There is this exciting multidisciplinary field of study which I only recently learned about, and is called environmental history:
Environmental history, a relatively new branch of historiography, is the study of human interaction with the natural world over time.(...) Environmental history is history written with the acknowledgment that we shape our environment and it shapes us.
Last week, interesting lecture belonging to this discipline was held at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich. It was by professor Verena Winiwarter, on the topic: The Blue Danube? Towards an Environmental History of the 'River of the European Future'.
The main thesis has been that the connection between the Danube river region and societal hopes was longstanding. The lecture dealt with 'the Danube river as a source of future developments in the regions through which it flows, and the past events of the Danube that continue to influence the river itself, the region’s history, and the future.' It was stressed that there is a strong need for more multi-faceted projects that include environmental and cultural historians in mapping the Danube’s sustainable future. Cooperation between scientific disciplines and between countries is essential in this case. (Since 2008 in Vienna there is a Danube Environmental History Initiative which aims to link existing research and to break new ground towards integrated, interdisciplinary environmental histories of the Danube from prehistory to the 20th century.)
Intrigued by these information, I have continued research on the topic.
In the text: Legacies from the past: The Danube's riverine landscapes as socio-natural sites, professor Winiwarter and her colleagues write in more details about different ways in which people influenced the changes in Danube basin, and how the river affected their lives.
In the introduction they stated:
"The Danube River Basin (DRB) has been changed by mankind for millennia and hence must be studied in a long-term perspective. Its current situation cannot be understood if the common past of nature and humans is studied apart. Ongoing social, economic and political changes along the Danube give historically and ecologically informed management a certain urgency."
There are some landmarks that influenced the life of Danube, its surrounding and people in the area:
- Rapid changes in the DRB started around the year 1800, through the process of industrialisation. Also, processes such as navigation, land reclamation, flood control and electricity generation played important role.
- In the 19th century, flood protection measures were confined to major urban agglomerations; the case of Vienna shows that flood protection coincides with the colonisation of floodplains for industry and working class quarters in the second half of the 19th century.
- Electricity generation became a major factor in the 20th century; the hydropower plant became the key symbol ofthe Danube's transformation
- The Cold War period also affected Danube and its surrounding. Authors write: "We suggest to study the recent environmental history of the Danube as a 'cold war history' in which the two opponents in this conflict were connected by the river course. In quite short period of time, numerous dams and weirs were built on both sides and changed the basin significantly.
The period after 1989 was not free of turbulent events affecting Danube, landscape, people. The contamination level of the river is at times dangerously high and concerns for environmental protection present along its course. Throughout history, numerous war battles happened in vicinity or on Danube. The NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 also affected ecological state of Danube and the basin.
In short, as the authors of the above mentioned text explain: 'The current state of the river cannot be explained without identifying historical legacies of human interventions into riverscapes before their major transformation."
also: "Nature, society and technology are transformative to each other: if one realm changes, the other two change as well."
And Danube is a perfect example for that.
For more of Danube history, here is Google timeline.