Teaching Venice in Schools, pp. 4 of 7

From a holistic point of view, one should merge the other interacting exogenous factors, such as economic and environmental explanations, to come to a more non-human centered and balanced perspective of Venice’s decline. The analysis of the other factors is beyond the limited scope of this essay, but other issues of Venice’s diplomacy and military as well as the city-state’s economy in relation to its environment also contributed to its decline and fall.

Looking at a longer time frame of the evolution of the political or democratic system of Venice can lead to a different perspective. For a start, the context of the long haul of military history is instructive that, against Napoleon, few or no protagonist would be able to avert a collapse in 1797 (in the case of Venice). Second, the post collapse period saw the Austrian Habsburgs (who took over the northern Italian states) adopted “efficient” Napoleonic administrative practices but considered at one point or other (discussed above) to revive the old Venetian political system. If the rise of Napoleon heralds the beginning of modern period (19th century), the lack of resistance on the part of the Venetian nobility towards the invasion and occupation of Napoleon indicates a relatively peaceful period of transition into modernity; rather than a shift into decline (Laven, 2007).

Finally, I discuss the input of various socio-political groups and institutions on the well-being or lack of well-being of the city-state of Venice focusing on guilds, scuole grandi, carnivals and pugni as well as minority groups and their self-help institutions. In a lesson on nation building and governance discussed in the textbook, the social cohesion of a diverse society like Venice depended in no small part on the guilds. The guilds, however, could be given a little more discussion beyond the descriptions on the “early life” in the city and experience of a carpenter described in the students’ text (CPDD, 2008a, pp. 88 and 107). How the different self-help groups functioned in a highly capitalistic society in Venice such that everybody could come together to “live harmoniously” can be studied more closely to provide “lessons” for the contemporary Singaporean society. Lane (1973) credited (perhaps a little too optimistically) that Venice had “no need for troops in the city [because] the common people [had never] tried to overthrow the rule of the nobles” (p. 271). If the bureaucracy and the councils/senate was the activity ground of the high class and the nobility, the guilds catered to the power jostling in the middle and lower classes of Venetian society. The interest of the guilds might be represented in the meetings of the council raised by a concerned or lobbying councilman. The guild of course helped fulfill an administrative function for the government of Venice – it collected taxes from practitioners of the craft that body of guild sought to represent (which raised the interest of these bodies in the meeting of the Grand Council). Guilds served as an outlet and at the same time, a remedy to the fissures of the Venetian society because in the early modern period, they were, other than the immediate family and closer friends, an important avenue by which a person might resort to in bailing himself out in crisis (Lane, 1973, p. 318). The ethnic (minority) groups residing in Venice, for instance, Jews, Greeks, Armenians and Germans, were also expected to take care of themselves. The Jews were divided into the first waves which came, who were more respected, and the later southeastern Jewish immigrants from Europe, which evoked more adverse reaction and discrimination. Although discriminated by the larger population of Venice for a variety of reasons, the Jews maintained numerous charitable organizations and schemes in the confined areas of their dwelling (ghettos) in the city to help with the povertized and newly-arrived members of the community. Government intervention sometimes came in the form of for instance, taxing the richer Jews to provide for the new Jewish immigrants in the slums.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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