From June 2-19, 2014, I was researching in Italy; specifically in Bologna and Rome. These were the chief cities of the former Papal States, which was the territory ruled by the Pope until the creation of the kingdom of Italy in 1861. Although all roads led to Rome, many undergraduates went to Bologna, which was the first university town. Officially called the Alma Mater Studiorum, the university received its charter in 1088 CE and has been conducting classes with regularity ever since. Bologna is a distinctive city, known for its love of food and dinner conversation, and sometimes called Bologna La Grassa (the Fat). The city is also known for the medieval fortified towers that still dot the city skyline and its porticoes, which provide refuge from the sun and the medieval fortified towers that still dot the city skyline.
I visited Bologna in order to use the Archivio di Stato di Bologna, the city’s state archive, which houses the papers of the de’ Grassi family. This research is part of a larger project about the de’ Grassi family that investigates how social mobility — movement from one social class to another — was engineered and produced documented effects on Italian families from the 1400s to the 1600s. Over the course of the week that I spent at this archive I read and photographed letters, dowry contracts, papal bulls, and countless other documents, mostly 350-550 years old. It was fascinating but dusty work!
After a week in Bologna I moved on to Rome, where I spent a week and a half in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana and the Archivio Segreto Vaticano (the Vatican Library and the Vatican Archive). At these institutions I examined visitation records documenting inspections of churches, bulls that established the privileges and responsibilities of secular rulers within the Papal States (i.e., the Duke of Urbino), and avvisi (early newsletters that informed subscribers of current events happening in Rome and beyond). Although the Vatican does not allow scholars to photograph its manuscripts, which slows down the pace of work, one of the joys of working at the Vatican is the on site coffee bar, which sells cappuccino for only 70 euro cents!
When not working through boxes of documents and 500-page manuscripts, I braved the Roman summer heat to visit the Vatican Museums (not air conditioned!) and enjoy a Sunday morning speech by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square.