MemoBo. A mare magnum of possibilities: the Bolognese “Memoriali" and their digitisation (1265-1452)

The Bologna Memoriali

The Libri memorialium of Commune of Bologna


The Officium Memorialium was set up by the Commune of Bologna in 1265 to summarize and register all contracts between private individuals, payment receipts, and pacts stipulated in the city and its contado (countryside) whose value was in excess of 20 lire of Bolognini. The aim of this initiative was to prevent manipulation and forgery and thus to guarantee security of acquired rights.

The legal acts had to be registered by notaries employed by the Commune in special books called libri memorialium. The registration had to be done within one day after the stipulation of the contract, which otherwise would be invalidated. 

Due to its overarching nature and its continuity over time, this source is an invaluable entry point to investigate the everyday life of the city, its main economic and social activities and its protagonists, something even more important considering the gaps in the Bolognese notarial documentation from that period.

The series of the libri memorialium is very well known, also because its pages contain several poetic attestations in the vernacular written by the notaries who held the office, including some very early evidence of the circulation of Dante Alighieri's texts. However, this type of source is difficult to use, unless one proceeds by analysing just some essays, due to its breadth and complexity, as well as to the fact that it is almost completely unpublished. At the same time, the libri memorialium are unanimously considered one of the richest documentary series on the history of communal Italy: 322 registers, drafted between 1265 and 1452 and preserved at the Archivio di Stato di Bologna, which is a partner of the project. 


See also: bibliography

MemoBo Project

Abstract: from archive to web

The project stems from the desire and need to make the series of the libri memorialium more accessible, through an analysis of individual unpublished acts, the extraction of their most significant data and the inclusion of the latter in a open access online database. 

This first phase will be followed by the possibility of expanding the database by transcribing the documents in their entirety and by digitally reproducing them. 

The expected main results are: 

a) The creation of an open-access search tool with different access keys to the documentary fund.

b) The organization of serial data that will provide scholars with a solid basis allow for more detailed research on economic, social, and legal history of a main medieval city.

c) The training of university students and early career scholars in historical research on unpublished sources and their digital processing

Step 1

The start-up phase of the project (2020) was characterized by the creation of a specific software for data recording and indexing, which was built in partnership with Regesta.exe.

The development of the IT tool and its testing were carried out by means of an initial survey of two registers (no. 69 and no. 229), chosen for their relevance: the first contains the oldest record of a poem by Dante, while the second concerns the year 1348, when Bologna was hit by the Black Death. 

Within this exploratory phase, the financial support provided by both the Department of History and Cultures of the University of Bologna and the Fondazione del Monte di Bologna e Ravenna, made possible to involve in the projects both undergraduates and master students and early career scholars (PhD candidates and postdocs) and to cover the costs of their training and of their work in the start-up filing operations.

Step 2

This phase aims to expand the team of scholars involved in the project in order to refine the software, complete the data set of the two volumes explored in phase I and, at the same time, start the analysis of register no. 1.

Furthermore, the research group is preparing a workshop where, in addition to the presentation of the first results of the project, there will be the possibility for collective and multi-faceted reflections on methodologies, opportunities and challenges connected with the creation and use of digital tools for in historical research. 

Step 3

In the third phase of the project ( since September 2021) the implementation of the database is in progress, through the indexing of some sample registers; furthermore, thanks to this, it has been possible to continue a process of refining the software form, in order to make it as consistent as possible with the research demands and the complexity of the data.

In addition, a preparatory phase began with the establishment of a line of research aimed at experimenting, through artificial intelligence technologies, the possibilities offered by machine learning and handwritten recognition, instruments that could allow greater access to the most conspicuous documentary series, such as the Memorials.

In the " Learning" line of the project, master's degree theses and internships aimed at the training of young scholars have been launched and the multidisciplinary laboratory within the master's degree course in Historical and Oriental Sciences is underway.


Researchers at work

An essential feature of the project is the participation of "new generations" of scholars and researchers: their active involvement is intended both in terms of a highly interdisciplinary training (which involves palaeographic, historical, archival, digital humanities science) for the purposes of the project, and in terms of providing new skills to scholars of the historical past, who cannot ignore the use of new media and new digital tools (including the new problems posed by them).

This aspect is a fundamental part of MemoBo's project. This goal will be pursued through ongoing collaboration between researchers with different backgrounds, in a continuous exchange of interdisciplinary skills, and through ad hoc training sessions organized as part of the project itself. 

Laboratory 6 cfu - Second cicle degree in History and Oriental Studies

Starting from the academic year 2021/22 a "Laboratory of Medieval studies" (6 cfu) will be set up within the Second cycle degree in History and Oriental Studies.

Curricular internship

Students of the Second cycle degrees in History and Oriental Studies; in Italian Studies, European Literary Cultures, Linguistics; in Philology, Literature and Classical Tradition will be able to choose to carry out their curricular internship (6 cfu) in the MemoBo project.

Dissertation (Second cycle degree)

Second cycle degree students can write their Master's thesis by taking part in the project.

People and Institutions


Scientific supervisors are: 

  • Tommaso Duranti (Dipartimento di Storia Culture Civiltà / DISCI - Università di Bologna): Scientific supervisor
  • Maddalena Modesti (Dipartimento di Filologia Classica e Italianistica / FICLIT - Università di Bologna): Scientific vicesupervisor 
  • Maria Giuseppina Muzzarelli (Dipartimento di Storia Culture Civiltà / DISCI - Università di Bologna): creator and scientific advisor


To contact us, please click on the name. 

Scientific Board

The international scientific board: 

  • Attilio Bartoli Langeli (Pontificio ateneo Antonianum)
  • Marta Calleri (Università di Milano)
  • Massimo Giansante (Archivio di Stato di Bologna)
  • Giuliano Milani (Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée)
  • Antonella Rovere (Università di Genova)
  • Laurent Vissiére (Université Paris Sorbonne)

Research Team

The people and institutions involved can be found in the appropriate sections of the website: