What's at Stake

Middle school and high school
Subject: World history
Time: 10 to 15 minutes
Preparation: Consider reviewing Venetian Guilds in your text after asking students the questions at the end of this lesson. After listing their responses, view "Venetian Guilds" (Tape 2, Common Ground, Act 9, 1:00:04)

Venice in the 14th century was the richest, safest, best-run, and most beautiful city in Europe. The city's wealth depended on public spirit and pride in a hometown.

Limited rule
The ruling doge (duke) won office through a system that combined voting and a lottery. Between the will of the voters and the random selection of the candidates, no one man could become a despot.

Limited participation
The system was not entirely democratic. No women could vote. Male artisans and laborers couldn't vote either, but through their craft guilds they did play important roles in creating trade standards, pensions, and insurance.

Guilded age
Nobles and commoners gathered together in guilds, called scuolas. These scuolas invested their wealth in the health and welfare of their members (their families and neighbors). Taking care of the sick and aged paid off: Of all Europeans, Venetians lived the longest. Common concerns create uncommon benefits. What's amazing is that their investment is still paying off today -- Venetians have one of the longest life expectancies in Europe. Concern for the common public good not only created a city that still shimmers with beauty centuries later, it also created an enduring culture of public caring.

  • Trade and wealth (whaling, trade with China, Open Door Policy)
  • Guilds (trade unions, civic associations, masons)
  • Charity and civic or national pride (United Fund, Marshall Plan, US AID)

What makes a city great? Resources? Wealth? Civic pride?

Trade in Europe: Mazour, pp. 253-6; Barbara Jordan on civic participation: Remy, p. 279; Federalism: Magruder, pp. 72-86.

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