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What Can it Mean to be a University on a River?

November 23, 2009Patrick NunnallyProgram & AnnouncementsComments Off on What Can it Mean to be a University on a River?

We believe that the University of Minnesota is the only large, comprehensive university located directly on one of the major rivers of the world (The Mississippi keeping company, in this respect, with the Amazon, the Nile, the Yangtze, the Congo, etc.).  Furthermore, we are virtually certain that the U of M is the only comprehensive university located in a national park.

So what?

Answering that question occupies much of the effort of the River Life Program and will be, in one form or another, one of the recurring themes of this blog.  But for now, let me use an upcoming public event as an example of one of the things that it can mean to be a university on a river.

Map of the Gorge of the Mississippi River in the Twin CitiesOn December 3 at 4:00, the regular “Thursdays at Four” series hosted by the University’s Institute for Advanced Study will feature “Imagining the River:  the Mississippi Gorge.”  During this event, which will feature presentations from two scholars associated with the University and two who are not, we will examine possible futures for the Mississippi gorge from a number of angles.  We’ll hear from a scientist who is near completion of a study of the feasibility of ecological restoration in the gorge.  We’ll hear from two artists–one from the University and one a well-known community artist–and learn their visions for this place.  And we’ll hear from one of the Commissioners of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the public entity that perhaps owns more of the gorge land than any other.  The gorge, for those of you not from the Twin Cities, is that reach of the Mississippi located between St. Anthony Falls and the junction with the Minnesota.  The steep-walled bluffs and narrow floodplain mark this as the only “true” gorge on the entire length of the Mississippi.

I don’t know what the speakers will come up with on December 3.  If you’re in the neighborhood, you’re invited to come by and listen.  I’ll post a comment or two afterwards, I am sure.  But I’m also sure of this:  one of the defining characteristics of being a “university of the river” is that we talk with community members, not just to them, that we listen as much as or more than we talk, and that we orient our teaching, learning, and research as much for the benefit of the broader community as for ourselves.

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A joint project of River Life, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the University of Minnesota Libraries, Open Rivers is an interdisciplinary online journal that recognizes the Mississippi River as a space for timely and critical conversations about people, community, water, and place.