Report from the Annual Meeting of Associazione Italiana di Storia Orale (AISO)

By Jakub Gałęziowski, University of Warsaw/Polish Oral History Association

One of the postulates of the last Polish Oral History Association (Polskie Towarzystwo Historii Mówionej, PTHM)[1] General Assembly was to establish new contacts and develop international cooperation. This year’s meeting took place just after the end of the scientific conference, which brought together researchers from different parts of Europe in Wroclaw’s Depot History Center[2]. The theme of the event was borderlands. One of the fruits of the conference was the making of connections with Patrick Urru, who came there not only with his own research topic, but also with a mission as a delegate of the Italian Oral History Association (Associazione Italiana di Storia Orale, AISO), authorized to initiate relations with the Polish counterpart. Shortly thereafter, as a representative of PTHM, I was invited to attend the annual meeting and General Assembly of AISO in Naples on November 12-13 of this year.

The venue of the meeting was no coincidence; it culminated months of collaboration between AISO and the Napoli InVita Association, which is dedicated to working with residents of the Neapolitan neighbourhood of Sanità[1]. The Casa Sanità (Sanità House) centre, which opened in late spring, is hosting, among other things, the Memorie nel futuro (Memory in the Future) project, which aims not only to document the lives of residents, but also to strengthen their ties to the place and socialize with each other, including intergenerational integration. The event was preceded by a workshop, where experts from AISO shared their skills and experiences in implementing oral history projects, as well as their knowledge of memory studies, digital archiving or communication[2].

The main part of the agenda was scheduled for Saturday, November 12. It began in the morning with a seminar entitled “Sharing memories. Esperienze di archiviazione e diffusione di fonti orali” (Sharing memories. Experiences in archiving and dissemination of oral sources), which consisted of five presentations, two commentaries and a discussion. Each presentation dealt with one of the recently completed or currently ongoing oral history projects, whether documentary or scientific. Anna Maria Zaccaria of the University of Naples talked about the Multimedia Archive of Memorie dal territorio (Memories from the Territory), which collects digital collections – audio and video recordings, transcriptions – from oral history projects documenting local history in its individual dimension, and carried out at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Naples[1]. Among the main topics in these collections are World War II, earthquakes and other natural disasters (e.g., volcanic eruptions), and bradyzeism[2].

Marcello Anselmo of Radio Rai3 shared his experience of combining the toolkit of a social historian with that of a radio host, using oral accounts of local citizens in his work[1]. Marco Vito and Giuseppina Pessolano of the Napoli InVita association talked about the Memorie nel futuro project. Giuliano Marotta and Fabiana Marrocco (Parco della Torre di Tormarancia Association) and Chiara Spadaro (AISO), meanwhile, reported on the proceedings of two “oral history schools” held this year. The first was in Rome (17-19 June), in the Tor Marancia district (Prima scuola di storia orale e public history nel paesaggio metropolitano di Roma)[2]. And the second one – the “Ecoscuola di storia orale e public history” (Ecoscuola di storia orale nel paesaggio del prosecco superiore) in Cison di Valmarino (Treviso province in Veneto) – was held last July (9-11) for the second time[3]. Both combined methodological training with embedding in local history. The talks were summarized by Gabriella Gribaudi of the University of Naples and Daniele Jalla, national delegate of ICOM (International Council of Museums) followed by a vivid discussion.

In the afternoon, the second part of the meeting started with the organization’s General Assembly, where, among other things, a report on its annual activities was presented. This formal element of the meeting became an opportunity for me to learn in detail about all dimensions of Italian oral history.

The Italian Oral History Association was founded in 2006 in Rome in response to the need for a formal framework for the joint actions of local oral historians and as direct fruit of 2004 congress of the IOHA held in Rome. Gabriella Gribaudi became the organization’s first president, followed by: Giovanni Contini, Alessandro Casellato and Antonio Canovi (since 2021). Currently, the association has more than 150 members, and it should be noted that this year alone it has doubled its number. As Canovi stressed at the meeting, the organization has the character of a “genuine association”; its geographical coverage is nationwide (although members from the north of Italy predominate, a growing number also come from the southern part of the peninsula and the islands), and its composition is diverse: it brings together different generations of oral historians, representing both academics and activists. According to the AISO president, it is the diversity of individuals’ experience that translates into the level of content and quality of services offered. This is not an exaggerated statement – from the last year’s report alone, AISO can boast of many achievements.

First and foremost are the so-called oral history schools, which have already made a national reputation. This year alone, several such workshops were held in various locations throughout Italy. A distinctive feature of these meetings is that they combine theoretical classes with locally implemented practice, often involving local residents. “Schools” either deal with specific topics or relate to the natural and cultural landscape of the places where they are held. One can see connections with public history; there is intense cooperation between the oral history and public history communities in Italy, which manifest, among other things, in jointly organized events.

Collaboration with the Academia is the second important dimension of AISO activities. It is formalized by partnership agreements with the humanities, social and cultural sciences, and linguistics departments of many Italian universities, and in practice is based on the organization of joint seminars and conferences. This year, these included a series of didactic seminars Testimoni e testimonianze: per una didattica delle fonti orali (Witnesses and Testimonies in the Didactics of Oral Sources) held at the Institute for the History of Resistance and Modern Society in Asti (Istituto per la Storia della Resistenza e della Società Contemporanea in Provincia di Asti)[1], or the conference Imparare dagli errori. Difficoltà, complicazioni, ripensamenti nella storia orale (Learning from mistakes. Difficulties, complications, another look at oral history) in Treviso and Venice[2]. Numerous initiatives are also carried out with state archives and other organizations, such as the Gianni Bosio Circle of Rome[3] or the Ernesto de Martino Institute of Sesto Fiorentino (including editing the journal “Il de Martino. Storie, voci, suoni”)[4]. In addition, under the scientific supervision of AISO first president and together with the publishing house Editpress of Florence, an oral history and memory series is published. The last issue was entirely devoted to transcription, a topic that was the subject of last year’s conference at La Sapienza University in Rome[5].

[1] The program is available online, see (accessed: 22 XII 2022 r.).

[2] The program is available online, see (accessed: 22 XII 2022 r.).

[3] Founded in 1972, this association currently brings together various forms of documentary, cultural and educational activities for peace, intercultural integration, and migrants, among others, using oral sources and folk music; it runs the House of Memory and History in Rome. The organization’s president is Alessandro Portelli. For more information, see (accessed: 22 XII 2022 r.); Gianni Bosio (1923-1971) – Italian historian, researcher and promoter of folk music, activist of the Italian Socialist Party.

Highlighting best practices for oral history practitioners in Italy is also an important aspect of AISO’s mission. On the association’s website, you can find the latest version (updated with the GDPR regulations) of the ethical guideline for oral historians[1]. AISO was also one of the main actors of the intersectoral team of people involved in the drafting of the “Prodedure on how to deal with oral sources” (Vademecum per il trattamento delle fonti orali) – a document of considerable importance, regulating at the central level the rules for the acquisition, archiving, preservation and application of interviews in various fields of exploitation, including the use of existing archives, especially those collecting recordings with unregulated status[2].

The final part of the Saturday program was my presentation on oral history in Poland and the operations of PTHM. The short lecture was followed by a lively conversation about the position of oral history in the social sciences and historiography in Italy and Poland. We noticed that there are many similarities as to the status of oral history at universities in both countries. As a conclusion, we agreed that there is much to be inspired from each other.

On the second day of the workshop, there were two walking tours of the Sanità neighbourhood. They gave me the opportunity to get to know the place itself and look at the daily life of its residents and confirmed the enormous potential of the Casa Sanità initiative, which has attracted oral historians from all over Italy and one oral history practitioner from Poland.

All information about the aforementioned initiatives, as well as many previous events and future plans, are available on the AISO website, edited by a team of volunteers – a portal that hardly any oral history association would be ashamed of. I hope that in the near future it will be at least partially available in English.

[1] See: (accessed: 22 XII 2022 r.).

[2] See: (accessed: 22 XII 2022 r.).

[4] Association founded in 1966 in Milan by Gianni Bosio to promote research on folk and labor culture, today a cultural institution with one of Italy’s largest audio archives, see (accessed: 22 XII 2022 r.); Ernesto de Martino (1908-1965) – Italian ethnologist and religious scholar, socialist and communist political activist in Italy.

[5] The title of the latest volume in the aforementioned oral history series refers directly to the title of a conference held in early 2021 in Rome: Scrivere (quasi) la stessa cosa. La trascrizione come atto interpretativo nella pratica della storia orale (Transcribing almost the same thing. Transcription as an interpretive act in the practice of oral history), see (accessed: 22 XII 2022 r.).

[1] For more on Marcello Anselmo’s activities, see (accessed: 22 XII 2022 r.).

[2] See: (accessed: 22 XII 2022 r.).

[3] See: (accessed: 22 XII 2022 r.).

[1] See: (accessed: 22 XII 2022 r.).

[2] Bradyseism is a geological phenomenon involving the slow rise and fall of the coast in relation to sea level as a result of seismic movements. It brings devastating consequences for the lives of people living in areas including the Bay of Naples.

[1] See: (accessed: 22 XII 2022 r.).

[2] For detailed notes of all meetings, visit (accessed: 22 XII 2022 r.).

[1] See: (accessed: 22 XII 2022 r.).

[2] About the conference see memo: (accessed: 22 XII 2022 r.).