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University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Grasping Water:
Rivers and Human Systems in China, Africa, and North America

June 13-17, 2016, University of Minnesota

The Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation and the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes are sponsoring the first annual Summer Institute in Chinese Studies and Global Humanities, to be held at the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota, June 13-17, 2016. The Summer Institute, “Grasping Water: Rivers and Human Systems in China, Africa, and North America,” will be directed jointly by Professor Ann Waltner of the Department of History, University of Minnesota, and Professor Ruth Mostern, Interdisciplinary Humanities Graduate Group Chair at the University of California, Merced.

Grasping Water examines rivers ecologically, at the intersection of the physical world and human culture, in ways that demand both humanistic and scientific perspectives. The attempt to control rivers—to minimize flooding, to facilitate transportation, and to provide water for drinking, irrigation, and electric power—is one of the great enterprises of human history. It is an enterprise with a checkered history: the control of nature has proven to be a vexed question. The question of control of rivers is deeply political: who sets the priorities for river use, who invests in river projects, where is knowledge about rivers produced, who benefits from river control? How do rivers figure into narratives about local meaning and identity, and who sets the terms for those conversations? The Institute will look at ways in which communities and political entities in China, North America, and Africa have dealt with the problem of controlling rivers in comparative and historical perspective.

The Summer Institute includes a keynote address by Patrick Manning, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of World History at the University of Pittsburgh and incoming president of the American Historical Association. Three roundtables on the themes of “Ideologies and Rationales,” “Geographies and Hydrologies,” and “Engineers and Empire Builders” will be led by senior scholars from China, Africa, and North America. Each roundtable features discussion among all the participants based on pre-circulated materials. The program also includes workshops on river science for humanists, GIS and cartography methods, and an exploration of digital scholarship and online resources for curriculum development and support. Common readings will be distributed prior to attendance; participants will come together around these readings, film screenings, and field trips to cultural and hydrological sites along the Mississippi River. The workshop seeks to foster lively discussion and sharing of experiences across disciplines and regions with scholars from Africa, China, and North America. We anticipate that the institute will take the first steps toward planning a curriculum which will look at the interactions between river systems and human systems in comparative perspective.

This Summer Institute is not just another conference. It is organized to serve several purposes:

  • Creating Community. We plan an international and multilingual event that brings together established and emerging scholars, participants from Africa, China, and North America, and participants from disciplines throughout and beyond the humanities. The Institute is an opportunity to share expertise and build collaboration.
  • Expanding Expertise. By pre-circulating readings and involving environmental scientists, filmmakers, and geographic information scientists as well as humanists, we intend for the Institute to be a learning experience for all participants.
  • Authoring Curriculum. We will collectively develop a teaching website that we and our colleagues can use in our classrooms, using our time together to create something that will live on after the Institute.

Participation in Grasping Water is by application only. Participants have been selected. Please direct queries to rvrinst@umn.edu.

Tentative Schedule

Monday June 13 (Travel Day)

Arrival in afternoon and evening.
Dinner buffet – 17th Avenue Hall.
Staff on hand to help with housing and other questions.

Tuesday June 14

Continental Breakfast – 17th Avenue Hall
All sessions in Crosby Seminar Room, 240 Northrop

9:00-10:30: Welcome by Co-Directors Ann Waltner (History, University of Minnesota) and Ruth Mostern (History, University of California-Merced); group introductions.

10:30-10:45: Break

10:45-12:00: Keynote speaker: Patrick Manning, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of World History at the University of Pittsburgh and President of the American Historical Association: The Evolution of River Transport: Watercraft and Migration; Portage and Canals.”

12:00-12:15: Break

12:15-1:30: Lunch

1:30-3:30: Ideologies and Rationales Roundtable led by Ruth Mostern, Jamie Monson (History and African Studies, Michigan State University), Tristram R. Kidder (Edward S. and Tedi Macias Professor and Chair, Anthropology, Washington University).

3:30-4:30: Break

4:30: Load bus for evening excursion – Northrop circle

5:30-6:00: Board Jonathan Padelford at Harriet Island Landing

6:00-9:00: Mississippi River boat excursion with dinner and cash bar. Tour led by John Anfinson, Superintendent, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, US National Park Service.

9:00-9:45: Return to campus – bus loads at Harriet Island Landing

Wednesday June 15

Continental Breakfast – 17th Avenue Hall
Morning session in Crosby

9:30-11:30: Geographies and Hydrologies Roundtable led by Jim Rock (Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium, University of Minnesota, Duluth), David Pietz (UNESCO Chair of Environmental History, East Asian Studies, University of Arizona), and Muchaparara Musemwa (University of the Witwatersran)

11:30-12:30: Lunch

12:30: Load bus for SAFL excursion – Northrop Circle

1-3: River Science for Humanists Workshop: Hydrological and Ecological Properties of Rivers led by Teamrat Ghezzhei (Humanities Center and Soil Sciences, University of California-Merced).

3-3:15: Break

3:15-4:45: Tour of St. Anthony Falls Laboratory led by Barbara Heitkamp (National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics, University of Minnesota), Jess Kozarek (Center for Transportation Studies, University of Minnesota), and Kate Brauman (Global Water Initiative, Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota).

5:00: Bus back to campus – load at SAFL

6-7: Dinner – Crosby Seminar Room

7-8:30: Traces: Landscapes in Transition on the Yellow River Basin, a presentation by photographer Ian Teh – Best Buy Theater

Thursday June 16

Continental Breakfast – 17th Avenue Hall
Morning session in Crosby

9-11: Engineers and Empire Builders Roundtable led by Ling Zhang (History, Boston College); Allen Isaacman (Regents Professor, History, University of Minnesota); Pat Nunnally (River Life Program, University of Minnesota).

11-11:45: Break, walk to West Bank

11:45-12:45: Lunch at Republic (Seven Corners, West Bank)

12:45-1: Walk to James Ford Bell Library

1-2:45: Visit to map collection, James Ford Bell Library. Collection demonstration by Marguerite Ragnow, Curator.

2:45-3: Break, walk to next location

3-5: Spatial Humanities Methods Workshop led by Fan I-Chun (Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica) and Liao Hsiung-Ming (Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences, Academia Sinica); Ruth Mostern, chair.

5-6: Walk back to East Bank, break

6-8:30: Dinner at Tea House (Stadium Village)

Friday June 17

Continental Breakfast – 17th Avenue Hall
All sessions in Crosby Seminar Room

9-11: Next Steps: Online Curriculum and Digital Scholarship Planning Workshop led by Ann Waltner, Ruth Mostern, and Jennifer Gunn (Institute for Advanced Study, History of Medicine, University of Minnesota), with resource support from Digital Arts Sciences + Humanities project of University Libraries, the Center for Educational Innovation, University of Minnesota

11-11:15: Break

11:15-12:15: Summation by the Co-Directors of the Institute: Ann Waltner and Ruth Mostern.

12:15-12:30: Break

12:30-2: Closing lunch.