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Klaus Weber

Klaus Weber is Professor of Comparative European Economic and Social History, Europa-Universität Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder); obtained his PhD at Universität Hamburg; has been Research Fellow at NUI Galway (2002-03) and at The Rothschild Archive, London (2004-2009), and Researcher at Institut für die Geschichte der Deutschen Juden, Hamburg (2010-11). Research interests: Labour regimes and welfare regimes; trade and migration in the Atlantic world. Publications: Deutsche Kaufleute im Atlantikhandel 1680-1830: Unternehmen und Familien in Hamburg, Cádiz und Bordeaux (2004); Schwarzes Amerika . Eine Geschichte der Sklaverei (with Jochen Meissner & Ulrich Mücke, 2008); Überseehandel und Handelsmetropolen: Europa und Asien, 17.-20. Jahrhundert (ed. with Frank Hatje, 2008); Spinning and Weaving for the Slave Trade: Proto-Industry in Eighteenth-Century Silesia (with Anka Steffen), in: Felix Brahm & Eve Rosenhaft (eds.): Slavery Hinterland: Transatlantic Slavery and Continental Europe, 1680-1850 (2016), 87-107.

Central European Geography, Foreign Trade, and the Category of Space in German Scholarship

Abstract:

The major cordilleras of Central Europe are all stretching along an east-western axis: Alps, Erzgebirge, Carpathians. They are situated in the continent’s rather southern regions, with vast plains stretching from there northwards to the coasts of the Baltic and North Sea. All rain falling north of this watershed is feeding mostly navigable rivers, all flowing north: Rhine, Weser, Elbe, Oder, Vistula, Memel, linking Central European hinterlands with to the coasts.

Moderate, but dependable rain not only fed the rivers, but also allowed for a sustainable use of vast forests (solid fuel for metallurgy and glassworks, timber for shipbuilding, etc.) and for abundant production of flax (for linen). Reliable precipitation further secured provision with hydraulic energy. Mountainous landscape made sure that downward slopes provided a sufficient drive for watermills, which in turn were driving headgears and pumps of mines, bellows and hammers of steel mills, sawmills, and other early modern machinery.

These features of Central European hydro-geography remained crucially important until steam engines replaced water mills, and until railways complemented or even substituted waterways. Yet, geography, or space, has not been a relevant category in German historical research after 1945. The abuse of these categories in the expansionist Nazi ideology, exemplified in the term ‘Geopolitik’, contaminated their semantics. Their importance for understanding economy has been underrated since.

Looking at maps became a weird thing to do. Scholars of the following generation turned to social history, some of the investigating proto-industries (H. Medick & J. Schlumbohm, M. Cerman etc). They focused their internal structures, and hardly looked at the distant export markets on which these industries were built. Their competitiveness was an effect of the Price Revolution, which needs to be understood as a phenomenon in space. This paper shall combine the above described physical geography with this geography of commerce and trade.