Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Jeff Maskovsky

Committee Members

Jacqueline Nassy Brown

Dana-Ain Davis

Uwe Lübken

Subject Categories

Social and Cultural Anthropology | United States History


development, expertise, infrastructure, Cincinnati, Ohio River, elites


As the first major U.S. urban center located west of the Appalachian Mountains, Cincinnati’s early growth depended on the Ohio River, a vital route for the westward drive of U.S. settler colonialism in the first half of the nineteenth century. Over time, with the expansion of railroads and shifting trade routes, the river became less relevant to the success of the city. In this dissertation study, I pick up the history of Cincinnati’s relationship with the Ohio River after it had apparently declined in importance. Through a focus on how Cincinnati elites have advocated for different infrastructural projects along the Ohio River, I track the ways that they have hoped to again make the river productive for the city. In particular, I focus on the creation of infrastructure concerning 1) navigation, 2) flooding, and 3) pollution. By developing infrastructure related to these three areas, local elites hoped to reshape how the Ohio River behaved, making it more amenable to Cincinnati’s overall needs, as well as to spur development in the region. In doing so, I connect these proposals designed to transform the entire Ohio River with plans to redevelop specific stretches of the riverfront around Cincinnati. To explore these two interests simultaneously, I examine the activities of Cincinnati-based groups that have sought to unite the skills of technical experts with those of local developers in order to promote infrastructural solutions to the issues of navigation, flooding, and pollution – groups like the Ohio Valley Improvement Association, the Cincinnati Stream Pollution Committee, the Cincinnatus Association, the Riverfront Advisory Council, and others. In doing so, this study uncovers the entanglement of technocratic expertise and development knowledge in shaping how local elites have maintained their authority in the city and reshaped the urban environment to suit their needs. Through a century of collaboration on infrastructural projects, technical experts and development elites in Cincinnati have been able to transform the riverfront – which had once been a zone of mobility, racial intermixing, and economic opportunity for the city’s poorer residents – into a tightly-controlled area that is increasingly inaccessible to Cincinnati’s low-income residents or small businesses. At the same time, this historical and ethnographic study also places particular emphasis on understanding the role the Ohio River itself has had in enabling these processes to unfold. Far from being an inert bystander, the Ohio River has actively shaped these infrastructural projects along the Cincinnati riverfront, many times being a major contributor to the successful realization of elite objectives around white supremacy, imperialism, urban growth, and public health, among others.