Application of the scientific and systemic vision to the Misericórdia de Monforte documentation held by the Municipal Historical Archive


  • António Jorge Botelheiro Carrilho Arquivo de Portalegre



historical archivistics, scientific and systemic vision, classification


This text is the result of a process initiated in the summer of 2021, based on contacts established with the former Head of Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Monforte, Professor Joaquim Mourato, who recognised the lack of conditions for the dignified safeguarding of the five documentary collections held by that institution, and agreed with their transfer to the municipal archive. The five documentary funds were produced by the following entities: Misericórdia de Monforte; Misericórdia de Assumar; Comissão de Assistência do Concelho de Monforte; Comissão de Assistência aos Pobres de Monforte; Clube Artístico Monfortense. 472 (of 534) installation units (boxes, folders, books, notebooks, binders, among others), belonging to Misericórdia de Monforte, obviously stand out and contain documents of great historical value for the institution and for the town of Monforte, corresponding to more than five centuries of history. Those units were the subject of that historical and archival work, aimed to understand the context and scope of production, as well as the content of the information. This resulted in a lengthy inventory and the establishment of classification tables based on organic-functional criteria and on the systemic and interactive model recommended by Armando Malheiro da Silva et al. (1999). The systemic model is based on the assumption that families and other public and private entities are dynamic systems that generate, contextualise and receive information, communicated through a material support. The proposal of the systemic model consists precisely in carrying out a search, which contextualises and makes available accurate information on the accumulated documentation, document by document. The archivist ceases to be a mere provider, storekeeper, preserver, inventor, and becomes the scientist who seeks to understand and explain the informational object (the document) in all its complexity. We did not undertake such achievement, because it would be impossible to do it in such a short period of time and space, given such a large volume of documents. However, we were left with the basis for future description work, document by document. This contribution, this sharing, to all those involved in the study of documents, is written from a point of view in which History and Archival Science appear as two inseparable sides of the same reality.

            This is followed by the state of the art, in which we seek to recover some of the methodologies used to sustain the classification and description exercise, applied to the transferred documentary fund. We also remember some bibliography about the general history of the misericórdias and the one of Monforte, in particular, and the documentation that has been classified and inventoried. Finally, we make some considerations on the applicability of the systemic model to the studied fund.

            Regarding to methodology, we highlight the following contributions: a) the work of Armando Malheiro da Silva, Fernanda Ribeiro, Júlio Ramos and Manuel Luís Real, especially in what concerns the archival method, inspired by Paul de Bruyne et al. (1974); b) the work of Maria de Lurdes Rosa, who considers as a priority the knowledge of the production context of the documentation, through the application of a method of rigorous analysis of the documenting practices of the institutions and their history; c) David B. Gracy II argues, for a successful organisation of the funds, the archivist must analyse the documents as to their provenance, history of the producer, reasons for their production and support; d) Luciana Duranti and Giovanni Michetti believe that the main object of archival research is the document, its context and characteristics, which is why they focus their attention on the entity that creates them and the interactions they experience. The authors state that the difference between historical research and archival research lies in the approach. The former focuses on human action, the latter on the documents that result from human action. It is at the intersection of these two dimensions that we seek to enter, as archival historians; e) With a great monographic and archival interest, the work of Rute Dias Gregório presents, in its first pages, the methodological inspiration of the Canadian and Australian school and of the University of Porto, which understand archives as integrated information systems, in which documents should be studied as a whole, and not by distinct periods, coinciding with the three ages theory of traditional archivistics.

            The history of misericórdias has been documented in monographic works or those with a broader thematic scope, highlighting the social and welfare importance they have assumed since their origins until the present day.

            The classification of the documents of the fund of Misericórdia de Monforte was difficult from the beginning, due to the lack of concern to make organizational charts of the different social bodies and services. However, the careful consultation of the documentation allowed the configuration of the respective classification table, having as main goal the level of description "Series".


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