“Damming the Cold War. Hydraulic Infrastructure in the Context of East-West and North-South Relationships”
Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Germany, 13.02.2020 – 14.02.2020

Dams and hydroelectric plants were inventions of the late nineteenth century and consolidated globally as key components for industrialization, agricultural expansion, and urbanization as early as in the 1930s. During the Cold War, dams became one of the most proliferated infrastructure worldwide and played a crucial role for development policies, technological innovation, and environmental and social change. We seek papers for an international workshop that traces back the global history of dam building as a history of shared experiences and global entanglements between the Eastern and Western blocs as well as the Global North and the Global South.

Dams are important artefacts because they had the unique capacity to bring together a wide range of actors and knowledge, all crucial for the understanding of the Cold War and its basic assumptions concerning the development of economies, societies, and technology. Dams also were projection screens of visions and ambitions, and hence a crucial symbol in the East-West-conflict and decolonization, and could be appropriated by actors from the global South. Many of the prime problems and conflicts of the Cold War were converging in dam projects like in a magnifying glass. Dams required and attracted engineers, corporations, state institutions, planning authorities, politicians, financiers, NGOs, activists, and residents. They all created and applied political, economic, technological, scientific, environmental, and social knowledge while interacting with dams.

The workshop sets out to assess the role of dams for Cold War history and for epistemological globalization processes based on technology, development, and environmentalism. It traces the global entanglements that were constitutive for dam projects and that made dams such relevant projects during the Cold War, and assesses global power relations at stake. The papers should discuss the following questions:

1) Which global networks, entanglements, and exchange processes were constitutive for the spread of dam building, and how important were East-West-interdependences, South-South-relations and repercussions from the South to the North?
2) Which were the nodal points, platforms, institutions, and actors of these exchanges processes?
3) How did the spread of dams strengthen or contest power relations between the North and the South, and the West and the East?
4) What were the important knowledge repertories that shaped global dam building? How did economic, political, technological, and environmental expertise relate to each other?
5) How did dam building change over time, and what were the relevant experiences and reasons for that?
6) What kinds of opposition did dams create? Who could contest dams?
7) To what extent were dams shaped by Cold War conflicts, and how did they contribute to them?

Please email an abstract of no more than 300 words and a short CV by January 13th, 2019 to Frederik Schulze ([email protected]).

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Image: Mick Stanic, “Tumut Pond Dam Wall”. Licence: CC BY-NC 2.0