HONR 399 The Wonders of Venice

Venice is a network of islands, which together form the whole of the city.  “The Wonders of Venice” takes its structure from its topic:  the 12-credit master-course is made up of a network of smaller courses, which fit together seamlessly to create the whole.  These courses are: 

“Venice, Flesh and Stone” (Art and Architecture, 3 cr)

“Imagining Italy:  Literary Travelers” (Literature, 3 cr)

“The Daily Life of Venice and its People” (Sociology, 3 cr)

“La Serenissima:  The Myth and its History” (History, 3 cr)

This 12-credit interdisciplinary honors experience offers a history of Venice, as well as a history of Italy and Italian culture.  In addition, students will be taking 3 credits of introductory Italian. 

The 12-credit master-course explores the powerful “idea” of Venice as it was constructed both by Italians themselves and by the English-speaking travelers who were and continue to be seduced by the magic of the Veneto. Throughout its history, Venice has appeared to the Anglophone pilgrims who made their way there as a space of art and culture, where the traveler sought polish and sophistication but discovered a sometimes dangerous freedom under the hot Italian sun.  One of the things we will explore is how Venice—and Italy more generally, the highlight of the European Grand Tour and a temple of self-cultivation—came also to mean for previous visitors a place of temptation, passion, and occasional ruin.  What, we will ask, does this tourist-eye view of Venice have to do with the Italy seen and experienced by Italians?

We will ask these questions, quite crucially, on Venetian soil, where the city and the country itself will be our textbook and laboratory. Following in the footsteps of earlier travelers—many of whom we will be reading in the form of diary, essay, or novel, or “seeing” on the painter’s canvas—we will discover the history of Venice on its streets and in its piazzas, in its many museums, monuments, and palaces, as well as its pizzerias and gelaterias. This is, in other words, a course for all of the senses:  as we take in the incomparable sights, sounds, scents, and tastes of Venice, we will get a feel, in the most literal way, for this beguiling region.  Venice is an idea best understood with the mind and the body.

The first half of the course covers pre- and early-modern Italy, from the Middle Ages through the flowering of the Italian Renaissance, when Italian painters, sculptors, musicians, and writers remade the world and made Italy, once again, the center of Western Civilization.  We will thus explore the many manifestations of Venice, from colony, to nation-state, to empire. The second half of the course focuses on “modern” Italy and culminates in the country’s nineteenth-century unification and twentieth-century turn towards fascism and subsequent transformation into late-capitalist powerhouse.  One of the main narratives in the course will track the developing idea of the nation-state (as opposed to the empire, territory, principality, or city-state) and consider how and why nationalism has come to dominate Italy’s recent history and our contemporary view of global relations, all the while exploring the ways that Venice, due to its unique history, has resisted that very nationalism.

In our attempts to understand how the history, politics, art, and culture of Venice are entangled—and entangled, too, with the powerful fantasies produced about Italy by outside observers—we will take up the interests and methodologies of a number of disciplines, including history, literature, art history, architecture, political science, geography, social anthropology, music appreciation, and culinary studies. An interdisciplinary approach to the study of Venice introduces students not only to a variety of academic fields, but also to the basic practices of cultural critique. Perhaps most importantly, this approach asks students to think analytically about their own experiences as travelers, about the complex ways that culture is produced, and about the mutually constitutive relationship between reality and representation.


Course Description


  1. -Emily Allen

  2. -Dino Franco Felluga

Location and Dates

Conference Room 9

San Servolo,

Venice, Italy

October 5-December 18, 2009

Mon-Thurs, 9 am - 12 pm

Links of Note

Purdue U Honors Program

Purdue CLA Honors Program

San Servolo Servizi

La Biennale di Venezia


Pictured: Piazza San Marco