Erasmus Centre for the History of the Rhine

Lucien Febvre, Le Rhin. Histoire, mythes et réalités (Paris 1997) 236-237.

"Aujourd’hui le Rhin, voie fluviale incomparable, domine la vie économique des pays qu’il traverse. Il offre un appareil de circulation qui n’a pas son égal en Europe et qui a fait sur ses rives éclore une puissante vie urbaine, commerciale et industrielle. Sans tenir compte des frontières, il distribue d’un Etat à l’autre les grands produits de l’économie universelle. Il crée entre riverains, de la montagne à la mer, une solidarité d’intérêts, une association internationale, aujourd’hui, dans nos sociétés que domine l’économie, et autrefois, quand la primauté était à la politique."

Since Roman times, there was intensive traffic along the entire navigable Rhine from the Alps to the North Sea. The river was essential for the economic contacts all over Western Europe. In the nineteenth century, this role became even more important when during the Napoleonic period obstructing regulation and tolls were lifted. After this period, at the Vienna Congress the Central Commission for Navigation of the Rhine was founded to guarantee these liberties. This oldest still existing international organization became responsible for freedom of navigation, the navigability, regulation, and safety on the river. Only in the second half of the century traffic and economic activity on or along the Rhine and its tributaries showed an explosive growth. It was in the second half of the nineteenth century that a transnational Rhine economy came into being, consisting of parts of Northern France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and even Switzerland. For this, the industrialization of the coal mining regions along the river and its tributaries, especially the Ruhr, was of utmost importance, while cheap transport created a high level of economic integration. The Rhine became a unifying factor in a developing transnational core-region and would develop into the economic heartland of Europe.

The Erasmus Centre for the History of the Rhine wants to be an international platform for research on this economic region in all its aspects, but also of the history of the Rhine as a highway connecting the people of Europe since ancient times. It wants to co-ordinate academic research on the history of the Rhine and the Rhine region, with an accent on the economic history of the last two centuries, and to bring academics from different disciplines – historians, geographers and economists – together to discuss this topic. 

The website will also be the platform for the Transnational Rhine Network that every year – in 2013 for the fourth time – organizes the Transnational Rhine Conference and will give authors of papers presented at these conferences and others papers and articles on topics related to the Rhine and the Rhine region the opportunity to publish their work in a first draft version online. Furthermore, the centre will organize and stimulate the academic debate on topics related to the Rhine and the transnational Rhine region by organizing lectures. Finally, it will stimulate and co-ordinate research programs and the fundraising for such programs on these and related topics on a national as well as a European level. 

Willem Jansz. Blaeu, Rhenus Fluviorum Europae, published in Amsterdam 1640.