Europe’s Battery: The Alps in the Fossil Fuel Age

Marc Landry
University of New Orleans

When: Jan. 30, 2018, 12:30pm
Where: Seminar Room, IC 112


Though the Alps loom large at the center of Europe, historians are only beginning to understand their place in European history.  In this lecture I will present some of the findings of my research on hydroelectric dam-building in the Alps during the nineteenth and twentieth century.  While it is not commonly understood, the mountain chain became one of the most important energy-producing regions in Europe after the mid-nineteenth century due to its abundance of water power, or “white coal” in contemporary parlance. 

White coal played a central role in the electrification of Europe.  Alpine hydropower also made the mountains a strategic landscape in the epic military struggles of the world wars.  By the postwar period, hydroelectric development had completely transformed the Alpine environment.  Tracing these often hidden changes to the mountains reveals an alternative perspective on the history of this tumultuous era.


Marc Landry is an assistant professor of history and Associate Director of Center Austria at the University of New Orleans. His research focuses on the relationship between Europeans and the environment in the modern period.  He has held fellowships from the German Academic Exchange Service, the Deutsches Museum, and was the Fulbright-Botstiber Visiting Professor for Austrian-American Studies at the University of Innsbruck in 2016.  He has published in the journal Environmental History.  Currently he is working on a book manuscript on the transformation of the Alpine landscape by hydroelectric dams in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.