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Archivi. Storie, teorie, pratiche

N. 10 Nuova Serie

Primavera-Estate 2016 - Anno XXIII

A cura di: 
Paolo Barcella, Sonia Di Loreto e Cinzia Schiavini

Realizzazione editoriale: Michela Donatelli

Grafica di copertina a cura della Redazione. L’immagine è riprodotta per gentile concessione di Barbara Sinisi.

Archivi. Storie, teorie, pratiche

Per una poetica e una politica dell’archivio: brevi note introduttive

Cinzia Schiavini

This introductory essay explores the role of the archive in relation to the renewed centrality of the past in contemporary cultural debates, as one of the bases for different forms of collective identity. Within the theoretical frame given by the “new archival turn” of Foucault and Derrida, the essay investigates the role of archives in the construction of hegemonic discourse (with its constraints), its subversive function as the repository of historical counter-narratives and silences, its new forms allowed by the new media, and the corollaries these open up in terms of authenticity, objectivity, manipulation, accessibility and dissemination.

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Leggere l’archivio degli studi americani

Sonia Di Loreto

By looking at different critical problems implicit in the archive, this introductory essay investigates some specific “archival turns” in the literary field of American Studies, concentrating on the questions and value of the recovery work, and the limits of the archive when dealing with slavery, freedom and the Black Atlantic. The recent development of the Digital Humanities opens up a debate about the possibilities and the constraints offered by new tools, and it inspires a renewed reflection on the critical methodologies available, along with a reconsideration of the role of aesthetic value and style in the archive, digital or otherwise.

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La parola ai testimoni: (nuove) fonti d'archivio e storie delle lingue

Marina Dossena

The value of archives for historians is undoubted, and this equally applies to language historians, whose studies of manuscript and early printed sources underpin investigations of grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and even phonology. Such studies, however, have typically concentrated on “standard” texts, i.e. literary, diplomatic, and religious compositions, and – more recently – on codifying materials, i.e., usage guides, grammars, and dictionaries. It is only over the last couple of decades that a new approach to historical linguistics has developed, giving even more importance to archives. In this innovative methodological framework, a wider range of sources is considered, in an attempt to study language history “from below,” i.e. on the basis of documents written by men and women of all social classes and levels of education, so as to analyze authentic, spontaneous usage in a much more representative sample of texts. In this contribution I aim to outline the role of archives in this kind of studies, paying special attention to documents pertaining to the experience of nineteenth-century emigration from Scotland to the US. In the second part of my paper I will also present some crowdsourcing projects launched by American repositories for the transcription of digitized materials.

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Archivi e nativi americani: prigione e memoria vivente

Fedora Giordano

Indian archives play an important part in the decolonization process of Native Americans. Collections of cultural objects and skeletons, depositories of historical records, treaties, land cessions, nations’ files, photographs and recordings have been instrumental to the colonial construction of the past. Making institutional archives accessible is an act of repatriation and has been instrumental to land and tribal claims. Digitalization based on collaboration and reciprocal respect can have an active role in the process of cultural preservation and revitalization. Examples like the Wind River Virtual Museum and the Plateau People’s Web Portal based on the Mukurtu interactive digital platform show new possibilities for cooperation and reciprocal curation.

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Archivi familiari, storia e migrazioni. Percorsi di ricerca tra Stati Uniti e Italia

Paolo Barcella

From the second half of the 20th century, family archives and the documents in them have received more and more attention by historians. Their structure, their richness and complexity depend on a number of factors, among which the social class to which the families belong, their level of schooling, and the involvement of their members in public life. It is no accident that the first studies based on this type of documents produced by common people have been carried out with a significant reference to two phenomena deemed as kicking off the process of mass literacy, that is, war and migration. The scholars who intend to use these sources, however, must face some specific problems: unlike public and institutional archives, family archives are not only private, but also built and maintained by their owners with arbitrary and varying criteria. Thus, erosion and dispersion are a real issue for these archives and the relevant documents. This work is aimed at dealing with family archives and with the issues concerning their preservation and evolution, from the dawn of humankind to the era of digital humanities. The analysis will focus on the studies of Italian migration to the USA.

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L’immagine digitale nel bunker

Brian Michael Murphy

The Corbis Film Preservation Facility (CFPF) houses tens of millions of paper photographs, film negatives, glass plate negatives, historical newspapers, and other media in a refrigerated vault, located 220 feet underground in a former limestone mine. Corbis is one of the two largest image resource companies in the world (rivaled only by Getty Images), and globally distributes digital content for advertising, book illustrations, documentaries, and other audiovisual products. The CFPF is one of many vaults within the larger Iron Mountain secure records and data storage facility in Boyers, PA. Both the CFPF and Iron Mountain reflect a broader network of securitized facilities built in the United States since the beginning of the Cold War, which collectively comprise the nation’s media preservation infrastructure. In this essay, I use a media archaeological approach to examine the emergence of this infrastructure in the early 1950s and to contextualize the CFPF’s preservation and distribution of digital images. I argue that the material constituents of the media preservation infrastructure – the Cold War bomb shelters converted into secure data storage vaults, the former iron ore mines that house fine art as well as microfilm records of banks and insurance companies – are important sites for contextualizing the digital images that now circulate seemingly fluidly, effortlessly, “immaterially,” and perpetually in the global image environment.

The reliable transmission of digitized imagery relies not only upon fiber-optic cables, servers, and wireless transmitters, but also the stone caverns and reinforced steel-and-concrete vaults in which those networks of hardware are embedded and secured. Thus, the CFPF, and similar facilities, reveal the way in which digital images are emphatically material. This materiality is comprised of hard drives and other recently developed information technologies, and the ruins, remnants, and residual architectures of previous modes of resource extraction, production, and national security regimes that continue to shape media preservation practice today.

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Fonti radiotelevisive elvetiche e Stati Uniti: alcune piste possibili

Nelly Valsangiacomo

In the last few decades, visual and audiovisual sources have broken out of the illustrative function to which they were previously relegated, and they have acquired a primary role in historical research. However, the path to their full legitimacy is not yet completed: although movies, photography and television are more and more dealt with by historians, documentaries and radio broadcasts are still struggling. Researchers who rely on these sources acknowledge their value as social and cultural products with a relevance that spans over several levels worth investigating, including their production, use, and reception. Starting from a study on the archives of the Italian-speaking Swiss radio, this work analyzes a possible use of this source by historians interested in the representation of the United States of America in the context of the Swiss Confederation, in the penetration of American culture during the Cold War, in the role played by the Tessin communities migrated to America in the construction of such representations.

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Archivi del terrore. Film e serie TV americane intorno alla "guerra al terrore"

Andrea Carosso

Regarding the vast body of film and television narratives of the war on terror as an (ongoing) archive of public debate over the politics and the legacy of America’s response to the attacks of 9/11, this essay tracks three main phases as arising in the U.S. from the perspective of Hollywood and independent film-makers. A first phase of uncertainty, coinciding with the first 12-18 months after the attacks, and marked by often collaborative, independent documentary film productions focused on visualizing a range of different responses to the traumas of 9/11. A more militant second phase, mostly engineered in Hollywood, centering on films and TV series explicitly meant as propaganda tools depicting the US as victims and largely articulated around Orientalist visions of the Arab/Muslim as dangerous “other.” A third phase, marking a re-alignment of representations of the War on Terror around more nuanced renderings of the events both on the combat front abroad and within the US.

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Dov'è l'archivio trans-atlantico?

Maria Cristina Iuli

Recent trends in cultural, literary, and material history of the U.S. have clustered around the concept of the Trans-Atlantic as a category (or as a matrix) for a renewed understanding of the American experience in a relational and post-nationalist perspective. Putting the Atlantic at the center of a network of non-linear exchanges between the American and the European continents has proved promising in opening up fresh venues of inquiry into cultural and historical phenomena taking place across the Atlantic and involving several, dislocated sites, temporalities, processes and effects. However, this process has raised the question of what exactly an “Atlantic archive” is, how it relates to non-Atlantic and global networks of exchanges, to our understanding of Western modernity, and, finally, to our contemporary ideologies of planetarity. It prompts questions such as, for instance: Where is the archive of the trans-Atlantic? What are its objects? How are they constituted? How are they interrogated by scholars situated in different places around the Atlantic? What are the limits and potentialities for nuanced descriptions of the relation between our understanding of U.S. centered phenomena and the long thread of connections – watery and terrestrial – that situate them in a much wider perimeter and longer historical trajectory?

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Tra canone e corpus: sei prospettive sul romanzo del Novecento

Mark Algee-Hewett , Mark McGurl

When the researchers in the Stanford Literary Lab decided to create a fully digitized corpus of 20th-century fiction in order to do large-scale quantitative analyses of literary historical data, they posed the following question: which group of several hundred books would represent the most reasonable, interesting, and useful subset of the whole? Starting with the Modern Library 100 Best Novels of the 20th-Century, and its corrective list, the so-called “Reader’s List,” selected by means of an unrestricted online voting system, the researchers added 4 more lists (Radcliffe’s Rival List of the 100 Best Novels of the 20-th Century; Larry McCaffery’s List of the 100 Best Novels of the 20-th Century; The yearly best-selling works of the 20-th Century; and a Postcolonial Studies list). Those sets of data, and the ranking provided,  gave the researchers potential analytic purchase on the realities of status and canonicity informing the work that scholars do. One of the results of such an approach to building a 20th-century canon is that scholars can begin a conversation by openly acknowledging the problems of canonical bias, under-representation and the practice of sampling based on availability and convenience.

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Gli ambienti della letteratura mondiale

Colleen Glenney Boggs

If political action and environmental change are still dominated by nation states’ policy and agendas, it also seems that the so-called transnational turns of American Studies have by and large had little to say about the environment, let alone global environmental politics. At a time when renewed interest in the concept of world literature, globalism, cosmopolitanism, and critical empire studies have dominated the field and upended its former guiding paradigm of exceptionalism, the exceptionalism on display within the frame of world-wide environmental discussions has elicited fairly little scholarly response. In this essay Colleen Glenney Boggs revisits the role of nation states in their relation to the world as a shared cultural environment, claiming that world literature provides a useful lens to think about “the world” as a shared environment.

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