The Granaries of Memory: more than a thousand life stories on the new online portal

“In a world in which we listen less and less, we ask people to tell us their story, we preserve it, we communicate it and we give it continuity.”

That’s how Piercarlo Grimaldi, anthropologist and dean of the University of Gastronomic Sciences, sums up the almost five years of life of the Granaries of Memory. Conceived at UNISG by Grimaldi in collaboration with Carlo Petrini and Davide Porporato, the project has recently received a new web portal, with a completely overhauled graphic design and much new content. Higher video quality, new search functions, a more modern interface and a series of new supporting texts now make it even easier to navigate through the thousand-plus life stories collected by the Pollenzo university. The website has also been redesigned to make it mobile responsive, so that it can be easily accessed from smartphones and tablets as well as computers. The new portal’s technical development has been overseen by Sinbit, a spin-off from the University of Turin’s IT Department.

The Granaries of Memory is in effect a kind of research lab at UNISG, where an editorial team works regularly on collecting, archiving and making accessible a rich heritage of oral history. “We have created many collaborations over the years,” explains Dean Grimaldi, “starting with Slow Food and its global network made up of Presidia, convivia and Terra Madre food communities, as well as the MedEatResearch center for social research on the Mediterranean diet in Naples, the Ignazio Buttitta Foundation in Palermo, the International Center for Mediterranean Anthropological, Dialectological and Ethnomusicological Studies and the Sicilian Ethnographic Archive in Palermo.” In 2016, the project’s extensive research work was awarded a prestigious Europa Nostra Award by the non-governmental organization of the same name, which supports and promotes Europe’s cultural and natural heritage.

The Granaries of Memory multimedia archive is composed first and foremost of stories relating to food, told by cheesemakers from Piedmont and farmers from Africa, by representatives of the Terra Madre network and chroniclers of the Mediterranean diet, by Slow Food Presidia producers and young people working in agriculture all over the world, by the chefs invited to participate in the Academic Tables and the many voices recorded by the Pollenzo students during their study trips. But that’s not all. Stories have also been collected that testify to other aspects of human life: tales of artisanal craftsmanship and local history, narratives from Piedmontese partisans and factory workers and accounts from the artists, intellectuals and scholars who have held seminars and conferences in Pollenzo.

“In these years, the research methodology of the Granaries of Memory has been recognized at both a national and international level,” says Grimaldi. “For example, thanks to the collaboration with the National Centre for the Study of Truffles and the National Association of Truffle Cities, we have contributed to the nomination of truffle culture to be considered part of the intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO.”

“At the same time, as of this summer, we will be working with Slow Food on the research project funded by the European program Interreg Central Europe, which involves public entities and non-profit organizations with the aim of promoting the gastronomic heritage of five European cities: Venice in Italy, Dubrovnik in Croatia, Kraków in Poland, Brno in the Czech Republic and Kecskemét in Hungary. Taking the research methodology developed by the Granaries of Memory as a starting point, aspects of intangible cultural heritage linked to the cities’ gastronomies will be studied and recorded. The experience developed by the UNISG team will enrich and support the project, whose innovative nature comes from a strong holistic approach and public-private collaboration.”

Grimaldi continues: “We have created one of the most extensive databases on human life and we are the first university to have done so in a systematic and scientific way. Thanks to a series of keywords and categories, we can retrace thematic threads through each archived story. The Granaries of Memory project allows us to learn about the grammar of oral thought, in other words of the gesture and the word. In this way, from the great pile of information in the Granaries, recurring data emerge that are important to analyze.” He gives an example: “It is interesting to see how the common thread that links the stories of the chefs invited to the Academic Tables in Pollenzo, who are asked to describe the inspiration that led them to cook professionally, is emotion, in other words an emotional presence in their families—usually a mother or a grandmother—who directed them towards food and its preparation.”

When asked if it is hard work organizing and carrying out so many different interviews, Grimaldi responds with a smile: “So far we haven’t come across anyone who has refused to tell their story. On the contrary, people are happy to do it, they want to hand over their intangible legacy to us. We listen to these stories, we preserve them. It’s a human exchange: I give you my story and you give me continuity.”