A virtual space to link widespread memory

Francesco Cacciatore*

This special issue of Occupied Italy is detached from the work done so far by the magazine, who presented innovative research by Italian and international academics on the theme of World War II in Italy and its consequences for the country in the early years of the Cold War. The Occupied Italy project has stood out for its academic rigour, but also for its uncommon attention to the value of new technologies, especially digital, applied to historical research. It is precisely to the promotion of these innovative practices that this special issue is dedicated, which also serves as a presentation for the latest project of the Mubat Cultural Association, a widespread digital museum dedicated to Operation Avalanche.

After the trauma of the forced isolation caused by the Covid emergency, Italy and all of Europe have discovered the urgency of embarking on a more interconnected world that uses digital technologies to the maximum of their possibilities. Between 2020 and 2021, schools, universities, public institutions and even private companies made giant strides towards mass digital literacy. In most cases, however, it was an unforeseen and therefore largely improvised effort, based more on the abilities of individuals than on a collective project governed and directed by politics.

The recipe for ending the pandemic’s contraction period has also identified the digital transition as one of its main ingredients. Europe has chosen to make significant funds available for a number of specific objectives, including the digital transition and the “green” transition.

As for Italy, this ambitious initiative is framed in the PNRR, National Recovery and Resilience Plan, and many of its objectives focus on the digital transformation of processes based on the use of cloud technologies, digital identity and virtual document. In this wider field, particular attention has been paid to the cultural heritage, one of the riches of the Italian system with potential still not fully expressed. The particular abundance of the country’s cultural resources has not, in the past, stimulated a sufficiently innovative approach to their exploitation. Access to places of culture tended to be supported by the importance and the number of them on the national territory until suddenly, with the pandemic, their physical unattainability made it urgent to make them usable in a different way, in particular through the web.

This has led to a change of approach that has combined the traditional meticulousness dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage with a greater commitment to communication and in particular to the sharing of knowledge. In particular, this second change was favored by a global cultural climate certainly determined by the availability of technologies and methodologies for sharing and interoperability. The world of archives and museums, but in general of heritage conceived in all fields, including in the private sector, has begun to discover the benefits of cooperation.

The most interesting aspect of this moment of digital transition in the world of cultural heritage can be found in the awareness that, in addition to understanding that facilitating and digital access to cultural heritage is the best way to promote it, Cultural heritage holders have also understood that the intrinsic value of an archive or museum is enhanced by its relationship with other remote heritage. This democratic process of sharing, defined as “Share and Reuse”, effectively links to the “5-star deployment scheme for Open Data” devised by Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web and Linked Data.

The Mubat Cultural Association has been moving in this context for some time, since its inception in 2017, with the promotion of the collaborative archive and its use in school projects to promote the digital emergence of hidden family assets through the collection of oral testimonies. Favored by the coexistence of two different but complementary souls, a humanistic and a technological, the Association has fielded projects such as online exhibitions and the digital open access magazine Occupied Italy , enriched by collaboration with cultural professionals and organizations active in the field of new technologies aimed at the research, conservation and enhancement of Cultural Heritage, among which the Contemporary Jewish Documentation Centre stands out, regesta.exe, and numerous academic institutions particularly attentive to the dissemination of digital culture, including the University of Versailles USVQ-SACLAY through Professor Giovanni Vitali.

Given these premises, it seemed natural to set up a virtual museum project to build a collective memory of the landing of Salerno, a historical event whose memory has always been at the center of Mubat’s activities. The project, winner of the Transition Ecological Cultural and Creative Organizations (TOCC) of the Ministry of Culture, is motivated by the awareness that, in the absence of a conservation process targeted, an event such as the landing of Salerno, developed on a particularly vast area and with traces on the territory extremely distributed and remote, is not intended to leave many traces in the historical memory of the territory.

In this perspective, the creation of a virtual and widespread museum is the most innovative and effective solution: it collects places, artifacts and stories and virtualizes them, but at the same time is able to return them to the territory, in the “places of remembrance”by increasing the narrative capacity of the place or object itself that otherwise, estranged from its context, would be less understandable to non-experts. It will be possible to experiment new forms of communication and enhancement of cultural heritage, born from the synergy with the numerous partners involved, including local institutions. The project, in fact, is aimed not only at the enhancement of the historical memory but also at its promotion, so as to contribute positively to the attractiveness in a tourist key of the Province of Salerno and the Campania Region, providing a key to understanding the great historical events that occurred between 1943 and 1946 as a result of Operation Avalanche: the landing, the beginning of the German occupation and the Liberation War, the roundups and deportations, the first unitary government and the declaration of self-determination of the Italian People, the Liberation, the end of the war and the referendum of 1946 and the promulgation of the Italian Constitution.

The project will also be the driving force for new future research and dissemination initiatives promulgated by the Mubat Association. Its importance led us to slightly modify the editorial plan of Occupied Italy, postponing the publication of the third issue, originally scheduled for September 2023, and creating an additional issue dedicated to presenting the project of the digital museum spread and underlining the importance of the application of digital technologies for the advancement of historical research and the enhancement of cultural heritage.

This special issue therefore contains contributions on the state of the new technologies, on the working methods made possible by them, as well as a more traditional historical contribution collected thanks to the networking activity started in recent years. The article by Michael Somerville has been chosen as representative of the directive of work undertaken by Mubat in recent years, as the result of historical research but also of personal experience, based on oral family testimonies and solid archival research, emphasizing therefore as the historical memory can be transmitted from the individuals to the community through the combined use of the scientific resources, from the traditional historical search to the new technologies.

*Occupied Italy chief editor