by Giovanni Schiavone, University of Naples Federico II
Vitulano’s community is involved in collecting pictures which evoke memories and histories in a digital environment: the creation of an Italian topotheque!
From Vitulano to Europe: pictures of an area and its families on the Topotheque portal
On 25th June 2016 an open day entitled “From Vitulano to Europe: pictures of an area and families on Topotheque portal” took place in Vitulano, a small town located in a valley surmounted by the Apennine peaks of the Taburno – Camposauro massif near Benevento, in the south of Italy. The event has been organized by a team of lecturers and researchers of the University of Naples Federico II within the project activities of co:op – community as opportunity. the creative archives and users network (EU, Creative Europe 2014-2020), coordinated by Antonella Ambrosio for the Department of Humanities in cooperation with the association Fagus: Territori in Crescita. The aim of the summit was to enhance the landscape heritage and the historical memory of the community in the Vitulanese valley through its photographic heritage by using the international portal Topotheque.eu (for more information about this Topotheque see http://vitulano.fagus.topoteka.net/)
A large number of people have actively participated in the activities of the day which were implemented in two steps. The meeting started with the opening of a photographic exhibition entitled Topotheque. Memories of a Place and a Community and set up at the Civic Art Gallery of Contemporary Art. A selection of 18 pictures of the first block of a hundred photos were on display. In the next four years the whole set of images will be uploaded to the international portal Topotheque, thus contributing to the enrichment of the first Italian Topotheque. The territory and population of Vitulano are the undisputed protagonists of the pictures, which were exhibited in three rooms according to a precise themed route. It gave visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves into local history. In the first room they could admire the beautiful pristine landscape around Vitulano and its historical architectural remains. In a second room, instead, the keynote themes were the water and the industriousness of the community, as a witness of the dialogue among a territory and its population. Finally, the third room contained the pictures of citizens of Vitulano, both in group portraits, showing the fact of being a community, and also in individual photos as tesserae of a broader patchwork.
The visit to the exhibition was followed by the Computer Lab: Bring Your History! Make your History! at the Conference Hall Santissima Trinità, coordinated by the working group of the University of Naples Federico II. The citizens of Vitulano discovered concretely how to bring their history as a community on the Topotheque by entering data in real time on the portal. It has been shown how to access the portal and how to upload images and correlated data, emphasizing the georeferencing function of the platform and the role of the tags, important for the accessibility of the data for web search engines. Through the first function the community locates its memories in the physical world; through the tags the community can build and shape its own history. In fact, you can convey additional and precise information marking the images with apposite tags. As Anna Fuggi (founding partner of Fagus. Territori in Crescita) remarked: the tags contribute to the distribution of memory, too. In this way a local memory enters a wider context and becomes accessible for comparison with other communities. Furthermore, sharing your memory with the world can potentially return a collective memory of humanity. This last aspect is an idea derived from the moment shared between participants, but it should be noted that it is marked by a strong symbolic significance.
In the afternoon, Thomas Aigner, president of ICARUS – International Centre for Archival Research and director of the diocesan Archive of St. Pölten, pointed out via Skype from Vienna that history can be done thanks to the new sources provided by the Topotheque project, sources that are mostly 20th century pictures held by private citizens and therefore in serious danger to be lost. Then the mayor of Vitulano, Raffaele Scarinzi, and the founder members of Fagus. Territori in Crescita, the president Achille Capobianco and Anna Fuggi, greeted the participants. Their greetings were followed by speeches of Antonella Ambrosio, Department of Humanities, Antonello Migliozzi, MUSA (Museum of Agrarian Sciences: see more on http://www.centromusa.it), and Maria Rosaria Falcone, Department of Humanities, all of the University of Naples Federico II. The talk of Antonella Ambrosio, Monasterium, Topotheque. The research projects for Vitulanese Valley, stressed first the importance of the online archive on Monasterium.Net that contains documentation about Santa Maria della Grotta, a part of the history of the Vitulanese valley and available worldwide. With the new international platform Topotheque the aim is to move forward in this direction. Through the Topotheque the citizens of Vitulano are both viewers and active players because they are the only custodians of the information necessary to place the pictures – respectable sources for historians – correctly in time and space.
The settling of the photos in a clear framework with the help of experts avoids thus their dispersion on the web. Subsequently Maria Rosaria Falcone intervened speaking about The diffusion of Topotheque in Italy. The first experiences within the project co:op. She introduced the European project co:op which involves 17 institutions in 11 countries. Regarding Italy the aim is to create 5 topotheques, thus allowing the flow of memory, culture and history by using digital technologies and by involving local communities and encouraging them to take part in the project providing their unique data. Finally, the speech of Antonello Migliozzi, The potential of Topotheque for the study of the landscape highlighted the importance of pictures as sources for the study of territory, drew the attention to the dynamic aspects of the landscape and its persistence which take shape through photographs. These aspects represent a kind of icon, an element of identity for a community. Furthermore, photography recognised as objective documentation is an effective way to protect and preserve the landscape from degradation by the passing of time and from the destructive hand of men. At the end of the day the Fagus Association joined the project co:op the portal Topotheque.eu as an associated partner.
These are the events of a day full of emotional and intellectual meaning. People of different age, culture and education, but part of the same community, shared their own memories, their own tales and histories, evoked by the pictures, talking to themselves and the others. They wove together memory and images in a path with the aim of planning a common future thinking about their origins. This last aspect has a deep significance because the town and its valley have been characterized by an extensive emigration. This story will be represented by images and descriptions, preserved and retold by the topotecarians, in this similar to mediaeval storytellers. As a share economy increases the wealth of all people by sharing their properties, sharing your history, offering your own story and life to others, is fascinating and touching and enriches your whole community. On my way home, a poetry of a Latin American poet and revolutionary has touched my mind:
Toma, es sólo un corazón
tenlo en tu mano
y cuando llegue el día,
abre tu mano para que el sol lo caliente.
(by Julio Roberto Càceres Valle aka El Patojo)