University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

What is interesting about our rivers is they have historically been both loved and stressed. The stories that we tell about our rivers and ourselves are probably not adequate to deal with changing conditions that will be associated with changing climate. Our research explores this set of issues primarily by examining parks and historic sites as “sites of civic engagement” where the future of our relation to the places we inhabit and the waters that support us will be expressed.

Living with the Mississippi

“Women Gathering Driftwood from the River on the Bohemian Flats.” Photographer unknown, taken prior to 1930. Courtesy of the Hennepin County Library.

Living with the Mississippi was a blog series that we ran in 2014-15 that examines the history of the river flats communities in the Twin Cities and what it means to almost literally live on the Mississippi River. Follow along to learn more about life on the Mississippi prior to luxury condos and clean river water, before the riverfront was considered a desirable place to live.

Visit the blog series here, or download the PDFs.

John E. Sawyer Seminar “Making the Mississippi: Formulating New Water Narratives for the 21st Century”

Sawyer Seminar

River Life and the Institute for Advanced Study are convening The John E. Sawyer Seminar “Making the Mississippi: Formulating New Water Narratives for the 21st Century” which has been awarded to the University of Minnesota by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

By any measure, the Mississippi River is one of the great rivers of the world. But it is also one of the world’s most heavily managed large rivers and is, arguably, one of the most controversial.

The Sawyer Seminar sees these challenges as problems of incomplete, inadequate, or outdated narratives. Nearly all of the public discourses about the river are animated by urgency imposed by pending legislation, economic decisions, or planning frameworks. The Sawyer Seminar will not address these narratives directly, but will explore writings and images that suggest a new way of seeing the Mississippi, one that may be useful as communities grapple with grand challenges like climate change, changing demographics and transitions in community and regional economies.

Heritage Collaborative


In collaboration with the Institute for Advance Study and the Minnesota Historical Society, the Heritage Collaborative investigates the opportunities for a formalized program of research and education that draws upon diverse and interdisciplinary perspectives and community engagement. With a focus on Historic Fort Snelling and the Bohemian Flats area along the Mississippi River, the collaborative is working to develop heritage-related learning opportunities. In Spring 2015 River Life will be launched “Living with the River“, an interactive blog series on historical river flat communities in the Twin Cities.

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
Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi
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.