A Sustainable Serenissima: Water, Fire, and the Future of Venice
A Preface from the Editor
Degree programmes at Warwick, particularly in the School for Cross-Faculty Studies, are continually innovating, expanding, and evolving. A Sustainable Serenissima is an introduction to a new and upcoming module, centred on the study of Venice, offered by the School, written by the Module Convenor, Dr. Bryan Brazeau. As a cultural capital situated on an island, Venice is a hub for themes explored by Liberal Arts and Global Sustainable Development: how the economic, social, and environmental stresses of climate change and human demands be balanced with the need for preservation of a cultural icon and historical treasure – and we are therefore grateful to Dr. Brazeau for providing a fantastic headline for our Relaunch Series, setting the scene for the interdisciplinary issues that GLOBUS will be seeking to explore and engage with over the coming year.
Can a sinking city be a local laboratory for addressing climate change? How do cultural contexts and sustainable solutions intersect? What can an explosion of tourism teach us about the political and economic challenges facing sustainable solutions?
Such questions guide a new module currently in the final stages of planning which will be open to students from both Liberal Arts and Global Sustainable Development. Below is a preview of some of the material that this exciting new module will cover.
A Sustainable Serenissima considers the ways in which contemporary Venice confronts sustainability challenges and develops resilience. We will consider past, present, and future threats to a sustainable Venice, along with complex and unique local solutions using the three main pillars of sustainability (social, environmental, and economic areas) as lenses to focus our interdisciplinary discussions. Themes of ‘water’ and ‘fire’ will serve as conceptual anchors to ground our consideration of issues such as rising sea levels, urbanization, resource management, energy production and distribution, along with historical Venetian industries such as publishing, shipbuilding, munitions, glassmaking, finance, and tourism. We will also consider Venice’s long tradition of hospitality as a sanctuary city, and the challenges Venice faces today when welcoming migrants and refugees.
This interdisciplinary module will take place in both Coventry and Venice. We will begin in Coventry by studying social and historical aspects of Venetian sustainability, examining the many roles played by Venice both in the past and today. Venice has long served as key centre for migration, sanctuary, and global trade. Indeed, along with Genoa, it was one of the first sites where double-entry bookkeeping and insurance were developed. Venice has also played host to migrants, refugees, and political prisoners. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, a number of Greek refugees came to Venice, re-introducing Greek manuscripts of Plato and Aristotle that had been lost for ages and teaching their Italian hosts how to read and interpret such texts. After the return of the Medici to Florence in the early sixteenth century, Venice welcomed many political exiles who supported the Soderini Republic. Still today, Venice hosts a number of refugees from war-torn countries; a fact which was brought back into international consciousness after Pateh Sabally, a 22-year old Gambian refugee, tragically drowned in the Grand Canal in January, 2017.
We will also discuss the history of the Venetian empire (810-1797) and its management of ecological resources such as forests and fisheries, particularly in its conquests of territories along the Adriatic coast and in Cyprus. In the final part of our initial discussion in Coventry, we will examine the economic contours of Venetian tourism, considering the city’s role in the Grand Tour—a cultural practice from the 1650s-1850s where aristocratic men and women travelled around Europe to perfect language skills and commission paintings after finishing their studies. The relative tolerance of the Venetian Republic compared to other European capitals quickly transformed it into a popular site for imagining sexual freedom, deviance, and experimentation in the writings of Giacomo Casanova, the Marquis de Sade, and Thomas Mann, among others. We will focus on how the inclusion of Venice on the itinerary of the Grand Tour shaped its tourism industry in the twentieth century and the threats that unsustainable tourism—most recently in the form of massive cruise ships entering the lagoon and rising rents due to Airbnb—poses to the city today.
The second part of the module will take us to Warwick’s campus in Venice for one week of intensive seminars, field trips, and on-site workshops. We will examine the role of climate change and how the Venetian lagoon is adapting to the threat of rising sea levels.
Visits to local parks created from reclaimed land will help us consider the dangers posed by pollution and the chemical industry in nearby Porto Marghera, while visits to Giudecca and Canareggio will allow us to see how Venice is transforming existing infrastructure and putting it to new and innovative uses. The theme of change will then prompt us to think about traditional Venetian industries that are under threat and undergoing significant transformation, such as handmade blown glass on the island of Murano, local fisheries, and Venetian lace. Our time in Venice will close with a discussion about the city’s future, focusing in particular on the rise of green industries and the scalability of Venetian sustainable solutions to other cities.
Returning to Coventry, our final session will involve presentations and discussion of your media projects exploring sustainability across a range of disciplines in Venice’s past, present, and future. By the end of the module, you will not only have a rich understanding of the interdisciplinary sustainability challenges facing Venice today and the current attempts to address them, but you will also be able to place these within broader historical and cultural contexts in order to develop your own robust sustainable solutions for a sinking city whose future survival has global implications.
Are you interested in learning more? Do you have feedback on issues you would like to see covered in this module? Get in touch with me (Bryan) either via email or in person and keep an eye out for A Sustainable Serenissima when you next select your modules!
Dr. Bryan Brazeau
Senior Teaching Fellow, Liberal Arts