The Phasing-Out Of Venice In The Social Studies Curriculum: No More Lessons To Be Learnt?, pp. 4 of 16

The apparently ‘esoteric’ ideas discussed so far can be applied to developments in the histories of Venice and Singapore on the issues of: 1) continuance of a growth model and longue durée perspective, and 2) growth model and the environment.

Learnings from Venice

The limits to Venice’s growth signified the beginning of its stagnancy and decline in the 16th to 18th centuries. Hence, the identification of reasons for decline that resonate closer to reality has an impact on prescribing learnings for Singapore. Since the European crossing of the Atlantic and the ignition of the Atlantic or silver revolution, the general public of Venice began not to be surprised that banks could go bankrupt. By the early modern era, traders (businessmen), bankers and politicians were closely intertwined and the reverberations suffered by one group could easily affect the others. While contemporary economists try to find patterns to economic and crises cycles, there is no panacea to the cyclical disruptions and bank failures. Being a leading trading centre in the 14th and 15th centuries, the citizenry and institutions of Venice were no stranger to upheavals of “unpredictable” financial and economic cycles.

Merchants, whether Venetian or non-Venetian, with trading businesses in Venice could become bankrupt through no fault of the city. At the extreme end, the merchant in trouble could even spark a bank failure. The kind of nexus formed between politicians and bankers (expansive government running on loans) gave an idea of how a modern government would operate (Diaries of Sanudo, 2008, p. 235). Moreover, patricians (Venice ruling elites) invested in the voyage and cargo trip led by traders (Diaries of Sanudo, 2008, p. 258 & 269). The petition of the Zane brothers recounted the misfortunes they had met: first, there was a Rialto fire which affected their warehouses. Then, their ship sailing to and fro between France and England was captured by the former; the attempt by one of the brothers to recover part of the losses led to his murder. Third, Prince Doria’s plunder of Patras (in the Gulf of Lepanto) led to the pillaging of the ‘marine’ warehouses of the Zane brothers there. Finally, the war with the Turks led to the enslavement and losses of a nephew (important member of the family business) linked to the brothers. Similarly, the case of Nicolçó Baron demonstrated further how people could lose their assets through no fault of their own. Although investigations “conducted by the creditors have established him to have nothing but hope and diligence”, he had landed himself as a prisoner because “neither prayers nor kindness have been able to bring [him] an honorable agreement” (Documentary History, 1992, p. 169-174 & 175).

Recent research by R. Mueller (1997, p. 230) in conjunction with primary sources examined show how a bank could lapse into a crisis accruing from its distortive activities in interaction with larger events – in the case of a crisis linked to the House of Garzoni, “rumors circulated that the Garzonis had been buying silver at a price above the Mint’s ratio… and had lost [a substantial amount of] ducats in that speculation.” Wider events and developments that contributed to or prolonged the crisis included: the Portuguese (Vasco da Gama’s) circumnavigation of Africa and the piratical interference from the Barbary (North African) Coasts led to a “serious drop in Venetian imports of gold and silver.” The Doge and “heads of the Ten” came out and spoke for the bank so that the loss of confidence and panic will not spread to the other banks; the government even had to order for a special increase and production of bullion from the Mint in order to ease the apparent shortage.

Related Teaching Materials

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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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