Eco-Prospecting in Early Modern Wetlands

Lydia Barnett*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What kinds of natural knowledge and natural value existed in early modern wetlands? This essay uses a naturalist’s survey of a now-vanished swamp outside the northern Italian city of Bologna to reconstruct both the ecological knowledge of the swamp’s peasant inhabitants and the processes of “eco-prospecting” by which their knowledge was gathered, recorded, and used. The naturalist, Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, systematically interrogated the wetlanders for their site-specific knowledge of the sea-sonally dynamic relations between fish, water, plants, and weather. He also recorded in detail the wetlanders’ building of hydraulic infrastructure, practices of cane cultivation, and artisanal craftwork with the swamps’ natural materials. Marsili’s survey revealed the swamp as a place that was neither hostile nor barren (as most outsiders saw it) but pop-ulated and productive, filled with natural materials that could be used to sustain hu-man communities and also to support divergent visions of resource management and extraction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)604-610
Number of pages7
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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