During the nineteenth century many European scientists shared the view that a nation could compete successfully if only it improved its landscape via new infrastructures, such as large reclamation and river regulation projects, and via the intensive use of natural resources—for example, the scientifically planned use of forests. This “high” modernization path orchestrated by the political and scientific elites of Hungary sought to consolidate control over resources, landscapes, and competing ethnic groups and was in many respects similar to the many other versions of high modernism in Europe at the time. This version, however, represented a particular vision closely linked to the ecological systems of the Middle Danube area. Although questions of the political, economic, and technological “rise” of Hungary have attracted scholarly attention for centuries, historians have not fully explored the ecological consequences of modernization. Three of these consequences—deforestation, desertification, and flooding—are the subjects of this article. More broadly, the article aims to show how the political and economic goals of nationalism produced a science of ecological domination.

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