Final dissertation seminar: Valuating Waterfalls

Three Norwegian waterfalls between horror, beauty and use

Photo of Helena Nynäs

Photo: Helena Nynäs (private)

About the thesis

Nynäs' thesis will trace different valuations of major waterfalls, starting in mid 1700s and ending by 1920s. It treats the major and ‘majestetic’ waterfalls Rjukanfossen, Skjeggedalsfossen and Vettisfossen. They are investigated as established, maintained and transformed within many domains, for instance early topographers, artists, natural scientists, investors and engineers. In very simple terms a pre-romantic major waterfall was ascribed negative value. It was characterised as horrible, deadly and useless – in short, a kind of nature that could lead to nothing good. With Romanticism, at its peak in Europe in 1800-1850 intimate relations between human life and nature was emphasized. Vast and majestetic nature forms became elevated and values like sublime and beautiful were foregrounded. Nature was considered a deliberating force against rationalism and an evolving industrial age. In these contexts, the waterfalls turned into more positive value. The uselessness (still not possible to use) contributed to the valuations. Around 1900s, when major waterfalls really turned useful, values like cheap energy-input surpassed earlier dominant values. However, the aesthetic valuations (horrible, sublime, beautiful) did not end by 1900 and by putting the flow of water into tubes.

The study is based on an understanding of nature as practice-related.

Values are treated as outcomes of practices in stead of something already at hand. The study will illuminate connections between many practices that earlier were held as non-connected, or not-that-connected. This richness of practices also reflects many versions of a waterfall. Investigating these different versions will hopefully enrich our understanding of the relations between nature and nature use. In addition how values like horrible, sublime, beautiful and useful interplay in different contexts. The domain of aesthetic valuations will be given special attention, since the study assumes that aesthetic valuations are embedded in all practices. Aesthetic valuation is neither limited to the domain of art or nature protection, nor restricted to values like comfort, beauty or pleasure. Aesthetic values play a major or minor role in many practices and contexts.


  • Sissel Myklebust, TIK
  • Mari Hvattum, The Oslo School of Architecture and Design


  • Even Smith Wergeland, NMBU

The Final Seminar

The final dissertation seminar is organised towards the end of a candidate's PhD period, in the format of a trial disputation. The candidate's script for the presentation is available upon request. Please contact Tina Næss.

Published Jan. 18, 2017 2:57 PM - Last modified Jan. 18, 2017 2:57 PM