Bringing the Mississippi River to life

Thanks to a planning grant, the U plans comprehensive river research.

McKenna Ewen

With the Mississippi River flowing as an artery through campus, some University faculty members want to find a way to circulate ideas about its social history.

With the support of a newly awarded grant, the University is looking to bring the Mississippi River to life.

“You’re a walk from the greatest river in the country – a walk from a national park,” said David Wiggins of the National Park Service.

The $45,000 planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities will help the University centralize its studies on the river. By doing so, researchers can exchange information to discover the underlying stories of the people and places affected by the river through the Telling River Stories initiative.

The grant only covers the initial stages and University officials must apply for the final grant proposal at the end of January. Final results will be released in August 2008.

“Once a place is enriched with stories, you’re looking at it with a four-dimensional eye,” Wiggins said. “That’s a great way to look at the world.”

Part of Wiggins’ responsibility includes bringing multiple community organizations together to build support for the grant.

“If we understand each other’s stories a little more, we understand their communities a little more,” Wiggins said.

Barbara Liukkonen, education coordinator of the Water Resource Center, said the University is in a great position to conduct comprehensive research on its social history.

“We are the biggest institute of higher education on the river, but we haven’t always embraced the river on campus,” she said.

There is a lot of research about the Mississippi River, but it is not very widely available to fellow scholars. This effort would help bring the research together, Liukkonen said.

The Telling River Stories collaboration includes 14 University scholars throughout four different colleges.

“Coming from a science background, it’s great to see the bridge between science and the community on these types of things,” she said.

The University is currently researching the river from a variety of perspectives, ranging from hydrogeology to economics.

Patrick Nunnally is the coordinator of the University’s Mississippi River Design Initiative.

“We will look at the stories of the people for whom the river was an essential part of their lives,” he said.

Because a lot of work has already been done, he said that the University and its partners will be chasing a lot of leads from previous work.

While most research is available to those in the field, it is often out of reach for the general public. This grant would help bring that information to the general population.

Current plans include implementing storytelling projects along the river, such as brochures and kiosks with an Internet connection.

“The river is the best professor on campus,” Wiggins said. “It teaches, in many ways, just by observation.

“We have a new generation of people discovering the river,” he said. “They come to the river with different (perspectives), but the river itself still has the same continuities.”