Marilynn S. Johnson (Boston College)


Course Description

This course looks at the production and uses of urban space through street life and public sociability. Analyzing spatial relations in European, American, and Asian cities, we will explore how ordinary people in the past and present experienced everyday life and how contests over urban space revealed power relations and social identities of gender, class, and race/ethnicity. Beginning in the early modern era, we’ll be looking at commonplace street activities such as walking, parading, performance, peddling, and slumming. We’ll also explore the evolving cultures of popular urban spaces like parks, cafes, markets, shrines, and public squares. Focusing on times of crisis such as war and pandemics, we will consider how memory has shaped how societies and scholars remember (or forget) historical uses and control of urban space. For the last three weeks of the course, we will consider the impact of tourism on urban life in cities from Venice to Las Vegas.

Throughout the semester, we will compare historical and contemporary uses of space, applying our historical reading of the city to the present day. Along the way, there will be fieldwork in Venice, using the city as a laboratory for our assignments. Students will also investigate, discuss, and write about the uses of urban space in their home countries.

Course Requirements
Attendance and active participation in discussion and class activities are essential to this class (20% of grade). There are three short written assignments (2 pages) related to field work at different sites in Venice (10% each). For a final project, students will write an 8-page research paper on a city in their home country or region analyzing the evolution of a specific urban place or the impact of tourism or pandemics on a selected city (40%). There will also be a required oral presentation of the final project at the end of the semester (10%).

Learning Outcomes
• Gain a familiarity with the geographical concepts of place/space and some of the theories of how urban space is produced and reproduced.
• Understand the uses of different kinds of urban spaces as they evolved over time under different economic, political, and social contexts.
• Be able to analyze how power relations around class, race, and gender shaped contests over urban space.
• Understand how memory and forgetting shapes our conceptions of urban life in the past and how we re-use and redevelop historic urban places.
• Develop good reading, comprehension, and speaking skills in English to enable the effective communication of ideas.
• Become comfortable visiting local sites, observing social behavior, and speaking with locals and visitors to better understand the uses of urban space in Venice.

Topics to be Covered
Processions, Parades and Festivals
Markets and Malls
Coffeehouses, Teahouses, and Pubs
Parks and Plazas
Playlands and Amusement Parks
Urban Life during Wartime
Pandemics and Cities
Sex Districts and Slumming
The Tourist City

Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, 91–96.
Timothy Cresswell, Place: A Short Introduction, “Defining Place,” 1-12.
Dolores Hayden, “The Sense of Space and the Politics of Place” in The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes and Public History (1995), 18-29
Filippo de Vivo, “Walking in Sixteenth Century Venice: Mobilizing the Early Modern City,” I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance 19:1 (2016), 115-41.
Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking (London, 2001), “Walking After Midnight,” 232-246.
D.K. Feil, “How Venetians Feel about Carnival and History,” Australian Journal of Anthropology 9:2 (1998): 141-150.
Lizabeth Cohen, “From Town Center to Shopping Center: The Reconfiguration of Community Marketplaces in Postwar America,” American Historical Review 101:4 (October 1996): 1050-1081.
Di Wang, “The Idle and the Busy: Teahouses and Public Life in Early Twentieth-Century Chengdu,” Journal of Urban History 26:4 (2000): 411-37.
W. Scott Haines, “The Priest of the Proletarians: Parisian Café Owners and the Working Class, 1820-1914,” International Labor and Working Class History 45 (Spring 1994): 16-28.
Josephine Kane, “Mechanical Pleasures: The Appeal of British Amusement Parks,” in Jason Wood, ed., The Amusement Park: History, Culture and the Heritage of Pleasure (2017), 31-56.
Uta Steiger, et al., eds., Memory Culture and the Contemporary City (2009)
Tan Gang, “Living Underground: Bomb Shelters and Daily Lives in Wartime Chongqing,” Journal of Urban History, 43, 3 (May 2017), 383-99.
Guy Beiner, Pandemic Reawakenings: The Forgotten and Unforgotten ‘Spanish’ Flu of 1918-1919 (2022)
Chad Heap, “The Negro Vogue,” in Slumming: Sexual and Social Encounters in American Nightlife, University of Chicago Press, 2010, 189-230.
Robert Davis & Garry Marvin, “Stumps and Trumps,” in Venice: The Tourist Maze (University of California Press, 2004)
Michele Vianella, “The No Grandi Navi Campaign: Protests Against Cruise Tourism in Venice,” in Claire Colomb and Johannes Novy, eds., Protest and Resistance in the Tourist City (Routledge, 2016), 171-190.
Film: Bye Bye Barcelona (2014)


Isola di San Servolo
30133 Venice,

phone: +39 041 2719511
fax:+39 041 2719510

VAT: 02928970272