'Continents to be cut asunder': Proposed solutions to isthmian challenges, c.1850-1915 Event as iCalendar

(History, Politics and International Relations, School of Humanities)

11 April 2019


Venue: Pat Hanan Room, Te Puna Reo / Cultures, Languages, and Linguistics Building (207-501)

Annalise Higgins | Trinity College, University of Cambridge

During the nineteenth century, projects seeking to overcome perceived geographic impediments to European maritime navigation proliferated. This seminar examines projects that sought to bypass three isthmuses that were perceived as barriers to maritime mobility: the isthmus of Suez in Egypt, the Central American isthmus, and Thailand's Kra isthmus. These narrow necks of land, that were regularly described as geographic challenges to be conquered using rapidly developing technological tools and engineering acumen, captivated attention and inspired a variety of schemes.

These same projects to cut through or pass over isthmuses also inspired questions of sovereignty, diplomacy, and international law. This seminar situates the paths that were taken, including the Suez and Panama Canals, alongside projects, such as the Tehuantepec Ship Railway and the Kra Canal, that were not. It considers the antecedents and consequences of human ambitions to intervene in internationally significant isthmuses. In doing so, it seeks to understand the ways in which currents of imperial ambition, technological innovation, and international legal developments were brought into focus and amplified by the convergence of geographic accident and ideas about it being possible to intervene to remake the physical world.