Producing & Patriating the Subterranean: Mining and the Search for a Primordial Fatherland in Enlightenment Germany

Authors: Patrick Anthony*, Vanderbilt University
Topics: Europe, Historical Geography
Keywords: Germany, nation, subterranean, underground, enlightenment, romanticism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Galerie 2, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper demonstrates how, in the late Enlightenment, Germans first produced the subterranean, reinventing it as a voluminous frontier as rich in symbolism as it was in precious metals, then patriated the subterranean, identifying it as a site of national primordiality. My approach fuses geographers’ recent analyses of territorialization with an older historical tradition interested in national belongingness. I begin by explaining the critical mass of ideas, motivations, and sentiments that made Germany’s discovery of the underground possible. Naturfreunde in late eighteenth-century Germany learned to see the underground interior of their “Vaterländischen Boden,” the interior of their fatherland, as a travel destination and an object of scientific inquiry. I argue that he aesthetic allure of the underground was originally animated by the mining industry, and I suggest the phrase resource romanticism to capture the way in which a reverence for nature went hand in hand with an interest in exploiting it. In many accounts, however, this initial stimulus was veiled by an ostensibly disinterested pursuit of the natural history of caves and a patriotic interest in Germany’s interiority. By the time of the French Revolution, underground travel in Germany had become a practice of nationhood, an important predecessor to the nineteenth century’s patriotic Heimat clubs and conservationist organizations. This story reveals the mechanisms by which a politically fractured generation territorialized part of nature by claiming it for an imagined German patria.

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