• Mastering the Nile? Confidence and Anxiety in D. S. George’s Photographs of the First Aswan Dam, 1899–1912

    Samuel Grinsell (see profile)
    African History, Architectural History and Theory, British History, History
    Environmental conditions, Architecture, History, Imperialism, Water, British territories and possessions, Photography
    Item Type:
    Egypt history, engineering history, colonial landscapes, Environmental history, Architectural history, Infrastructure, Colonial history, British empire
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    The first Aswan Dam was built at the dawn of the twentieth century and celebrated as a triumph of imperial engineering. Five years after its completion, workers returned to extend the dam. Photographer D. S. George recorded both the building and extension projects for the Egyptian Public Works Department in a series of images that give a unique insight into the place of engineering in the imperial imagination. The dam was built at the same time as Britain was seeking to secure its domination of the Nile Valley, having recently seized control of Sudan. Mastering the river's water was vital to expanding agriculture in Egypt, a central plank of British policy in the region. Representations of the dam speak to a larger history of empire and power in north-east Africa. This paper examines the tension between bombastic confidence and nagging anxiety in the ideologies of empire. Drawing together water, engineering, and environmental histories, it explores the connections between attempts to control the politics of the Nile valley and efforts to harness its waters. The key themes found in the albums – nature, technology, work, and conservation – will be used as lenses through which to scrutinize the peculiar form of modernity that engineers attempted to forge on the world’s longest river. This analysis reveals that imperial officials sought total mastery of the environment, but that the difficulties faced in realizing such grand schemes also generated persistent anxieties and so helps us understand the fears that accompanied the ambitions of imperial modernity.
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    2 years ago
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