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2012/07/30

Emanuela Fiorletta, CLI, Rome, Italy: Lesbian Archives in Italy: The Archives of Collegamento Lesbiche Italiane

"The main objective of Archivia is to let women know that we have a heritage, a history, and that we needn't always start from scratch."

The International Women's House in Rome


Emanuela Fiorletta is an archivist, feminist and lesbian activist. In this paper, she focuses on the issues of conservation and availability of the documents produced by Italian lesbian groups from the Seventies onwards and relates the experience of the only proper Italian lesbian archives, the archives of the Collegamento Lesbiche Italiane, housed at the International Women's House in Rome.

What do you think about the questions Emanuela Fiorletta raises in her paper? How, for instance "can small documentation centers and women documentation centers access state or European Union resources?" And "what strategies can we put in place to collect documents of groups having an informal structure and therefore without any strategies for the conservation of their documentary memory, which have no resources and know-how?" 

To read the complete paper, please click on "read more". Enjoy, discuss, comment and share!


Lesbian Archives in Italy: the archives of Collegamento lesbiche italiane

In this paper I’d like to focus on three points:
  1. my position, my experience: how I arrived here;
  2. the experience of Italian Lesbian Archives, a project started with the Collegamento lesbiche italiane in 1986, part of Archivia, a women’s documentation center housed at the International Women's House in Rome;
  3. the critical points about the preservation and conservation of memory of lesbian groups.

1. I'll start with some words about me: I have been feminist for 18 years, an archivist for 10 years, and lesbian for 7 years. In my case these three identities are closely tied, because feminism has led me to lesbianism, lesbianism has profoundly transformed my feminism; and my lesbianism, my feminism, and my political activism have taken and learned a lot from the experiences and elaborations of lesbians and women before me. Political activism has taught me that keeping the memory of the past is vital to know our strength and thoughts for the future: the preservation of memory is a highly political activity, it is a daily struggle against the cultural leveling that the governments of our countries want to impose. I do not work in a documentation center LGBTI, although I'd like to, but I try to use my archival knowledge within the lesbian and feminist movement to which I belong.

2. I am going to talk about the archives of Cli – Collegamento lesbiche italiane. The name means "connection between Italian lesbians": it is a lesbian collective active in Rome between 1981 and 2004. The first Italian lesbian groups were born in the Seventies within a feminist movement that counted hundreds of groups, collectives and squats made up of women. The Cli began its activities in 1981 with the aim of creating a stable connection between Italian lesbians, groups and  individuals alike: the tool chosen was a magazine. 1981 was an important year for the Italian lesbian movement: two national meetings of lesbians were organized in Rome and there was also a demonstration when two women were denounced for kissing in public in a city in Sicily. It was at that time that Cli decided to start publishing a monthly newsletter as a tool to connect and inform Italian lesbians. The newsletter was distributed to around 500 individual subscribers, to women's bookstores and through exchanges with other journals.
In 1986 Cli started a project called Italian Lesbian Archives (Ali), to keep the documents that were accumulating - papers, books, magazines, posters, letters, leaflets, audiotapes, videos, movies about lesbianism in Italy and abroad - with the aim of making them available. 
Thanks to voluntary work a rich international library of journals and magazines was established, as well as a a library of Italian and foreign books and an archive collecting records relating to political, cultural and recreational activities organized by lesbian associations and groups in Italy and around the world. This project ended in 2004, when Cli ended its experience; we now have this fonds, available, but still waiting to be ordered.
The extent of the archival fonds is 30 folders, containing:
  • documents about activities of lesbian collectives in Italy,
  • around 150 posters,
  • newspaper articles about events affecting lesbian women or written by lesbians, 
  • letters written by readers of the bulletin from the remotest towns of Italy, 
  • poems and short stories received by lesbian women for publication,
  • documentation on lesbian films,
  • documentation of Cli’s activity from 1981 to 1993, especially regarding national meetings (with around 80 audiocassettes and 70 videos).
The emeroteca contains whole or part collections of lesbian magazines published between 1974 and 2003: 34 different gay magazines, 72 Italian and 121 foreign magazines about women and lesbianism.
The fonds of Cli is one of the fonds held in Archivia, a women’s documentation center housed at the International Women's House in Rome. Archivia was born in 2003 to keep together and make accessible archival and bibliographic materials of feminist groups and organizations operating in Rome since the early 70s. All their fonds have been recognized as significant historical interest by the Ministry for Cultural Assets and Activities. Now Archivia maintains 20.000 volumes, 600 periodicals and 11 archival fonds.
The main objective of Archivia is to let women know that we have a heritage, a history, and that we needn't always start from scratch. And also to make known and accessible gender culture, which is still underestimated in official places such as schools, universities, research centers, at least in Italy. When students want to do research at University, for example on feminism in the '70s, or on the lesbianism, it is easy for professors to say it is not possible because there are no sources. But this is not true, and Archivia proves it! 

2. To conclude I would like to focus on the issues of conservation of memory of lesbian groups of the past, present and future:
  • - The first point concerns the collection and preservation of documents over time: what strategies can we put in place to collect documents of groups having an informal structure and therefore without any strategies for the conservation of their documentary memory, which have no resources and know-how? How can we preserve digital documents that are extremely fragile and volatile, but that right now represent most of their documentation? Especially I’m thinking electronic mails, discussion lists, blogs, websites. We know that with digital records preservation is necessarily an active intervention: with paper records it was enough not to throw them away but with digital records  you need to decide what to keep.
  • - The second point is related to the description of documents and networking with other documentation centers: we need to use a description language, which respects our differences and specificities (for example a controlled vocabulary as access point to documents, that isn’t sexist, which covers the difference between the genders). We must develop our description language, between centers that have similar documentation (as with the centers that are here) to allow the sharing of information. But at the same time how can we share our information with larger networks of archives and libraries such as national networks? Do we want to promote change in the language and culture of these networks?
  • - The last problem (but probably the biggest) is resources: how can small documentation centers and women documentation centers access state or European Union resources? Especially as these documentation centres are self-administered and critical of the dominant and patriarchal culture? In the case of Archivia, the funding comes from individuals who believe in the project or foundations that fund cultural projects, but we are talking about small sums of money, and the work is done mostly on a voluntary basis.

I will end with an input for the common future: I think it is important to join forces to find resources, and to create networks between our centers of documentation, using a common software, open source, free, professional and easy to use. And this is only the beginning!

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