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Reviewed by:
  • Waterways and the Cultural Landscape ed. by Francesco Vallerani, Francesco Visentin
  • Giulio Verdini (bio)
Francesco Vallerani and Francesco Visentin, eds.
Waterways and the Cultural Landscape
London and New York: Routledge, 2017.
266 pages, 34 black-and-white illustrations.
978-1-138-22604-3, $140 HB
978-1-315-39846-4, $54.95 EB

Waterways and the Cultural Landscape is the outcome of an international conference held in Venice in 2015 on the heritage dimensions of waterscapes and historic canals. Vallerani and Visentin framed this collection in the spirit of collecting some of the most meaningful contributions on this emerging topic. This is never an easy task, given the usual heterogeneity of contributions received, but this variety is by no means a demerit for this edited book.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part, “Cultural Visions,” covers a wide range of waterways and waterfronts with high cultural value and unique environmental heritage. Stephen Daniels’s interpretation of [End Page 118] the River Trent in the English Midlands as a literary river echoes the narrations of Italian writer Gianni Celati used by Giada Peterle and Francesco Visentin to observe and interpret the geography of the Po Delta. Peter Coates’s account of the renaissance of the River Tyne, where artists have recently interpreted the rebirth of the river through the reappearance of salmon, draws a historic parallel with artists’ attempts to restore a symbiotic union between the Dolomites and the Venice Lagoon in the nineteenth century, as described in the erudite contribution of William Bain-bridge. Past water histories, such as those described by Annika Aires related to the wood-processing industry on the waterfront of Lathi in Finland and Queensborough in Canada, and by Chandra Mukerji on women’s labor and laundries along the Canal du Midi in France, are occasions to reveal forgotten social and productive practices. Similarly, the rediscovery of the ideological discourse behind the sharing of the Saimaa Canal between Finland and the former Soviet Union described by Elena Kochetkova and the lead mining sough disputes in Derbyshire discussed by Georgina Endfield and Carry Van Lieshout reveals underlying historical social and political tensions around water in such regions.

The second part, “Touristic Perspectives,” provides an overview of different strategies employed to develop sustainable tourism along waterways and their surrounding regions. Bruce Prideaux reassures readers about the positive impact that canal tourism might have, assuming the canal lifecycle concept is an opportunity to reconnect the past and the present. In the same vein, Francesco Vallerani examines the potentiality of river tourism in northwest Croatia, as do Lucyna Nyka for the Vistula River Delta in Poland, Andrew McKean and John Lennon for Scottish canals, Aurelio Nieto Codina for the Manzanares River in Madrid, Federica Cavallo and Domique Crozat for the Canal du Midi in France, and Eriberto Eulisse and Francesco Visentin for Venice’s historic waterways. These two parts are preceded by an evocative introductory chapter from Francesco Vallerani, “flowing consciousness and the becoming of waterscapes,” and a conclusion from Francesco Visentin on the fascinating topic of humanistic hydrology.

While the contributions of the two editors provide an overarching and original reflection on the cultural importance of hydrography and everyday life in waterscapes, and therefore of the social relevance of historic waterways, the two main parts in which the book is articulated reaffirm the centrality of two broad topics traditionally well established in cultural landscape studies. I refer to the nexus between culture and nature, hence the ecological relevance of historic waterways in part one, and the relationship between cultural tourism and sustainable development, hence their potential economic relevance, in part two.

The resurgence of interest in cultural landscapes within the broader field of heritage studies in recent years has found international legitimacy with the UNESCO recognition of “cultural landscape” as a category of protection in 1992. Since then, an important amount of literature has been produced to reconcile in primis the concept of culture and nature overcoming the “pre 1990s . . . division, and hence tension, between cultural and natural heritage conservation.”1 More recently an important effort has been made to understand the conditions by which cultural landscapes can survive. As the expression of social...


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pp. 118-120
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