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Beyond the Big DitchPolitics, Ecology, and Infrastructure at the Panama Canal$
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Ashley Carse

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780262028110

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262028110.001.0001

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Canal Construction and the Politics of Water

Canal Construction and the Politics of Water

6 (p.93) Canal Construction and the Politics of Water
Beyond the Big Ditch

Ashley Carse

The MIT Press

This chapter reorients the history of Panama Canal construction by focusing on water management rather than soil excavation.In addition to earth moving, the construction of the waterway involved transforming both physical and human geography across the Chagres River basin. As the volatile river and its tributaries were reorganized to create a manageable waterscape for navigation, the US government depopulated the Canal Zone to establish a sanitary andlegible governmental space.Water management linked imperial land and resource enclosures to more focused efforts to govern households and citizens. If earth was the element that represented the attitude of conquest that defined modern humans’ relationships with nature at the turn of the twentieth century, then water is the element that reveals how we live with the legacies of that era. Contemporary engineering challenges and environmental politics around the canal have been shaped by this history.

Keywords:   Chagres River, conquest of nature, depopulation, soil excavation, imperialism, governance, legibility, Panama Canal Zone, sanitation, water management

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