by Sergio Riolo, il Cartastorie
The Historical Archives of The Banco di Napoli is one of the most important archives in the world. It holds documentation belonging to the eight ancient Neapolitan banks, which were operational between 1539 and 1640, and then were merged to create the Banco delle Due Sicilie (1809) and, after the political unification of Italy, the Banco di Napoli (1861). The Fondazione Banco di Napoli and its museum-foundation ilCartastorie are the keepers of this huge treasure that fill three hundred rooms in Palazzo Ricca, at the centre of the city of Naples. All this documentation features remarkably homogeneous handwriting due to the schools of writing existing in each bank over the centuries.
The ilCartastorie, to preserve its archive and to make it more visible through new media, started a program of digitisation using the Transkribus platform, through which all the names of bank clients, from 1573 to 1600 for each bank existing at that time will be made more accessible and searchable.
The whole archive, from 1539 to 1900, contains more than three thousand client ledgers, called ‘pandettas’, containing an estimated total of seventeen million names. It is an astonishingly well-organised and preserved database of people and organisations which is highly important for scholars, researchers, genealogists, and citizens.
The Foundation and its museum started their path towards the horizon of mass digitisation and Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR), choosing a specific segment in the four-century long timeline of this documentation, from the starting point of the first bank to the dawn of the seventeenth century, for a total of two hundred and forty thousand names split into sixty-three archival units.
A team of six people is now dealing with Transkribus for this data accessibility project. We have already made a first trial run, training a HTR model based on ten thousand words, including names, surnames and account numbers. This first ‘beta’ model produced a satisfactory result of 13% of Character Error Rate (CER) within one month, and now it is helping us to deal with the other pandettas, accelerating the speed of the transcription and therefore reducing the amount of time needed to complete the work.
The first pandetta from the Banco di Ave Gratia Plena, with its three thousand names, was finished last week and the second is proceeding well. We hope to complete all four of the client ledgers written with this handwriting and, then, proceed with a second model in order to deal with the rest of Ave Gratia Plena‘s ledgers dating up to the 1600’s before the end of January 2019.
A second phase of project will connect the names in the “pandetta” with the precious reasons for payment written on another kind of documents. It is our hope that you will be able to discover the daily business and the economic life of thousands of citizens in baroque Naples.