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Mississippi. An Anthropocene River

A research project on the novel epistemic, aesthetic, and educational challenges of the Anthropocene

Video: Sadie Luetmer

Meandering Mississippi. Map by Harold N. Fisk, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1944 | Geological Investigation of the Alluvial Valley of the Lower Mississippi River

Meandering Mississippi. Map by Harold N. Fisk, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1944 | Geological Investigation of the Alluvial Valley of the Lower Mississippi River

How can the Anthropocene be made legible on a regional level without dismissing its inherent complexity? The project Mississippi. An Anthropocene River explores human impacts on the Mississippi region and makes the historical, social and ecological transformation of this human/environment system tangible. Through November 2019, researchers, artists and activists in collaboration with local initiatives in the United States will develop genuinely local approaches to planetary change and new methods of transdisciplinary research and education.

The Mississippi River’s meandering path has carved out an iconic landscape in U.S. mythology and has more recently become a symbol for human impact on the environment. Throughout its history, it has been an ever-changing ecosystem, an artery for raw materials and goods and a depository for both sediments and pollutants. Some of the first permanent settlements of North America emerged along the river while the river also acted as western border for encroaching European settlement. For centuries it was a waterway of colonial exploitation and commerce; its banks lined with the historic centers of plantation agriculture and slavery. Less a river than a huge floodplain, the river grew throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries into a vast industrial and agricultural corridor as it was contained and made navigable. Today, human transformation of the river landscape ranges from forested areas on the upper reaches of the river, to industrial agriculture in the Midwest, to petrochemical centers in the delta and the oxygen-depleted “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico.

Since 2018, five Field Stations have been highlighting historical and contemporary issues of landscape formations along the river in field studies, public forums and workshops. Starting September 2019, the Anthropocene River Journey will travel downriver gathering the field stations’ findings. In November, the weeklong Anthropocene River Campus: The Human Delta will conceptually compile the project’s approaches to research. An Anthropocene River School will transfer the results of the field studies into an ongoing, collaborative teaching format, making them accessible both on site and online.

The research platform is the shared working tool and digital entryway to the project. On it, research questions will be discussed, data shared and results presented continuously and openly.

Field Notes

Element abundances in Mississippi Mud. These are the numbers from an analysis of river mud I collected during the New Orleans workshop in November. I use a machine that measures the abundance of elements in bulk samples of soils and sediments and during some machine testing this week, I remembered I had this sample. The top figure is for trace elements in units of ppm (parts per million) and the lower one for major elements as % abundance. Major elements usually represent the dominant geology of a catchment (why not colour RWB, I thought) and trace elements the local geology (hence Choctaw flag colours). The size of the rectangles are proportional to the elements abundance. Sediment geochemistry, geopolitics and tribal entities are not very often combined.
London, United Kingdom
simon.turner - 2020/01/17 12:45 (2 days ago)