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ThesisUniversity of Iceland>Félagsvísindasvið>Meistaraprófsritgerðir>

Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1946/3305

Title
is

"Do not move Camarina!" Italian wetlands from reclamation to restoration

Abstract
is

Wetlands have been, throughout the centuries, even the millennia, the sacrificial
scapegoat of the European landscape – a “landscapegoat”, as Giblett brilliantly named
it. Expelled from the horizons of western space, most wetland areas of Europe began
to know the fate of drainage since the late Middle Ages. Also in virtue of the more
effective technologies available, the practice of land reclamation eventually witnessed
its historical apex in the course of the 1900s, and to such extents that, by now,
swamps and marshes have come to constitute true ecological rarities within the
Western European environment. The second part of the last century, however, also
happened to attend a curious and rather radical veer in attitudes towards wetlands,
whereby the latter ones, also in virtue of improved ecological understanding of their
virtues and importance, got to be progressively revaluated, and to even be considered
among the earth’s most fundamental ecosystems. Following such developments,
concrete actions and plans to preserve the few remaining marshes, and even engage
with the restoration of those that had previously been deleted, have begun to spread
internationally and rapidly grow in popularity.
Italy can safely be seen as a paradigmatic example of similar events. The history,
even starting with the Roman colonization, of land reclamation across the peninsula –
and the Po Plain in particular – surely stands out as one of the richest and most intense
we have record of. Furthermore, land reclamation in Italy was ever associated with
more than just economical productivity. The country’s roots in Catholic monasticism,
its role – since the renaissance and through the work of such figures as Galileo – as a
primary cradle and breeding ground for the modern science of hydraulics, and its
ever-lasting agricultural vocation, have all contributed to load the local history of
drainages and reclamations with additional symbolism, facets, and complexity. Not
the least, land reclamation revealed, for centuries, as perhaps one of the most
prominent means of political control and organization of the Italian territory. The
v
significance of the Italian case has certainly not decreased with the eventual end, due
to saturation, of the practice of wetlands drainage. On the contrary, at least in some
ways, the country has – in the two last decades – newly proposed itself at the forefront
of water management and governance. In this sense, then, we can conclude that, as
much as wetlands – in virtue of their shifting significations and role for human
communities – constitute an ideal and most profound subject for the study of humanenvironmental
relations, Italy represents an optimal and most appropriate site for the
study of wetlands throughout history.
Based on Italy itself – and, more precisely, the already-mentioned Po Plain – the
genesis of the work here presented has been twofold. On the one hand, it was
conceived as a thesis in fulfilment of the requirements for a Degree of Master of Arts
in Anthropology. On the other one, it was explicitly thought from the outset as a
contribution to Prof. Gísli Pálsson’s own comparative research on Icelandic wetlands.
In virtue of this latter aspect, the study was undertaken as to come to represent a
general and yet informative introductory outlook on the complex and multilayered
cultural history of Italian wetlands – from the reclamations of the past, until the
developments of the present. The idea of being somehow part of a wider context, and
the mission to provide a broad and sufficiently exhaustive insight into a subject
which, on the contrary, revealed itself as being overwhelmingly elusive and vast,
informed this work structurally, from its very inception. We are aware that, for that
sake and purpose, not little had to be sacrificed in terms of local perspectives and
specificity. We hope, nonetheless, to have sufficiently counterbalanced that loss, by
gaining at least as much on other sides of the inquiry.

Issued Date
10/01/2009


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