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Materialising Identity

Materialising Identity: The Co-construction of the Gotthard Railway and Swiss National Identity

Judith Schueler
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  • Book Info
    Materialising Identity
    Book Description:

    Since 1882, the Gotthard Railway, with its fifteen-kilometer long tunnel under the Gotthard Mountains, has provided a crucial international link through the Swiss Alps, between North-Western Europe and Italy. Its symbolic meaning has never sunk into oblivion. In Swiss society today, references to the railway evoke images of a technological railway project, with allusions to Swiss history, alpine nature, and national identity. Reading this book helps us understand contemporary discussions about the future of the Gotthard Railway, the region in which it lies, and the Swiss national identity. To illustrate to what extent historical actors co-constructed the railway and Swiss identity, the book starts with an engineering discussion about tunneling methods. Then it examines reactions in Switerland to the inauguration of the railway line. Subsequently, it describes how the railway line was portrayed in travel guides of the belle poque. The last chapter captures the glory days of the Gotthard myth, before and during the Second World War, with a focus on novels and plays in which the Gotthard Tunnel construction occurs. This historical overview offers insight into the multiple roles that technology plays in the construction of a sense of national identity.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-2116-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction: The Gotthard as a national image
    (pp. 9-34)

    The research for this book developed after I noticed something remarkable. It started as a sequence of observations that gradually expanded into research questions and a research strategy. By expressing my curiosity-driven enthusiasm in this introduction, I want to present the Gotthard as a fascinating topic of study. This introduction reflects upon the research process and makes the reader familiar with the topic in the same gradual way as I did. Sharing memories of my first encounters with the Gotthard image will bring us to various places in Switzerland, where the Gotthard recurs as a reference to different periods in...

  2. Chapter 1 National building practices at stake
    (pp. 35-58)

    January 30, 1875, Franz Ržiha, Europe’s leading tunnel engineer, gave a speech about the Gotthard Tunnel for his fellow engineers of the Association of Austrian Architects and Engineers in Vienna.⁷⁶ Austrian engineers had a reputation to maintain in tunnelling. In 1854, the era of Alpine tunnels began with the successful construction of the Semmering Tunnel. By 1875, the Mont Cenis Tunnel had just opened (1871) and engineers were drawing plans for tunnels under the Simplon⁷⁷ and the English Channel.⁷⁸ Moreover, the lobby for an Arlberg tunnel was in full swing which heated the debates in Austria. Tunnelling boomed. Engineers came...

  3. Chapter 2 Celebrating the Gotthard Railway
    (pp. 59-82)

    After 7.5 years of construction work the Gotthard Tunnel neared its breakthrough. Swiss newspaper articles tried to capture the shivers of anticipation. The northern-Swiss liberalSchaffhauser Intelligenzblattpublished a little poem on February 24, 1880. The poem expresses a feeling of expectancy.

    A week to go! – And a day of joy,

    A day of jubilation dawns in dark times

    Triumph; yes let’s announce it today,

    Be ready for a cheerful celebration!¹⁸⁵

    Only four days later – not a week – the probe broke through the dividing tunnel wall. The next day, Sunday February 29, 1880, the Gotthard Railway Company orchestrated the ‘official’...

  4. Chapter 3 Travelling the Gotthard
    (pp. 83-114)

    The inauguration of the Gotthard Railway gave the go-ahead for the railway’s first summer schedule for passenger trains. The line with its longest rail tunnel in the world could finally be admired by everyone who could afford a train ticket. Curiosity, and the National Exhibition, accounted for the peak in first class traffic in the early years. More than a million passengers travelled the Gotthard Railway in 1883, its first full year of operation.²⁹⁷ After the initial wave of enthusiasm, the line operated as a successful international railway line.²⁹⁸ The number of passengers on the Gotthard Railway continued to increase...

  5. Chapter 4 Re-writing history
    (pp. 115-138)

    In 1936, Oskar Maurus Fontana, the well-known Austrian journalist, theatre critic and writer, publishedDer Weg durch den Berg, the path through the mountain.⁴⁴⁸ The novel tells the story of the Gotthard Tunnel construction in the form of a historical tale. Fontana explained that he stayed true to the historical facts but took the liberty to interpret them freely. The historical figures louis Favre and Alfred Escher stood model for the central characters in the book. Fontana re-tells the history of the tunnel construction as a national deed. Protagonist louis Favre is determined to construct the Gotthard Tunnel for the...

  6. Conclusion
    (pp. 139-150)

    Curiosity about the Gotthard as a Swiss national image gave me the impulse to do this research. In today’s Switzerland, the Gotthard metaphor represents a nineteenth-century railway project, a symbolic alpine space and national identity. The construction of the Gotthard Railway took place between 1872 and 1882, a period in which national identity formation increased in Europe. After the foundation of several large nation states, such as Italy and Germany, people in Switzerland – founded as a nation state in 1848 – intensified their search for a Swiss national identity. For the Swiss the Alps became a major national icon. At the...

  7. Epilogue
    (pp. 151-156)

    ‘Ambiguity’ is the best word with which to conclude. Throughout my search to understand the Gotthard as a national image, I saw the Gotthard image recurring as often as I saw it slipping away. When I thought I understood, it changed face, meaning or intensity. It was everything and nothing; alive and dead; powerful and laughed at; used and abused. Through my Gotthard research, Swiss friends started to accuse me smilingly of being more Swiss than they themselves. Those types of comments were just as ambivalent as the Gotthard image. They made me reflect on my position as an outsider,...