Workshop in Bucharest, 29 – 30 September 2022

About two years after the project „Contested Waterway. Governance and Ecology on the Lower Danube, 1800-2018“ was launched, the first on-site event could take place. The venue was the New Europe College in Bucharest, where a workshop titled „Disturbance on the Danube: State, Infrastructure and the Environment“ was held on September 29-30, 2022. Historians and anthropologists from several countries came together and presented their research on the second-largest river in Europe from different perspectives:

Photo credits: New Europe College, Bucharest.

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.

Photo credits: New Europe College, Bucharest.

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.

Photo credits: New Europe College, Bucharest.


Thursday, 29 September 2022

13.00–14.00 – Lunch at NEC


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

Friday, 30 September 2022


Panel 2

The Danube and Its Islands

Chair: Gertrud HAIDVOGL


Contested Islands along the Lower Danube: Ada Kaleh and Serpent Island

Milica PROKIC, University of Glasgow

The Spectre of Infrastructure Over Belgrade’s Urban Oasis: The Layered Past and The Uncertain Future of the Great War Island

11.20–11.40 – Coffee break


Panel 3

Nature and Technology along the Lower Danube (II)

Chair: Luminița GĂTEJEL

Ivelina EFTIMOVA, ‘Konstantin Preslavsky’ University of Shumen

The Kalimok – Brushlen Protected Area and Ecotourism – (Un)Problematic Coexistence

Constantin IORDACHI, CEU PU Vienna

Communist Infrastructure in Post-Communism

13.00–15.00 – Lunch


Panel 4

River Disasters

Chair: Constantin ARDELEANU


Waste, Value and Death in a Riparian Environment

Ștefan DORONDEL, ‘Francisc I. Rainer’ Institute of Anthropology Bucharest

The History and Ethnography of a Disaster

Stelu ȘERBAN, ISSEE Bucharest

Floods and Prosaic State on the Bulgarian Lower Danube

17.00–17.15 – Conclusions

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