Deep Cut
download cover image ►

Deep Cut

Science, Power, and the Unbuilt Interoceanic Canal

Title Details

Pages: 288

Illustrations: 11 b&w images

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 12/15/2020

ISBN: 9-780-8203-3895-8

List Price: $30.95


Pub Date: 12/15/2020

ISBN: 9-780-8203-3894-1

List Price: $120.95


Pub Date: 08/01/2020

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6953-2


Pub Date: 12/15/2020

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5830-7

List Price: $29.95

Subsidies and Partnerships

Deep Cut

Science, Power, and the Unbuilt Interoceanic Canal

Skip to

  • Description
  • Reviews

This book is openly available in digital formats thanks to a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The Atlantic-Pacific Central American sea-level canal is generally regarded as a spectacular failure. However, Deep Cut examines the canal in an alternative context, as an anticipated infrastructure project that captured attention from the nineteenth through the late twentieth centuries. Its advocates included naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, physicist Edward Teller, and U.S. presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Jimmy Carter. The waterway did not come to fruition, but as a proposal it served important political and scientific purposes during different eras, especially the years spanning the Cold War and the “environmental decade” of the 1970s.

Historian Christine Keiner shows how the evolving plans for the sea-level ship canal performed distinct kinds of work for diverse historical actors in light of shifting scientific, environmental, and diplomatic values. Dismissing it as a failed scheme prevents us from considering the political, cultural, and epistemological processes that went into constructing the seaway as an innovative diplomatic solution to rising U.S.-Panama tensions, an exciting research opportunity for evolutionary biologists, a superior hydrocarbon highway for the oil industry, or a serious ecological threat to marine biodiversity.

Invoking past dreams and nightmares of peaceful nuclear explosives, invasive sea snakes, and the 1970s energy crisis, Deep Cut uses the Central American seaway proposal to examine the changing roles of environmental diplomacy and state-sponsored environmental impact assessment. More broadly, Keiner amplifies an emerging conversation around the environmental, scientific, and political histories and legacies of unrealized megaprojects.

The book deserves attention from readers interested in maritime affairs, who may be particularly interested in the sheer length of historical concern over the canal’s functionality and vulnerability; in the history of technology, particularly of high modernism, technological mega-projects, and the history of failure; and in the growth of environmental lobbying, the ecological sciences, and their interactions with government. It also provides a fascinating angle on American political involvement in the isthmus, especially from the 1940s through the 1970s.

—Penelope Hardy, Global Maritime History

Deep Cut is an important study in revealing the interplay between changing geopolitical realities, scientific developments, and environmental dynamics. It is also a prime example of what could be called 'history that did not happen.' Keiner demonstrates the historiographical importance of unfulfilled plans and unbuilt structures by delving deep into the mindsets and the decision-making processes of politicians, scientists, and engineers in their evaluation of opportunities and risks. Beyond the immediate subject matter at hand, Deep Cut is thus a book all about contingency and why it matters in history and beyond. . . . Powerful in showing not only why certain undertakings remained at the level of plans, calculations, and visions but also why these forestalled projects are just as important as built structures in providing historians with insights into the ideological limits of particular political, scientific, and environmental settings.

—Philipp Lehmann, H-Net Reviews

Deep Cut is a model study of science in context, one that satisfyingly explains the complex origins, long career, and ultimate demise of a seemingly crazy idea.

—Paul S. Sutter, History of Science Society

About the Author/Editor

CHRISTINE KEINER is a professor of science, technology, and society at Rochester Institute of Technology and the author of The Oyster Question: Scientists, Watermen, and the Maryland Chesapeake Bay since 1880 (Georgia).