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Engineering Nature: Maintaining the Erie Canal in the 19th Century

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Abstract:

The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, opening a waterway between the Hudson River and the Great Lakes, altered the landscape of upstate New York. A wealth of literature celebrates the Canal as a technological achievement and geopolitical event that shaped national development in the antebellum period. However, the Erie Canal has been little studied as an on-going environmental event. Long after the initial impact of its construction, the Erie Canal system continued to engineer a new environment. The requirements of Canal commerce and water supply led to enlargement of the original canal and construction of feeder canals, so that by the late nineteenth century an extensive infrastructure stretched across the state: hundreds of miles of canals, and hundreds of modest structures--locks, dams, weirs, berms, towpaths, buildings, bridges, aqueducts, culverts.

This paper considers the use of infrastructure as a heuristic to explore the engineering of the Erie Canal environment. In particular, it focuses on canal maintenance, by looking at the activities of nineteenth century canal engineers. How did they make sense of the natural environment as they maintained the canal system? What kinds of new environments did they create? How was what was first an "artificial river" become naturalized into a new landscape of water and land, and how do we understand it? Did this human-built infrastructure, intertwined with the natural infrastructures of the region, create a new hybrid, domesticated infrastructure? Can infrastructure be used to understand the structures of geology, hydrology, and ecology as well as of human-built systems?
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Association:
Name: ASEH Annual Conference
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http://aseh.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1171082_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Greene, Ann. "Engineering Nature: Maintaining the Erie Canal in the 19th Century" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Annual Conference, Drake Hotel, Chicago, IL, <Not Available>. 2018-01-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1171082_index.html>

APA Citation:

Greene, A. N. "Engineering Nature: Maintaining the Erie Canal in the 19th Century" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Annual Conference, Drake Hotel, Chicago, IL <Not Available>. 2018-01-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1171082_index.html

Publication Type: Panel Paper
Abstract: The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, opening a waterway between the Hudson River and the Great Lakes, altered the landscape of upstate New York. A wealth of literature celebrates the Canal as a technological achievement and geopolitical event that shaped national development in the antebellum period. However, the Erie Canal has been little studied as an on-going environmental event. Long after the initial impact of its construction, the Erie Canal system continued to engineer a new environment. The requirements of Canal commerce and water supply led to enlargement of the original canal and construction of feeder canals, so that by the late nineteenth century an extensive infrastructure stretched across the state: hundreds of miles of canals, and hundreds of modest structures--locks, dams, weirs, berms, towpaths, buildings, bridges, aqueducts, culverts.

This paper considers the use of infrastructure as a heuristic to explore the engineering of the Erie Canal environment. In particular, it focuses on canal maintenance, by looking at the activities of nineteenth century canal engineers. How did they make sense of the natural environment as they maintained the canal system? What kinds of new environments did they create? How was what was first an "artificial river" become naturalized into a new landscape of water and land, and how do we understand it? Did this human-built infrastructure, intertwined with the natural infrastructures of the region, create a new hybrid, domesticated infrastructure? Can infrastructure be used to understand the structures of geology, hydrology, and ecology as well as of human-built systems?


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The Order of Nature: Structural Transformation in 19th Century America

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"The conceal’d and dangerous recesses of nature": Diving Engines and Submarine Knowledge in the Late Seventeenth Century


 
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