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Open Rivers

Interdisciplinary online journal

Open Rivers: Rethinking Water, Place & Community is an interdisciplinary online journal that recognizes the Mississippi River and water more broadly, as a space for timely and critical conversations about, community, water, and place. The project’s title, Open Rivers, speaks to its multi‐vocal and multi‐media nature (“open”), its attention to systems and components, stories and frameworks that create rivers such as the Mississippi (“rivers” understood as natural and human/cultural systems), and to the genre of the work itself as a digital journal. Because rivers cross and disrupt state and international borders as well as social and cultural systems, the title of our journal refers to more than just the Mississippi. Open Rivers includes contributions and conversations relating to other rivers around the world as well.

Open Rivers is a direct outgrowth of the 2014-15 John E. Sawyer Seminar “Making the Mississippi: Formulating New Water Narratives in an Era of Climate Change” and is a program jointly developed by River Life/Institute for Advanced Study and the Publishing Services Division of the University of Minnesota Libraries.

The Issues :  Knowing, Imagining, Interventions, and Collaboration

Thoughts from the Editor in the First Issue

What is there to say about the Mississippi River that has not been said already? Google Scholar shows “about 922,000” hits for the query “Mississippi River” and the Library of Congress shows 9,537 items for the same query. Do we really have anything to add?

Obviously, we think so. Over the past decade or so, we have noticed as many “gaps” in the conversations about the Mississippi as there are fruitful connections. We want to address these gaps by connecting engineers with historians, engaging artists with policy folks, and making a space for community people and scholars to learn from and with each other. Few, if any at all, people are speaking with Native Americans, those people whose experience of the Mississippi has extended back millennia. Indigenous voices will be heard here, as well as voices of other groups not commonly thought of as having a “river story.”

The inquiries that have resulted in this journal began in 2013, when the University of Minnesota was invited to apply for a Sawyer Seminar grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. That seminar, “Making the Mississippi: Formulating New Water Narratives for the 21st Century,” was the direct inspiration for what we have developed here. The year-long exploration supported by the Mellon grant taught us that yes, indeed, the “old narratives” of the Mississippi did not adequately address new circumstances or future contingencies. We needed to look farther afield and read/learn more deeply. We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its support of this project.

After looking through dozens of blogs, periodicals and journals of all sorts, we decided that we would have to start our own publication if we wanted to gather and connect the richness that’s taking place in various discussions about the Mississippi. “Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi” is that publication. For us, “rethinking” the Mississippi means examining the Mississippi, our “home river,” in new ways and also learning from what people are doing on other rivers and on other bodies of water, whether surface water or groundwater. All water on the planet connects; our work will draw from innovation and insight wherever we find it.

Inside the issues

  • Issue One inaugurates the range of approaches we plan to take regularly.
  • Primary Sources takes us on a trip to local archives, exploring the distinctive perspectives offered from rich historical materials.
  • Perspectives column provides insight onto pressing current events and issues on the Mississippi and beyond it.
  • Teaching and Practice draws on work completed by students or work that might be useful for readers to include in their teaching. This includes work from community as a way to create deeper, stronger connections between the formal and informal places we learn.
  • In Review column is a space for reviewing both traditional and nontraditional media, from books to exhibits to websites.
  • Geographies feature draws from River Life’s River Atlas and other sources to illustrate how historical and current concerns on a particular topic map across the Mississippi and other bodies of water.
  • The Pulse offers a brief annotated link to items that have caught our eye.

Our intent here is simple, yet complicated. We want people, regardless of what brings them to our site, to learn something that they can use in their river work, whether they work in resource management, in policy, in “informal education,” on a campus, or in some other field. If you leave our site thinking “That had not occurred to me. I’ll have to think about that some more,” then we will have been successful. Of course, if you are so interested or enthusiastic about what you read that you make contact with the author, start an investigation of your own, or write to us for more information, that would be outstanding! That’s what we’re about: conversations and collaborations that increase the sustainability and inclusiveness of our relationships with rivers.

Adapted from Introduction to Issue One by Patrick Nunnally, Editor.