Disturbance on the Danube: State, Infrastructure and the Environment (I)

Event: Workshop

Location: NEC conference hall & Zoom

29 September 2022, 14.00-17.30

Conveners: Constantin ARDELEANU, Ștefan DORONDEL, Luminița GĂTEJEL

Participants: Constantin ARDELEANU, Deniz ARMAĞAN AKTO, Ivelina EFTIMOVA, Luminița GĂTEJEL, Gertrud HAIDVOGL, Onur INAL, Constantin IORDACHI, Merve NEZIROGLU, Maja PETROVIC ŠTEGER, Milica PROKIC, Stelu ȘERBAN

In 2020, the European Environmental Agency warned that climate change is expected to increase the frequency of ‘once-in-a-century’ river floods in most regions of Europe, which it called one of the most damaging extreme climate events. Adaptation to flooding – adjusting to both seasonal overflows and more devastating deluges – has always been a constant feature of communities living near rivers. Being the most international river on the continent, the Danube is a particularly pertinent case study to analyze perceptions of and responses to flooding, and provides a variety of contexts showing how humans have coped with natural disasters. This conference explores how flood prevention and infrastructure development have been intertwined on the Middle and Lower Danube. Combining anthropological and historical methodology, it applies a longue durée perspective to assess the scale of political, social, economic, and ecological transformations triggered by the technological remaking of the river.

In order to disentangle the nexus consisting of floods, states, and infrastructure, we employ the concept of ‘disturbance’. ‘Disturbance’ is used in river management literature to gauge human-induced perturbations to an ecosystem. Such disturbances may be short-term, acute episodes such as a spillover of chemicals, or long-term disturbances when humans make physical changes to a river, for instance by changing its course. Disturbances lead to a loss of biodiversity and species, and impoverish the previously rich environment. However, from the perspective of riparian communities and states (especially modern states), flooding also constitutes a disturbance. Catastrophic floods have resulted in the loss of human life and serious economic damage. Thus, since their inception, states have tried to control rivers by building dams and levees, and to harness their force. We suggest here that there are two different perspectives on a river’s disturbances. One concerns disturbances caused to rivers by humans and states. This is the perspective of the river distressed during human history, mainly by large infrastructure. The second perspective is that of humans and states. For both actors, a flooding river – especially catastrophic flooding – is a major disturbance to the local and national economy and the riparian population.



Introductory remarks from the project leader and the local organizers


Panel 1
Nature and Technology along the Lower Danube (I)
Chair: Ștefan DORONDEL

Onur INAL and Deniz ARMAĞAN AKTO, University of Vienna and Bilkent University, Ankara
Coping with the River: Nature, Empire, and the Making of the Early Modern Ottoman Danube

Luminița GĂTEJEL, IOS Regensburg
A Young State Empowered by Technology? Floods and Negotiating the Politics of Responsibility in Wallachia during the 1840s

Constantin ARDELEANU, NEC and ISSEE Bucharest
Free from Hindrances: Shipping and Fishing Mobility Systems in the Danube Delta Region (1856–1914)

16.15–16.30 – Coffee break

16.30–17.30 – Keynote lecture
Gertrud HAIDVOGL, Institute of Hydrobiology and Aquatic Ecosystem Management Vienna
How to Build a Waterway. Pre-industrial and Industrial Practices on Europe’s Great Navigable Rivers


This workshop is organized within the project Contested Waterway. Governance and Ecology on the Lower Danube, 1800–2018, supported by the Leibniz Association (2020–2023).