University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

sawyer seminar the river

The Mississippi River is the largest river in North America, starting in northern Minnesota it flows south to the Gulf of Mexico along 2340 miles. Draining all or part of 31 states and two Canadian provinces, it is the largest drainage basin in North America, and the fourth largest in the world.

The Mississippi has numerous and significant tributaries, notably the Missouri, whose length makes the Mississippi/Missouri River system the third longest river in the world at 3745 miles, after the Nile and the Amazon.

The Mississippi is also a significant shipping corridor and is maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers through the dredging of a navigation channel and maintenance of levees, locks, and dams. The Corps also maintains the Old River Control structure that keeps the Mississippi River flowing through New Orleans, rather than switching to the steeper Atchafalaya River channel in Louisiana.

For millennia, the Mississippi River has been centrally important to the multitude of indigenous people who have called these regions home. It was, and is, spiritually significant, a source of travel and trade routes, and an inexhaustible food source.

The arrival of Europeans in North America was devastating for native people, of course. But the conquerors also recognized the importance of the great river. It has been immortalized in song and story and art for at least the past two centuries, with authors such as Mark Twain and musicians from the blues and jazz traditions making the Mississippi a world-renowned cultural landscape.

A place of contention and complex narratives, the Mississippi River is also a thriving corridor for commerce and rich with ecological value.