Research

The Handbook, the Field, and the Archive: Photographic Practices and the Rise of Anthropology in Italy (1861-1911)

Agnese Ghezzi

The research aims to provide a critical analysis of the interconnection between photography and ethnography along the institutionalization of the anthropological discipline in Italy from 1861 to 1911. The investigation is built on the analysis of photographic collections from the Museum of Ethnology and Anthropology (Florence), the Pigorini Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography (Rome), the Italian Geographical Society (Rome), Castello D'Albertis Museum of World Cultures (Genoa) and it addresses the hybrid nature of visual sources such as ethnographic photography, produced at the intersection between scientific necessity, aesthetic pleasure, travel documentation, and commercial use.
The time span follows the first fifty years of the Italian unification and analyses the discipline's role within the new nation, as well as the connection with colonial endeavour and geographical explorations. The research aims at reconstructing the mixed environment that characterized anthropology in its making, informed by the interaction of multiple actors, agendas, institutions, geographies and systems of knowledge, and it traces the role played by photography in such dynamic exchanges.
Rather than focusing on specific biographies and taking an authorial perspective, the research looks at photography in its multiple manifestations within the anthropological discipline, looking at publications, archives, expeditions, and exhibitions. The study of Italy allows reconsidering dominant narratives on the connection between anthropology and photography, to position the case in a wider global context, to analyse the peculiar traits of Italian colonial culture before the Libyan war and the fascist era. Moreover, the research considers how Italian anthropology looked at national popular traditions, and how it visualized them through photography.

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