Routes {Back}2 Roots

Récit Intangible Digital
Vue d'ensemble

The Digital and Immaterial Village’s ArchivesDiVA’s project is a philanthropic initiative aimed to promote universal and digital free-access to unseen cultural heritage of rural-peripheral, low-density and depopulating areas in the European context, representing more than 40% of EU territory, and in certain countries like Portugal might go up to 60%, with a population density lower than 10 inhab./km2 in these areas. The project, intends to stimulate a sustainable and higher social and territorial cohesion, as well as an inter-generational awareness of the local cultural heritage value, in a new History perspective and integrated view, by implementing a grass-root approach that replicates and interconnect communitarian nodes, each one representing a village access point of DiVA’s network. As a result, this digital content repository – “digital hub” compiles cultural heritage elements with ethnographic, anthropologic and historical relevance, which might be essential for guiding virtual or physical cultural visits to a specific destiny of interest in Europe, making it visible and keeping alive their memories, traditions and unique traces of identity, even when alive testimonies of the past are passing away. Additionally, it stimulates the sense of belonging of remaining inhabitants and theirs descendant generations of native digitals in diaspora.

The father of the evolution’s theory – J. B. S. Haldane once wrote, “Everything has a history”, meaning that everything has a past that might be projected into the future by a thorough and delicate cultural reconstruction process, made out by a collection of almost vanished footprints and disperse tiny fragments collected from our ancestors’ legacy. These become intrinsic elements of the whole puzzle – the new History concept – the “history from bellow”, in other words interpreted in the perspective of ordinary people views, taking also into account their experience of social change. In fact, during the last decades, we have seen that traditional paradigm has changed and remarkable pieces of History, which had not been thought before to possess any historical value, has revealed magnificent monuments of cultural heritage, covering vast and unexplored territories, such as: childhood, death, madness, nature, smells, gestures, speaking, sounds, or even silence, for example.

The pioneer work of Digital and Immaterial Village’s ArchivesDIVA’s project has the merit of puzzling out remaining fragments of “new histories”, trying to deconvolute them layer-by-layers, in its unique anthropological and social context, involving primarily communities with extremely low-density populations, in a non-linear process, in order to recognize, reacquire and sharing their own authentic cultural identity and consequently becoming visible to the global World. In other words: linking the dots through a deeper and integrated knowledge – “the routes back to the roots”, reconciling human-centered stories.

Then, a cultural “invisible” place with less than 700 inhabitants and 90 km2 of landscape, in the middle of nowhere, where the social cohesion is reaching a vulnerable level of sustainability that all its cultural values and heritage assets are at risk to be irreversible lost, was the ideal case study targeted in the project, as a proof-of-concept.

By preserving and evoking the memory of an invaluable documental legacy, unseen European rural Communities are challenged to enhance young generation’s awareness on their collective heritage and territorial diversity as a whole, reaffirming the foundational European principles and milestones toward a higher social cohesion and integration of the most peripheral territories. Consequently, young Europeans’ citizens might easily be exposed to wider and transnational cultural roots and ancestral memories; been able to revisit old traditions, rituals, from place-to-place and eventually recognized common ancestors, in their precise socio-cultural context and at a distance of a touch. Digital viewers are then highly stimulated to explore and assimilate a plethora of cultural expressions and to share their common European values, from multilateral perspective and targeting non-specialist audiences.

This was the beginning of an endeavor, when in May 2018 this pioneer initiative was first launched in Europe, from the best of our knowledge, in collaboration with the National Archives of Torre do Tombo (ANTT) and the Governmental Directorate General of Books, Archives and Libraries (DGLAB) of Portugal. This philanthropic and non-profitable collaborative project achieved the first milestone by setting up an open-access digital repository of authorized and unreferenced private documental archives with a notorious historical, sociologic, ethnographic and cultural relevance, and from them, start connecting the dots.

The vast majority of ca. 4.000 indexed documents are photography contact proofs or negatives, of variable formats and states of conservation that thoroughly describe the ways of living, iconographic memories and authentic traditions of more than 200 assigned families already. This repository allows the cultural and historical recall of ancestral traditions, extinct professions or crafts’ techniques, and abundant social fingerprints of the community over times. It allows also an easier and more accurate reencounter with History, memories or simply traces of forgotten ancestral roots, in line with the forefront contemporary perspectives of historical writing.

The preliminary project’s outcome, social impact and public recognition are already significant, taking into account its early stage of development. Since 2018, this seminal work has catalyze more than 20 public initiatives, three of them inscribed under the European Heritage Days framework, for example:

  1. In the European Year of Cultural Heritage (2018) an editorial project entitled “Comenda com Gente: Fotobiografia de uma Aldeia Alentejana”, [BRANCO, Jorge; Lisboa, Ed. Colibri, 2018 ISBN: 978-989-689-752-9] recall the oral testimony of forty ancients, their ancestral roots recreated in the respective phylogenetic trees and illustrated by the Digital Archive through an iconic photo-biography of the vulnerable community of Comenda in Alentejo. Two centuries of history were revisited, over more than 2.000 characters;
  2. In September of 2019, the exhibition “Fotobiografia de uma Aldeia (Alentejana) Global” was presented during the European Heritage Days in Portalegre, together with the seminar “Fontes naturais da Freguesia de Comenda”, dedicated to the environmental heritage, and in particular focused on the natural mineral water fountains;
  3. Also in October of 2020, the first edition of the culture bienal “Encontros de Cultura do Alto Alentejo 20|30”, took place with the presentation of another editorial contribute of the Digital Archive entitled “Antologia do Conto Alentejano”, [BRANCO, Jorge et al.; Lisboa, Ed. Colibri, 2018 ISBN: 978-989-689-977-6], coordenated by the Editor Fernando Mão de Ferro.

In 2023, the third volume of the trilogy entitled “Comenda com História” will be edited, which will represent a breaking through in the field of local history monographies, by developing simultaneous an hyperlinked and augmented reality support to the paperbook edition, allowing a virtual visit of historical places through the Digital Archive public site, as well as a QR coded labelled sites of historical interest linked to the digitally compiled contents and archived historical documentation, with multilingual translation access.

European Dimension

The demography decline and accelerated depopulation process of rural areas in Europe has contributed significantly to the economic and cultural value depreciation, the depletion of social welfare and to the increase of regional asymmetries, over the last decades. These signs are certainly transversal to many others isolated and depressed territories across the European Union, compromising its future development, sustainability and certainly putting in risk the transmission of a significant ancestral legacy of values and cultural heritage to the young generations. On the other hand, this warning represents an opportunity for the enhancement of European integration: how to enhance citizens’ engagement into the European principles and foundational values? More than an innocuous or natural trend, the depopulation phenomena of vast rural areas, together with the “gentrification” of urban centers, represents itself a seemingly irreversible process that drags together the loss of an inclusive and plural European identity driven by a diversity of native cultures, their sense of belonging to a given birth place and consequently their inscription into a multi-secular and wealthy cultural heritage that urge to be restored, protected and preserved. Then, the answer seems obvious, no one is able to understand the essence of EU integration process, unless individual contributions and cultural values, representative of single communities, are fully recognized and consigned as an inseparable part of the whole project, by the European authorities.

The authentic sense of belonging as European Citizen starts precisely here, in the capacity of peripheral communities, sometimes with no more than few hundreds of inhabitants, to be recognized by their intrinsic value, in a truly multicultural European Union. Second, to find out an interactive and credible communication platform able to gather the attention of senior and young generations on common interests. Eventually, through a wisely integrated and open-accessible network, which will stimulate the general public perception and strengthening the sense of belonging to the truly European identity, of nearly 510M EU citizens. This interconnection of a highly fragmented and partially untracked cultural heritage, built upon the living testimonies and the legacy of contemporary communities, independent of their size and historical role, is of primordial relevance. Nowadays, its access is uncertain, limited and hard-to-reach, due to the inexistence of a comprehensive inventory and awareness of the hidden collective value, even by their owner or legitimate heirs. Then, the Digital Villages’ Archives (DiVAs) network, as a private an non-profitable initiative, aims to be an open-access collaborative platform promoting the interconnection between the young digital native’s generation of Millennials (aged <35), most of them forced to emigrate and abandon their homeland, and the last native inhabitants (elderly population, aged >65 years old that represents more than 40% of inhabitants, in Alentejo, for example); guided by an active engagement with the ideal of the European Union and its values. The increasing demographic asymmetry observed in these regions over last decades, despite all communitarian efforts and implemented strategies to invert this trend, represent a crescent risk on the preservation of local cultural heritage, consequently on a timely perception of what an inclusive European identity really stands for. Therefore, DiVAs’ approach has been consistently mobilizing consciences to tackle this challenge since the beginning, assuming ab initio that this reality is one of the biggest threats for the EU values consolidation nowadays, affecting innumerous regions and communities in a similar context and extent. Then, DiVAs’ project envision to bridge this gap, by focusing the problem on the citizen’s awareness about the European ideal and cultural diversity, based on compelling human-centred stories. Such a systematic approach might be easily scaled-up and replicated in similar depopulated or peripheral regions in EU at marginal implementation costs. The settlement of a comprehensive network gathering hard-to-reach segments of population through an appealing and intuitive communication channel will ultimately contributes to mitigate the identified demographic asymmetries burden, while potentiate the visibility of hidden cultural realities of disperse European communities, by interconnecting them. Additionally, it aims to promote the engagement of European citizens into a wider cultural diversity, cultivating a more informed and tolerant society.