Doctoral Dissertations

Orcid ID

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Margaret Andersen

Committee Members

Denise Phillips, Raja Swamy, Shellen Wu


By the beginning of the twentieth century, new energy regimes intensified disasters around water, electricity, and gas at the same time that the idea of a unified nation-state crystallized in France. My dissertation tells the story of the Great Flood of 1910 in the Seine Basin’s headwaters where the Third Republic’s promises of technological progress failed to protect citizens from devastation. Though the flood lasted from January 20 to February 8, 1910, its receding waters revealed the magnitude of destruction: tens of millions in damages to dams, businesses, factories, vineyards, roads, and laundries from Champagne to Val-d’Oise, devastation that would require the entire nation’s resources to rebuild. This ongoing disaster pressed rural residents to claim their citizenship actively so as to curtail processes of disaster capitalism and thereby salvage local economies. While scholars consider the disaster as the flood’s two-week duration in Paris, evaluating the flood from a regional perspective extends the timeline of the disaster from 1910 to 1914 when reparations, rebuilding, and aid distribution reshaped society in the Seine Basin. I argue that disaster recovery became a contested process of nation formation when rural residents–regardless of class, gender, or location–relied on the rhetoric of rights to advance local concerns against interests of private lumber, railroad, and manufacturing firms.

My dissertation draws from the environmental humanities to evaluate the flood from a regional perspective that elucidates continued social and environmental destruction beyond the initial spectacle of the flood. To bring forward local voices, I draw on untapped collections of engineering journals, aid letters, society reports, harvest records, and personal correspondences in the Departmental Archives of the Aube, Seine-et-Marne, Val d'Oise, and Yvelines. Perceptions of responsibility and risk grounded individual claims to government reparations for an envirotechnical disaster with an ongoing impact on land and bodies. In the disaster response, French citizens articulated a particular performance of Republican citizenship for equal access to resources for rebuilding lives and livelihoods. This study thereby shows how disaster capitalism unfolded in a pre-neoliberal society and how everyday people curtailed processes of extraction for the provision of equal economic rights.

Available for download on Monday, May 15, 2028

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