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Environmental Humanities and Italy  

Enrico Cesaretti, Roberta Biasillo, and Damiano Benvegnú

Does something like “Italian environmental humanities” exist? If so, what makes an Italian approach to this multifaceted field of inquiry so different from the more consolidated Anglo-American tradition? At least until the early 21st century, Italian academic institutions have maintained established disciplinary boundaries and have continued to produce siloed forms of knowledge. New and more flexible forms of scholarly collaboration have also not been traditionally supported at the national level, as political decisions regarding curricular updates and funding opportunities have been unable to foster interdisciplinarity and innovative approaches to knowledge production. However, an underlying current of environmental awareness and action has a strong and long-standing presence in Italy. After all, Italy is where St. Francis wrote The Canticle of Creatures, with its non-hierarchical vision of the world, which then inspired the papal encyclical Laudato si (2015). Italy is also where Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s fresco The Allegory and the Effects of Good Government in the City and in the Country (1337–1339) already “pre-ecologically” reflected on the relationship between nature and culture, on the effect of political decisions on our surroundings, and on the impact of local environments on the well-being (as well as the malaise) of their inhabitants. Additionally, Italy is among the few countries in the world whose constitution lists specific laws aimed at protecting its landscapes, biodiversity, and ecosystems in addition to its cultural heritage, as stated in a recent addendum to articles 9 and 41. However, Italy also experienced an abrupt, violent process of development, modernization, and industrialization that radically transformed its urban, rural, and coastal territories after World War II. Many of its landscapes, once iconic and picturesque, have become polluted, toxic, or the outcome of contested, violent histories. And the effects of globalization are materially affecting its ecologies, meaning that Italy is also exposed to constant risks (earthquakes, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions) and presents geo-morphological features that situate it at the very center of planetary climate change (both atmospheric and sociopolitical) and migration patterns. Considering this, thinking about Italy from an environmental humanities (EH) perspective and, in turn, about the EH in the context of Italy, highlights the interconnections between the local and the global and, in the process, enriches the EH debate.