Most historians work in archives, but generally have not made archives into their primary object of research. While we tend to be preoccupied by documentary loss, what is striking is the sheer amount of paperwork preserved over the centuries. We need to study the reasons for this preservation.
This project wishes to study the history of the archives and of the chanceries that oversaw their production storage and organization in late medieval and early modern Italy: essentially from the creation of the first chanceries in city-states in the late twelfth century to the opening of the Archivi di Stato that, after the ancient states’ dissolution, preserved documents as tools for scholarship rather than administration. Because of its fragmented political history, concentrating on Italy means having access to the archives of a wide variety of regimes; in turn, as institutions pursuing similar functions, archives lend themselves to comparison and therefore such research may help us overcome the traditional disconnectedness in the study of Italy’s past.
The project proposes to break significantly new ground, first, by adopting a comparative approach through the in-depth analysis of seven case studies and, second, by contextualising the study of archives away from institutional history in a wider social and cultural context, by focusing on six themes researched in six successive phases: 1) the political role of archives, and the efforts devoted by governments to their development; 2) their organization, subdivisions, referencing systems; 3) the material culture of documents and physical repositories as well as spatial locations; 4) the social characteristiscs of the staff; 5) the archives’ place in society, including their access and misuse; 6) their use by historians. As implied in the choice of these themes, the project is deliberately interdisciplinary, and aims at the mutually beneficial exchange between archivists, social, political cultural and art historians.
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