"När floden märkte marken: Om bruket av översvämningsmark längs med Emån och Ätran 1500–1910" ("When the flood marked the land: Floodplain land use along the rivers Emån and Ätran 1500–1910") academic dissertation for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Geography with emphasis on Human Geography at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Stockholm University, to be publicly defended by Oscar Jacobsson.

Place: De Geer Lecture Hall, Geo-Science Building (house Y, level 2), Svante Arrhenius väg 14, Frescati, Stockholm.
Time: 13.00, February 10, 2023.

Opponent: Associate Professor Jesper Larsson, Division of Agrarian History, Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Main supervisor: Professor Anders Wästfelt, Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University. Supervisor: Senior Lecturer Johan Berg, Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University.

Chair of the public defense: Professor Bo Malmberg, Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University.

Examining board: Associate Professor Maja Lagerqvist, Department of Human Geography, Uppsala University, Associate Professor Göran Ulväng, Department of Economic History, Uppsala University, and Professor Fredrik Charpentier Ljungqvist, Department of History, Stockholm University. Substitute member: Associate Professor Lowe Börjeson, Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University.

Abstract: 

Large landscape transformations were an integral part of the agricultural revolution in Sweden, starting during the late 18th century. The 19th century was an especially intensive century when it comes to the transformation of the cultural landscape, not the least marked by extensive changes in the use of agricultural wetlands with interventions in watercourses, lowering of lakes and wetland reclamation. Many wetlands that had previously been used for meadows were now turned into arable fields.

In this thesis, these changes are studied through a long-term perspective on floodplain land use along the rivers Emån and Ätran during the period 1500-1910 as part of a wider economy and reflecting the transformation of human-environmental relations. The studied period permits an analysis of the whole transformation process from floodplain meadows to arable fields, as well as covering some of the ensuing complexities of floodplain drainage during the 19th century. In the thesis, the relation between the floodplain and the agricultural economy is studied as well as the connections to the development of flood-related problems. Differences in 19th century floodplain reclamation by Emån and Ätran are analysed in detail. Lastly, the thesis discusses how the different conditions of the floodplain was handled over time and what this can tell us about human-environment relations from short- and long-term perspectives. Theoretical perspectives ranging from the ‘water system’ perspective, landesque capital, geographic constraint to processual landscapes are mobilized to further deepen this analysis. The empirical material consists of historical maps and a wider range of written sources combined with physical geographical data.

The thesis concludes that flood-meadows played a more significant role in the agrarian economy by the river Emån during the early modern period, where flooding contributed to increased hay harvests. By the river Ätran, flood-meadows were extensive but did not differ significantly in yields from other types of meadows. The transformation from flood-meadows to arable fields were tied to intensified animal husbandry during the 19th century, with the need for other types of fodder and increasing water control and flood management. This was to a large part driven by processes related to agricultural globalization. By the river Emån, arable fields had already previously been located on raised parts of the floodplain, but transformations of grain production during the 18th century caused more substantial problems which also played into early 19th century reclamations. The local inhabitants did not reflect upon the effects of land use changes on the pattern of flooding problems, showing instead more interest in more direct changes to the water system such as mill dams, and natural obstructions in the river channel. Differences in the use of the floodplain by Emån and Ätran are also raised in the thesis, showing how humans in different contexts interact with variations of physical geography. A fundamental conclusion is that humans to a large extent tend to use natural resources for short-term gains within given economic contexts and have larger problems formulating solutions to long-term problems or foreseeing the long-term effects of current practices.

Keywords: historical geography, agricultural history, water history, floodplain, Sweden, wetland reclamation, meadows, Emån, Ätran, agricultural transformation, human-environment relations.