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5 - “Increasingly Numerous and Higher Floods”

The River Floods of 1740–1741

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 January 2022

Adam Sundberg
Affiliation:
Creighton University, Omaha
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Summary

By the mid-eighteenth century, river flooding seemed to be increasingly numerous and severe. To later observers, the 1740–41 river floods, which affected numerous parts of the Rhine–Meuse River System, were an important inflection point. This chapter evaluates the origins, interpretations, and consequences of the 1740–41 river floods. Victims interpreted these floods in the context of recent years of dearth and disaster. The historically bitter winter of 1739–40 had catalyzed a disaster cascade in the hardest-hit areas of the riverlands that amplified the impacts of inundation and expanded its consequences. At the same time, Dutch surveyors and hydraulic engineers, ministers, and state authorities promoted a discourse of increasing moral and geographic risk of inundation. In contrast to the Christmas Flood, where technocrats grounded dike innovations in the cultural memory of prior inundations, river floods forced observers to consider problematic futures. Surveyors and cartographers mapped flood risk in the Dutch riverlands and warned of potential consequences should the state ignore their new river management strategies. The floods of 1740–41 and narratives of increasing risk added to distress and anxiety about decline, but they also prompted the first proto-national flood relief efforts and increased emphasis on the systemic, interprovincial nature of Dutch river challenges.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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