The History of Water

HistoryCoverDropThis unique series presents the history of the world in a water perspective. Professor Terje Tvedt explores the idea that the history of all countries have been shaped by their effort to adapt to and control their waters.

The History of Water (DVD) US$ 69,00

Profits from the sale of films will go to a fund for scholarships for young researchers who study the relationship between social development and water.

In four episodes, the series tells with fascinating examples how water and water control have played fundamental but varying religious, political and economic roles in all societies. It portrays the human battle with water and what it has meant since the birth of civilization along the banks of the great rivers in Asia and the Middle East 5000 years ago to the most modern cities of today which can only exist due to extensive control over water.

Terje Tvedt invites the viewer on a global journey exploring water’s role in history, from the isolated north-western corners of Pakistan in the shadow of the Himalayas where a sterile expanse of rock has been transformed into an oasis, to the Borana people of southern Ethiopia, who manually draw water for 300,000 people and a million heads of cattle from deep, hidden wells.

The ancient civilization of the Nile valley is contrasted with the highly sophisticated methods of irrigation employed by farmers in California. We can follow Tvedt on a visit to underground aqueducts and beautiful fountains of Imperial Rome to the old land of the Aztecs and their water civilization, where today the world’s largest metropolis, Mexico City, is sinking due to overuse of groundwater.

It was a momentous revolution in the history of humankind when the energy in running water came to be exploited. This film takes the viewer on a dramatic trip down the Yangtze River through the Three Gorges to the world’s biggest hydropower dam, and on to the longest canal ever built, the old Emperor’s Canal on the North China plain. Professor Tvedt visits the modest brooks and streams in Britain that helped to change the history of the world, before he ends up in Norway, a true Eldorado of running water.

No journey in the history of water would be complete without studying its religious role over time. This series takes viewer to the rain coast of Scandinavia and the religion of the Vikings and then goes on to the Middle East, home of the monotheistic desert religions: Christianity and Islam. It also halts on the banks of the Ganga at Varanasi, India, to study the significance of the enormous funeral pyres in the sacred city.

The series also brings the viewers to the casinos and indoor water falls of oasis cities like Las Vegas, to the mighty Nile in Egypt and Ethiopia, and to one of the longest functioning courts in Europe – the water tribunal in Valencia, Spain, dating back to the 13th century. The series ends in the deserts of Oman where the viewer can join Professor Tvedt on his walks in the underground canals beneath the desert sands made more than two thousand years ago and visit a water auction.

Produced by Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation in cooperation with the University of Bergen.

Category: Documentary, 2001
Duration: 4 x 45 min.
Soundtrack and subtitles: English (narration), French, Spanish, Portuguese, Norwegian, Chinese, Japanese
Format: PAL and NTSC


Episode 1: The struggle
No society can exist, not even for one day, without fresh water. This program takes the viewer from unique scenes in the Himalayas, where a sterile expanse of rock has been transformed into an oasis, to the Borana people of southern Ethiopia, who manually draw water for 300,000 people and a million head of cattle from deep, hidden wells. The ancient civilisation of the Nile valley is contrasted with the highly sophisticated methods of irrigation employed by farmers in California. We then progress via the aqueducts and beautiful fountains of Imperial Rome to the old land of the Aztecs and their water civilisation, where today the world’s largest metropolis, Mexico City, is sinking due to overuse of groundwater.

Episode 2: The energy
It was a momentous revolution in the history of humankind when the energy in running water came to be exploited. For countless millennia the only power available was human or animal muscle power. This programme takes the viewer on a dramatic boat trip down the Yangtze through the Three Gorges to the world’s biggest hydropower dam, and on to the longest canal ever built, the old Emperor Canal. The programme explores the role of the modest water falls and canals in Britain’s industrial revolution, before ending up in Norway, a land abundantly endowed with rivers, lakes and waterfalls, and whose development from about 1500 was totally dependent upon different uses of hydro-power.

Episode 3: The myths
The physical and aesthetic properties of water give it a unique mythical-religious potential. It is always in motion, changing in form, colour and quantity, and has therefore played an important role in myths and religious rituals all over the world. This programme starts on the raincoast of Scandinavia to investigate the religion of the Vikings and then goes to the Middle East, home of the monotheistic desert religions. It follows in the biblical footsteps of the Israelites from Jordan to Jericho and discusses the importance of water in Islam. The role of Mother Ganga in Hinduism and the significance of the enormous funeral pyres in the sacred city of Varanasi are shown. The programme also looks at the history of bathing, from Roman times to modern hydrotherapy in Germany. It ends up in France, at Lourdes, where millions of pilgrims flock every year to take the holy water.

Episode 4: The conflicts
Many argue that future conflicts will be conflicts over fresh water. Others argue that the water question will encourage co-operation. This programme takes the viewer from the desert city, Las Vegas, where urban history rests not only on the casinos, but om water control. Then it proceeds to Lake Victoria in the heart of Africa, to the wonderful Blue Nile falls in Ethiopia, to the greatest swamp in the world in Southern Sudan and to Egypt, to tell the story of past water conflicts on a grand scale. This is followed by a presentation of the water issue in the Israeli-Arab conflict. Then the viewer is taken to a little-known institution – one of the oldest court still functioning in Europe – the water tribunal in Valencia, Spain. The series ends in the deserts of Oman, bringing the viewer to deep underground canals made more than two thousands years ago and to a water auction!