Seeing through the Unseen: How the Invisible Makes Understandable the Visible

Talk by Emanuele Conte as part of the lecture series laboratorium lucernaiuris and the international summer school Un/Seen.

Date: 3rd June 2024
Time: 18.00 h to 19.15 h
Location: University of Lucerne, Room tbc

Spring 2024: 1’191’000 tourists overcrowded the centre of Rome during the week from 25 April to 1 May. Most of them stayed in the city for two or three days, in a dramatic race to see what 'must be seen' when visiting Rome.

While many residents have chosen to leave the historic centre for less crowded areas, the few who remain feel a sense of unease as they crawl among the crowds of tourists snapping photos of the monuments, of themselves and of their friends, and of the pizzas and gelato they are constantly eating. However: are these people truly 'looking'? And if they are, do they actually 'see' what they are looking at (or taking pictures of)?

Tourists love to visit cities, and Rome is, of course, the city par excellence, the one and only Urbs, the city that invented citizenship, and which for a time was the communis patria, the common fatherland, of all the citizens of the immense Empire. Rome is what it is because, from ancient times, through the Christian Middle Ages, to the present day, it has always been an idea. Ancient, medieval, renaissance, baroque and modern buildings have been built to give this idea a tangible presence. Every stone, every marble, every statue, every work of art has been built, carved, painted to respond to this fundamental need, to give a proper realisation to a very abstract idea.

My talk will focus on the political and legal aspects of the construction of monuments in urban space, using examples and legal doctrines from antiquity to the modern era. It will show that there is a profound contradiction between the current tourist exploitation of urban space and its very reason for existence.

Emanuele Conte is Professor of Legal History at the University of Roma Tre and Directeur d’Etudes at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He has held visiting professorships at several institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania (Bok Visiting International Professor, 2014), the University of Wollongong (2015), the Australian National University (2015), and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris (Chaire Yan Thomas, 2010). He has been visiting research fellow at the Max-Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory in Frankfurt am Main (1986-1988), at the University of California at Berkeley (1990, 1999, 2024), at Wolfson College, Oxford (2018), and at Columbia University, New York (2019). Recently, Emanuele was a senior researcher on the ERC project Civil Law, Common Law, Customary Law, based at the University of St Andrews (UK). He has published 7 books and numerous articles in Italian, French, English, German and Spanish, and is the editor of a volume of the series Cultural History of Law (Bloomsbury, 2019). He has recently (2022) delivered an audio course on Legal History from a European Perspective, freely available online.