Professor Barbero is not a history populariser. He is a historian-populariser. If at first reading this may seem like a subtlety, a lexical nuance, or a simple play on words, it is not. However, these terms represent two different ways of narrating the story. Moreover, Barbero tells about that segment of history that does not even have a name ‘of its own’: Mediaeval: meaning an era in between. The revolution in Professor Barbero’s paradigm of historian-populariser is radical because he does not bring the analysis, research and studies of years into university classrooms, he does not just, in the pre-COVID era, ‘fill’ classrooms for his seminars. He enters people’s homes, indeed directly into their ears thanks to a podcast amateurishly recorded during his lectures. There is an unbridgeable gulf with the figure of the populariser. Alessandro Barbero is perhaps the most emblematic example of a figure of teacher/academic-populariser that is becoming established, or rather, that is reaching everyone, thanks to digital tools such as YouTube or podcasts. Bringing scientific expertise and subject matter from the university classroom to everyone.
The Academy’s most advanced research and studies, from classrooms to Bluetooth headsets
It is useful to stay on Professor Barbero’s case, because it is fundamental to understand that he is not a simple populariser ‘lent to history’. First of all, when Barbero records a podcast live during conferences open to the public, he does not perform the same operation as the person who is currently writing the article you are reading: the journalist, a bit like the populariser, seeks to recount and reconstruct events with simple words and clear terms, even those related to the past, as in the case of the professor of mediaeval history. The Piedmontese academic is also not a historian who abandons the ‘guidelines’ of his profession to approach the public, becoming pop. Alessandro Barbero is a history teacher who explains to the listeners of his podcast how historiography proceeds.
Its principles and lessons can also be extended to other fields: but this is a deviation that is subsequently made by the listener in the headphones, it is not suggested by him. As is his fact checking and countering fake news related to the Middle Ages. An emblematic example is the ius primae noctis (from the Latin, right of the first night) attributed to mediaeval feudal lords who spent their wedding night with their bride because the latter, like everything else, from land to livestock, was their property.
Barbero explains in a disarmingly scientific way how there is no evidence of the existence and diffusion of this law in mediaeval Europe, neither in the sources of the secular authorities (kings, emperors) nor by the ecclesiastical ones. In fact, every known reference dates back to later periods. This is the historical method applied to popularisation that teaches and explains the Middle Ages.
I’m Facts, Medical Facts
Specialist fact checking and widespread dissemination of medical science have been carried out for years by virologist Roberto Burioni on his blog Medical Facts, well before the pandemic (over)exposed him. Burioni has been active for years as a researcher in the field of the development of human monoclonal antibodies against infectious agents. On Medical Facts, apart from the sections dedicated to explaining the pandemic and vaccines, it is interesting to note how the method of the podcaster and historian Barbero is similar to that of the blogger Burioni: both are lecturers/academics/popularisers who reach everyone with a click, they do not stay within a circle of an academic audience. In voice and in writing, they make the tools of their subject available for everybody to read a past historical time such as the Middle Ages, through historiographic sources, in Barbero’s case, or a disease, a pain and the frontiers of research into treatment, in Burioni’s case. He is credited in Italy with being one of the first to talk about the mRNA vaccine, before the arrival of the anti-COVID vaccine, arguing in a comprehensible way and with the support of scientific sources and texts, the revolutionary scope of this research.
When the kitchen Spiderman is a chemistry teacher
More recently, the latest Marvel film, Spider-Man: No Way Home became the highest-grossing film in pandemic time, and on Rotten Tomatoes it broke a historic record on the review aggregator site: with 99% positive feedback from the public, Spider-Man: No Way Home became the highest-rated film. If the friendly neighbourhood Spiderman, as Peter Parker likes to call himself, is making a name for himself on the screen after having done so in the comics, the ‘neighbourhood chemist’ Dario Bressanini, after having conquered the Academy, has also been successful on YouTube. A chemist and university lecturer, Bressanini is a successful writer and influencer who draws on the principles of chemistry to dispel false myths about cooking and uses science to explain how to improve your performance in the kitchen. In the meantime, he presides over the social networks to dismantle the ‘rubbish’ that fills the web, dismantling with scientific pummelling and a veil of humour all the worst that we have been led to believe about organic, zero km, diets and detox. It counteracts fake news related to the world of food, demonstrating how political this issue can also be, creating factions and revealing human frailties.
The figure of the academic-populariser also ‘fits’ the creator of Fucking genius perfectly. This is the name of the podcast created by physicist Massimo Temporelli that talks about innovators and innovations, from Einstein to Jobs, from Leonardo da Vinci to Marconi, through the Ragazzi di via Panisperna to Elon Musk. The physicist has created an irreverent but respectful podcast about the great figures in history who can change our evolution. Talents who found in their era the ideal environment to change the trajectory of culture and civilisation, leading them to find those solutions that make them, quite rightly, ‘fucking’ geniuses.
The ‘ugly’ and the ‘beauty’ of popularisation. Both produced by the Academy, both working
Rules for use: forget Piero Angela’s aplomb and style. Barbascura X, a PhD in Green Chemistry and an academic researcher, uses a stand-up comedy style and Pirates of the Caribbean clothing for his ‘crew’ of sailors for Scienza Brutta (Ugly Science). This is in fact the name of his YouTube channel followed by over 720,000 followers where the Taranto researcher (who does not want to reveal his real name) popularises science. With an inexhaustible parodic vein that brings many young people closer together, he recounts lesser-known aspects of the natural sciences, and of evolution in particular, debunking myths and legends rooted in the collective imagination.
Then there is the one who can be described as the ‘queen of science‘, the one who has put the truths and myths of cosmetics in order: Beatrice Mautino. A graduate in Industrial Biotechnology, researcher in Neuroscience at the University of Turin and populariser of science, Mautino edits La Ceretta di Occam (Occam’s waxing) column in Le Scienze. She topped 205,000 followers on Instagram with her ‘rambler’ page, and also has a YouTube channel. Many follow her: clear, impassioned to such an extent that, probably, after reading or listening to it, many will spend time reading the ‘ingredients’ of the shampoo to check what they put in their heads.