Contributed Papers

Global Water Infrastructures

Presenter 1

From God's Waters to Unworthy Matter: Profit, the Textile Industry and the Secularization of the Arno River in 13th-Century Florence

Luna Sarti

University of Pennsylvania


While for centuries after the fall of the Roman empire waters remained under the control of religious institutions, between the 11th century and the 12th century city governments in Northern and Central Italy started to extend their jurisdiction to waterways (Seppilli 1997). A concurrent debate on the nature of river waters emerged in the same years, particularly in the increasingly rich and powerful city of Florence which was one of the first in asserting control of local rivers (Salvestrini, 2005). The premodern discussion of river waters in Florence constitutes one of the first attempts to systematize earthly water into a model which, thanks to the crucial contribution of engineers and artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Mariano Taccola, will later become the first instance of the so-called "water cycle".
In this paper, I discuss how the secularization of rivers constitutes a crucial asset in the development of the Florence's merchant economy with its focus on trade, textile production, profit, and intensive agriculture. In looking at the creation of new hydrological science in relation to socio-economic transformations, the present discussion reads proto-scientific models of water movement developed in Florence as a site in which river waters are culturally transformed into unworthy matter. Such positioning makes river waters into an inferior kind of water which can be used without restraints to satisfy human needs, a perception which is still influential in contemporary attitudes toward rivers. By looking at Florence as a case-study, this paper shows how the gradual appropriation by secular institutions of the rights to exploit the river for accumulating wealth, on one hand, and the severing of river nature from notions of divine power, on the other, constitute two mutually informing processes which highlight the problematic entanglement of modern hydrology with the interests and hierarchies of protocapitalism.


Presenter 2

How Infrastructures Age: Public Power, the TVA, and Environmental Justice in Memphis, TN since 1933.

Hannah C. Conway

Harvard University


This paper looks at the history of public power development and power plant construction and aging in Memphis, Tennessee since the formation of the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933 through the present. By examining a large technological system-the TVA owned Allen Fossil Fuel Plant-over its lifetime I argue that infrastructures embed themselves in environments and communities in ways that require STS scholars to study them as more-than-technical forms. I use archival evidence to first understand the historical relationships between city officials, engineers, the TVA, electrical technologies, and an infrastructurally informed and invested public that developed in the rapidly growing and influential industrial city in the first half of the twentieth century. I then follow the interactions between the plant, the city, and the Mississippi Delta environment from its opening in 1959 to its closing in 2018 to understand how public opinion on the disposal of coal ash in unlined ponds that remain on the property-and the threat this toxic contamination presents to the communities surrounding the plant and the large natural aquifer system below-became a heated environmental conflict in the city and surrounding communities. By working ethnographically with the citizen watchdog group Protect our Aquifer and the groundwater research and public education team at the Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering Research (CAESER) at the University of Memphis, I argue that studying the end of life processes of a large technological infrastructure system is as important as understanding its beginnings.


Presenter 3

Tsuguo Nozaki's Fieldwork and the Collaborative Nature of Dam-Building in the Third World

Carlie Cervantes de Blois

University of Minnesota Twin Cities


The Green Revolution was a U.S.A.-based global project to modernize the rural economies of the Global South through technical aid. After the post-WWII Colombo Plan, Japan was one of the major sources of technical aid. Under the Technical Cooperation Plan, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) began building mega-dams as their major vehicle for raising the industrial sector, managing difficult landscapes, and improving foreign relations in Third World nations.
Many narratives about the Green Revolution claim that Green Revolution technologies were strictly American based, with research and application being directed by the American researchers and politicians. However, building off of Nick Cullather's The Hungry World and Eran Moore's Constructing East Asia, I argue that the building and application of dam technology was collaborative.
I use the case-study of JICA engineer Tsuguo Nozaki's fieldwork in the C-2 and C-3 projects based in rural Peru between 1977-1981. Tsuguo Nozaki was the project lead in several dam-building projects throughout South America. I support my argument with two points. First, this project laid the groundwork for his influential expression on turbine repair frequency (1990), which would become foundational to future dam projects. And second, Nozaki's fieldwork demonstrated a reliance on local Peruvian knowledge-systems. I support these points through close analysis of topographical naps, hydrological data, and field reports.


Presenter 4

Mr. Crane, the Faithful Husband: Ugandans Rethinking Wetland Conservation, 1980 to Present

John Doyle-Raso

Michigan State University


There are over 1000 species of birds in Uganda, more than almost any country, and rice farms offer food and habitat for many of them. Yet, the high "biodiversity value" of the farms overshadows how they threaten the reproduction of the grey crowned crane, the Ugandan national symbol. This species is strongly monogamous: pairs mate for life and almost always breed in the same place. Drainage for rice farming, part of a national program of "swamp reclamation," changed many wetlands and thereby inhibited crane reproduction. One newspaper columnist connected the decline in crane reproduction to monogamous humans going "extinct." Ugandan NGO actors used the decline of the crane to promote wetland conservation, identifying cranes as "indicator" species that were valuable in assessing the state of wetland ecosystems and as "flagship" species that offered a means to interest people in conservation.
However, contrary to concerns about crane reproduction, Ugandan policy-makers identified links between rice, water, and other birds that undermined the supposed dichotomy between swamp reclamation and wetland conservation. Instead, they argued that rice farming could conserve wetland ecosystems - depending on water cycling and bird biodiversity. Based on this experience trying to reconcile different environmental visions, they started the first government body in the world dedicated to wetlands management and became leaders in the Ramsar Convention, the international network for wetland ecology.
Conservationists used ideas regarding biodiversity, reproduction, and water to debate wetland ecosystems based on their valuations of different forms of birdlife and human activity. This paper analyzes the significance of the connections that Ugandan conservationists identified between environments, people, and animals, including the creation and international spread of Ugandan wetlands policy.