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Liberal Arts students visit Venice for “A Sustainable Serenissima” led by Dr Bryan Brazeau

In early July 2022, as part of the Warwick International Intensive Study Programme (WIISP), Liberal Arts and the School for Cross-faculty Studies offered an onsite module in Venice for 16 Warwick students (including students from Liberal Arts and Global Sustainable Development) and students from select international partners.

The module, IP315: A Sustainable Serenissima, taught by Dr Bryan Brazeau (Associate Professor, Liberal Arts), focused on a transdisciplinary and transhistorical approach to the complex problem of Sustainability in Venice as a case study for broader global issues. Students explored questions concerning cultural sustainability in the face of mass tourism, ecological sustainability of the lagoon ecosystem in light of increasing pollution and climate change, the issue of increasingly high acqua alta (exceptional tide peaks that occur periodically in the northern Adriatic Sea) and the problematic solutions devised to address this challenge, along with case studies of urban reuse within Venice.

Venice skyline. The sun is shining onto the water, with a boat passing by.

The module was composed of a combination of in-class learning activities held at Ca’ Foscari’s San Sebastiano campus and a range of educational site visits. These visits included a day-long visit to San Giorgio, where students were given a tour of the Vatican Chapels and the Teatro Verde, learned about the cutting-edge digitisation laboratories of Progetto ARCHiVe, considered reuse and rebuilding for cultural purposes through the history of the Fondazione Cini and the transformation of the island of San Giorgio, and ended the day with hands-on archival research activity on urban reuse in the Fototeca of the Cini, where students found archival photographs of buildings or sites in Venice and compared these to modern day urban re-use (both for better and for worse). Students on the module interacted and worked with students from Ca’ Foscari and the Factum Foundation undertaking internships at the Progetto ARCHiVe. The module leader and students are grateful to Ilenia Maschietto, Costanza Blaskovic, Ilaria Turetta, and Francesca Salatin for their co-ordination in making the visit to San Giorgio an enriching student experience.

Group photo of staff and students at the garden island of Sant’Erasmo. Trees and the lagoon can be seen in the background.

Students also visited Arzaná—a society that preserves and restores traditional Venetian boats, learning about the endangered sustainability of cultural traditions while also being able to play with traditional boat-making tools (such as a hand adze!). They learned about lagoon ecology both via an ecological walking tour of the lagoon’s salt marshes (where those who were brave sampled some samphire) and via a visit to I&S Farm, a biodynamic and organic farm on the island of Sant’Erasmo that has pioneered growing methods using very little water. Within Venice itself, they learned about urban reuse, overtourism, and components of Venetian identity via walking tours of the Jewish Ghetto, the Rialto Market and the Fondaco de’ Tedeschi, and the Arsenale (via a visit to the art Biennale). The module leader and students are grateful to Jerry from Arzaná, Luana Castelli who led our ecological tour, Ilaria and Savino from I&S Farm, and Professor Luca Molá. They are particularly thankful for all of the work that Chiara Croff from Warwick in Venice did to help the module run smoothly and for Sam Brook’s work in co-ordinating elements of the WIISP programme.

The module was a resounding success with several students commenting that it was the “highlight of my Warwick experience so far,” “the best module I’ve ever taken,” and that “it was amazing to learn about the very problems we were seeing every day while in Venice.”

The department hopes to teach the module again next year in Venice along with a new intensive module, IP317: Venice—Resistance and Representation. Stay tuned for more information in the next academic year!

A group of students smiling at the camera, with Dr Bryan Brazeau at the front of the group

"A Sustainable Serenissima" in photos

Two students playing with traditional boat-making tools

Learning about the endangered sustainability of cultural traditions at the squero of Arzaná—a society that preserves and restores traditional Venetian boats.

A group of students in a classroom, sat around a table brainstorming with post-it notes

Delving into Venetian Sustainability as a Super Wicked Problem via the creation and presentation of Actor/Stakeholder Systems Maps.

A group of students at San Giorgio
A trip to San Giorgio, joined by some students from Ca' Foscari, Venice Public Humanities, and the Factum Foundation!
Students looking through the Fototeca archives
Conducting primary research in the Fondazione Cini's Fototeca archives on changes to the built environment of Venice.
Two students standing with the Venice flag, one of them is holding onto the flag pole. The lagoon can be seen in the background.

Learning about the Serenissima's changing lagoon and natural defenses on the island of Sant'Erasmo.

Students standing in the shade under a tree eating watermelon

Enjoying a bite to eat during a visit to I&S Farm, with a warm welcome from Ilaria and Savino who provided insight into their unique farming methods!

A group of students standing on a salt marsh at the I&S Farm. They are stood listening to Ilaria and Savino who are providing insight into their unique farming methods.

Visiting the garden island of Sant’Erasmo, starting with an ecological tour led by Luana Castelli discussing lagoon ecology. Students here are standing on a Salt Marsh and sampling samphire from the lagoon.

Students sat in a classroom talking to each other across tables.

Learning about the fraught history of the MOSE dam and its many problems. We had a crisis simulation in an imagined 2030 where a predicted acqua alta of 175 cm was approaching the city, and students took on the roles of key stakeholders to determine whether or not to raise the MOSE.

Three students stood at the front of the room with their arms around each other. They are presenting on 'Waste Management in Venice', which is the title of the presentation slide on the screen behind them.

"A Sustainable Serenissima" closed with students doing research-based group presentations on Venetian Self-Determination, Lagoon Erosion, Overtourism, and Waste Management. Each group conducted in-depth research on potential solutions to case studies.

All photos courtesy of Dr Bryan Brazeau

Catch up on the trip via #SCFSVenice2022 on Twitter