Urban planning and sewage treatment after the cholera epidemic in Hamburg - environmental science 100 years ago in the library of the experimental facility for sewage treatment in Hamburg-Eppendorf

Exhibition at the University Library of the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg, Denickestr. 22, 21073 Hamburg between July, 19th and September, 25th 1993

Online exhibiton - picture and texts (in German)

"... Hamburg experienced a major cholera epidemic in 1892 for three basic reasons. Last in order of importance, and coming into operation only when the other two factors had had their effect, was the chronic overcrowding, poverty, and malnutrition which ... existed in virtually all the poorer areas of the city, above all after the new harbour construction of the 1880s. This acted as a 'multiplier' of the disease by facilitating its rapid spread from person to person. It could only come into action because the disease was carried to virtually every household in the city by mains water. The failure of the Senate and the Citizens' Assembly to agree on a proper filtration system for the water-supply until it was too late, and the failure to implement a comprehensive system of sewage disposal and treatment, must be accounted the principal reasons for the epidemic proportions reached by the disease... Most important of all was the Hamburg authorities' policy of concealment and delay."[1]

Referring to Evans one of the necessary consequences of the cholera epidemic was the improvement of sewage treatment and purification. The experimental facility for sewage treatment was planned and established in the years 1894 to 1895 as a part of the Hygienic Institute, which was founded directly in 1892. The exhibition presents the history of the experimental facility combined with a presentation of selected volumes of the stock of its library. This special library with its approx. 450 volumes concerning water and sewage treatment as well as sanitary engineering was given as a present to the University Library of the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg in 1984. A handwritten catalogue is also preserved. The collection consists of books from Germany, England, France and the United States as well as of separate prints of journal articles, single volumes of periodicals and much grey literature such as official papers, expert opinions etc.

A survey on the effect of the cholera epidemic on urban planning and rehabilitating actions in Hamburg and a close look at municipal sewage treatment today are added to the exhibition of the books. This makes clear, that every occupation with the past of environmental science refers unavoidable to the presence.

The exhibition and the accompanying book demonstrate the historical stage of development of a part of environmental engineering at the end of the 19th century and should be stimulation, starting point and source for further studies on environmental history.

For more information:
Stadthygiene und Abwasserreinigung nach der Hamburger Cholera-Epidemie : Umweltforschung vor 100 Jahren im Spiegel der Bibliothek der Sielklaer-Versuchsstation Hamburg-Eppendorf / hrsg. von Thomas Hapke. Herzberg: Bautz, 1993.
Shelf Number: USU-400

[1] Richard J. Evans: Death in Hamburg : society and politics in the cholera years 1830 - 1910. Oxford: Clarendon Pr., 1987. p. 304
Copyright: Thomas Hapke, 29.1.1996
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