The Po Watershed

This project, which I started thanks to a Marie Curie IO Fellowship, aims at retracing the epoch-making transformation of water uses and circulation in the Po River valley over the last 150 years. During this period, the region crossed by the Po River has undergone a fundamental transition toward industrial modes of production, high-tech urban systems, and new forms of social life. This transformation corresponded to a vertiginous increase in water uses and to massive social and ecological rearrangements of water circulation. Nowadays, the melting snow of the Alps powers the light switch of a living room in Genoa, the water of the Como Lake runs through the sewage pipes of a high-rise condominium in Milan, and the Po River flows through the fields of Romagna. This new watery landscape confronts us with new problems and new challenges. Are we capable to deal with the new and overlapping scales of water circulation? How can we balance collective well-being and limits to abundance? How can we ensure democratic decisions on water resources and a just distribution of burdens and benefits?

Photo: Copernicus data (2014)/ESA
Central Po Valley. Photo: Copernicus data (2014)/ESA


By retracing the path that brought us up to this point, I wish to add spatial and temporal depth to current debates on water in one of the most important and populated urban-industrial regions of Europe. Yet the same questions and issues are common to many other parts of the world, where humans have been reshaping air, water, and land to an extent and on a scale never before seen, while reshaping themselves and their civilization. The history of humans and water in the Po Valley, in other words, is also a history of the Anthropocene, the age when humans have become makers of the Earth, without being its masters. Through the lens of the Po Valley, thus, I wish to look at the Anthropocene on a different scale and, I hope, gain new insights into the problems and challenges of our common future.

Map of the Po Drainage Basin by Elia Lombardini, ca. 1840.

This project’s outputs include:

“Per una storia ambientale della circolazione delle acque nel bacino del Po. Note su una ricerca in corso,” in AltroNovecento: Ambiente, Tecnica, Società, 28 (2016) [online].

“Charting the Flow: Water Science and State Hydrography in the Po Watershed, 1872-1917,” in Environment and History, 23, 1 (2017): 65-96.

“Systems of Power: A Spatial Envirotechnical Approach to Water Power and Industrialization in the Po Valley of Italy, ca.1880–1970 ,” in Technology and Culture, 59, 3 (2018): 652-688.

Here is a link to the project website, containing some interactive maps on water infrastructure throught time and historical information on water uses:

Here is a link to the FB page of this project:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s