Polder mania or marsh fever? Risk and risk management in early modern drainage projects : the case of Kallopolder, Flanders, 1649 to 1662
Faculty of Arts. History
Agricultural history review. - London
, p. 231-255
University of Antwerp
Coastal marshlands are landscapes of risk: risk-taking is central to capitalist farming. The two seem to merge in the large-scale drainage projects of coastal and inland marshlands that proliferated all over Europe during the early modern period. Drainage projects mobilized huge amounts of mainly non-agricultural capital but also relied on advanced financial tools borrowed from merchant capitalism. Drawing on the extraordinary evidence regarding the financial flows and strategies involved in one such drainage project in Flanders, this article argues that risk was indeed a central concept in the funding as well as in the success or failure of drainage projects. Such projects were at the same time examples of financial speculation in pursuit of easy profit and of sophisticated risk-mitigation using all the legal and semi-legal instruments available. Finally the article shows how the risk assessment of a particular project by the major investors often had a profound impact on the further development of the region.