Submitted by gdenney on Tue, 09/29/2020 - 14:22

Spatial Humanities Public Lecture: “Space & Material Memory: Lessons from the Canal du Midi” by Chandra Mukerji

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Canal du Midi is a peaceful waterway that was cut across Languedoc in the southwest of France in the 1660s-1680s. It was called a wonder of the world because it was too complicated to build using the formal engineering knowledge of the period. It required the collective intelligence of workers who came from many parts of Languedoc and many levels of society– including Pyrenean peasant women with indigenous traditions of hydraulic engineering. They made the canal a spatial repository of material memories, aggregating diverse traditions of engineering. Local engineering knowledge was particularly rich in Languedoc because the region had been devastated during the Wars of Religion. Local people were accustomed to rebuilding their towns and lives by material means. Some even created whole, new villages because their family lands had been taken. So, many laborers were both mobile and skilled when they arrived to cut a canal across Languedoc. The Canal du Midi still stands in the landscape as a record of their intelligence. It tells their story not with words, but the spaces they created and the techniques they used to do the impossible: join the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean with a navigational canal.