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Transnational system building across geopolitical shifts: The Danube-Oder-Elbe Canal, 1901-2015

Jiří Janáč
Institute of Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague, Czech Republic; janac@usd.cas.cz

Erik van der Vleuten
School of Innovation Sciences, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, Netherlands; e.b.a.v.d.vleuten@tue.nl

ABSTRACT: We study the politics of water infrastructure through the Large Technical Systems (LTS) literature, which examines human agency in the dynamics of complex sociotechnical systems. We take into account the transnational turn in LTS-studies in the past decade. Transnational analysis is about the mutual shaping of the international, national, and local. Accordingly, we look at how key system builders – historical agents envisioning and working on the entire sociotechnical system – identified and negotiated international, national, regional, and local politics through the design process. We do this for the intriguing case of the Danube-Oder-Elbe Canal, the so-called 'missing link' between the North, Baltic, and Black Seas, with a design history spanning wildly diverging paradigms of political rule – from imperialism to fascism, communism, and 'EU-ropeanism'.

KEYWORDS: Large Technical Systems, water politics, transnational infrastructure, Central European history, transnational history, environmental history