University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Trapped by History: the Past and Future of the Upper Mississippi River. John Anfinson, Sep. 9, 2014

September 9, 2014IASEvents, Sawyer Seminar2

Trapped by History:
the Past and Future of the Upper Mississippi River

John O. Anfinson, Superintendent of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

Download: audio, small video, or original.


Download: audio, small video, or original.

The Mississippi River today has become an artifact of human construction, because of what humans have done to it over the past 150 years. Navigation improvements, floodplain levees, a refuge and even early biological manipulations have transformed the upper Mississippi River’s physical and ecological character. A key question we face today is: Are we trapped by that history, or can we make changes that will ensure that the river’s ecosystems are healthy and abundant. In his presentation, Dr. John O. Anfinson will try to answer these questions and hint at where the upper Mississippi River may be headed.

Anfinson’s talk is part of a series of public events associated with the John E. Sawyer Seminar “Making the Mississippi: Formulating new water narratives for the 21st century and beyond.” The Sawyer Seminar is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. For information on other public events in the series, send a message to

John AnfinsonJohn O. Anfinson is Superintendent of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a 72-mile long unit of the National Park System on the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. John has been researching, writing and speaking about the upper Mississippi River for over 25 years. He is the author of The River We Have Wrought: A History of the Upper Mississippi (2003), River of History (2003) and many articles about the Mississippi River. In 2005 John was one of ten U.S. delegates to the joint U.S./Dutch symposium on water resources at The Hague, Netherlands sponsored by the Institute for Water Resources and the Rijkswaterstaat. More recently John helped initiate the Asian Carp Task Force for Minnesota and serves as co-chair of the effort.

From 1980 to 2000, John worked for the St. Paul District, Corps of Engineers, as a cultural resources specialist and District Historian. He moved to the National Park Service in June of 2000. John is a founding board member of Friends of the Mississippi River, an organization that focuses on the environmental health of the Mississippi in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. He is also on the Minnesota Marine Art Museum board. John holds a PhD in American History from the University of Minnesota.

Anfinson was interviewed for the Bat of Minerva in 2011. He also spoke in the 2008 conference “The City, The River, The Bridge”. This talk occurred on September 9, 2014, at 7:00pm in Best Buy Theater, Northrop.

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  1. The Future Mississippi: A “Gardened” Landscape? | River LifeFebruary 17, 2015 at 2:24 pmReply

    […] The video of Anfinson’s talk and the robust question session is available here. […]

  2. New leader at Mississippi River National Park | River LifeJanuary 21, 2015 at 7:53 amReply

    […] Last fall, Anfinson gave a talk at the University of Minnesota in which he argued that the river’s future is strongly affected by its past, but that the longer term vision of the river is a text yet waiting to be written.  View the video of the talk, plus the extensive question/answer session here. […]

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