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The Fondazione di Studi Storici Filippo Turati and the city of Florence

In 1976, a group of renowned historians from different Italian universities gathered to create the Istituto Socialista di Studi Storici.  Numerous scholars were part of the board: Giorgio Spini, who became the president of the Institute, Angelo Ventura, Gaetano Arfè, Stefano Caretti, Valerio Castronovo, Gaetano Cingari, Enrico Decleva, Maurizio Degl’Innocenti, Piero Del Negro, Furio Diaz, Ennio Di Nolfo, Franco Gaeta, Giuseppe Giarrizzo, Fabio Grassi Orsini, Carlo Lacaita, Emilio Papa, Alceo Riosa and Carlo Vallauri. The idea was to create a reformist culture that relied on the historian’s accuracy instead of ideological prejudice and wish of extremism in a time extremely difficult for the Italian society, weakened by an economic crisis, political uncertainty and the strategy of terror brought on by terrorists. The Institution was founded on two important principles: the independent exchange of ideas and freedom of expression.

This group of historians chose to open the institution in Florence, which according to them was the ideal city because of its universities and the critical role that the city itself played in the assertion of the democratic Italian Republic. Florence was also a city traditionally fertile with cultural innovation in continue dialogue with national and international research institutes. It was also a city not influenced by Roman political views and, at the same time, always open to building relationships with local institutions in the interest of the community.
The Institution established its venue in Via Ricasoli 49. It was a happy choice. The Institution began building relationships with Italian Universities, the CNR and national and international research Institutes. A series of publishing initiatives, groundbreaking researches and innovative conferences made the Institute a center of great importance and a pole of convergence of Excellency. The Institute promoted several important projects, among them: Italian socialism and the identity structures of the left compared to the European ones. The Institute held many conferences about the turning points of modern and contemporary history, among them: Rivoluzione e reazione in Europa, 1917-24, La sinistra europea nel secondo dopoguerra, La “Gloriosa” Rivoluzione inglese del 1688. Meanwhile, the Italian Socialist party donated the Leadership’s party papers to the Institute. This was the first of many archives donated by Italian politicians and distinguished intellectuals over the years. This has been, without a doubt, a precious contribution to the cultural life in Florence.
To protect and promote its heritage, in 1985, the Institute, represented by its President Giorgio Spini, decided to create the Fondazione di Studi Storici Filippo Turati. The president of the newborn foundation was Sandro Pertini, after he completed his assignment as Presidente della Repubblica Italiana.
Pertini himself stated that creating the foundation reaffirmed the commitment to defend the principles of cultural autonomy, scientific rigor and freedom, fundamental basis for society.  When Pertini died in February 1990, Giuliano Vassalli, future president of the Constitutional Court, took the leadership. In 1998, it was Maurizio Degl’Innocenti’s turn.

In over 30 years of history, the foundation has developed greatly. It is actively part of numerous associations: IALHI, ITH and AICI. It is included in the contributions’ charts of the MIBACT, MIUR and Regione Toscana; in the last one, it ranks in one of the first places of the institutions recognized of regional interest. The Foundation’s library is part of a network of the libraries in Florence and it has over 115.000 books, which lends to people who are interested in them through another library, the Oblate. The Foundation’s library participates to the digitalization of its entire catalogue, coordinated by Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, which is also a network partner in the project Europeana, 1914-1918. The Foundation’s archive holds over four millions and half documents. The collections are both open to the public and are often consulted by scholars coming from all over the world. The Foundation’s archive subscribes to SIUSA and to SAN. It also cooperates with the National Board of Archives. The Foundation also manages the digital museum and exhibition center “Sandro Pertini” (CESP), which was created in collaboration with the Associazione Nazionale “Sandro Pertini”. This one merged with the Foundation, which gave life to Centro studi e documentazione Sandro Pertini, with the purpose to develop and protect activities of the Associazione Nazionale “Sandro Pertini”. In the consolidated bond with the city of Florence, the Foundation has created the Internet portal “Firenze ieri e oggi”; it also collaborates with the Internet portal “Archivi in Toscana”. The excellent research activities, the conferences and the exhibitions, in collaboration, first of all, with Universities in Tuscany, have created three book series, that all together count over 180 titles. It participates and it has participated in research projects, promoted in agreement with the city of Florence, for example, recently, the project Le ferite della guerra. Lacerazioni e ricomposizioni dell’identità di Firenze e La Patria divisa: società, cultura e politica a Firenze 1918-1922. Palazzo Vecchio has hosted most significant projects promoted by the Foundation, for example the conferences Volontariato e mutua solidarietà. 150 anni di previdenza in Italia (2010), La gestione dei beni culturali in 150 anni di storia d’Italia (2011) and Sandro Pertini nella storia d’Italia (2016). The Foundation has always cared about education, dispensing scholarships, financing grant researches, promoting internships, providing training courses to librarians and archivists, creating specific projects for high school’s students in Florence, favoring guided visits to the library for students and foreigners. The Foundation has also subscribed a protocol with the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism (MIBACT).  Every year is launched a competition, open to every Italian high school, entitled “Matteotti per le scuole”. This competition has reached its 4th edition.

The Foundation’s activity is always virtuous towards the Administration of the city of Florence, following that principle of mutual help, unanimously invoked and often easily forgotten. The numerous agreements subscribed by the Foundation together with the town of Florence, acknowledge the importance of the Institute itself. In fact, the Foundation provides services to the community and the administration of Florence supplies the spaces where the Foundation resides. In 1993, with an emergency order, the major Morales assigned 600 square meters of spaces as headquarters to the Foundation, in a complex of new buildings called Parterre, the premise was to create there a “small city of culture”, giving hospitality to a number of cultural associations. The subsequent administration changed destination of the Parterre complex. It started a complicated journey that brought the Foundation, with a rent-free contract, in Palazzo Coppi (Casa Lapi), in Via Buonarroti 13. The office’s spaces are shared with Federazione regionale delle associazioni antifasciste. The inauguration took place in Palazzo Vecchio, at the presence of Presidente della Repubblica, together with Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri, which had followed the entire iter. In 2003-2004, the cultural plans of the mayor Domenici, included the extraordinary maintenance of Palazzo Coppi and Forte Belvedere. The mayor Renzi decided that Palazzo Coppi was alienable (it could be sold), then changed his mind, revoking his decision. In 2011, new regulations dictated the payment of a very expensive rent, which both the Foundation and the Federazione believed to be excessive, even if there was the possibility that it would be reduced in the future. This remains an unsolved problem. This brings us to a more complex issue: the importance to favor, more now than in the past, the cooperation and networking between local institutions, especially the ones managing heritage like archives and libraries. This project would need resources; but it would bring benefits, even if these would be measured, not in a short period of time, but in the long run.

The so-called “small city of culture” was probably too ambitious, but we still need to think and act as a network, without the risk of remaining isolated. The city of Florence has still a great potential and it can become again a city central for Europe. It must prevail the synergy between private and public, matching ideas with behavior.