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  • BECOT Renaud (3)
  • KONDOLF Mathias (2)
  • CALIGARI Marco (1)
  • GRAF VON HARDENBERG Wilko (1)
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  • Article (11)
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The morphology of rivers and deltas, like many features of the Earth’s physical geography, is today subject to dramatic and rapid changes due to human actions. Deprived of sediment from their basins and besieged by rising sea levels, many deltas are at risk of complete disappearance. Despite a rich historical scholarship on rivers, we know little about the history of these important geomorphological processes. This paper sheds light on the geomorphological history of rivers by investigating the case of the Po River basin and its delta during the twentieth century. By combining the insights of fluvial geomorphology and a historical methodology, the paper analyses three main drivers of geomorphic alterations in the catchment that had an impact on the delta: hydroelectricity, sand and gravel mining, and methane extraction. In each case, it focuses on how experts, policy-makers, and overseers understood and regulated (or not) these geomorphic alterations. During much of the twentieth century, engineers and hydrologists monitored geomorphic processes with increasing detail, while state and business actors practiced multiple forms of sediment management. For most of the twentieth century, however, experts did not acknowledge the scale and nature of human-induced geomorphic alteration. Sediment management, moreover, did not take into account sediment scarcity until late in the century, and remained exclusively motivated by local concerns. Through this particular case, this paper offers insights on the historical limits to environmental expertise and policy when facing long term and large-scale geomorphic processes, and encourages a more sustained incorporation of fluvial geomorphology into the history of water systems.

in Water History Publié en 2021-06
KONDOLF Mathias
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Sediment is an essential component of water and river systems. The anthropogenic alteration of sediment fluxes in the world’s rivers is one of the principal markers of the Anthropocene, the new geological epoch characterized by human influence at the planetary scale. In spite of its environmental and historical importance, water and river histories have surprisingly neglected sediment until recently. This introduction to the special issue “The Social Life of Sediment” argues for putting sediment at the center of social and historical inquiry and discusses the potential and value of such an approach. To do so, we introduce the concept of the “social life of sediment,” that is, the idea that the existence and movement of sediment is entwined with social needs, values, and activities, and needs to be appraised in his historical dimension. We review recent literature in fluvial geomorphology, social sciences, and history to assess to what extent the social and historical life of sediment has been taken into account. After this interdisciplinary review, we present the seven papers of the special issue and highlight their major insights to the study of social and historical lives of sediment. We conclude by outlining avenues for further research and by summarizing what we all can gain from putting sediment at the center of historical inquiries.

in Water History Sous la direction de PARRINELLO Giacomo, KONDOLF Mathias Publié en 2021-06
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Sediment is an essential component of water and river systems. The anthropogenic alteration of sediment fluxes in the world’s rivers is one of the principal markers of the Anthropocene, the new geological epoch characterized by human influence at the planetary scale. In spite of its environmental and historical importance, water and river histories have surprisingly neglected sediment until recently. This introduction to the special issue “The Social Life of Sediment” argues for putting sediment at the center of social and historical inquiry and discusses the potential and value of such an approach. To do so, we introduce the concept of the “social life of sediment,” that is, the idea that the existence and movement of sediment is entwined with social needs, values, and activities, and needs to be appraised in his historical dimension. We review recent literature in fluvial geomorphology, social sciences, and history to assess to what extent the social and historical life of sediment has been taken into account. After this interdisciplinary review, we present the seven papers of the special issue and highlight their major insights to the study of social and historical lives of sediment. We conclude by outlining avenues for further research and by summarizing what we all can gain from putting sediment at the center of historical inquiries.

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River restoration is a novel paradigm of ‘mirescape’ (land-and-water-scape) management that developed along with the emergence of aquatic ecology. River restoration can be seen as the application of an ecological perspective to return rivers to nature. However, the river restoration paradigm is also the contemporary iteration of historical phases of mirescape management. We review the long and varied recorded history of the Po River in northern Italy as a case study to illustrate the transformations and common themes of mirescape management. We find, first, that significant changes in mirescape management and river condition only occur in the context of larger social, political, technological and economic transformations. Second, we show how particular cultural understandings, economic interests, technological innovations and political powers have driven particular paradigms of mirescape management. These have tended towards increasing territorial separation of wet and dry. We find, third, that these separations lead not only to increasing economic precariousness for many, but also to increasingly severe disasters. We conclude that river restoration faces social and political challenges to becoming relevant at a mirescape scale, due to its lack of integration with land management, or with current social, political, technological and economic transformations. To act on this conclusion, we suggest philosophically aligned social movements that river restoration could work with to improve impact and uptake.

in Journal of Historical Geography Publié en 2020-06
BENSON Etienne
GRAF VON HARDENBERG Wilko
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This article introduces the special issue on ‘Estimated Truths’ which investigates the role of estimation in knowledge-making about water and, through it, contributes to thinking place as environment in the historical geography and history of knowledge. It argues that while historical geographers and historians of science have paid much attention to precision and quantification, approximation and estimation have also played an important role in knowledge-making and deserve more attention. It discusses the roles played by uncertainty and estimation in the water sciences and makes the case for more sustained engagement with the influence of the environment – understood as a dynamic set of human and non-human actors and forces – on knowledge-making. Finally, the article presents the five papers and discusses their individual and collective contributions to the themes of the special issue and to further investigation into the making and operation of estimated truths.

in Cogito, le magazine de la recherche Publié en 2020-06
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Les zones côtières hébergent aujourd’hui plus d’une moitié de la population mondiale, y sont aussi implantées des grandes villes portuaires, des régions touristiques majeures, des zones industrielles stratégiques. C’est le résultat d’une histoire que l’on croit bien bien connaître : celle de la modernisation, du progrès industriel, de l’urbanisation et de l l’émergence graduelle d’une société des loisirs et du tourisme de masse. Pourtant c’est une histoire incomplète dans laquelle un acteur majeur est toujours oublié : l’environnement littoral. Le projet Mediterranean Coasts mené par l’équipe multinationale de la Chaire IDEX en histoire environnementale que j’ai dirigé, a mis cet acteur au centre de l’enquête historique. [...]

En janvier 1968 deux tremblements de terre dévastent 14 villes et villages de la région rurale du Bélice, en Sicile. Suite à ce désastre, les autorités régionales et nationales décident de combiner « reconstruction et développement », en associant la reconstruction et la transformation de la région. Cet article porte sur les racines, le processus et les conséquences de ce processus de décision, en adoptant une approche d’histoire environnementale. L’article discute le rôle joué par le tremblement de terre dans la transformation des attentes et des modes d’action des différents acteurs (dans les institutions régionales et nationales mais aussi au sein de la population locale) eu égard au futur de la région. L’auteur s’appuie pour ce faire sur un riche corpus d’archives. Il montre la nécessité de prendre en compte le rôle des contingences naturelles pour analyser certaines prises de décision, en particulier dans le cadre de l’aménagement du territoire. Il prend aussi en compte les différentes temporalités qui interfèrent dans le traitement des crises environnementales, les décisions prises dans l’urgence pouvant avoir des conséquences importantes sur le long terme.

Human occupation of the littoral has dramatically increased in the modern era, leading to major ecological and morphological changes of the coastal zone that are central to current debates on the Anthropocene. While the existing interpretations tend to represent these changes in terms of human impact and despoliation, we argue that exclusive insistence on this aspect risks obfuscating the inherent dynamism and persistent instability of coastal environments, while erasing the differences in how historical actors interacted with this dynamism. Focusing on the north-western Mediterranean, we investigate the interaction between stabilisation and instability – the shifting nature of the shores. Based on an extensive analysis of secondary sources in five languages (Italian, French, Catalan, Spanish and English), we propose a tripartite analytical framework: first, we analyse new understandings of the coast; second, coastal integration and networks; finally, the physical transformations of the coastal environment. Through this approach, the paper sheds light on the contested and ultimately elusive stabilisation which accompanied modern coastal settlement and invites the reader to think historically about the Anthropocene from the perspective of shifting shores.

Research on the coast has highlighted the role of mass tourism as a driver of littoral urbanization. This article emphasizes the role of public policy by focusing on Languedoc-Roussillon in Mediterranean France. This littoral was the target of a state-driven development initiative known as Mission Racine, which aimed to promote the growth of what was seen as a backward area via the development of seaside tourism. For that purpose, the Mission promoted coordinated interventions including forest management, eradication of mosquitoes, construction of resorts, and transport infrastructure. This large-scale redevelopment significantly reshaped the littoral environment, severely impacted pre-existing forms of coastal activities and launched a new tourism industry. The legacy of the Mission, however, also included innovative land-use planning, which established protected areas and sought to contain urbanization. This case study illustrates the ambiguities of public policies for the coast, which can act alternatively as drivers of development or conservation and at times of both, and therein lies the importance of a contextual analysis of their role.

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