Hydraulic Civilizations and the Philanthropic Industrialists Essay

1. Historical Origins For many planners and historians the origin of ancient cities has been a source of fascination and the cause for much research and debate. One theory developed by the German-American historian Karl Wittfogel was that of ‘hydraulic civilizations’ (Minnery 2010a). Hydraulic civilizations were described as those whose agricultural system was reliant upon significant government-directed water systems for irrigation and flood management (Encyclop? dia Britannica 2010).

Wittfogel listed that Egypt, India, Mesopotamia, Northern China and pre-Columbian Mexico and Peru were examples of hydraulic civilizations (Minnery 2010a). This paper will focus on the theories of the Wittfogel’s hydraulic civilization and then try to draw conclusions between whether the city of Brisbane shared similar ideals. Wittfogel’s belief in hydraulic civilizations stemmed from the idea that the civilizations stated earlier were formed unlike to those of the West (Encyclop? dia Britannica 2010).

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It was the idea that these were all situated on floodplain prone areas and irrigative farming was developed to manage these conditions (Butzer 1976). See Figure 1 below for a satellite image of the Nile River’s floodplain. Wittfogel states, while talking about the Yellow River basin in China which sees semi-arid conditions that “in this setting agricultural man created a stable economy by manipulating water productively and protectively (for the purpose of irrigation and flood control)” (Wittfogel 1957 pp. 343-344).

He also suggested that it was not possible to run an effective irrigation system without the guidance and direction of the government (Wittfogel 1957). He therefore came to the conclusion that hydraulic societies are a type of agrarian society and distinguished peculiarities which rested on five major conditions (Wittfogel 1957) which is shown in the table below. While it would be natural to try to apply Wittfogel’s theories to other cities we know today, Brisbane is another city based along a river but can we use Wittfogel’s philosophy?

Figure 1 – Satellite Image of Nile River Floodplain (National Space Agency of Ukraine 2008). 1. CulturalThe understanding of cultivation 2. EnvironmentalArid or semi-arid environments and the availability of water resources 3. OrganisationalLarge-scale collaboration 4. PoliticalThe organisation apparatus of the hydraulic order is either initiated, or quickly taken over 5. SocialClass order separating those involved directly with the hydraulic government from those who are not Figure 2 – Table of Wittfogel’s Five Major Conditions of a Hydraulic Society (Wittfogel 1957).

Brisbane as we know it before European settlement was inhabited by the Jagera and Turrbal Aboriginal clans at least for 20,000 years prior (Brisbane-Australia 2008, Our Indooroopilly 2002). It was noted by John Oxley after spotting a group of Aborigines hunting near the river, that they were “about the strongest and best-made muscular men I have seen in any country” (Our Indooroopilly 2002). This was so because of the various and vast food resources available in the area (Our Indooroopilly 2002).

It must be noted that these Aborigines still employed a hunter and gatherer technique when acquiring food. It wasn’t until 1825 though that the first convict settlement was built in what is the CBD in Brisbane (Brisbane-Australia 2008). The site was purely chosen for its location which apparently proved to be an effective barrier against escape by the convicts (Brisbane-Australia 2008). It was 17 years later when free settlement was permitted and the town of Brisbane soon began to spread along and around the river (Brisbane-Australia 2008).

From the knowledge that Brisbane was formed purely as a convict settlement and prior to that the Aborigines were still employing hunter gatherer techniques we can easily assume that Brisbane cannot be described as a hydraulic civilization. While the city is centered on the river it is no longer a source of food for us. The Aborigines used the river as their hunting grounds however they never employed any agricultural or irrigative systems. One other dissimilarity is that of Brisbane’s environment. It isn’t arid or semi-arid in fact it was once lined with sand covered beaches and the water was clear and blue (Our Indooroopilly 2002).

Therefore it is difficult to prove that Brisbane has similar qualities to that of a hydraulic civilization and Wittfogel’s theories can be left in the past with the ‘Old World’. ? 3. The “Philanthropic Industrialist” The United Kingdom in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century was home to the bustling and demanding Industrial Revolution. Factories emerged all over the country as technology advanced into an era of mass production. In many of these factories the conditions were unclean, unsafe and ultimately appalling.

Some factory owners however, sought out to improve the quality of life for their workers. These few are recognised as the ‘Philanthropic Industrialists’. They implemented what has become known as the ‘company town’ which saw the social and economic qualities of the township under the control of the industrialist (Pollard 1964). This paper will discuss one UK example in the town of New Lanark, in particular the philanthropy of Robert Owen and will examine whether this town and Owen’s theories have been influential up until the present day.

New Lanark in Scotland was initially founded by David Dale in 1785 (The Open University 2009). The Clyde River which ran along New Lanark’s location provided water to power the four cotton mills, however, the site had limited access which prompted Dale to design and construct a town for his workers (The Open University 2009). (See figure 3 for an image of the town with the four mills in the foreground and the town in the background). Dale, much like other mill owners at the time found it difficult to source employees and it was quite normal to find children working in them (The Open University 2009).

This would seem appalling to us now however Dale implemented a system where children would work in the factory in exchange for accommodation and a basic education (The Open University 2009). While Dale provided the foundations of a model industrial town, it was Robert Owen who built upon Dale’s ideals and improved conditions such as street sanitization, better hygienic practices, cleanliness and water supply (The Open University 2009). Owen also introduced new amenities which improved quality of life with an emphasis on the environment and education which saw the construction of a school, bakery and communal wash-house (Minnery 2010b).

Owen raised the minimum age requirement for children to 10 years of age and decreased work hours from 12 to 10 (The Open University 2009). Owen’s quest for the better way of life saw him directly participate with many philanthropic quests. “Owen was closely involved with the factory movement (for the improvement of working conditions), Poor Law reform, public education, economic regeneration in post-Napoleonic War Britain, the relief of distress in Ireland, creating what he called ‘communities of equality’ in Britain and America, and, after 1830, trade unionism and cooperation” (The Open University 2009).

He also accepted other religious beliefs, different to his own, promoted sexual equality, marriage and divorce law reform and made the conclusion that birth control was a way to regulate population growth (The Open University 2009). It is from his many endeavours that he became famous as a social and educational reformist (The Open University 2009). Figure 3 – Image of New Lanark (The Open University 2009). Owen eventually sold the mills to John Walker in 1825 who continued to implement Owen’s vision and it was in 1968 when the mills were finally closed (Undiscovered Scotland n. d. ).

This resulted in residents departing New Lanark for elsewhere as there were no longer enough jobs. By 1970, the “resident population had shrunk to 80” (Undiscovered Scotland n. d. ) and by 1974, concerns had grown about the potential of New Lanark (New Lanark World Heritage Site n. d. ). This prompted the New Lanark Conservation Trust to be formed which is devoted to the “restoration and development of the historic village” (New Lanark World Heritage Site n. d. ). Although the factory is now long gone, Owen’s philosophy still brings people to the New Lanark site today (The Open University 2009). Owen’s experiment there may have lasted only 25 years, but subsequently it provided inspiration for later educators, public health reformers, trade unionists and co-operators” (The Open University 2009). While the town of New Lanark has had an influential impact on today’s society, Owen’s ideals have also played a huge role on our everyday lives. One example we can see today is that of modern day childcare systems. Owen implemented a system where young children were “taken into what we would call a workplace nursery” (The Open University 2009) so that their mothers ould continue to work. Education to Owen was of upmost importance and it became his central focus. Owen expanded upon Dale’s educational system where he established the need for variety in the schoolhouse other than just reading and writing (The Open University 2009). His variety of subjects can now be found being taught today in school systems all over the world. Along with education, his vision included a town community which we find ourselves trying to implement into many of our new developments.

Owen was open-minded and generous and it is very evident in our contemporary world that Owen has implemented many systems and inspired many with his philanthropic ideals. We can thank Owen for a greater quality of life and we will continue to utilise his vision for many years to come. ? Reference List Butzer, KW 1976, Early Hydraulic Civilization in Egypt: A Study in Cultural Ecology, University of Chicago Press, Chicago. Encyclop? dia Britannica 2010, Hydraulic Civilization, viewed 28 March 2010, http://www. britannica. om/EBchecked/topic/278180/hydraulic-civilization. Minnery, J 2010a, Session 2, lecture presented to University of Queensland PLAN2001 class, Brisbane. Minnery, J 2010b, Urban Governance, Stewardship and Model Industrial Settlements, paper presented to the IPHA Conference, Istanbul. – National Space Agency of Ukraine 2008, Earth From Space: Nile Bend, Egypt, viewed 30 March 2010, http://www. pryroda. gov. ua/en/index. php? newsid=5000749. New Lanark World Heritage Site n. d. , The Trust, viewed 30 March 2010, http://www. newlanark. org/thetrust. html. Pollard, S 1964, ‘The Factory Village in the Industrial Revolution’, The English Historical Review, vol. 79, no. 312, p. 513. The Open University 2009, A New View of Society, viewed 27 March 2010, http://openlearn. open. ac. uk/mod/resource/view. php? id=328843. Undiscovered Scotland n. d. , New Lanark Later History, viewed 29 March 2010, http://www. undiscoveredscotland. co. uk/lanark/newlanark/history2. html. Wittfogel, KA 1957, ‘Chinese Society: An Historical Survey’, The Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 343-364.


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