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H-NET BOOK REVIEW Published by H-German@h-net.msu.edu (February 2008) Marie Luisa Allemeyer. _"Kein Land ohne Deich ...!" Lebenswelten einer Küstengesellschaft in der Frühen Neuzeit_. Veröffentlichungen des Max-Planck-Instituts für Geschichte. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006. 448 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. EUR 61.90 (cloth), ISBN 3-525-35879-2. Reviewed for H-German by David Mayes, Department of History, Sam Houston State University Dike, Sea, and Catastrophe in Early Modern Germany Published in a series of interdisciplinary and international projects on environmental themes, this volume is a case study of the early modern marsh dwellers along the west coast of Schleswig-Holstein. The principal thread running through it is that their _Lebenswelt_ was framed, shaped, and determined by dikes. The residents founded their very existence on marshland reclaimed through the construction of dikes. The planning and construction of dikes necessitated political organization among the residents as well as continual dike maintenance. They gave rise to a constellation of conflicts among the people, and competing interests in the dikes among other internal and external parties added further spice to the mix. Such friction accelerated the cementing of dikes in law. They were ever-present in the minds and thoughts of the residents and the residents' _Weltbild_ was reflected in them. They also engendered heterodox thought about the physical and the metaphysical, as well as the relationship between the two. Dikes constituted an effort by humans to control land and sea, an effort that, like others, generated new questions and problems as well as solutions for old ones. Part 1 of the book surveys the marsh region and the political bodies who strove to determine its development. Through the Middle Ages catalysts such as rising seawater, settlement patterns, and growing demand for agrarian land necessitated the reclamation of land from the sea and, thus, the development of dikes. Much construction was done in the early modern period itself: sixty-four _Kögen_ (land areas created from the erection of dikes) were established in the three centuries after 1500. Until the seventeenth century, the marsh's residents alone built and maintained the dikes. As a result, they claimed and largely exercised a great deal of autonomous and communal self-administration over the dike system. The marsh region was comprised of _Landschaften_, the base unit of which was the parish (constituted by one or a multiplicity of villages; for awhile the parish also doubled as the _Deichband_). Each parish had _Interessenten_ who were enfranchised to decide various matters. To advance their claims of self-administration the _Interessenten_ appointed _Lehns_- or _Ratmänner_ from their own ranks, and also created and appointed the _Deichgrafenamt_. _Landschaft_ residents also had a keen interest in the _Stalleramt_, a post whose responsibilities included policing and supervising the well being of the dikes. To ensure that its own interests were met, the _Landschaft_ carefully guarded the so-called _Stallerprivileg_, that is, whenever the post became vacant _Landschaften_ had the right to present candidates to the territorial sovereign, who then selected and appointed one of them. Candidates had to be non-aristocratic with interests closely oriented to those of the marsh residents. Finally, the _Landschaften_ and the parishes had respective assemblies to discuss and decide on matters of import. However, marsh residents were not the only ones interested in the dikes. So, too, were Dutch immigrants, foreign investors, the Estates and, above all, territorial rulers aspiring to absolutism. By the seventeenth century, the dikes had taken on a central importance for the dukes, who incrementally asserted more and more authority over the dikes and matters pertaining to them. The dukes began supervising the dikes. They took control over the _Deichgrafenamt_, filling and paying for the post themselves. The dukes cast doubt on the rights of the _Landschaft_ to fill the _Stalleramt_, increasingly ensured that the _Staller_ was one who came instead from court, and made academic training a prerequisite for appointment as _Staller_. With time, the _Staller_ directed the territorial courts, possessed the highest policing authority, appointed certain territorial officials, and often directly supervised the dike system. As princely authority increased, writes Allemeyer, so, too, did the significance of the _Staller_, who stood as the local representative of the territorial ruler. By the early eighteenth century, the dukes had circumvented the residents' interests further by creating the post of _Oberstaller_. Allemeyer points out that ducal interest and that of the _Landschaft_ were not always opposed to one another; at times they might run parallel. Nevertheless, residents' capacity to check princely-state intrusion into the marsh region was diminishing. Allemeyer then expounds on the manner in which the dike structured life in this north Frisian world. It separated land from sea, the firm from the flowing, and the residents' livelihood from that which could destroy it. Rights were rooted in the dike and institutions formed because of it. In the system of _Kabeldeichung_, property and dike were forever bound together: whoever took possession of a certain piece of property within a _Koog_ was obligated to repair and maintain a certain section of the dike--known as the _Deichkabel_, _Deichabschnitt_, or _Deichpfand_--attached to that property. A popular aphorism expressed this relationship: _Kein Land ohne Deich, kein Deich ohne Land_. Given the paramount importance of the dike, the _Interessenten_ held an assembly and elected a judge, whose job was to check the dike regularly, register any flaws in it and require the _Interessent_ in question to fulfill his obligations towards it. Fines were levied against those who neglected their obligations, and the death penalty could be applied against those who did not pay their fines. In theory, dike officials and even the territorial ruler bore obligations for the lands they possessed and could not shift them onto the shoulders of other marsh residents. Only some pastors were free from the burdens. Disputes not handled by the judges were resolved in the dike court (_Deichgericht_), itself another manifestation of communal self-administration. If an _Interessent_ was sentenced to prison and no family member could assume his obligations, then the _Deichband_ itself did so. The _Interessenten_ set in place extensive protections on the dike. No one could use it to pasture animals, build houses on or adjacent to it, or ride or travel on it. Violators were fined or had their mode of transportation confiscated. In short, the _Interessenten_ took every precaution regarding their dikes. They left no margin for error, since dike breaks could devastate a _Koog_ and even endanger neighboring _Köge_. In Part 2 of the book, Allemeyer switches gears and examines conflicts generated because of the dike. Allemeyer dispels any romantic notions about solidarity created by dikes, elucidating instead its status as a thoroughly disputed element of marsh society. Disputes could run on varying levels. If residents of one _Koog_ had dike work to do but found it daunting, impossible, or else believed that residents of neighboring _Köge_ benefited from said dike, then they would petition for help from their neighbors. But neighbors invariably contested these requests, citing any number of sundry reasons: because they did not in fact benefit from the dike; because they had never claimed that other _Köge_ had to help them with their own dike; because their ancestors had no custom of helping neighbors with their dike; because their ancestors had built their own dike without help from neighbors. Conflicts could also arise within a _Koog_ itself. Some _Interessenten_ found themselves disadvantaged; for example, their particular property was unfruitful, or their _Deichabschnitt_ bore a heavier brunt of the sea's force. To resolve the dilemma Herzog Johann Adolf in 1616 initiated the so-called system of _Kommuniondeichung_, which gradually appeared in the region alongside the _Kabeldeichung_ system. In _Kommuniondeichung_ dike construction and maintenance were performed corporately by the whole _Deichband_ as opposed to by individuals responsible for separate sections. Johann Adolf's policy only generated new problems. Many protested that a dike is best made and maintained when done so by the person whose property is most directly affected by it; those who worked on sections separate from their own property would likely be more careless. Some protests succeeded and sections reverted to _Kabeldeichung_. Conflicts arose over dike use--while some wanted to reserve it for protection against the sea, others wanted to use it for travel or transportation or even as a site for agriculture. Conflicts also arose at times after a dike had been devastated by a flood--while some wanted to rebuild, others daunted by the work were reluctant or outright unwilling. Conflicts could ensue whenever an expert was summoned to assess a dike's condition. If the consultant concluded that certain costs and labors were to be directed towards the upkeep of a dike, _Interessenten_ might object that its condition was satisfactory or that they did not have the resources to repair it. Such conflicts could manifest themselves for economic, social, or geographical reasons and be bogged down in bureaucracy for a generation or more. In the final section, Allemeyer focuses on how dikes generated contrasting views on the relationship between humans, nature, and religion. Because it was agreed that God created the world order, floods, like famines, wars, and pestilence were commonly interpreted as divine punishments inflicted on sinful humans. Ministers mounted pulpits to preach this message following devastating floods. The proper response for humans was to be discerning, repent their unchristian ways, and hope for divine grace and mercy. Similarly, successful construction of a dike and its survival amid a flood was attributed to God's grace, and so residents prayed for divine support and protection whenever they went to work on a dike. However, Allemeyer finds evidence for other understandings of the relationship between nature and humans. Some described a flood as a violent force and personified the sea as wild and destructive. While such thinking was not at all necessarily secular, it did distinguish between God and the sea and opened the door to the idea that humans stood in the first order against the sea, which was not a tool of divine punishment. Some valued nature for its richness. Some cultivated a rational, economical approach to nature and wanted to put it to use, suggesting that human intervention brought nature from a state of incompletion to completion. The latter instances hint at emerging secular tendencies. Differing perspectives concerned dike security as well. Some increasingly contrasted the religious answer that everything lies in the hand of God to the secular, natural scientific view (the dike protects against a natural danger and residents must ensure its effectiveness), or to a technical-optimistic stance (the dike protects against everything if humans see to it that it does). While the book is commendable for its clear organization and expert handling of an interesting topic, it does have some troubling aspects. The first concerns its approach to the period covered. Allemeyer freezes nearly three centuries of history and then dissects the resulting still-life portrait from a number of angles. Lost in the equation is a sense of historical development, as Allemeyer often illustrates points with material from across the early modern period. Moreover, the lack of a narrative makes the nearly four hundred pages somewhat static and laborious for the reader, who will wonder if the material could have been organized to relay more dynamically the intersection of the aforementioned interests over time. Instead, the chosen format forces Allemeyer to recapitulate certain statements whenever the text revisits a subject. A second criticism concerns the book's willingness to assume without criticism paradigms and categories often employed in early modern studies, especially "absolutism" and "Enlightenment." The lack of criticism of these concepts means that an opportunity to assess them for their utility is squandered, as is the chance to propose alternative categories of analysis and historical narratives that might be better suited to the communities of a "coastal society." Allemeyer's study implies that the Enlightenment steadily permeated the intellectual world until people began to doubt metaphysical explanations in favor of more naturalistic ones. This causal effect is, however, alleged and not proven; direct links are not drawn. The book's approach thus reinforces, perhaps unintentionally, the well-worn stereotype that rational thought processes were not native to common folk, that they could not grow organically and independently at the level of local communities but rather originated at the level of intellectual elites and from there filtered their way down to the ranks of society. Such an implication, however, conflicts with the politically organized, self-administering, and self-sufficient coastal communities portrayed in the early chapters of the book. These criticisms aside, the book is an easily understood and well-researched monograph. It is a welcome addition to a growing body of literature that focuses on humans' historical relationship to the natural world and the ways they dealt with its potential for catastrophe. Copyright (c) 2008 by H-Net, all rights reserved. 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