Luca Pes (Venice International University)


Course description
Various things make Venice a place of interest: the fact that it was built on waters and marshy lands; the way its inhabitants shaped the Lagoon and managed the environment; the relationship with Byzantium and the East; the way it became the capital of a merchant empire; its role as a center of the printing industry, art production and Humanism; its development into a city of pleasure; the sudden loss of independence; the 19th Century cultural myth of its death; its rebirth with the Risorgimento of Italy; the creation of a new urban order, from the industrial port of Marghera to the beach resort at the Lido; the great social transformation of the 1950’s-1970’s, which produced a crisis of Greater Venice; the development into a “theme-park”; the way the city still presents an alternative notion of urban space.

The course covers all of these themes through interactive lectures and wide use of multimedia sources (images, videos, music), attempting to provide a broad introduction to ways to look at the history of this place. The main focus will be on the relationship between the environmental setting, morphology of the city, social life, political institutions.

The course will involve site visits (Ghetto, Ducal Palace, Mose and Industrial Port).

Students are expected to contribute to class, through one oral presentation, and a final research paper, developing themes of personal interest, in agreement with the Professor. Topics can range from Literature to Economics, from Law to Cinema. Past themes have included: Venice and the Fourth Crusade, Venetian Courtesans, The Life of Casanova, The Bostonians in Venice, Fascist Architecture in Venice, Venice in the History of Mass Tourism.

Group work mixing nationalities will be encouraged. Research papers must include bibliographical references and notes.

Students are also expected to study a text (such as Gherardo Ortalli and Giovanni Scarabello, A Short History of Venice, Pacini Editore 1999; but an alternative text could be decided in agreement with Professor) and discuss it individually with the professor.

Syllabus (weekly distribution)
Stereotypes about Venice
Narratives of the Origins
The Invention of the Lagoon
The Construction of the City
Rise of Venice 726-1204
Expansion of Venetian Trade and Power 1204-1453
Decline and Fall 1453-1797
The Venetian Experience
“Death” and Risorgimento of the City
Venice: industrial city
Rise of Greater Venice
Unfinished Greater Venice
Venice as Living City?

Evaluation method
60% individual oral discussion of a text, oral presentations in class, participation to class discussions
40% written research paper

Main text, which students are expected to read:
Gherardo Ortalli and Giovanni Scarabello, A Short History of Venice, Pacini Editore 1999 – by far the best very brief and reliable chronological synthesis widely available (and reasonably cheap), by two scholars of Ca’ Foscari University.

Other suggested texts

Elisabeth Crouzet Pavan, Venice Triumphant: the Horizons of a Myth, The Johns Hopkins University Press 2005 – top French scholar on Medioeval Venice deconstructs myth and tells the history before 1797: excellent and updated, best recent book.

Frederic Lane, Venice. A Maritime republic, The Johns Hopkins University Press 1973 – the classic synthesis on the History of Venice, which rightly keeps being reprinted. Lane has been the most outstanding US economic and social historian on Venice (esp. Renaissance): very reliable and clear.

Margaret Plant, Venice. Fragile City 1797-1997, Yale University Press 2003 – by far best book in English on Venice post-1797. It is very updated and encompasses politics, culture and architecture. The author is Professor Emeritus in Art History in Melbourne, Australia


Isola di San Servolo
30133 Venice,

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

VAT: 02928970272