The Ebb and Flow of Rivers and Their Meaning

The Ebb and Flow of Rivers and Their Meaning

Rivers have long been sources of water and food, channels of commerce and communication, and inspiration for song and myth. When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out on their expedition, rivers were viewed as convenient pathways across the continent—much like our interstate highways today. Members of the Corps of Discovery also saw rivers as gateways to wilderness, adventure, origins, discovery, and heroic destiny.

But over time, the way we view rivers has changed significantly. Today no one would consider traveling across the continent via rivers—at least not for any practical purpose. Lewis & Clark College will explore how this transformation happened and why in its upcoming Rivers symposium, which will be held September 29 through October 1. It is the third in a series of symposia offered by the College each year during the commemoration of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The symposium will explore the relationship of rivers to people, including rivers as commercial arteries, as geopolitical bones of contention, and as metaphors. What is a river? Where does it come from? Where does it empty? How are rivers named? How do rivers connect disparate cultures? Are rivers entitled to legal and cultural protections?

In addition, the College will mount a related art exhibition in the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art from September 8 through October 16. The exhibition will feature Robert Glenn Ketchum, a renowned nature photographer, and Ryan Burns, an artist who makes rubbings of old-growth tree stumps.

Featured Speakers 

William Kittredge, thoughtful humanist, former farmer, and celebrated author, will deliver the symposium’s keynote address, “Rivers and Destiny,” on the evening of September 29. Kittredge’s books include two collections of essays, Owning It All and Who Owns the West, and a memoir, Hole in the Sky.

Other featured speakers include Kansas University’s Donald Worster, one of the most provocative environmental historians in the United States and author of several books including River of Empire; Robert Kelley Schneiders, author of Unruly River and Big Sky River; and Timothy Egan, a third-generation westerner and reporter for the New York Times. 

A number of College faculty members will participate as well, including Elizabeth Safran, assistant professor of geological science; Rishona Zimring, associate professor of English; Janet Neuman, professor of law; Stephen Dow Beckham, Pamplin Professor of History; and Clay Jenkinson, humanities scholar in residence

Radio Series Airs This Fall

Lewis & Clark College and Oregon Public Broadcasting are collaborating on a 13-part radio series about the Lewis and Clark Expedition titled Unfinished Journey: The Lewis and Clark Expedition. The series will be hosted by actor Peter Coyote and will feature interviews with scholars from across the country, including several of the College’s own faculty. 

Public Radio International (PRI) will distribute the series to radio stations nationwide. To learn when the series airs in your area, contact your local public radio station.

Traveling Exhibition Heads West

The College’s national traveling exhibition, The Literature of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, will be on display at the Denver Public Library from August 1 through September 30 and at the Seattle Public Library in November and December (dates to be announced).