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EEI SEMINAR: “When Dams Fail. An Environmental History of the Dam Disaster of Ribadelago (Spain, 1959)” by Santiago Gorostiza

Date: 2019-01-30

EEI SEMINAR: “When Dams Fail. An Environmental History of the Dam Disaster of Ribadelago (Spain, 1959)”

Speaker: Santiago Gorostiza, ICTA-UAB

Moderator: Daniela del Bene, ICTA-UAB

Day: Wednesday, 30 January
Time: 12.30h
Room: Z/023


Dam failures are among the most tragic epilogues of heated controversies over the legitimacy of clashing knowledges and understandings of risk. Rarely a dam disaster is an abrupt event; more often, the path to it is paved with signs, petitions, rumours, and various kinds of conflicts, exposing the opposing perceptions of risk of engineers and local population. Aftermaths of dam disasters are marked with long judicial cases in which opposing parties try to discern the causes of the failure. In case of especially tragic events, the struggles for reparation and restoration go beyond the judicial trials, implying a broader conflict over the place of those events in the collective memory of the countries where they have occurred. Denial or naturalization - that is, the oblivion of the event or its transformation in a natural catastrophe - have generally been the ways in which dam failures have been erased/incorporated in the collective memory. In this seminar I will explore the case of the collapse of Vega de Tera dam, which in 1959 destroyed the town of Ribadelago, killing 144 people. Using archival materials and interviews with survivors and local historians, I will present the heated discussions about nature conservation and hydropower which preceded the disaster, and the silence that followed after the deluge. To this date, the disaster of Ribadelago remains the worst case of dam failure in Spain in the last two centuries. The victims that survived the flood, however, still struggle for reparation.

Santiago Gorostiza is an environmental historian working on modern and early modern Spanish history, with training as an historian, environmental scientist and political ecologist. He is a post-doctoral researcher at ICTA-UAB, as part of the María de Maeztu unit of excellence, where he has started working on the environmental history of the Little Ice Age. Santiago carried out his PhD at the Centro de Estudos Sociais of Universidade de Coimbra (Portugal) as a Marie Curie ITN fellow of the European Network of Political Ecology (ENTITLE). His doctoral research examined how the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the Francoist victory and state-building efforts transformed the country’s socioecological relations and landscapes, both materially and symbolically. 

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