As the Mississippi and other midwestern rivers inundated town after town during the summer of 1993, concerned and angry citizens questioned whether the very technologies and structures intended to "tame" the rivers did not, in fact, increase the severity of the floods. Much of the controversy swirled around the apparent culpability of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the builder of many of the flood control systems that failed.
In this book, Todd Shallat examines the turbulent first century of the dam and canal building Corps and follows the agency's rise from European antecedents through the boom years of river development after the American Civil War. Combining extensive research with a lively style, Shallat tells the story of monumental construction and engineering fiascoes, public service and public corruption, and the rise of science and the army expert as agents of the state.
More than an institutional history, Structures in the Stream offers significant insights into American society, which has alternately supported the public works projects that are a legacy of our French heritage and opposed them based on the democratic, individualist tradition inherited from Britain. It will be important reading for a wide audience in environmental, military, and scientific history, policy studies, and American cultural history.
Prologue: A Nation Builder
1. European Antecedents
2. Mapping Water, Marking Land
3. The West Point Connection
4. Objects of National Pride
5. “A Privileged Order of the Very Worst Class”
Epilogue: Formative Conflicts
Guide to Sources
"Shallat's memorable book is for anyone interested in US rivers.... It is intriguing to learn that the social-economic-political battles of 150-200 years ago are still being fought today.... Individuals concerned with water resources, engineering, or the politics of pork barrell projects will find the book fascinating. Good introductory reading for students of engineering, science, and public policy."
"The United States Army Corps of Engineers is the preeminent public construction institution in the United States. How did a military organization reach this position? The answer demonstrates the connection among science, technology, and political power. Shallat skillfully weaves these themes together as he traces corps history from Jeffersonian times to post-Civil War water projects.... Shallat provides a thoroughly researched, well-documented history of the rise of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It will become a standard reference in its area."
—Forest and Conservation History
"This is an important study of the United States in the nineteenth century.... Thorough, nuanced, and vividly written, its primary concern is with the ongoing conflict between an entrenched bureaucracy committed to state planning and to its own view of science and those who have, over the years, criticized the Corps of Engineers for its elitism, failed systems, and monumental arrogance and extravagance. A true merit of this book is its ability to trace the dual nature of the corps—seen both as an efficient agency capable of transforming the nation's waterways and as an arrogant, mismanaged threat to the ecology.... An excellent and readable book that deserves a wide audience."
—Journal of American History
"The Corps has been called America's preeminent engineering organization. A nation builder. A bureaucratic superstar. Also a public enemy, a diligent destroyer of wetlands, a military aristocracy, a lobby that can't be licked."
—from the Prologue