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An Intimate History of People, technology, and the Mississippi River Delta

A Place with No Edge

  • The Place with No Edge is the story about three centuries of human efforts to inhabit and profit from some of the youngest, most dynamic, and persistently sodden land in North America: the Mississippi River Delta, that vast watery flatlands in which New Orleans was founded. Little did Euro-American newcomers understand that their struggles to reorganize the Mississippi River Delta with levees, irrigation flumes, dredgers, and other technologies would result not in mastery over nature, but rather increasingly intimate connections with the unruly environment. Far from acting as independent agents, Louisiana's settlers grew more interdependent with the watery world around them. The technologies that transformed the delta, rather than emancipating people from nature, bound them ever closer to it. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina's storm surge invaded New Orleans because people had transformed the landscape without heeding the hydrological, ecological, and geological obligations that their technological interventions entailed. Adam Mandelman demonstrates how technologies thought to facilitate dominion over the nonhuman world have instead often left people more vulnerable and responsible to that world. Spanning the period from the first French fort in the delta in 1700 through the release of Louisiana's 2017 Coastal Master Plan, the book's chapters each use a different technology-levees, rice flumes, pullboats, geophysical surveys, dredgers, and petroleum cracking-to reveal how people have grown more deeply entangled with nature even as they assumed they were achieving mastery over it. The Place with No Edge moves beyond longstanding discussions of the hubris and tragedy of human manipulations of the environment to show how the work of taming nature through technology is a declaration of dependence rather than independence.

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