Rivers on the Move


Climate change is redrawing the divisions between terrestrial and aqueous spaces across the globe. Although coastal inundation is a go-to example for the impact of rising seas and increasingly powerful maritime storm systems, the interaction between climate and water goes far inland, where from Arctic to the tropics, riparian systems also reshape their landscapes. Cities built on reclaimed marshland are sinking, as in Bangkok. Arctic and sub-Arctic villages face relocation when the permafrost below them melts, as along the Yukon. Yet despite what the snapshot view of cartographers might indicate, rivers have long been on the move—from floods on the Yangtze to the seasonal patterns of freeze and thaw in the northern hemisphere. And people have long tried to alter, coral, or otherwise adapt to shifting riverine tempers. Twenty-first century vulnerabilities thus often emerge from past efforts to make amphibious zones fully terrestrial—to settle, confine, and control hydrological processes.

This workshop will bring together environmental historians and hydrologists along with other historically-minded humanists and natural scientists interested in better understanding the relationships between past and contemporary riparian change, and its ties to longstanding social changes and choices ranging from economic development to legal orders. Examining not just the fates of riverine ecology, infrastructure, reclamation projects, and settlements, the workshop will investigate why and how these amphibious landscapes came to be fixed and settled or abandoned and corresponding alternations in rivers’ forms and behavior, and how such past human-river interactions influence contemporary life. Scholars will be drawn from a range of geographies and temporalities, as well as academic disciplines.

The goal of the workshop is an edited volume of interdisciplinary essays similar enough in form to be comprehensible to a wide range of riverine scholars and students.. To that end, each selected participant will workshop a 5-6000 word essay, written for general academic readers rather than a field-specific scientific or humanist audience: think the work of Ellen Wohl or Richard White. Explaining field-specific concepts and terms, and using clear examples is strongly encouraged.