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Leonardi, Andrea
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[Journal:] The Journal of European Economic History [ISSN:] 2499-8281 [Volume:] 49 [Year:] 2020 [Issue:] 2 [Pages:] 27-70
The essential role of Luigi Negrelli (1799-1858) in planning the Suez Canal project - then realised by tens of thousands of Egyptian and European workers with the commitment of the Compagnie universelle du canal maritime de Suez headed by Ferdinand de Lesseps - was perfectly clear when the work was completed 150 years ago. In the years that followed, however, Negrelli fell into oblivion and his figure was not revisited until the first half of the 20th century, and then in a series of markedly nationalistic studies that misrepresented his image and role. During the interwar period, on the wave of claims to national grandeur, Negrelli was depicted as an "Italian genius" at the service of Risorgimento ideals that he actually had no part of. Meanwhile some German writings, driven by the same nationalistic demagogy, likewise improperly claimed a distinctly German origin for him. Even some recent studies in European cultural publications have been imprecise and totally inadequate in depicting the man and his role. Drawing on abundant, previously unexploited documents produced by Negrelli himself, this paper offers a new interpretation of the role of this eminent engineer. It traces his engagement in the realisation of a series of railways in Europe and his fundamental role in the design of the Suez Canal, identifying him as a distinguished economist and technician of transportation.
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