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Alternative Worlds

Blue-Sky Thinking since 1900


Edited By Ricarda Vidal and Ingo Cornils

In an attempt to counteract the doom and gloom of the economic crisis and the politicians’ overused dictum that ‘there is no alternative’, this interdisciplinary collection presents a number of alternative worlds that were conceived over the course of the last century. While change at the macro level was the focus of most of the ideological struggles of the twentieth century, the real impetus for change came from the blue-sky thinking of scientists, engineers, architects, sociologists, planners and writers, all of whom imagined alternatives to the status quo.
Following a roughly chronological order from the turn of the nineteenth century to the present, this book explores the dreams, plans and hopes as well as the nightmares and fears that are an integral part of alternative thinking in the Western hemisphere. The alternative worlds at the centre of the individual essays can each be seen as crucial to the history of the past one hundred years. While these alternative worlds reflect their particular cultural context, they also inform historical developments in a wider sense and continue to resonate in the present.
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2 Alternative Mediterraneans Six Million Years Ago: A Model for the Future?


In the first century AD, Pliny the Elder set out to describe the entirety of the natural world from its (mythical) origins to its present geography as it was known to the Romans. In his Natural History, he describes the narrow entrance to the Mediterranean Sea at the Strait of Gibraltar and the two steep mountains that flank it:

At the narrowest part of the straits stand mountains on either side, enclosing the channel, Ximiera in Africa, and Gibraltar in Europe. These were the limits of the labours of Hercules, and consequently the inhabitants call them the Pillars of that deity, and believe that he cut the channel through them and thereby let in the sea which had hitherto been shut out, so altering the face of nature.1

Pliny’s is a pioneer record of the belief that Africa and Europe were once connected by a land bridge across the Gibraltar Strait and that the Mediterranean Sea was a closed-off, desiccated inland sea. As we partly show in this chapter, this belief has had a continuous impact on our culture, fuelling a diversity of alternative ways of imagining the Mediterranean region, from Galileo’s Dialogue2 (1632) and Jacinto Verdaguer’s ‘Atlàntida’ ← 53 | 54 → (1876)3 down to twenty-first-century geo-engineering. Pliny’s description raises the question how much he and his contemporaries really knew about the formation of the Earth. While obviously lacking the expansive knowledge of geology and landscape evolution we have accumulated over the last 2,...

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