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Adventures in Archival Studies

Note from the Vermont Italian Cultural Association: Davis Priest, a May 2024 graduate of the University of Vermont, who has an interest in pursuing a master’s degree in Italian Renaissance art history, received a $1500 VICA grant to intern at the Medici Archive Project (MAP) in Florence. The MAP is a digitized collection of the Mediceo del Principato—over four million documents relating to the papers of the Medici Grand Dukes who ruled from 1537 to 1743. We will be able to follow Davis' internship through this blog.

June 9, 2024.

Two Fridays ago, I landed in Rome after a sleepless flight. My sustenance on the 9 hour journey was a glass of wine, a milk cookie and bread roll provided by the airline, and half a bag of almonds. Usually, I am not one to skip a meal but the ‘pomodoro cavatappi’ served by United just did not feel at all enticing.

Eventually, I make it into the city using the public transportation. My phone gets geared up with an Italian SIM card. Immediately, I rush to the nearest bar to get my most missed Italian item, the humble cappuccino. I do not know how or why but they are so fantastic. There is a lot of sleeping in the first three days. I would lay down for a ‘quick’ nap and wake up three hours later, forgetting where I was, to Resy telling me it was time for dinner. On Saturday morning I woke up very early and walked to Gianicolo Hill with a beautiful overlook of the city. Gianicolo is the site of the opening scene of ‘La Grande Bellezza’ by Paolo Sorrentino. When it won best foreign film in 2013, Sorrentino thanks his parents and beloved Argentinian soccer player Diego Maradona in his acceptance speech.

My stay in Rome was wonderful. Resy and Maria Grazia were wonderful hosts and so kind to open their doors to me. Irene and I had fun together, we spent Saturday night dancing. The next day I went to Florence where my Italian professor and his husband met me at the train station. The three of us had dinner at the house of Paolo's mom. Her name is Grazia, she is a wonderful cook who speaks with a heavy Tuscan accent. Paolo had to translate her stories into standard Italian for me so I could comprehend. My apartment is right outside of the city in a quiet commuter town called Scandicci. Scandicci is beautiful!

Everyone will be relieved to know that the kitchen is well equipped and I have been making some delicious late-night dinners. Yesterday, I had a fennel apricot pici pasta in a pesto sauce topped with crispy pancetta and pecorino.

The past week I was sitting in on a summer seminar in paleography and archival studies. The lectures ran everyday from 9am-6:30pm (often pushing more into 7pm) so my days were very packed. Commuting to the Medici Archive Project space takes about an hour door to door. Throughout the seminar we heard about the complications for archival research, specifically in Italy.

To give a sense of the situation, there is a national law stipulating that every ‘capoluogo’ meaning major city in a region must have an official state archive. There are currently around 120 state archives in the country. Then, many cities smaller than the capoluogo have archives totaling to around 8,000 collections. Even more complicated are the private family archives which are innumerable. Many of these remain in private palaces while others have been donated to the state archive. Do not forget about the religious archives (specific to churches/convents/monasteries), academies, museums, hospitals, orphanages, universities, military, and library collections. Honorable mention to the archive of the absolute monarchy, archivio Vaticano. There is a lot of documentation. So, how can this information be used? What do people focus on?

During the seminar we heard from Pasquale Focarile who looks at the material culture of the Medici empire by meticulous study of the ‘guardaroba’ which literally translates to closet. Anytime someone moved or died there was a detailed inventory of their possessions. Gabriele Mancuso used detailed accounts in the archive to create a 3-D reconstruction of the ghetto in Florence. (Information on the Funis sifted through documents to trace the payments of workers and calculate the total cost of Vasari’s corridorio (secret passageway for the Medici to move from Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti, see image below). Davide Boerio uses the archive to map early modern news networks. Through popularization of the avissi newspapers and the development of early postal services, city-states were able to engage in trans-national communication.

There are many more examples and avenues to follow. Hearing about everyone’s work was interesting but also completely over my head most of the time. I like the people I will be working with this summer. Our supervisor Emma is really cool, she is working on her PhD right now at the Courthauld in London focusing on the Pazzi conspiracy (more on this later).

Thanks for reading! Hopefully these will roll out one a week.

'Secret' passageway for Medici dukes. Constructed so they could walk undetected from their residence at the Palazzo Pitti to the administrative offices in the Uffizi/Palazzo Vecchio. Funis studied the construction of the corridorio because it passes through public and private territory making it a highly complicated structure in terms of its bureaucracy.

Images from the seminar. Left: Latin Paleography Right: The Archives of the Environment. "Quantifying the concerns of Medici environmental legislation" rural space depicted in the cooler colors and urban space depicted in the warmer.

Beautiful sign outside the Jewish community archive in Florence.

Andre Butzer exhibit at the Museo Novecento.

Ciao a tutti! Welcome to my blog detailing aspects from my week in Italy. This project was inspired by the Vermont Italian Cultural Association. Their generous support allowed me to take the plunge (fare un tuffo) into the beautiful nation of Italy. My ambition is to synthesize some details and images from my time to share with friends and family.

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