“And yet it moves!”: video on moving objects of the Museum of Geography

“And yet it moves!”: video on moving objects of the Museum of Geography

On the occasion of the 33rd Italian Geographical Congress Geografie in movimento I Moving Geographies (Padua, 8-13 September 2021), Giovanni Donadelli and Chiara Gallanti from the Museum of Geography of the University of Padua presented a video contribution to the session “Objects, wares, goods: the material trace of movement in space”.

The video Eppur si muove! Esplorazioni sulla mobilità quale chiave di accesso al patrimonio geografico I And yet it moves! Explorations on mobility as access key to geographical heritage, reflects on the possible interaction between the mobility paradigm and the cultural heritage of the Museum of Geography. The probe item chosen to detect possible research paths is a terrain model of the Euganean Hills, the first relief model to enter the collection in 1907.

The encouraging survey revealed potentiality in a wide range of directions, from the circulation of the information concerning the existence of the object, to the spatial itineraries traced by its material components, from the physical transfers it experienced during its academic life, to its semantic mobility, from the mobile practices it facilitated both in research and teaching, to the complex trajectories of its digital alter ego on the internet.

Creative engagement with an ordinary (im)mobile alpine landscape

Creative engagement with an ordinary (im)mobile alpine landscape 

DiSSGeA Third Mission Activity

Moving Dolomites. Creative engagement with an ordinary (im)mobile landscape at Vallesina

The focus on mobility has inspired a recent Third Mission activity of the DiSSGeA Department, within the frame of the Interreg V-A Italia-Österreich Europen Regional Development Fund project. The activity aimed to reflect and act on the heritage value of an ordinary landscape in the Dolomite area (Eastern Alps), at the border of one of the nine systems that constitute the ‘authorised’ outstanding landscape of the Dolomites UNESCO World Heritage Site. Beyond the ‘immobility’ of natural landscape conservationalternative, ordinary and lived landscapes can also have heritage value, as argued in this case study of the village of Vallesina. Thus the village became an ideal case study to suggest some reflections on mobility as a key category for identifying and enhancing the heritage value of alpine landscapes. The outputs of the research process (co-coordinated by MoHu members Benedetta Castiglioni and Mauro Varotto with the collaboration of Sara Luchetta from Ca’ Foscari University)  include a creative engagement with such landscape and the installation of 15 panels illustrated by artist Marina Girardi, which are displayed along a circular route and complemented by an audio-guide downloadable via a QR code.

Vallesina had a relevant role in the socio-economic life of the area up until World War II, but nowadays it is a place where depopulation and abandonment are the prevalent driving forces. In a constantly rushing and changing world, Vallesina is apparently immobile, stuck with population decline and activities delocalisation. Yet, as a set of past and current materialities, practices and meanings, a constellation of mobilities (Cresswell, 2010) started to inform the researchers’ gaze on the landscape of Vallesina, which began to disclose its heritage potential. Ancient streets and artefacts, human and nonhuman movements framing everyday past and present life, and collective and individual memories have intertwined in time, shaping a multifunctional unexpectedly mobile landscape.

VenetoNight 2021 - Researchers' Night

VenetoNight 2021 - Researchers' Night

Il 24 settembre 2021 il DiSSGeA ha partecipato ad una nuova edizione di VENETONIGHT-NOTTE EUROPEA DELLA RICERCA con un’attività dedicata al tema del viaggio e una organizzata dal MobiLab:


MobiLab – Wiki800Unipd: studenti e professori dell’Università di Padova su Wikipedia

Un workshop online rivolto a tutta la cittadinanza per imparare a scrivere pagine di Wikipedia e al contempo conoscere meglio l’Università di Padova. Sotto la guida di insegnanti e con testi forniti appositamente in formato digitale, viene chiesto a chi partecipa di scrivere una voce riguardante studentesse, studenti e docenti illustri del nostro Ateneo; le migliori vengono pubblicate su Wikipedia.

Alle radici dell’italiano: il lessico latino del viaggio

L’attività intende proporre un avvicinamento ludico al vocabolario latino del viaggio, fornendo al tempo stesso alcuni spunti per misurare l’evoluzione del patrimonio lessicale latino in una lingua romanza quale l’italiano. Il laboratorio è basato sul completamento di un cruciverba in latino; le semplici parole da inserire, scelte per la loro relativa vicinanza rispetto ai corrispondenti termini dell’italiano, devono essere ricavate ragionando sull’etimologia dell’italiano e/o a partire da illustrazioni, naturalmente con l’aiuto di ricercatrici, ricercatori, dottorande e dottorandi presenti. Per i più piccoli è inoltre possibile divertirsi a scrivere sulle tavolette cerate, sperimentando in tal modo in prima persona la pratica scrittoria dei Romani.

Pearls from China | Progress post #2

Playing with ‘Variations on Mobility’, the four Creative Commissions teams in 2019-2020 have developed their projects along different trajectories traced by the unfolding movements of People, Objects, Texts and Ideas across times and spaces. As small groups composed of academics who have embraced art in their research practices, or artists working in collaboration with scholars across various disciplinary backgrounds, the Commissions engage different Theories and Methods of mobility, working with ethnographic, archival, historical, anthropological, geographical and creative methodologies. The following text and original images represent a short progress post realised by the team to help us follow the path of their creative work.

Pearls from China | Progress post #2 – video and synopsis

At the beginning of the century, China was at a turning point. In 1911 the Qing Empire was finally overthrown by a republican revolution, ushering in a complex transition to modernity. The situation was unstable: warlords fought for military and political power, throwing continental China into chaos. Coastal ports, tethered to a growing regional and international web of trade and exchanges since they were first opened to foreign contact after the Opium Wars, were conduits for old and new migration. Abroad opportunity beckoned for the precious few who had contacts overseas or knew how to access them.


After World War I, Japan consolidated its status as a modern power, already well integrated in a global economy. It was geographically and culturally closer to China than America and Europe were, and it was even less expensive. Its ties with the Zhejiang coast, thanks to its proximity to the southern reaches of its territory (Kyushu, but also Taiwan and the Ryukyu islands), intensified, and it became the destination of choice for many Chinese who decided to dedicate to business. Regular shuttle transit connected the Shanghai railway terminals with those of the port of Nagasaki, creating a corridor of commodity and passenger transit that spanned the whole of Eurasia.


Among the early Zhejiang migrants to Japan, there was a young Wu Lishan, anxious to try his luck abroad. According to his documents, he was just seventeen years old when he left his home village, Longxian, in the Fangshan valley of the Qingtian district. He was the secondborn of two brothers and he took to the sea in the hope of making a name for himself. Longxian was already a chaoxiang, a village of migrants, so for his clan it should not have been too difficult to provide for a ticket to Japan.


He finally made it to Tokyo in 1923, together with other young people like him, all coming from different villages along the Fangshan, Sidugang and Ou valleys in the district of Qingtian. Many belonged to the same clans, or their families had forged business or bridal alliances in the past, and they spoke the same language, a peculiar Wu dialect that was hard to understand for other Chinese. They were a very tightly knit group, with common habits and tastes, similar stories and dreams.


Hu Xizhen: This sure is another world!

Wu Xizhong: Yeah! Nothing to do with our little mountain villages…

Wu Lishan: This is not a mere sea-trip, we are travelling towards the future!


These young kids were ambitious: though they sailed off as migrants, their goal was not to become coolies laboring abroad for little money and a life of hardship and abuse. They thought of themselves as traders. Like many other migrants from Zhejiang, they sold cheap Chinese made articles on the streets of the Japanese capital and its environs, especially in Kanagawa and Ōshima, in the vicinities of the port cities of Yokohama and Kawasaki. Like most of his fellow Qingtian migrants, Wu Lishan sold umbrellas, a popular item especially during the hot summer months.


In Tokyo, the most upmarket shopping district was the Ginza. Designed by the Irish architect Thomas Waters as western-looking, brick-house precinct, it was meant to showcase Japan’s modernity. It had wider roads, paved sidewalks, modern lights, tramcars, and a variety of high-end stores, cafes, breweries, and wine shops. It counted about ten large department stores, with the Mitsukoshi being the most iconic.


Wu Lishan worked alone all day, and only in the evening, he retired to the small guesthouse he shared with his fellow countrymen. They passed their free time playing Mahjong, a habit that these Chinese would cherish throughout all their existence. Wu Lishan was a good player, his friends even called him “The Professor”! Life was good, everyone was making good money, and all seemed to be going according to plan.

It would not last.


On September first, 1923 at 11:58 am, an earthquake of magnitude 7,9 hit the Kantō plain, on the Honshū Island. Tokyo was destroyed in minutes; the port of Yokohama was swept away as a tsunami hit both the coasts and the islands to the south, while strong winds began to blow, turning into tornados. It was lunch time, and in most homes fires and cooking stoves were lit. Powered by the winds, the fires started to propagate all around the city, in veritable whirlwinds of fire. As the earthquake had broken the water tanks and it was quite impossible to quell the fire. The fury of the elements caused such mayhem, that it was to be matched only by the firebombing of Tokyo during WWII. More than 120.000 died in the disaster, two million were left homeless. But for the thousands of Koreans and Chinese living in the Kantō area, the worst was yet to come. Prompted by pre-existing tensions between the Japanese and the Korean minority living in their midst, vicious rumors started to spread in the aftermath of the disaster, and Korean domestic servants were blamed for not taking care of the stoves, or even of spreading the fires deliberately, poisoning wells, spreading disease… a murderous wave of xenophobia spread throughout the nation, as vigilante groups were quickly put together to seek out and kill non-Japanese Asians on the spot. Martial law was declared, but it was too late.


Crowd: It was the Koreans! They took advantage of the confusion to cause fire and stole in the houses!


Some soldiers and policemen even joined the vigilante groups, killing thousands of Koreans and hundreds of Chinese from the hinterland of Wenzhou, who were mostly mistaken for Koreans. Trying to protect those who survived, military and police were ordered to collect and transport the surviving Koreans and Chinese in government-run detention centers. Wu Lishan and his friends luckily escaped the wave of mass murder that obliterated many of their fellow Chinese. He was among those interned in the Narashino internment camp, where he remained until the Chinese diplomatic mission in Japan requested the compensation and repatriation of all Chinese people in Japan. After this diplomatic incident, the migration flow from Zhejiang to Japan ceased completely, and it started to be redirected to Europe.


According to some Chinese sources, in Shanghai and Wenzhou it was possible to refer to banking agencies that procured tickets, passports and visas for expatriation, providing also useful contacts in Europe. They played a key role in the sudden surge of Zhejiang migrants in Europe between 1925 and 1926. In 1925, in Germany, several hundred of Chinese from Qingtian settled in Berlin, near the Schlesischer Bahnhof (today Berlin Ostbahnhof), the historic terminus of the railroad from Asia. At the same time, Chinese migrants from Zhejiang appeared in Spain, France and Italy demonstrating real migration chains between the hinterland of Wenzhou and several European countries.


Wu Lishan was among them. His name appears both in the papers of the returnees to China from Japan and, since 1934, in the Italian documents. Family stories tell that between 1925 and 1934 he has been wandering through Germany, France and Holland and that he reached his old friends in Italy only in the early 1930s.



After the Kanto earthquake, Wu Lishan and his friends that were repatriated to Shanghai from Japan, came into contact with a broker of a French (possibly Sino-French, or even a Japanese/Sino-French joint venture) trading company that was recruiting sellers for a new kind of product: fake pearls made of coloured glass that were as luminous as the real ones but a great deal cheaper. It is still unclear whether the first batch of this merchandise was acquired in Europe (there is some evidence that its source may have been European from the onset) or from a Qingtian wholesale trader in Paris, but in 1925 and 1926, these fake pearls were all the rage across Europe. Czechoslovakia may well have been the true source of these articles de Japan all along, and there surely were Chinese who imported them from the city of Gablonz an der Neisse (today called Jablonec nad Nisou), in Bohemia, where glass trinkets and artificial jewellery were industrially mass produced since the nineteenth century.


Wu Lishan and his friends had no way to go back home, they had barely started on their migrant journey, and all the money they had was still not enough to repay for their tickets abroad. They needed to up their ante, and this fake pearl selling scheme seemed quite interesting. So, together with his friends, he took the chance to leave and discover what Europe had to offer. He decided to travel by train because the travel was shorter, while his friends chose to go across the globe by sea. At that time there were only 2 possible routes: the Tran-Siberian railway that snaked her way through Asia and Soviet Russia, reaching Berlin in a couple of weeks, and the sea route stretching across the South China Sea, the Malacca Strait and the Indian Ocean, going up the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, and finally entering the Mediterranean Sea in about 40 days. The final destination was Marseille if the shipping company was French or Trieste if it was Italian.


In Europe, these Zhejiang Chinese quickly dispersed in search of the best markets, where laws were lenient enough to allow them to work as street hawkers. France, among the European nations, was the one that appeared to have tougher regulations, restricting public selling of goods on the streets to French citizens. Things were better in Germany, Spain, and Italy, at first. Once the fake pearl boom was over, in most countries the Zhejiang migrants switched to different trades: in Germany they sold cheap crockery and in Holland they peddled peanut candy.


In Italy, the Zhejiang migrants quickly switched to different wares, sourcing their merchandise from Italian wholesale traders. Soon, they opted for silk neckties, woolen sweaters and leatherette belts and wallets. It was a germinal moment for Chinese immigration to Europe, one that eventually took full advantage of the transport revolution started during the late nineteenth century, as ever more sophisticated steam engines had drastically shortened the distances between countries and peoples, ushering in an increasingly global economy and a more cosmopolitan society.

VenetoNight 2020 virtual edition – Researchers’ Night

VenetoNight 2020 virtual edition – Researchers’ Night

On Friday, 27 November 2020 the MoHu Centre’s researchers took part in Venetonight virtual edition, an annual social impact event involving academic institutions of the Veneto region (University of Padua, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, University of Verona) in connection with the European Researchers’ Night.

The European Researchers’ Night is a Europe-wide public event that brings researchers closer to the public. The Night provides researchers the opportunity to showcase the diversity of science and its impact on citizens’ daily lives, and to stimulate interest in research careers – especially among young people. The events highlight how researchers contribute to our society by displaying their work in an interactive and engaging forum.

Our brilliant postdocs (Teresa Bernardi, Silvia Bruzzi, Laura Lo Presti, Benoît Maréchaux, Andrea Martini, Ottavia Mazzon, Dennj Solera and Giulia Zornetta) gave some fantastic interviews to the journalist Guido Romeo, displaying many variations of mobility research to the public.

Mind travelling with the Museum of Geography during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The MoHu Centre’s social impact activities are carried out in connection with the Museum of Geography of the DiSSGeA Department. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum has found creative ways to connect in the current shared condition of immobility by inviting people to re-imagine their mobilities.

Mind travelling with the Museum of Geography

Geography comes alive in places, landscapes, travel and encounters. During the lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the staff of the Museum of Geography, which has been closed since the end of February 2020, wanted to counteract the imposed immobility with an original initiative designed to open the horizons of our minds and move through stories and emotions.

‘Instead of looking nostalgically at the world we have left‘, comments prof. Mauro Varotto, scientific director of the Museum of Geography, ‘we decided to take advantage of what this difficult situation offers: the opportunity to think over our personal geographies, to recall distant geographies, places we visited and photographed perhaps too hastily, returning to the repository of our emotions related to places to make them live again and share them’.

The initiative is identified by the hashtag #LaMiaMenteViaggia (literally: my mind travels) and consists of sharing the places of our own geographical mental explorations. Sparked by the staff of the Museum of Geography, the initiative is addressed to those who, despite the closure, have continued, if only in their mind, to travel to reach the places in their heart.

Every day since the 3rd of March, 2020, educators, teachers and staff of the Department of Historical, Geographical and Ancient Sciences of the University of Padua have shared personal stories of public and private places on the museum’s Facebook and Instagram profiles, accompanied by a photograph and geographic coordinates.

In late May, 2020, the #LaMiaMenteViaggia campaign shared their 100th post, concluding a journey that visited many places in the Veneto region, 15 other regions of Italy, 35 states in all continents and 2 planets (in addition to Earth and Mars).

The initiative has reached over 150 thousand people through social media networks. ‘The initiative was liked’, confessed Giovanni Donadelli, curator of the museum and the initiative, ‘confirming yet again the power of storytelling and showing that there is no lack of stories of precious places, but rather the time on our part to listen to them and savour them. During this quarantine, time has dilated, also reinvigorating our geographies of the heart’.

Everyone can read the stories posted within the initiative by looking for the hashtag #LaMiaMenteViaggia on Facebook and Instagram.

Lesbos (Greece)

Street Geography

Site-specific art installation at the railway station of Padua

The Street Geography. Drawing cities for a sustainable future project stemmed from the collaboration between several geographers at the DiSSGeA (University of Padova) and the Progetto Giovani Office (Cabinet of the Mayor of the Municipality of Padova) with the aim of encouraging the dialogue between scientific research, art-practice, and the citizens of Padova. At the foundation of the project was the idea that academic knowledge should contribute to the conceptualization and realization of more meaningful and sustainable cities. The three keywords of the project, namely Neighborhoods, Mobility and Waterways, were intended not only as geographical concepts that contain some of the most significant contemporary urban phenomena and dynamics at the local and global levels; they were also used as the key concepts around which the artists have developed their site-specific installations to create a public art exhibition that crossed the city of Padova from north to south, along the tramline’s route, from September to October 2018.

Together with the curators at the Progetto Giovani Office, each artist collaborated with a geographer, who provided reflections on the key concept and the associated site. Engaged in this partnership, the three artists developed their own site narration: Fabio Roncato with a diffused installation titled At the Antipodes There is the Ocean for the Arcella neighborhood, Mónica Bellido Mora for the railway station, Caterina Rossato with an installation called Distances for the Lungargine Scaricatore at Bassanello. These works aimed to question the ways that the people live in cities, the issues of co-existence, and the meanings of change, movement and relationships in our shared and highly mobile urban spaces. In particular, A STATION OF STORIES: MOVING NARRATIONS was the site-specific art installation realised in the railway station of Padua by illustrator and cartoonist Mónica Bellido Mora (Mexico City, 1990), in collaboration with the Italian publishing house BeccoGiallo. The railway station functioned as a stage for a comic-strip story with the station itself as the protagonist. In Mónica’s story the building comes alive; as a non-human narrator, it speaks with its own voice and tells citizens, commuters and tourists about its daily repetitive, but also ever-changing, routine. The comic author’s illustrated panels invited visitors to perceive the station in new ways, focusing on the interconnection of mobile routes, existences and stories that cross in the same space. The story’s point of view made possible to consider the multiple values of transit spaces, interpreted as sentient beings that contain narratives, which are multilayered in space and time.

Thus, the railway station was transformed into a place of new relationships and experience, awareness and imagination.

The Street Geography scientific project was realised by Giada Peterle, Tania Rossetto and Mauro Varotto, University of Padova, DiSSGeA. The curatorial project was curated by Stefania Schiavon and Caterina Benvegnù, Progetto Giovani Office, Municipality of Padova. The project was funded by the Erasmus Mundus joint Master in Sustainable Territorial Development – STeDe, the AIIG Veneto, the GAI – Giovani Artisti Italiani.

VenetoNight 2019 – Researchers’ Night

Back in ancient Greece, the public space of the agorà was the one assigned to ‘movement’ and ‘public speech’, two words which aptly describe also the DiSSGeA participation in the Veneto Night 2019, an event which since 2005 allows the researchers of our University to present to the Paduan citizenship the results and methods of their research.

The goal of VenetoNight – Researchers’ Night is to bring the general public – and in particular kids and families – closer to the academic world, also by showing the sometimes unexpected impact of scientific research into everyday life; on the evening of September, 27th 2019, the DiSSGeA stand located in the internal courtyard of the Palazzo del Bo was thus animated by numerous laboratories organized by the researchers of our Department.

Many activities focused on the broad theme of mobility, the key word of the “Mobility and the Humanities” Project of Excellence which is animating much of the Department’s research since 2018; they included:

A game on the Latin vocabulary of travel, which through various recreational activities offered a first approach to the theme of mobility in the ancient world and to the transformations that led Latin to evolve in Romance languages;

A video on the mobility of Padua University students in space, time and knowledge from 1222 to 2022:

an interactive live drawing on Moving across cities and comics, in which the medium of graphic novel offered a chance to cooperatively draw maps of ideal – but perhaps not impossible – future cities;

And a workshop on haptic changing landscapes, in which the dynamic and collaborative construction of clay models allowed younger kids to reflect on the signs and traces impressed by humans on landscape.

In a world crossed by ever more intense flows of people and information, the study of mobility – intended as the variegated and multi-directional movement of people, objects, ideas and texts, both in space and time – cannot but represent a crucial interest not only for the field of Humanities and hence our Department, but also for the entire citizenship, as demonstrated by the great participation of kids and adults which characterized all workshops throughout the evening.