XII Congreso Internacional de Historia de la Cultura Escrita

Genova, 13-14 maggio 2024


People without history. The public use of subordinate writings in the early modern and modern periods



For over fifty years, scholars have been questioning the potential and limits of so-called popular writings in historical reconstruction. Since it refers to an elusive social dimension, both cultural, sociological, and anthropological, which may change in different chronological and geographical contexts, the adjective popular itself has been and still is at the center of a heated debate. Even the expression most commonly used for this kind of study in the Anglo-Saxon and French areas (ordinary writing / écriture ordinaire) fails to fully establish the criteria that identify the ordinariness or subalternity of a writer and writing. These categories deal with one of the most delicate points, the correct definition of the social groups under analysis, those uncommon people capable of influencing general history from an asymmetrical condition to power. These definitions, while casting different lights on the subject, all converge in an effort to focus on the non-professional nature of the texts and the exclusion of the writers from the hegemonic classes. Their written production, often close to orality, denotes inexperience in the control of the writing space and poor adherence to grammatical rules.


Thanks to these documents, scholars have progressively demolished the historiographical myth of the silence of the so-called «lower» or «subaltern» classes, the «illiterate» or the «semi-literate», by fully including in the historical narrative men, women, and children who, until that point, had only been condemned to appear in general histories only under the sign of «number and anonymity» and who were therefore to all intents and purposes «people with no history». In other words, actors of both social and textual marginality.


However, such marginalized writings, generally meant for the private sphere and dispersion, sometimes are included in the public discourse. In this transition, they undergo different transformations, adaptation strategies, and visibility policies. We are dealing with a mare magnum that includes the publication of diaries, letters, memoirs, and autobiographies; the dissemination of texts through the internet, theatrical performances, public events, and the use of writings in museum contexts, in official or spontaneous memorials, in funeral commemorations and cemeteries.


We, therefore, invite contributions dedicated to the dynamics of the re-signification of subaltern writings in public space in the early modern and modern period. Ordinary writings produced by subaltern actors (popular classes, men and women, childhood) in the transition from the private to the public sphere should therefore be investigated with particular attention to the spaces used, the practices adopted, the strategies of visibility (or obscuration) chosen, the appropriations by civil society, the policies of preservation of popular memory and the pedagogical-didactic use of writings.


In particular, will be positively evaluated proposals concerning:

  • preservation and archiving of writings of subaltern classes
  • publication of letters, autobiographical texts, and other writings of subalterns
  • subaltern writings in newspapers
  • changes of texts in the transition from the private to the public sphere
  • writings in movement (marches, demonstrations, strike, etc.)
  • strategies of commemoration and monumentalisation
  • public exhibits of ordinary writings
  • visibility and dissemination through the media



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Communication by the Scientific Direction of the accepted proposals


Deadline for submitting            the proposals


Celebration of the XII CIHCE