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Inland Waterways in the Anthropocene

In-Situ Graduate School 2023 (ISGS 2023)
Inland Waterways in the Anthropocene: Integrating Cultural, Ecological, and Socio-Economic Perspectives for Waterway Regeneration and Sustainable Use

From 18-23 September 2023 the River Cities Network, IIAS and the University of Padova will organize a six-day intensive in-situ graduate school in the city of Padova on the regeneration of ancient inland waterways and the re-imagining of their ecological, social, and cultural functions in the contemporary urban context.

    General information

    Who can apply?

    This graduate school is intended for graduate students (doctoral, including doctorate practice-based research, and research master's), postdocs, and early career professionals (up to 3 years after the completion of their PhD), with an interest in transdisciplinary river/waterways management and regeneration. Participants from all disciplines are welcome, including those with backgrounds in the natural sciences, engineering, the social sciences, economics, and the humanities. Applicants must be committed to or actively working on projects that engage with the ISGS theme. Priority will be given to applicants affiliated with project teams from the “River Cities Network”.

    Application and selection procedure

    Applications are now closed

    To apply for participation in the In Situ Graduate School 2023, please complete the online application form. The deadline for applications is Wednesday 15 March 2023. Application forms received after the deadline cannot be considered.

    Applicants are requested to submit the following documents:

    • Completed online application form. 
    • An updated curriculum vitae.
    • A motivation letter for the ISGS (max. 3 pages single-spaced) or a recent writing sample by the applicant that demonstrates the applicant’s affinity with, or expertise in, the ISGS theme. This sample will be used to select participants for the ISGS as well as consider recipients of financial support, if requested.

    All complete applications will be evaluated after the deadline and the selection results are expected to be communicated (via e-mail) before 1 May 2023.

    Participation requirements

    Successful applicants receiving an acceptance letter must formally confirm their participation in the graduate school within one week of notification and must pay the course fee by 1 August 2023. Applicants who fail to send a confirmation email within one month of notification will forfeit their letter of acceptance.

    Selected participants agree to attend and participate in all events from 18-23 September 2023, including lectures, fieldtrips, and group presentations. Participants also agree to read pre-circulated background materials as generated by the Conveners (as relevant).

    Language requirements

    A working language of English is required and presentations will be in English. No translation/interpretation services will be available during the In Situ Graduate School.

    Course fees

    The fees for this course are EUR 300 per participant. Course fee must be paid by 1 August 2023. After you have received the confirmation of your participation, you will receive further information about the payment of the fee.


    Accommodation for seven nights (for out-of-town participants), daily lunch during the ISGS dates, two group dinners, and local transport (as necessary) to all fieldtrip sites are included.

    Travel costs

    Selected participants are expected to fund their own travel expenses. Limited (partial) scholarships are available. For more information, please see Financial Support. We recommend that you try to raise funds to cover your transportation and/or other expenses as early as possible.

    Local logistics

    The University of Padova has an international office that can assist non-EU students and researchers with EU Schengen visas, if necessary. Longer stays in and around Padova after the ISGS are possible but need to be arranged separately with the University of Padova international office (in case of housing).

    Cancellation policy

    Participation in the In Situ Graduate School can be cancelled free of charge until 60 days before the start. If cancellation occurs within 60 days prior to the start of the programme, the fee will not be refunded.


    Participants can receive a certificate for the In Situ Graduate School.


    * The co-organisers reserve the right to modify the dates and general conditions of the ISGS should its logistics and safety of the participants be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Theme and Format

    Theme description

    Inland waterways are not simply physical features of the landscape. They are crucial for the world’s biodiversity, which they support by providing habitats and by connecting far-away ecosystems, such as hydrographic catchments and coastal zones. Waterways also have been fundamental in the historical development of human societies by providing water, food, protection, and trade routes and, therefore, the current condition of waterways in populated areas is the long-term outcome of close interactions between humans and nature. As such, waterways often make outstanding contributions to our cultural heritage.

    In the Anthropocene, humans have heavily increased their ecological footprint, with negative impacts on riverine ecosystems too. Biodiversity in inland waters is threatened by the multiple human pressures which act upon river ecosystems, including morphological and flow regime alterations, pollution connected to growing human populations as well as agricultural and industrial emissions, excessive water abstraction for drinking, irrigation and industries, climate-change enhanced heat waves and droughts, and biological invasions. The resulting degradation impacts the benefits that waterways can provide to humans, either tangible ones, for example flood control or the self-purification capability found in healthy riverine ecosystems which is so important to mitigate sanitation problems, or intangible ones such as spiritual enrichment and recreational opportunities. Over the past decades, indeed, rivers and canals in Europe have experienced an ecological, hydraulic, and functional decadence connected both to environmental degradation and the decline of water transport after the Second World War, giving rise to a progressive cultural detachment from the previous “fluvial sense of place”. This is a vicious cycle: the degradation of the rivers and canals promotes a negative perception of them among local people, consequently increasing the cultural and socio-economic distancing from watercourses, which cause further degradation.

    Yet, there is now a growing societal awareness about the need to adopt more sustainable lifestyles and economies to face the global environmental crisis. For this reason, waterways are again in the spotlight due to the many tangible and intangible values they hold for people, for example those connected to recreational opportunities, freshwater availability, or cultural heritage preservation just to name a few. Unfortunately, current approaches to the management of waterways in populated areas are too sectorial, for example hydraulic management prioritizing flood risk reduction or irrigation while overlooking river biodiversity or recreational uses. So, current management practices fail to recognize that these waterways are complex socio-ecological systems and that we should integrate cultural, ecological and socio-economic perspectives to trigger waterway regeneration and fully achieve their sustainable use. Today’s environmental problems force us to rethink the role of hydrography and replace current models of rivers and canals management with a more integrated approach that safeguards cultural waterscapes while delivering benefits to biodiversity, local inhabitants and socio-economic activities.

    Case Study - Padova

    Padova is a fluvial city in Northern Italy, about 40 km from Venice, with an urban population of over 200.000. It is home to numerous industries and to the University of Padova, one of the most ancient universities in the world, dating back to 1222, with around 63,000 students. Padova is surrounded by the River Brenta and the River Bacchiglione, and from the 12th century several artificial canals were built to further ease the fluvial trade between Venice and its hinterland. This watercourse system has strongly contributed to the socio-economic development of the city of Padova until after World War II, when several canals were culverted or destroyed after their infrastructure function started to be replaced by railways and highways. Recently, the watercourse system has been targeted by a regeneration project aiming to improve local environmental conditions degraded by decades of neglect and multiple human pressures. The objective is to enhance ecosystem service provision, create local green jobs, and restore the historical waterscapes of Padova, with the goal of making the management of the city canals more integrated, participatory, and sustainable.


    The In Situ Graduate School (ISGS) will comprise lectures by experts, open discussions, local field work, hands-on workshops, and field visits. Discussions will revolve around critical reflections on the following specific sub-themes:

    • Matching social well-being demand with increasingly relevant ecological objectives, as part of the widespread planning interest in riparian waterfronts, in a context of conflicting water uses exacerbated by climate change.
    • Evolving perceptions of waterscapes over time and why fluvial heritage is endangered today.
    • Re-establishing the lost “watery sense of place” in local communities, and how to engage with them through participatory approaches to foster transformative change.
    • Linking practices of waterway regeneration to broader sustainability goals.
    • Investigating the extent of cultural representation in social attitudes and perceptions, including the role of fine arts and literary heritage.

    Applications are now closed 

    We are pleased to invite applications from graduate students (doctoral, including doctorate practice-based research, and research master's), postdocs, and early career professionals (up to 3 years after the completion of their PhD), with an interest in transdisciplinary river/waterways management and regeneration. Participants from all disciplines are welcome, including those with backgrounds in the natural sciences, engineering, the social sciences, economics, and the humanities. Priority will be given to applicants affiliated with project teams from the “River Cities Network”. All applicants must be committed to or actively working on projects that engage with the ISGS theme.

    We only accept applications for the In Situ Graduate School via the application form below. The deadline for applications is Wednesday 15 March 2023. Application forms received after the deadline cannot be considered.


    Alberto Barausse is Associate Professor of Ecology at the Department of Biology of the University of Padova. His work focuses on human impacts on aquatic ecosystems and on solutions for sustainable management and conservation, combining tools such as modelling, monitoring, local ecological knowledge, and stakeholder engagement. He holds a PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering and has worked for over 16 years on the management and conservation of wetlands, rivers, lagoons and marine ecosystems, including in many EU-funded projects. He co-coordinated the project LIFE VIMINE, aiming to protect salt marshes in the Venice Lagoon through nature-based solutions and the participation of local fishers, and is coordinating the implementation of the resulting Memorandum of Understanding among local public bodies to fund long-term conservation activities. He is coordinating a multidisciplinary group of academics and practitioners working on the regeneration of the canals of Padova.

    Philip Hayward is an adjunct professor at the University of Technology Sydney (Australia), a strategic advisor to the River Cities Network and is a member of the Environmental Science and Activism group Lab X. He is founding editor of the Blue Humanities journal Shima and has held visiting professor positions at Kansai and Kagoshima universities (Japan), Pattimura University (Indonesia) and at the University of New Orleans (USA). He has researched widely in Australia, East Asia, Melanesia, and Western Europe. He has been involved in developing the concept of the aquapelago – an integrated terrestrial and aquatic space generated by human livelihood activities and is currently preparing a book on the topic for Routledge. He has also worked extensively on rainforest regeneration in northern New South Wales (Australia) and is involved in various community initiatives around Sydney’s Lane Cove River.

    Paul Rabé is academic coordinator of the cities cluster at the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) in Leiden, the Netherlands, and coordinator of the River Cities Network. In addition, Paul is Lead Expert in Urban Land Governance at the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam, where he heads the Land Management team. He is a political scientist by training, with a doctoral degree in policy, planning and development from the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy. Paul has over 25 years of experience in advisory work and capacity building as well as research and teaching on urban policy topics. His research and professional interests focus on urban land governance and the intersection of land (use) policy and the management of water and water bodies in urban and peri-urban areas.


    The 2023 In Situ Graduate School Inland Waterways in the Anthropocene is organised by the University of Padova and the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS, Leiden). For the fieldtrips and lectures the organizers will work together with local resource partners.


    University of PaduaThe University of Padova is one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious seats of learning. As a multi-disciplinary institute of higher education, the University aims to provide its students with professional training and a solid cultural background. The qualification received from the University of Padova act as a symbol of the ambitious objectives respected and coveted by both students and employers alike. Founded in 1222, Padova’s Studium Patavinum was a place of study that readily welcomed Italian students and scholars, as well as those from various European countries searching for cultural freedom and expression. This freedom continues to define and express the essence of the University through its motto as Universa universis patavina libertas. Intertwined within the story of the University of Padova are the many illustrious figures who lived, studied and taught in this city. Such famous names included those who have changed the cultural and scientific history of humanity, from Copernicus to Vesalius, Galileo, to William Harvey, to the more modern Tullio Levi-Civita, Concetto Marchesi, Giuseppe ‘Bepi’ Colombo and many others. The University of Padova has been a proud pioneer of several endeavours, including the first university botanical garden in the world founded in 1545 that now holds its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1594, the first permanent anatomical theatre was inaugurated, and in 1678, Elena Lucrezia Cornaro becomes the first woman in the world to receive a Doctor of Philosophy degree.

    For more information see:


    IIASThe International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) is a global research organisation and knowledge exchange platform based in Leiden, The Netherlands. The Institute initiates and supports interdisciplinary and trans-sectoral programmes that engage and connect partners in Asia and the rest of the world. IIAS seeks to promote a more contextualised understanding of Asian realities today and pioneers new approaches to the study of Asia and the ‘Asian factor’ in a changing global environment. It does so through an array of activities in the realms of research, education, publications, dissemination, network development, institutional support, and services to the community inside and outside academia.


    UKNAThe River Cities Network (RCN) is a transdisciplinary network to promote ecologically and socially inclusive revitalization of rivers and the landscapes/riverscapes, cities and neighborhoods that co-exist with them. RCN is a multi-sited working group under the Urban Knowledge Network Asia at IIAS, established to pursue action research on the river-city nexus in different parts of the world. The river-city nexus provides a lens through which to critically analyse relationships between human settlements and rivers over time, as well as a platform to engage in collective action to revitalise local river ecosystems and the communities adjacent to these rivers.

    For more information see:

    Indicative Programme

    The Covenors are working hard on putting together the programme, many elements depend on the timing and availability of sites and experts. Below is an indicative programme for prospective candidates to get an idea of how this week will look like and is subject to change.




    Sunday, 17 September 2023

    Participants arrive in Padova

    Evening welcoming reception

    Monday, 18 September 2023

    Morning: Lecture session on introductory concepts, challenges, and opportunities in waterway regeneration

    Afternoon: Field visit to the canals of Padova (half day)

    Tuesday, 19 September 2023

    Morning: Lecture session on cultural heritage in waterways, public perception, and participation.

    Afternoon: Fieldwork (half day)

    Wednesday, 20 September 2023

    Morning: Lecture session on waterway hydraulics, water quality and ecology. 

    Afternoon: Group work / fieldwork (half day)

    Thursday, 21 September 2023

    Morning: Lecture session on economic components of waterway sustainability, opportunities and challenges of integrated management, and regeneration examples. 

    Afternoon: Group work (half day)

    Friday, 22 September 2023

    Morning: Group presentations and discussions

    Afternoon: Field visit to the Battaglia Canal and the Museum of River Navigation in Battaglia Terme (half day)

    Saturday, 23 September 2023

    Field trip from Padova to the Venice Lagoon by boat along the Brenta River

    Sunday, 24 September 2023

    Participants depart for home

    Financial support

    Applications are now closed 

    IIAS can offer a limited number of (partial) scholarships to highly qualified candidates. A scholarship consists of a travel grant, which covers (partial) travel expenses and may also consist of a reduced registration fee in selected cases.

    Please note that the number of applications for financial support is likely to exceed the number of available scholarships and selected participants are encouraged to apply for and secure external support as early as possible. Recipients will be selected with consideration to financial need and demonstrated motivation for participating in the In Situ Graduate School.

    How to apply for a scholarship?

    Before submitting the scholarship application, please complete the online application form for the ISGS 2023. Without a completed application form on file, we cannot process your scholarship application.

    Prospective candidates for a scholarship are required to submit the following required document by Wednesday 15 March 2023 to Ms Wai Cheung via email at:

    The scholarship application should include the following document:

    • Statement of Purpose (approximately one page, may be single-spaced)

    Please explain why the In Situ Graduate School 2023 in the Padova, Italy would be important to your academic studies or career and why you feel you deserve a scholarship. Please also outline the reasons why you need a scholarship.