The Societal Effects of the Eighteenth Century Shipworm Epidemic in the Austrian Netherlands (c. 1730-1760)

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In the 1730s, the Austrian Netherlands (eighteenth century Belgium) faced the devastating effects of the Great shipworm epidemic. Shipworms are marine wood scavenging molluscs that use their shells to eat their way into submerged wood. Due to the changing environmental conditions (temperature, salinity, …) at that time, the shipworm population exploded along the West-European coast. Within a few years the wooden flood protection structures protecting the low-lying Flemish coastal plain were damaged beyond repair. Adoption of new technologies was successful in safeguarding the embankments, but conflicting interests with the governing elites provoked a political deadlock ultimately resulting in the collapse of the Slyckens locks. The ensuing popular anger – together with other political and economic developments – played an important role in toppling the ruling elites in the county of Flanders in 1754. The following enlightened reforms, backed by Vienna and Brussels, had a decisive and positive impact on both the Flemish waterway and flood protection system. As a consequence of this a new ecosystem emerged which reduced the shipworm’s reproductive capacities.
Originele taal-2English
Pagina's (van-tot)95-127
Aantal pagina's33
TijdschriftJournal for the History of environment and Society
Volume6
DOI's
StatusPublished - 2022
EvenementJournée d'études de l'histoire environmentale de la mer et des littoraux.: État de recherche, approches et perspectives (Moyen-Âge - Époque moderne) - Université de Bretagne Sud, Lorient, France
Duur: 20 mrt 201921 mrt 2019

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