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Barbero towards retirement: the magister who made the Middle Ages pop

The university professor leaves teaching but not divulgation. Memes, podcasts and fanpages: Barbero is a social phenomenon in all respects


There are many voices in the corridor of Palazzo Tartara, seat of the University of Eastern Piedmont in Vercelli: "these are the last lessons of the Professor". The aspiring historians sought a denial, a damning proof that confirmed the hoax. For once, social media told the truth: at 64, Alessandro Barbero retires. To confirm this, a story by Primo Vassallo, Dominus Barbero’s Instagram fanpage: a long applause accompanied him at the end of his lesson; Tom Odell’s Another Love as soundtrack. Even the grimmest Lombard did not hold back a tear.

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Un post condiviso da La Stampa (@la_stampa)

Degree in Literature in Turin, PhD at the Normale di Pisa, first associate and then professor of Medieval History at the University of Eastern Piedmont. Meanwhile, a Strega award (in 1996, with Bella vita e guerre altrui di Mr. Pyle, gentiluomo), an unknown number of scientific publications, essays and novels. An academic career of all respect, which could remain unknown and closed in the palaces of Italian universities, like that of many other university professors. The academic environment is often perched on itself, elitist, accessible only to insiders: first they complain about the lack of general interest in their research, then they do everything not to make them "popular".

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Un post condiviso da Francesco Delogu (@primo_vassallo)

Barbero’s unconscious merit lies precisely in this: having cleared university snobbery, without losing credibility and authority. He made the stereotype of the university baron human: facial mimicry from which he exonerates his passion for History, a closed fist that descends from above to underline the salient passages of lectio, alternating sharp jokes and courteous manners, as only a Savoy DOC can do.

These are the ingredients of the communication success of the magister: on TV at the time of Superquark and Passato e presente, at festivals around Italy, in podcasts and on social media today.

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Un post condiviso da Francesco Delogu (@primo_vassallo)

Social and podcasts that have given a considerable boost to the conquest of the title of pop icon. Every year on the podium of the most listened, Il podcast di Alessandro Barbero collects the professor’s lectures: created by a fan of his, non-profit, has become the reference channel of the Barberian community on which to listen to his lessons. Since May last year, however, Chiedilo a Barbero (produced by Intesa Sanpaolo and Chora Media) is the weekly event in which the historian responds to the curiosity of audience. And then Youtube, a veritable mine of conferences. A very personal top three must-see includes:

  • The challenge of Fenestrelle: Barbero vs Neoborbonici: perfect for lovers of historical dissing on the unitary issue.
  • Basement Café 4: interview with Alessandro Barbero and Levante: suitable for romantics, a moving professor speaks of The Master And Margarita, "the greatest love story of all time".
  • Barbero tells the protagonists of the Unification of Italy: an unusual bio-story by Cavour, Vittorio Emanuele II and Garibaldi.
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Un post condiviso da Cinecraving 💉🎬 (@cinecraving)

Fanpages and memes clog social networks; among these Primo Vassallo is undoubtedly the largest and most important page dedicated to Barbero. Unforgettable the techno remix on the words of Lombard origin (truce, trap, bar...), the memes political-revolutionary communist mold, the reactions of the Professor to the tributes of the most eccentric fans during the signatures of his books. These include the tribute of Bardomagno, a musical project of the medieval satirical page Feudalesimo e Libertà, which sang for him the hit Magister Barbero.

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Un post condiviso da BardoMagno (@bardomagnoband)

No one will be able to follow his courses and graduate with him, but Professor Barbero will hardly stop the activity of popularizer: if you want to look at the glass half full, now will have more time to devote to conferences and festivals. Hanging up the log of votes, who knows if it’s the right time for the social landing with an account. What will remain unchanged is the affection of the community; his hope is contained in the chorus of the song dedicated to the magister: Illuminaci il sentiero/ In questo mondo di gaglioffi e peracottai.



Illustration by Gloria Dozio - Acrimònia Studios