Outcomes - Events and publications


11-16/10/2021 - Anthropocene Campus Venice 2021
Long-term Environmental Knowledge and Politics in a Rapidly Changing Water City

Main organizer: Pietro Daniel Omodeo

Collaborating Institutions:

  • Ca' Foscari University of Venice
  • Center for Humanities & Social Change, Venice
  • Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin
  • Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin

The concept:

The balance of water and land has always constituted both a vital resource for the inhabitants of Venice as well as a crucial factor for the very existence of the lagoon. The city’s insularity, which is at once natural and artificial, marks its specific relation to the elements. The political economy of a ‘water city’ like Venice thus constitutes an emblematic case study to address crucial cultural questions in connection with a longue-durée history. An inquiry into the long-term geo-environmental practices and knowledge forms of Venice offers a vantage point to reflect on the coevolution of humans and their highly dynamic environment, which is at threat of catastrophic shifting as we enter the Anthropocene.
The Anthropocene Campus Venice (ACV) will take the case of Venice as a point of departure to collectively reflect on geo-environmental politics in the ‘water city’ and beyond. Over the span of a full week, this forum will provide a space for co-learning, interdisciplinary collaborations, and comparative studies bringing together environmental scientists, artists, historians of science and technology, geologists, environmental humanity scholars, archaeologists, and architects.

Plastic representation of the Lagoon of Venice which evidences archeological data, namely the Roman road via Annia that run along the lagoon bank. Courtesy of Marco Costa.


  • Pietro Daniel Omodeo, Sebastiano Trevisani and Senthil Babu, “Benedetto Castelli’s Considerations on the Lagoon of Venice: Mathematical Expertise and Hydro-Geomorphological Transformations in Seventeenth-Century Venice”, Earth Science History (2020), in press.
  • Tina Asmussen and Pietro Daniel Omodeo (guest editors) of the 2020 thematic issue of Earth Science History on Early Modern Geological Agency, in press.

“Geological agency” has emerged as a concept crossing the boundaries of the natural sciences and humanities from recent debates on the epistemological and philosophical implications of the new periodization category of Anthropocene. In particular, the merging of perspectives stemming from geo-history and human history led to a reassessment of human agency going beyond the cultural (political, social, economic) and biological realms. In fact, the geological dimension of human action cannot be neglected anymore (Chakrabarty 2009). According to the new perspective, the Earth system is not the neutral background of human history. Rather, it constitutes the entanglement of human-natural coevolution. In consideration of the enlarged scope of collective activity mediated by technology and science, scholars in science studies have gone so far as to challenge the idea that agency should be restricted to human practice, understood as embodied, materially mediated arrays of human activity involving knowledge as well as emotions. Some have called for a (quite problematic) “redistribution of agency,” a consequence of which is to bestow quasi-anthropomorphic attributes on natural beings and the Earth (cf. Latour 2014 reviving the ancestral subjectivity of Gaia).

In spite of the novelty of these debates, the idea of geological agency has historical roots that are worth being investigated in the light of the concerns of the present. Large transformative projects of the natural environment were launched and accomplished from antiquity to the early-modern period: just think of the high (or rather, deep) environmental impact of such pervasive human activities as the management and redistribution of water resources, landscape engineering, and mining (Maffioli 1994, Ciriacono 2006, Mukerji 2009, Maffioli 2010, Luzzini 2016, Miglietti & Morgan 2017, Ash 2017). Moreover, geological explanations based on an anthropomorphic understanding of terrestrial processes were widespread in pre-modern and early-modern scientific paradigms, most notably in Renaissance vitalism (Merchant 1980, Bredekamp 1981, Daston 1995).

This panel is aimed at exploring early-modern geological agency in both references: to humans as geological agents and to anthropomorphic visions of geological processes.