ICYMI: What We’ve been Reading – new River Life post
New post on River Life
by Pat Nunnally
Careful readers of these posts will remember that we are using the platform to create a new conversation about rivers and water, one that attends closely to rivers as part of our social and cultural landscape, elements of a “sense of place” that feels very different for the diverse groups that comprise our society. We’ll always need scientific and technical knowledge of course; we must expand our vision, though, to develop truly sustainable and inclusive futures for our rivers and the communities that depend on them.
Toward this end, we read material from many different public and scholarly conversations. Often it seems like it would be great simply to hone in on one subject and know absolutely everythng about that issue, but we really just don’t have that luxury. The rest of this post is comprised of short annotations of some materials that have come our way recently. Frankly, we assume that the title, ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) holds true; no one is reading these various things together. That’s our job.
This animated map of the Mississippi River basin, which shows all the rivers that flow into the main stem, is just fun to look at and think about. But it’s also a reminder that the Mississippi is a mighty big river with a direct impact on millions of people.
This article from our friends at Ensia, published by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, is not directly about the Mississippi, focusing instead on the challenges of maintaining a hopeful outlook in the face of climate change. The larger point it makes, though, which is that we must imagine the future that we desire in order to conduct the research and enact the policies to bring that future into existence, is highly pertinent. The future(s) of the Mississippi River and its basin are highly contested and making those futures sustainable and inclusive requires all of our voices. It will also require participation from all the disciplines at a university; here’s where historians, English majors, and artists take the lead.
An example of those broader voices we need to hear is the work of Lauret Savoy, a geologist, writer, and professor of environmental studies. Her book Trace brings together her personal story as a mixed race person growing up in the late 20th century United States with a strong sense of place and her professional training as a “earth historian.” Read a short interview with Savoy here.
The concept of “missing voices” in the interpretation of parks and public space as well as the policy debates about their futures has been highly publicized in the past few months. Public land managers at the state and federal level have bemoaned the fact that park visitors and political supporters are overwhelmingly white and middle-aged or older. Not only does this demographic fact not bode well for the parks’ future in terms of political support, but the lack of perceived access to public space and the scarcity of richly diverse stories of the meaning and experience of public space is an inequity that simply must be addressed. This article by a member of the board of the national organization Latino Outdoors raises many of the important issues.
Closer to home, an article in the new place-oriented journal Agate reminds us that environmental policies are created by specific people working in a particular place and time. The article describes the inception of a new oral history project in Minnesota that will develop the recent historical context for a series of pivotal environmental laws passed in the 1970s and 80s. We need more work like this (the laws and the oral histories!), so if anyone is looking for a project…
Finally, we are well aware that our approach to examining the broad-field past, present, and future of rivers is not the only way that universities approach the subject. Tulane University’s new Bywater Institute offers a strong and complementary approach from the other end of the Mississippi River.
Hope you enjoy the articles linked in this post, and that they stimulate further exploration, research, and engagement. We will write other posts like this from time to time, so tell us what you’d particularly enjoy seeing!