Public History in the Università della Terza Età: a personal experience

Author: Marco Fabbrinihas a master’s degree in Political Science, and is a student in history at the department of Historical Sciences and Cultural Heritage of the University of Siena
A class at LUA

I first approached Università Popolare in 2013. At that time, I had just finished my postgraduate studies and, due to my thesis, I had done an in depth study on the topic of ius ad bellum. Ius ad bellum defines all the juridical profiles that, through history, characterised the debate on when it is possible to start a war; whether the war’s motives were religious or sovereign, or whether the war was against the New World’s populations.

The Amiata Free University (Libera Università dell’Amiata – LUA) was extremely interested in this topic due to its relation to the present, as my research studied a prolonged period of time, from ancient Rome to Kant’s project for Perpetual Peace. What surprised me the most, however, was who the interest was coming from: a Università Popolare, hence a university that in Italy represents an association for social promotion, not owned by the state, non-profit and based on volunteers. LUA students are mostly adults, and the association not only constitutes a strong aggregation means for elderly people, but also an important vehicle of culture and knowledge of extraordinary potential.

After a couple of introduction and more general classes, we could repeat this positive experience through the years. We managed to offer more and more detailed lessons on historical topics, such as: a class on the Valladolid Dispute (1550-1551), the evolution of the ius in bello during the First World War, and the weapons revolution that characterised the latter conflict. Finally, we touched on more recent topics, such as the historical and political dynamics that led to the birth of ISIS.

ms revolution that characterised the latter conflict. Finally, we touched on more recent topics, such as the historical and political dynamics that led to the birth of ISIS.

The meetings were always filled with incredible interest and participation, not only due to the number of people in class, but also due to the students’ effort and willingness to go deeper. This is what fascinated me the most: their continuous commitment to researching links, connections, and consequences in the present world. Thinking about it, this is the main mission of a Public Historian: leading the process of historical learning in order to better understand actuality and its dynamics that – as we all well know – are never a consequence of fortune.

Even though Università Popolare cannot actually give any official title and, of course, they are not comparable to state universities, contributing to the promotion of a relationship between historians and popular universities could be a good way to introduce, young and old, to themes that are becoming more and more relevant. I would say, for example, that the knowledge of the past in order to understand the present is in everyone’s interest. Only a few years after my start in LUA, when I discovered ‘Public History’ as a discipline, I realised that I had already been doing it myself, through those classes. I would also say that it was good Public History, not referring to the quality of my lessons (only my students could judge that), but due to the results that those meetings have produced. I personally learned a lot, understanding what questions touched the student’s interest most on the topics that I was studying. Furthermore, I hope that these classes have enriched my audience as much as myself, as during the exchange of experiences, my research had a role in guiding them through a better understand of the topics we discussed.


Marco Fabbrini: has a master’s degree in Political Science, and is a student in History at the department of Historical Sciences and Cultural Heritage of the University of Siena. Writer and professional copywriter, he is particularly passionate about historytelling and historical novels.


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