and rather cumbersome navigation, especially in its first versions, has encountered a very large number of accesses since its inception. This is a fact that would certainly be worth analyzing.|
|↑43||J. Mussell, Doing and making. History as digital practice, in T. Weller (ed.), History in the Digital Age, Routledge, London and New York 2013, p. 87.|
|↑44||Ibid., p. 88.|
|↑45||Ibid., p. 80.|
|↑46||See S. Vitali, Archival Research on the Web cit., pp. 91-96; Id., “Navigating the Past. Problems of Archival Research on the Internet,” Contemporanea, IV, 2 (2001), pp. 181-204.|
|↑47||“It no longer makes sense in the interconnected and collaborative society to think of the inventory as a single, perfect and definitive work,” it is necessary “to contribute, in perspective, to the sharing of contextualized information units, based partly on documentary evidence, partly on bibliographic research and other information resources on the Web, which on the Web must be made accessible, understandable and open to semantic connections and collaborations (… ) by the community of documentation professionals as well as end users.” P. Feliciati, For a Quality and Ethics of Archival Mediation, in G. Di Marcantonio, F. Valacchi (eds.), Describing Archives in the Time of RIC-CM, eum, Macerata 2018, p. 29.|
|↑48||S. Vitali, “Navigating the Past…” cit., pp. 194-196.|
|↑49||G. Michetti, “If a lion could speak, we could not understand it. Cultural heritage communication in the digital environment,” AIB Studies, 58, 2 (2018), p. 219.|
|↑50||A. Gramsci, Model and Reality, in Id., The Future City. 1917-1918, edited by S. Caprioglio, Einaudi, Turin 1982, p. 29.|