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Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Sara B. Pritchard traces the Rhône’s remaking since 1945, showing how state officials, technical elites, and citizens connected the environment and technology to political identities and state-building, and demonstrating the importance of environmental management and technological development to the culture and politics of modern France.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06123-1
    Subjects: History, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Science, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xx)

    In the summer of 1946, officials from the recently founded Commissariat Général au Plan traveled down the French reach of the Rhône River.¹ Widespread devastation across France meant politicians and bureaucrats would be planning for the repairs of basic infrastructure and the rebuilding of key industries. Without a doubt, postwar reconstruction, both physical and symbolic, was the government’s highest priority, but such efforts required a detailed assessment of existing conditions across the country. The Commissariat Général au Plan (Planning Commission, usually referred to as the Plan), then headed by Jean Monnet and dominated by economic and technical elites, had already...

    (pp. 1-27)

    France’s Rhône River experienced dramatic, perhaps even stunning, changes between the end of World War II and the late twentieth century. Yet to perceive the Rhône of 1946 as natural, and the recent Rhône as technological, is not only historically inaccurate but also conceptually problematic. Whether viewed from a horse-drawn barge, a retreating German tank, or the observation deck of a nuclear power plant, the Rhône was and remains an envirotechnical landscape. It is a river that has been repeatedly remade by politicians, scientific experts, and ordinary people. Its transformations have taken place through the workings of both formal institutions...

    (pp. 28-54)

    Between 1945 and 1986, the Rhône became the river that is now familiar to those born since World War II, but vestiges of its long, entwined human and natural histories remain today. The Romans first built embankments along the river as it flowed through Lugudunum, modern-day Lyon.¹ During the Rhône’s frequent floods, residents etched dates on the walls of buildings to indicate high-water marks, inscriptions that lingered long after floodwaters had receded. The names of places throughout the Rhône valley—from Aigues-Mortes (“dead waters”), which was once located along the Mediterranean shoreline, to Les Brotteaux (“muddy waters”), a now posh...

    (pp. 55-77)

    On October 25, 1952, French president Vincent Auriol inaugurated the CNR’s first postwar project, Donzère-Mondragon. Earlier that fall, Auriol’s son, serving as his father’s attaché, had written to the CNR’s president, Emile Bollaert, explaining that “the President of the Republic wants to generate the most publicity possible—within France as well as abroad—about the trip that he will take to Donzère-Mondragon in October and through this make known France’s successful efforts to increase its energy potential.”¹ To prepare the country for the inauguration, Radiodiffusion Française, France’s national radio network, broadcast stories about Donzère-Mondragon throughout the month of October, and...

    (pp. 78-131)

    Between the end of World War II and the late 1960s, various groups and institutions enrolled the Rhône in their agendas for postwar France. In addition to the CNR, several state agencies, including the Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique (CEA), EDF, Génie Rural, and Service de la Pêche (Fishing Service) each undertook projects. Members of local communities and organizations also involved themselves in the river’s development as advocates, critics, observers, and participants. The projects’ diverse sponsorship suggests how the postwar Rhône served an array of human users with disparate interests.

    While these groups’ distinct priorities led to many disagreements, all regarded...

    (pp. 132-162)

    In the late 1940s, residents along the Rhône south of Montélimar and north of Orange began reporting disturbing changes in their communities. In some areas, fields became saturated with water that exceeded the capacity of existing drainage networks. Farm animals slogged through sodden pastures, and crops dependent on drier soil began to rot. In other places, water had become difficult to access. When wells ran dry, farmers found they could no longer pump groundwater to irrigate crops and supply their homes. Large crevasses even scarred the landscape in certain locales.

    In 1947, the CNR had begun building Donzère-Mondragon. Was there...

    (pp. 163-192)

    In 1968, Antoine Pinay, former prime minister and now head of Le Grand Delta, a new organization based in the Rhône valley, issued a stern warning. “Recent events have shown,” Pinay cautioned, “how concentration, which taints the economic, social, and political life of our country, is a danger for all of France.” As a result, “it is fundamental and urgent to rebalance [rééquilibrer] France.” Achieving this goal, however, was not necessarily straightforward because, as Pinay put it, “we must avoid the same vice for which we reproach the national capital: creating polarized regions around a regional capital, which end up...

    (pp. 193-211)

    In an inconspicuous chapter of The Identity of France, published in 1986, celebrated Annales School historian Fernand Braudel discussed the place of the Rhône in the history of France. Braudel closed the chapter with a description of current plans for developing the river. Historian Braudel even became politician Braudel by advocating the modernization of the Rhine-Rhône liaison, an ambitious scheme to dramatically enlarge the canal linking the two continental rivers. By including these contemporary proposals in his historical study of “the identity of France,” Braudel intertwined into a single narrative the Rhône, questions of identity, France’s past, and the country’s...

  12. 7 A NEW MODERN
    (pp. 212-239)

    On March 10, 1982, French minister of the environment Michel Crépeau proclaimed, “The national interest, which consists of protecting a beautiful natural region near the metropolis of Lyon, is even greater than the energy benefits of [Sault-Brénaz and Loyettes].”¹ Crépeau’s appraisal of the CNR’s last two projects on the upper Rhône then under consideration embodied some of the key shifts in cultural attitudes toward the river discussed in the previous chapter: from constructing its upper reach as natural to assessing its value within a national framework. Crépeau’s pronouncement is even more remarkable given France’s energy emergency less than a decade...

    (pp. 240-252)

    The vast archives of the CNR are filled with memos, reports, and other documents written by the agency’s engineers and administrators over the past seventy-five years. Less visible but still present are the views of critics questioning the agency’s activities. Also collected are the glossy brochures about the agency and its projects published by its public relations office. One from the 1990s particularly stands out: a single-page flyer that maps the Rhône’s course through France. Remarkably, it depicts an almost exclusively natural river. An extensive key lists ten different kinds of sites along the Rhône, from natural reserves and ecological...

  14. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 253-254)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 255-338)
    (pp. 339-352)
    (pp. 353-358)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 359-372)