Gregory Brown
513 Agnes Arnold Hall
Department of Philosophy
University of Houston
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A region encompassing the northeastern French départements of Haut-Rhin (“Upper Rhine?) and Bas-Rhin (“Lower Rhine?) and roughly coextensive with the historic region of Alsace. The capital is Strasbourg. The région has an area of 3,197 square miles (8,280 square km) and is bounded by the départements of Moselle, Meurthe-et-Moselle, and Vosges to the west. The territory of Belfort lies to the southwest; Switzerland borders the région to the south, and Germany borders it to the east and northeast.

The area was conquered by the Roman legions of Julius Caesar in the 1st century BC and had been profoundly Romanized by the time of the invasion of the Alemanni in the 5th century AD. The Alemanni, however, were conquered by the Franks under Clovis in 496, and Alsace became a Frankish duchy. Under Merovingian rule the area was Christianized and colonized. Alsace was incorporated in Lotharingia in the mid-9th century and was united with the German territories of the Carolingians by the Treaty of Mersen (870); it remained part of the Holy Roman Empire until the 17th century. During that period its territory was divided into a number of secular and ecclesiastical lordships and municipalities, which remained significant until the French Revolution. The medieval period was also marked by the growing importance of its cities—e.g., Strasbourg, Colmar, and Haguenau, which, with the support of the emperors, gradually freed themselves from their feudal overlords.

Protestantism made important gains in Alsace during the Reformation, and Strasbourg, where the reformer Martin Bucer was especially prominent, became the centre of Alsatian Protestantism. That city's Protestant influence was countered, however, by the resolute Roman Catholicism of the Habsburgs, who tried to eradicate heresy in upper Alsace.

French influence began to be felt in Alsace late in the 16th century, during the Wars of Religion. This influence grew during the Thirty Years' War, when the Alsatian cities, caught between the opposing Catholic and Protestant sides and feeling their liberties threatened, appealed to France for help. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) gave France an informal protectorate over Alsace, and full control was established during the reign of Louis XIV, after the French had occupied Strasbourg in 1681.

In the 18th century Alsace enjoyed considerable autonomy under the French crown, and the Alsatians took advantage of their status outside the French customs system to develop a flourishing transit trade. The administrative incorporation of Alsace into France was completed by the French Revolution (1789), when the area was administratively divided into the two départements of Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin, and its existence as a separate province was ended. The people of Alsace continued to speak a German dialect known as Alsatian, but the use of French spread among the upper classes.

From 1815 to 1870 Alsace actively participated in the French national life. The introduction of universal suffrage (1848) and the building of railways helped to bind France and its eastern frontier province closely together. These links were shattered at the end of the Franco-German War (1870–71), however, when Alsace was detached from France and annexed to the German Empire.

Alsace is bounded by the Vosges Mountains and the région of Lorraine to the west and by the Rhine River on the east. The massif of theVosges gradually gives way eastward to the plain of Alsace, while to the south, the region of Sundgau in southern Haut-Rhin rises to the Jura Mountains. Alsace is one of the more fertile regions in central Europe. The hills are generally richly wooded, chiefly with fir, beech, and oak. Annual precipitation is relatively low, ranging from 20 to 28 inches (500 to 700 mm).

Alsace has a well-developed agricultural and light-industrial economy. Approximately one-third of the population is concentrated in the three main cities, Strasbourg, Colmar, and Mulhouse. Outside the Vosges massif the countryside is densely populated, with the result that farms and other landholdings tend to be small and fragmented.

Viticulture thrives on these small farms; Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sylvaner, Auxerrois, and Pinot Blanc are among the notable white wines produced. Colmar is the principal centre of the wine-growing region, whose vineyards extend in a narrow strip along the lower slopes of the Vosges west of the city. Industrial crops are also widely cultivated and include sugar beets, hops, and tobacco.

The région has a great wealth of minerals and considerable manufactures, chiefly of cotton and linen textiles. The heavier industries are concentrated in Haut-Rhin. The Grand Canal d'Alsace, which channels the Rhine River for hydroelectric power and transportation, has encouraged the development of industries in the plain of Alsace. Besides textiles, the région's manufactures include electrical appliances and chemicals. There is a nuclear-power plant at Fessenheim in Haut-Rhin. Pop. (1995 est.) 1,689,800.

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