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Families in flux.

Between literature and geography.

Interview: Bettina Volz-Tobler

Dr. Barbara Piatti mediates between academia and the public. She manages and develops interdisciplinary and cultural history projects, creating formats ranging from books to digital portals, festivals to audio dramas and staged walks – both on her own initiative and on behalf of official bodies, institutions and businesses.

Dr. Barbara Piatti. (Photo: Gabi Weber)
Dr. Barbara Piatti. (Photo: Gabi Weber)

UNI NOVA: Dr. Piatti, you studied German, philosophy and art history at the University of Basel and have become a versatile cultural mediator. What were your most important takeaways from your studies?

BARBARA PIATTI: Independence: finding niches, trusting in my own ideas rather than constantly following “trends”. Some people in my field were skeptical when I decided to focus on literary geography in my studies and my doctoral dissertation. It seemed a somewhat esoteric topic that always had to be explained. Today, literary geography is established in the German-speaking regions, too. There are even reference books and textbooks.

UNI NOVA: What is the central idea that connects all your projects and activities?

PIATTI: Telling the best stories possible! As an author, I often grant myself the freedom to invent, to set the scene – following detailed background research, of course, and imagining how things might have been. I’m fascinated by the semifictional.

UNI NOVA: In a way, you feel at home in all media that promote culture and history education, and are also involved in various e-projects, such as a walk through the town of Laufen that almost feels like an audio drama. How did this project come about?

PIATTI: The idea came from the Emil and Rosa Richterich-Beck Foundation, who wanted to present Laufen, which is located by the River Birs,– as a historical echo chamber: I was commissioned to develop ten characters and make them “speak” – from a Neolithic Age woman to a medieval builder, a 17th-century mercenary and a market vendor in the interwar period. Character portraits are displayed on house walls and the audio dramas can be accessed via QR codes. I created something similar for Pfeffingen Castle together with Reto Marti, who runs “Archäologie Baselland” – the eight listening stations were opened in September and include impressive graphics.

UNI NOVA: What projects have you got planned next?

PIATTI: A large non-fiction book about the Alps for children, which I am writing together with Thomas Streifeneder, an economic geographer from Eurac Researchin South Tyrol. We are also collaborating on a research project entitled “Rural Criticism”, in which we focus on the rapid transformation processes in rural areas and examine how these are portrayed and interpreted by literature. Then I have another book project on the cultural history of cooperative living spanning around 100 years. This will zoom in on people’s everyday lives, so it will also be highly narrative. And for 2021/22, we – that is the “Celestino Piatti – The Visual Legacy” association – are planning books and events to mark the 100th birthday of my father, who was an internationally renowned graphic artist and illustrator.

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