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Environment and History

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Environment and History

Draining the Marshlands, Disciplining the Masses: The Linth Valley Hydro Engineering Scheme (1807-1823) and the Genesis of Swiss National Unity

Daniel Speich

Environment and History 8(2002): 429-447

The first large-scale hydro technical project of modern Switzerland, the Linth Valley hydro engineering scheme (1807-1823), has been considered to be 'a great moral endeavour'. The paper asks, what historical conditions made it possible to conceive of hydro technical engineering in moral categories? Following the political views of the main promoter of the scheme, Hans Konrad Escher (1767-1823), it shows, that within a specific ideological framework no clear-cut distinctions were drawn between the natural, the technical and the social. Rather, within this early example of environmental management, genuinely technical means of engineering were successfully used to address both urgent political and social problems of the time. The main argument is, that the act of draining marshlands successfully promoted national unity and set important preconditions for the later to be founded liberal nation state.

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