The ‘Napoleonic Archives’. Origins and Evolution of the ‘Protocollo-Titolario’ System in Northern Italy Between Late 18th and Early 19th Century

The Napoleonic period in Italy is often considered only a brief interlude between the fall of the Ancien régime and the Restoration. The complex military, political and social events of those years marked instead the transition from the early modern into the modern age: like a real “laboratory of history” where the foundations of current legal, institutional and administrative system of Italy were established. These events also caused important modifications in the archives, in particular with the introduction of the protocollo/titolario system (registry/filing plan system) – whose origin dates back to the German Registratur system (XVI century) – and the elimination of the chanceries, including their registers of medieval origin that were in use in most parts of Italy until the end of the eighteenth century. This paper will address three issues: first, it will describe the birth and evolution of the protocollo-titolario system in Northern Italy, especially in the Italian/Austrian provinces (Bolzano, Trento and Milan), and will also trace the steps of the birth of the Registratur system in sixteenth century Germany.  Second, it will outline the traits of continuity and originality in the protocollo-titolario system in comparison to the chancery document management systems and the very same German Registratur system; it will in particular analyze the difference between the “archival classification” of the Registratur and the “diplomatistic classification” of the protocollo-titolario system. And finally, it will describe the consequences of the application of the protocollo-titolario system, with particular regard to the creation of the “Napoleonic archives”, a typical Italian archives of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, whose consultation and description are often very difficult due to its original rigid structure.

Andrea Desolei is archivist at the Municipality Archive of Padua and adjunct professor of History of Archives at the University of Padua. His main area of interest is the history of archives and institutions of the Napoleonic period in Italy. He has also done research on the history of records management systems in Italy, especially the protocollo-titolario system. He is the author of the monograph Institutions and archives in Padua in the Napoleonic period (1797-1813).