Skip to main content

Environment and Resiliency in Italy

A shared module for three courses

Curricular materials created for the 2013 SAIL seminar:

Mediterranean Trivium: Earth, Sea, & Culture in Italy

Our common module brought together three different courses to model the interactions between individual disciplinary approaches to larger cultural and environmental questions about resiliency in Italy. More specifically, we modeled interdisciplinary inquiry for our students by explaining how the tools of each discipline could be applied to specific issues of disaster, recovery, and sustainability in Florence and its vicinity. After individual presentations from each of the faculty in their field, we then divided the students into interdisciplinary groups, and asked them to work together using these tools to solve a similar problem situated in Rome.

Our larger goal was for students to understand the complex intersections between environments and communities over large spans of time, and the ways that elements both tangible and intangible have coalesced in a variety of ways to create and sustain meanings. To this end, we focused on the following questions:

  • How do human and environmental elements or factors combine to sustain communities over time, from the ancient world to today?
  • How do the communal/collective identities of these cities adhere to natural or human-made elements associated with place?
  • What is the connection between places, both natural and human, and the meanings they hold for us (and generations of people) over time?

Use links or scroll down for:


Context for the Module

The three courses and instructors participating in the shared module:

  • Angela Ziskowski - Archaeology of Waste and Recycling
  • Marty St. Clair - Environmental Studies Seminar
  • Andrea Kann - Public Art, Space, and Memory

Prerequisites for the three courses integrating the module:

  • ANT-225 Archaeology of Waste and Recycling – An archaeological and anthropological survey of an array of approaches to the study of waste and pollution as well as practices of disposal and reuse in ancient and modern societies. Prerequisite: junior or senior standing.
  • EVS-515 Environmental Studies Seminar - An intensive examination of selected works and subjects dealing with environmental issues. Specific topics vary from year to year. Prerequisite: junior standing.
  • ARH-495 Advanced Topics in Art History: Public Art, Space, & Memory - Advanced study of a selected topic or theme in art history. Topics vary. May be taken more than once for credit, provided the topics are substantially different. Prerequisite: Introduction to Art History (ARH-208) or consent of instructor.

The shared module was incorporated in the fourth through sixth weeks of the semester. This allowed each instructor to establish a basic framework of knowledge for the course and prepare their students for the module. Each instructor was then able to incorporate the module into the individual course in an appropriate fashion.


Updated May 02, 2016

Learning Goals


To understand resilience in its social, historical, environmental, and aesthetic forms.

Multidisciplinary analysis:
  • To recognize that different disciplines provide varied perspectives on social identity when a community is challenged with the natural environment
  • To introduce students to the variety of tools and methods that different disciplines employ in problem solving
  • To model collaborative work across disciplines to the students from three fields


Updated May 02, 2016

Teaching Notes

All three courses were scheduled on the same day and time (T/TH 9:30-11:00 AM) during the spring semester of 2014 so meeting for the shared unit (and any subsequent interactions) did not require additional planning. The unit consisted of five separate class meetings, with an extra evening guest lecture from a Florence “Flood Angel” who came and shared her experiences with the group.

In the first class meeting, Angela demonstrated to the combined classes how archaeologists discover and study the ancient or historic roots that anchored communities to the environment around Florence, Fiesole, and Roman/Etruscan Italy in general. Students learned that these early inhabitants of the area often chose their locations because of specific environmental features such as rivers, and also how these communities created foundation myths to explain their own origins in these exact sites.

In the second class meeting, Marty used the 1966 flood in Florence and the 2008 flood in Cedar Rapids to show students environmentally how and why such natural catastrophes can occur. In a wide ranging discussion, he demonstrated how scientific tools, information sharing, and disaster preparedness plans can help communities learn from the past in planning for the future.

In the third class meeting, Andrea discussed how visual culture and its layered meanings have created and sustained individual and community identities in Italy, both past and present. Her class session focused on the ways that public art and spaces have connected natural environments to those constructed by humans, and the past to the present in ways that unify peoples (as well as sometimes excluding “Others.”)

A special addition to the unit was an evening presentation by a local resident who served as one of Florence’s famous “Flood Angels.” Students were able to hear a firsthand account of life in Florence immediately after the devastating 1966 flood, and then to ask questions about what it was like to experience this historic event.


At the end of the third class, we divided students into three pre-assigned interdisciplinary groups, and distributed the unit assessment. This group project asked them to develop a plan in response to a hypothetical, projected flood of the Tiber River. More specifically, they were asked to consider the area of St. Peter’s and its immediate surroundings and to determine what should and can be preserved in the event of such a disaster. The groups were presented with the assignment, and directed to a collection of readings, documents and interdisciplinary tools that could help them research, gather information, and plan for projected levels of disaster.

The fourth class was devoted to group meetings, with all three faculty members available to consult on disciplinary-specific questions. In the fifth class, the three groups presented their plans to the combined classes, supporting their cases with combined interdisciplinary solutions supported by evidence. Each group presented a strong and well-developed plan, as well as demonstrating productive collaboration through shared responsibility for the content and visual presentation.

Resources and Materials

Readings for the shared module

Day 1:
  • Brian Campbell, Rivers and the Power of Ancient Rome (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012) Ch. 1
Day 2:
  • Caporali, Rinaldi and Casagli, “The Arno River Floods” Giornale di Geologia Applicata 1 (2005) 177-192
  • Ken Shulman, “30 Years Later, Florence Warily Watches the Arno” New York Times (February 9, 1997)
  • “Flood Risk in Florence: Forty Years On” Disaster Planning and Emergency Management (blog posting 27 Oct 2008)
Day 3:
  • Robert Clark, Dark Water: Art, Disaster, and Redemption in Florence (New York, Anchor: 2008) 1-10; 129-90.

Readings and Resources for the Collaborative Group Presentations

  • Allesandroni, Maria Gabriella and Gianrenzo Remedia. “The most severe floods of the Tiber River in Rome” The Extremes of the Extremes: Extraordinary Floods (Proceedings of a symposium held at Reykjavik, Iceland, July 2000) IAHS Publ. no. 272, 2002
  • “The Floods the Plan did not Foresee” Economic and Political Weekly 1:15 (Nov 26, 1966) 617.
  • Hall, Jonathan. “The Bones of St. Peter,” in Artifact and Artifice: Classical Archaeology and the Ancient Historian (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013) 187-206.
  • McClendon, Charles. “The History of the Site of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome,” Perspecta 25 (1989) 32-65.
  • Natale, L. and F. Savi. “Monte Carlo analysis of probability of inundation of Rome” Environmental Modelling & Software 22 (2007) 1409-1416
  • Sharing Conservation Decisions. Ed. Rosalia Varoli-Piazza. Rome: ICCROM, 2007. 175 pages.

Useful websites - site has pictures of various historical markers of Rome flooding, as well as discussion of current possibilities for flooding. - again, pictures of historical flood markers around Rome, as well as pictures of high water in 2008. - more of the same; discussion of the role of human buildings along the river exacerbating the flooding problems - nice piece about the effects of flooding on historic preservation in Rome - very interesting piece on designing public spaces along the Tiber - very interesting project with lots of historical resources on water infrastructure of Rome;  includes a peer-reviewed journal on the topic, with an interesting paper on common spaces “Rome’s Uncertain Tiberscape: Tevereterno and the Urban Commons” by Kay Bea Jones ( - “During the 18th century, Rome built the embankments along the Tiber River to prevent flooding in the city, but suffered from a side effect of severing a historic link between the city and the riverfront. In response to the damaged ecosystem that suffers from pollution and a sheer condition created by a straightened river, this project brings the river into the city to create fluvian and riparian habitat amidst the site of the historical Villa Farnesina gardens. ”

Vatican City in its entirety is a World Heritage Site - The details of what this entails (descriptions, maps, documents, images, and a table of threat indicators) can found here:

The Inventory and Catalogue of the Cultural Heritage of the Church - This documents steps that the Catholic Church is taking to preserve its art historical patrimony, and speaks to the importance of these objects of cultural heritage:

Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums -

Vatican Museums - The Vatican Museums contain some of the most famous and unique artistic treasures in the world today. These works of art are irreplaceable, from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling to Caravaggio’s Deposition to the Augustus of Primaporta. This link provides access online to some of these objects:

The large number of visitors even in ordinary times has threatened the stability of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, leaving the frescoes vulnerable to atmospheric damage:

If these objects were to be destroyed, would a virtual experience be enough for future generations to appreciate their meaning and beauty?

Protection of Art in Vatican City - Vatican police chief talks to Interpol about protecting religious art:

Collaborating partner(s)
Andrea Kann
Assistant Professor of Art, Coe College
Martin St. Clair
Professor of Chemistry, Coe College
Angela Ziskowski
Assistant Professor of History, Coe College
ACM Program Funding
Funding Cycle
Project Duration
Related Projects

See more »