Federico FERRETTI, Università di Bologna, Italy
Inspired by postcolonial literature on the exile and by the recent wave of historical works on critical and radical geographies, this paper extends current trends in the ‘biographical turn’ in the history of geography with a special focus on sources and methodology. It does so by addressing the relationship between geography, political dissidence and exile through police sources. Police folders are a traditional archival resource for political history and for biographies of key activists of subversive movements. Yet, they seem to be under-considered in the field of the history of geography, to the point that an anonymous referee for one of my recent papers was (puzzlingly) scandalized by my use of police documents. Eventually, I suspect that this person was so surprised by the use of such unusual documents to guess that, for being watched by the Police, the geographer whose work I discussed there should also be guilty of some ‘crime’ rather than only being the figure of exile and political persecuted that I was portraying.
Thus, this presentation’s argument is that historians of geography should (re)discovery police sources as one of the instruments to do the history of critical geographies by linking scholarship and political dissidence, and as an alternative way to claim the political relevance of our discipline. While police records need to be handled with much caution giving their originally biased nature, it is worth noting that all sources are partial and must never be taken uncritically. I discuss these matters by addressing three amazing cases: the Italian Secret Archives of the Florentine Police, whose spies watched anarchist geographer Lev Me?nikov in the 1860s alongside political fellows including Bakunin; the police folders on Elisée Reclus surviving at the French National Archives, and the Paris Préfecture de Police folders on Brazilian exiled geographer Josué de Castro and his French anticolonial fellows Jean Dresch and Jean Suret-Canale, among others.
Keywords: Biography|History of Geography|Critical Geographies|Police Sources|Anarchism