Crossing the Rhine. Globalisation and the Impact of War on the Rhine Economy

After three fruitful conferences in Rotterdam (2009), Frankfurt am Main (2010) and Bochum (2011), a fourth Transnational Rhine Conference will be organized in Rotterdam from 21 to 23 March 2013. The forthcoming conference seeks to analyse the long-term impact of globalization and war on the institutions in the Rhine region. In the last two hundred years, periods of openness and cross border collaboration in the region alternated with periods of conflict and war. To explore the long-term development of the Rhine region five different themes and periods have been selected, i.e. The Rhine in Napoleonic Times; The First Globalisation and its Conflicts; The Great War and the Rhine; The Second World War and the Rhine; Globalisation and the Rhine Economy.

The Rhine should not only be seen as a means of water transport, but also as a structuring force of a transnational region, where other means of transport – railways, motorways, pipelines, and electricity networks – clearly followed the river basin. Moreover, big cities and large industrial centres arose near Europe’s main waterway, whereby the river itself also served as the necessary source of fresh water as well as a drain for industrial and household waste. The Rhine crossed borders of several states, with different institutions and conflicting interests. National interests caused co-operation as well as conflicts, and even wars. In 1935, Lucien Febvre wrote that during its entire history, the Rhine was sometimes a border, sometimes a highway and most of the time both. During the 1930s, he tried to convince his readers that the river was not a line of demarcation for Hitler to build his fortifications or France to dig its trenches, but an artery linking countries and economies.

As the Rhine region includes territories in six European national states, the traditional national bias in historiography was problematic; transnational subjects were often overseen, if not ignored. Therefore the aim of this Rhine project, combining economic and business historians, as well as historians of technology and economic geographers, is to analyse the historical development from a transnational perspective. Although the idea is accepted that the Rhine region was a major centre of economic activity, which developed largely since the industrialization of Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg and Switzerland, it only recently became object of serious historical research. This Rhine project focuses on long-term economic development in Europe’s prime economic region for more than one and a half centuries. The project explores the region’s competitive strength, analyses major changes and continuities, and closely looks into the question to what extent its development depended on the river Rhine.

From the outset four years ago, the organizers ventured to build a transnational network of scholars interested in the history of the Rhine. Initially consisting of scholars from countries along the Rhine and its delta, the Transnational Rhine Network gradually expanded to comprise scholars from all over the world, including Britain, Japan, and the US. The organizing committee has invited an international group of scholars to present their papers and others to discuss these.

Programme Committee: 
Prof. Dr. Hein. A.M. Klemann (Erasmus University Rotterdam) 
Dr. Ben Wubs (Erasmus University Rotterdam) 
Prof. Dr. Werner Plumpe (Goethe University Frankfurt am Main) 
Dr. Ralf Banken (Goethe University Frankfurt am Main)