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Materialising identity: The co-construction of the Gotthard Railway and Swiss national identity
by Judith Schueler, Dave Lyddon and Kurt Vandaele
edited by Eric Venbrux
Amsterdam University Press, 2012
Paper: 978-90-5260-302-5 | eISBN: 978-90-485-2116-6
Library of Congress Classification TF92.G6S38 2008

Since its opening in 1882, the Gotthard Railway with its 15-kilometer long tunnel under the Gotthard Mountains, provides a crucial international link through the Swiss Alps, between North-Western Europe and Italy. In contrast to many other railway lines, its symbolic meaning has never sunk into oblivion. In Swiss society today, references to the Gotthard myth are multifaceted and omnipresent. Not only do they evoke images of a technological railway project, they also allude to Swiss history, alpine nature and national identity. Reading this book assists in understanding the old and contemporary discussions about the future of the Gotthard Railway, the regions in which it lies and the Swiss national identity.Curiosity-driven, this research combines viewpoints from the history of technology, cultural studies and cultural geography to grasp the intensity of the Gotthard as a national Swiss image. Whereas the relationship between the Gotthard Mountains and the Swiss national identity has received ample scholarly attention, the role of the Gotthard Railway remains largely unexplored. To illustrate to what extent historical actors co-constructed the railway and Swiss identity, the empirical chapters start with an analysis of an engineering discussion about tunneling methods. Hereafter, the book examines the reactions in Switzerland to the inauguration of the railway line. Subsequently, it describes the appreciation of the railway line portrayed in travel guides of the belle époque. The last chapter captures the glory days of the Gotthard myth, before and during the Second World War, with a focus on the novels and plays, in which the Gotthard Tunnel construction occurs. This historical overview offers insight into the multiple roles that technology plays in the construction of a sense of national identity as well as illustrating how identity has an effect on the appropriation of a technological railway project.

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