30
May

Changing Kathmandu: Land, Water, and Public Space Through the Decades

Thomas Robertson

In recent decades, few forces are shaping the developing world more than urbanization. Developing world cities are growing faster than ever before, adding a new twenty first century layer of change onto earlier layers of migration, community formation, and development. The Kathmandu Valley has gone through a particularly rapid transition, from a city mostly without roads and cars into the 1950s until a recent period of warp-speed growth, featuring the expansion of suburbs and driving culture, among many other changes.

This presentation will use the tools of environmental history — a hybrid discipline of geology, biology, geography, and historical anthropology — to probe the overlapping of nature and culture in Kathmandu through the decades of the twentieth century, with a focus on what these changes in the material world meant for communities and individuals.

To narrow, the presentation will focus on three particular arenas of change: the conversion of agricultural space within and around the margins of the city, the transformation of waterways in and near the city, and the change in city streets from mostly work and communal spaces to arteries of transport. The goal will be to document the changes over the course of the changing decades, and situate these changes within comparative perspective, bringing in evidence from South Asia, Europe, and North America. Though the focus will be on changes in the land and water, the lens will never stray far from the varied human communities involved in these changes and impacted by them.

The paper will draw from archival sources, as well as photographic sources. It is part of a larger effort to show the potential for other types of history besides straight political history.

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