Tamsin Prideaux

Tamsin Prideaux is a historian of mobility and migration in the early modern world. She recently completed her PhD “Negotiation and Mobility in Early Modern Venice: Armenian, Jewish, and Ottoman Turkish merchants and the Cinque Savii alla Mercanzia, c.1541- 1700” at the University of Edinburgh.

Host HEI: Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.

SFC Saltire Emerging Researcher project: Migrant Lives and Urban Space: foreigners in early modern Venice.

About Tamsin’s Project

This research continued themes emerging from the PhD thesis on migration and mobility in early modern Venice. For this project I spent time researching more about how the urban environment – streets, buildings, bridges – affected the lives of migrants living in the city. The research was conducted through different avenues: traditional archival research, architectural analysis of buildings and floor plans, and finally a more experimental approach to embodiment research. There are scarce archival materials dedicated to the everyday living spaces of foreigners in early modern Venice, but by using civil and criminal trials involving foreigners (claimants, defendants, and witnesses) I was able to uncover rich and varied information about the spaces and movements of individual migrants in the city. The sojourn in Venice allowed me to start using embodiment research as a method for understanding movement and space in such a specific urban environment; the ability to move around a space that still retains many of its original features is a rare opportunity to investigate the bodily experience of people living in this early modern city. This research is currently being worked into an article on Armenians in seventeenth-century Venice, and an online exhibition on foreigners in early modern Venice.

Migrant Lives and Urban Space: foreigners in early modern Venice

First page of a criminal trial. Archivio di Stato Venezia, Avogaria di Comun, misc. penal, b. 4532, May 1709. Witnesses live in Calle Lion.

This project used different sources and approaches to investigate the experience of migrants living in early modern Venice. Whilst the research depended on a rich archival source base of architectural floor plans, petitions, statutes, government regulations and civil and criminal trials, I also used the location and environment of my research project to attempt to understand and conceptualize how the urban space affected and was affected by, the presence of mobile individuals living in the city. Experiencing the climate, the unique urban and ecological environment of the Venetian lagoon, and moving through the city in different ways helped to inform and develop a fundamental understanding of space. In conjunction with this embodied experience, I also engaged with critical scholarship and emerging research which highlighted the changes in the urban and ecological environment over the last three hundred years. This ensured that I did not make assumptions based purely on personal experience but allowed the physical experience of my presence in the city to guide certain understandings of what it is like to live and work in an amphibious city with close-quartered buildings and a unique form of transport. I thought about and trod in the footsteps of the migrant individuals and communities of Venice. The steps below outline briefly the process of this embodied research.

Primary archival research helped to provide locations for dwelling spaces, and an understanding of the movement and networks of migrant individuals and communities in Venice. I found these locations by combing through civil and criminal trials, where witnesses were identified by origin, and gave their address, as well as the name of their landlord.

After archival and secondary research into the arrival process for Venice, I started the embodied and material research of space. I went to the liminal space of the “Lazzaretto nuovo”; a quarantine house stationed on an island in the lagoon.


Drawing of merchant on the walls inside the Lazzaretto nuovo warehouse where merchants’ goods were stored, cleaned, and fumigated.

I walked the streets and found the areas where lodging houses for mainly Armenian and Persian visitors were situated.

Corte [dead end street: court] where many Armenians both rented and let lodging houses. Calle Lion, Venice.

I compared artistic depictions from an earlier period with the still-standing architecture.

Although the ecology of the lagoon is changing, its unique environment and climate have been experienced for the first time by newcomers across the centuries. The same sensations of extreme isolation, coupled with extreme interconnectedness to the world continue even today. The hardship of making a life in the Venetian lagoon, with its saltwater and high humidity, still contrasts with the breathtaking architectural beauty, so carefully constructed as an image of splendour and power.

E-mail: Tamsin.Prideaux@glasgow.ac.uk
Twitter: @PrideauxTamsin