University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

What are River Stories?

River Stories is a multi-disciplinary project that researches and disseminates the stories of how communities and individuals have lived with rivers.

  • What has the river meant to people in the past, and how can we bring that meaning to light today?
  • How does the role of the river differ among cultural and ethnic groups?
  • How can we connect stories about the river’s importance to stronger stewardship efforts?

For more Information see the River Stories collection in River Life’s River Atlas.

Why do they matter?

There is a central paradox at the heart of our treatment of rivers. We often revere rivers, and the waters that they contain. Yet we are just as likely to poison them, polluting with industrial and human wastes. Telling River Stories asks questions derived from this paradox.

  • What, exactly, does our treatment of rivers say about us as a society and culture?
  • How are the ways we feel about rivers conveyed through our actions, and more important, our expressions that are encompassed in media as varied as public art, poetry, architecture, and song?


Telling River Stories explores both what rivers mean and have meant to people, but also how that meaning has been expressed.

Integrating the Humanities Across National Boundaries

The Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) and River Life are participants in a project organized by the Consortium on Humanities Centers and Institutes on “Humanities for the Environment,” which has been generously funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation.  The IAS and River Life will focus on the Mississippi River and the ways in which the arts and the humanities help to imagine the futures of the river.  The River Atlas, developed by River Life, will serve as a platform for collecting stories about watersheds and other sites of interest throughout the world.

Contact Us!
Send us a note at to make suggestions for other places we should look, media to track, and stories to tell!
River Life in Video
Come Along for a Water Walk with Kare11 and River Life, and see Gifts at Work: The Mississippi River by the University of Minnesota Foundation
The Once and Future River: Imagining the Mississippi in an Era of Climate Change
For more information about our John E. Sawyer Seminar Spring Symposium “The Once and Future River: Imagining the Mississippi in an Era of Climate Change” which took place at Northrop on April 8-10, 2015, please visit the symposium web page.