Dr Filippo de Vivo Awarded ERC Starting Grant Case Study
Seven hundred years of Italian archives, and the chanceries, or offices, responsible for their production and organisation, are the subject of a major research project to be funded by the European Research Council.
“Most historians work in archives, but generally haven’t made archives their primary object of research,” says Dr Filippo de Vivo, of the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology, who will be leading the project. “And while we tend to be preoccupied by documentary loss, what is striking is the sheer amount of paperwork preserved over the centuries. This project will study the reasons for this preservation.”
The four-year interdisciplinary project aims to study the history of the archives of late medieval and early modern Italy, and the chanceries that oversaw their production, storage and organisation. Funded by an ERC Starting Grant, Dr de Vivo will be supported by two post-doctoral research assistants and two PhD students as well as an international advisory board made up of historians, art historians and archivists.
“This is a very ambitious project and it’s only with this European Research Council funding that I can hope to achieve it,” says Dr de Vivo. “This is a great opportunity, and great for history at Birkbeck to be the hub of a series of conferences, publications and research events connected to this field. Our aim is also to create a website to work as a gateway to archival research.”
The research will create case studies of seven chanceries across Italy, including those of Venice, Florence, the Vatican and Milan, covering a period from the late 12th century through to the 19th century.
“Venice alone has 80 miles of shelving containing millions of files, each with several hundreds or thousands of pages,” says Filippo. “We will be asking how archivists in the past produced, stored and retrieved this information. We will look at the political role of archives, their place in Italian society including their access, use and misuse, and at the social characteristics of the archivists themselves. This will not simply be a history of bureaucrats, but of historians and private citizens.
“Underlying our work will be the very big challenge that all archivists and historians are now facing, due to changes in technology. The way we store, manage and use information today has changed enormously – we can access information in ways that were unthinkable in the past. This makes it a very topical area of research,” said Filippo.