Courses Offered in Venice

Summer 2022


The Law of People and Places (3 credit hours, LAWR IV) starts with the premise that law derives from social norms and customs, and that law can shape these norms and customs as well. The course will compare how the laws around land ownership and land use flow from social norms and power structures and reflect the people who made them. We will use Venice and Miami as case studies in the different ways civil and common law countries approach land use and climate change adaptation. The course will explore ownership of the sea, shoreline, and land as examples of ownership by private citizens and the state, and consider the doctrine of holding resources in the public trust. We will explore the history of Venice and Miami, including notions of ownership and use by indigenous populations.

The course will examine the current legal and political governance of Venice and Miami, especially the comparative roles of EU, national, provincial/state, and local governments. We will focus on land use and regulation and powers relevant to climate adaptation. This will include consideration of how much say local people have over land use law versus state and provincial citizens and national citizens. In addition, the course will examine what role, if any, international law plays in the fate of places, as we consider UNESCO’s role in Venice’s future.

We will study the climate projections for Venice and Miami, the climate adaptation steps available and being taken, and the legal pathways that both encourage and block adaptation. For both Venice and Miami, this will show the complexity of overlapping, and underlapping, legal frameworks and political interests trying to address a critical problem.

As part of the investigation, the course will consider how a rights-based approach and non-traditional legal arguments can complement the current legal rubric in both places, considering questions such as:

  • How are human rights related to climate adaptation?

  • Should places have rights—should Venice as a UNESCO-protected site have legal rights just as rivers and glaciers have been found to have legal rights in New Zealand and India? If so, can people effectively speak for resources using a trustee or guardian approach, and which people tend to have power and a voice under this approach?

  • Should indigenous populations have special or different rights regarding the fate of places that form part of their cultural identity?

Finally, the course will also include consideration of public engagement in the governance of climate adaptation decisions in the EU and the US. We will study how the Aarhus Convention compares to US norms of public participation, for example.

The course will be taught inside and outside the classroom, with trips to the Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico (MOSE sea wall project), museums including the Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia, exploration of how flooding affects Venice physically, socially, and politically, and discussions with Venetian officials responsible for climate adaptation. A remote presentation from Miami officials responsible for climate adaptation may also be arranged.

The course will use writing exercises to gauge progress and understanding, with a final writing assignment due once classes have started in the Fall Semester. The class will be designed to satisfy LAWR IV. There will not be exams.

Externships (2 credit hours, Experiential Learning)

Each student will be placed in a two-credit, pass/fail externship. These will focus on topics such as climate, sea-level rise, governance, land use, public participation, government policymaking, and related topics. It is expected that The Law of People and Places will be taught each weekday morning, and that externships will take place each weekday afternoon in Venice, Padua, or nearby towns.

To help integrate the internships with the course work, students will be asked to keep a journal of their externship experience. Question prompts to help students think critically about their internship and its relationship to their coursework will be provided each week. In addition, at the end of each week, students will debrief their colleagues on the progress in their externships and anything they are learning and difficulties they are having, similar to rounds in a law school clinic.

Non-Wake Forest students should confirm that credit for these courses is accepted in their home law school. Grades for non-Wake Forest students will be only on a Pass/Fail basis (with a “C” being the minimum grade to earn a passing grade.)