Public History and Contested Heritage Archival Memories of the Bombing of Italy

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Heather Hughes
Greta Fedele
Zeno Gaiaschi
Alessandro Pesaro


This article presents a case study of a collaborative public history project between participants in two countries, the United Kingdom and Italy. Its subject matter is the bombing war in Europe, 1939-1945, which is remembered and commemorated in very different ways in these two countries: the sensitivities involved thus constitute not only a case of public history conducted at the national level but also one involving contested heritage. An account of the ways in which public history has developed in the UK and Italy is presented. This is followed by an explanation of how the bombing war has been remembered in each country. In the UK, veterans of RAF Bomber Command have long felt a sense of neglect, largely because the deliberate targeting of civilians has not fitted comfortably into the dominant victor narrative. In Italy, recollections of being bombed have remained profoundly dissonant within the received liberation discourse. The International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive (or Archive) is then described as a case study that employs a public history approach, focusing on various aspects of its inclusive ethos, intended to preserve multiple perspectives. The Italian component of the project is highlighted, problematising the digitisation of contested heritage within the broader context of twentieth-century history. Reflections on the use of digital archiving practices and working in partnership are offered, as well as a brief account of user analytics of the Archive through its first eighteen months online.

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