Seen from within, seen from without

Written by  Umberto Eco
How do the people of Ferrara see their home town? And how do others see it? Umberto Eco explains how research can answer these questions.
A city is a complex affair with as many images as it has inhabitants. Indeed, each inhabitant may have many individual images of the same city. As well as this multitude of private images, some cities are also burdened by a weighty "historic" image and this is the problem that the Fondazione della Cassa di Risparmio di Ferrara ran up against when it was trying to decide which of the city's many images it should emphasize in order to decide on the cultural initiatives best suited to its future promotion.


A group of researchers at the Institute of Communications of the University of Bologna under the guidance of Professor Roberto Grandi has been called in to reconstruct the history and typology of Ferrara's recent cultural activities with a view to putting forward some proposals for their future development.

The brief handed to Grandi's team, of course, is not to "invent" a new image but to identify the existing images that Ferrara has created of itself and in so doing provide stimuli that will assist the city's decision makers. Ferrara must therefore "GO INTO analysis". But since the images projected by a city are many, once reconstructed, they will be analysed as "texts" i.e., the "stories" that the city has created about itself will be subjected to semiotical and sociological analysis.

The hope is that this analysis, based on in-depth discussion and semi-structured interviews with significant observers of the local community, will provide a "map" of the diverse classes of perceptions of the past as well as prospects for the future.

In addition, a textual analysis of articles about Ferrara published in the local, national and international press in recent years will produce a new map providing useful information about when and, most importantly, how the printed media convey images of Ferrara. A subsequent comparison of the maps will then enable researchers to identify both the rationale that lies behind certain perceptions and the pertinence of the interviewees' proposals vis à vis the goals of the desired cultural policy.

The data accumulated by that point should suffice to propose ways of bridging any disparities between perceptions of Ferrara's image in Italy and abroad, and also to suggest future strategies for the reinforcement or modification of its characteristic traits.