Joanne Yao
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Disciplining the connecting river
Constructing the Danube
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In the mid-nineteenth century Europeans envisioned the Danube as a commercial highway for a quickly industrializing Europe. However, if the Rhine represented an internal European highway, the Danube signified a connecting river that emanated from the heart of European civilization to the near periphery. Chapter 4 draws out this distinction between the two rivers and argues that taming the Danube’s physical and metaphysical dangers not only reflected legitimate authority along its banks but also signified control over this conduit to the east, so that free trade and civilization could flow from Europe outward. Controlling the connecting Danube also signified control over temporal dynamics and guarded against reversing the river, and therefore reversing the progressive flow of history and European civilization and allowing instability to flow from the east back upriver. Most famously, Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula represents this haunting possibility of invasion from the east, and civilizational norms upended. If taming the Danube signified legitimate political authority, then Russian unwillingness or inability to control the river’s mouth during the mid-nineteenth century threw Russia’s civilizational status into question and set the stage for the establishment of the 1856 European Commission of the Danube.

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The ideal river

How control of nature shaped the international order


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