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Water, Place, and Community

River Life is a program of the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota that creates new knowledge about the relationships between water, place, and community by connecting campus to community work and needs.

See more information about We Are Water, an exhibit and event series this fall including weekly River Walks on Wednesdays at noon, leaving from the Northrop plaza. We Are Water is a partnership that was formed to tell Minnesota’s water stories collaboratively, bringing together personal narratives, historical materials, and scientific information. 

The Challenge and Opportunity

Located on the banks of one of the world’s great rivers, the University of Minnesota, through its teaching, research, and campus practices, is a model for developing future-oriented, resilient relationships between communities and water.  Water is essential to humanity's well-being, and is also threatened in myriad ways.  Working with communities of scholars and professionals on and off campus, River Life creates knowledge-sharing programs including the digital journal Open Rivers, a spatial platform that maps "water stories," and a series of public events around the twin themes "We Are Water" and "The River at Our Doorstep." River Life also maintains a blog and a vibrant social media presence.  River Life uses these activities to increase interdisciplinary and cross-sector capacity to address the related issues of water and justice, two of society's greatest challenges. 

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Latest from River Talk

Knowing a River’s Past as a Way to See its Futures: The Schuylkill River Corps

Here at River Life, we think a lot about what a university like ours should do to be a good citizen of our place.  The campus at the University of Minnesota is on Dakota land; that is a responsibility we must take seriously. We are in a national park, on one of the world’s great rivers, and should take that fact of location seriously also. In Philadelphia the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, in collaboration with the Drexel Air Resources Research Laboratory and a host of nonacademic partners, has developed an exemplary set of projects that demonstrate responsibility to a sense of place on an urban river.  The Schuylkill River and Urban Waters Research Corps is a digital collection that examines the past, present, and some imagined futures of the urban river that passes Penn’s campus. A “public, cooperative research collective,” the program breaks down many of the siloes between campus and community, and between academic and professional disciplines on a large campus.

Issue Twelve of Open Rivers: Watery Places & Archaeology

A year or so ago, when I met with Amélie Allard about her work on the fur trade in Minnesota, I was interested generally in her observations about that contested, fraught place and time. When she mentioned that participants understood space from the perspective of rivers and water, rather than land, I was hooked, and asked her to think about editing an issue of Open Rivers. This issue is the result, and her guest editor’s introduction speaks more eloquently than I could to the themes and questions raised here. So, read her introduction, and then the other pieces in this issue. You may never think about the lakes region of Minnesota and Canada in exactly the same way again.

Speaking of reading that rearranges one’s perspective, I highly commend Lark Weller’s discussion of Ta- Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. When I have told people that this piece was in the works, some have asked why a journal on water would address a title that is this central to contemporary debates on race in America. My response: why wouldn’t we?...

Blog Tips from the Hydrosphere

There are lots of reasons for academic professionals to blog, probably as many as there are academics blogging.  One of the blogs that regularly informs our work is “Watershed Moments: Thoughts from the Hydrosphere,” written by Dr. Sarah Boon, who blogs and tweets as “SnowHydro.”  Academically, her background is in the hydroecology of cold regions.  Much of her recent writing, both on the blog and in a variety of other publications, takes up issues of scientific communication, editing, creative nonfiction, and the landscapes and environmental issues of western Canada.  Her ideas and topics are wide-ranging, and always worth a look.

Boon’s recent post “9 Tips to Increase Traffic to Your Blog” really caught my attention since I, obviously, am in a somewhat similar position, i.e. using a blog as a platform to address a broad range of issues that I think are important.  All writers want at least some readers, and Boon’s tips are valuable whether you are new to blogging, a veteran with hundreds of posts, whether your work is primarily academic or in another sector...

All That We Are Is Story

On Thursday October 25, the IAS Thursdays program was “All That We Are Is Story,” highlighting the connections between water, story, language, place, and community.  A part of the broader We Are Water MN conversation at the University of Minnesota, the program centered the work of indigenous scholars and researchers, speaking in response to the short video that gave the program its name...The program’s richness means that it’s difficult to formulate a single thesis, or argument/theme from it.  Nevertheless, some observations and reflections are possible.

Panelists spoke of the importance of story, and of the multiple kinds of story that make up a world.  There are everyday stories people tell each other in the course of regular encounters, but there are also the deeper, foundational stories that make up the ways we know the world.  Those stories aren’t told lightly, are not varied, and serve as a primary means of carrying cultural wisdom down through centuries and millennia.