Book Review – ‘Chokepoints: Movement, mobility, regulation and the Suez and Panama Canals in global history’ by Christoph Laucht
After their opening in 1869 and 1914 respectively, the Suez and Panama canals have functioned as ‘essential instruments of world unity’, as the French geographer André Siegfried argued in his comparative study of the two inter-oceanic waterways Suez and Panama (1940). For Siegfried, ‘[t]his unity was the magnificent achievement of the nineteenth century’. Following in particular the publication of Jürgen Osterhammel’s seminal study of the nineteenth century The Transformation of the World (2009), global history has witnessed a surge of renewed academic interest. And the Suez and Panama canals have long played important roles in the history of global movements of peoples, ideas and goods, facilitating their mobility between different parts of the world. The Suez Canal connects the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, while the Panama Canal provides a shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through the Isthmus of Panama. The two shipping lanes spare ships long and treacherous journeys around the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn respectively.
Ashley Carse’s and Valeska Huber’s studies of the Panama and Suez Canals break new ground in exploring the roles of canals in global history. The existing historiography of the two inter-oceanic waterways has by and large focused on their construction …