The Visualizing Cities Lab provides students with an opportunity to explore a wide range of historical urban practices. This semester, the project groups were all centered around the concept of spectacle, and how such experiences shape how a city is represented, for its visitors and residents alike. My experience led me to the Venice team, which enabled me to explore the history of the legendary Italian city, and discover the underpinnings of the societal, political and cultural factors that play into Venice as the floating, illusory experience that led to its popularity.
My group was composed of two undergraduates and one graduate student, led by Kristin Huffman, a researcher in the Art History department who focuses on Venice. She introduced us to the history and locale of the city, and discussed what our future research may entail. As a group, I believe we were able to balance a collective focus with individual endeavors. Each student in the group had a slightly different approach, for example, some focused on a particular spectacle, while others focused on religious pilgrimages. Yet, after all of our research came together, we were able to construct both individual and unified narratives of Venice.
My particular research was centered on the active decisions made by Venetian residents and officials that led to the centering of water as a political and ceremonial tool, rather than a simple backdrop. The waterways, including the small canals, the Grand Canal, and the Giudecca Canal, were carefully constructed as social meeting places, facilitators of business, and necessary components of Venetian spectacle. Huffman recommended readings such as Venice from the Water by Daniel Savoy, that provided me with a historical framework and examples with which to base my research upon. From there, I found historical maps, prints, and paintings that centered the Venetian waterways as places of activity and analyzed how the water was represented in those images, and how it facilitated the event occurring.
To combine the research of each individual teammate, we created an Omeka site, with a Neatline plugin. Each member added images ranging from Canaletto oil paintings from the 18th century to mid-19th century photography of the city. Omeka allows a user to input information about the author, date and materials of each work. Once these details have been inputted, we are able to provide a description of the historical context and methods in which these images add to our argument. To do this, we organize the Omeka materials into a Neatline exhibit. Our Neatline used a historical map of Venice as its backdrop, from which we added colored points to represent the location associated with our images. My discussions were centered around the interplay of human activity and the aquatic nature of the images. Messages of wealth through gondola decoration, or the arrangement of chairs on the bucentaur, the Doge’s lavish boat, all tell stories
hidden in the water.
At the end of the semester, each city group presented their Omeka sites and discussed their research for the future. This experience let us see how other groups had approached their research, and provided us with more examples to build from.