Nature, Nation and the Dam. Narratives about the Harnessed Waterfall in Early Twentieth-Century Sweden

In: International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity
Author: Fabian Zimmer
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When the first large-scale hydroelectric power plants were built in Sweden at the beginning of the twentieth century, the waterfall became a twofold symbol of the Swedish nation. On the one hand, the harnessed waterfall promised unlimited energy and economic growth, and thus turned into a unifying symbol of a national productive landscape. On the other hand, the unharnessed wild waterfall, to be enjoyed by tourists seeking refuge from the modern industrial world, became a symbol of a national recreational landscape. This situation, however problematic, did not result in conflict. Taking a look at the first two state-built water power plants in Sweden, I trace how the two contrasting concepts of landscape were harmonized within public discourse. I demonstrate how engineers, architects, conservationists, tourist organisations, and journalists together produced a broad public acceptance of the drastic changes in the national landscape brought about by the construction of these power stations.

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