“Down Beside where the Waters Flow": Reclaiming Rivers for American Studies (Introduction)


Over the past three decades, rivers have become a fascinating and popular subject of scholarly interest, not only in the field of environmental history, where river histories have developed into a distinct subgenre, but also in the emerging field of environmental humanities. In this scholarship, rivers have often been reconceptualized as socio-natural sites where human and non-human actors interact with the natural world, generating complex legacies, path dependencies, and feedback loops. Furthermore, rivers have been described as hybrid “organic machines,” whose energy has been utilized by humans in many different ways, including the harvesting of both hydropower and salmon. Indeed, as several environmental historians have noted, in many regions of the world, watercourses have been transformed by technology to such an extent that they increasingly resemble enviro-technical assemblages rather than natural waterways. Rivers have also been discussed through the lens of “eco-biography,” a term coined by Mark Cioc in his influential monograph on the Rhine River, a book informed by “the notion that a river is a biological entity—that it has a ‘life’ and ‘a personality’ and therefore a ‘biography’.” Quite surprisingly, despite this “river turn” (to use Evenden's phrase), rivers have played a marginal role in recent American Studies scholarship. To address this gap, this issue of RIAS brings together scholars from different disciplines, countries, and continents to analyze a wide variety of river experiences, histories, and representations across the American hemisphere and beyond. Hence the title of this volume, Rivers of the Americas, should be seen as both an allusion to the Rivers of America book series (a popular series of sixty-five volumes, each on a particular US river, published between 1937 and 1974) and as a reminder of the still untapped potential of hemispheric, transnational, and comparative modes of critical engagement with rivers in American Studies.


rivers; river cultures; Rivers of the Americas; Introduction; riverscapes

Baez, Joan. “On the Banks of Ohio.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uL4SVdN9Pw&list=RD2uL4SVdN9Pw&start_radio=1&t=14

Beck, Ulrich. Risikogesellschaft. Auf dem Weg in eine andere Moderne. Suhrkamp, 1986.

Bigham, Darrel E. On Jordan’s Banks: Emancipation and Its Aftermath in the Ohio River Valley. UP of Kentucky, 2005.

Buell, Lawrence. Writing for an Endangered World: Literature, Culture, and Environment in the U.S. and Beyond. Harvard UP, 2001.

Bullard, Robert D. Dumping in Dixie. Race, Class, and Environmental Quality. Routledge, 1990.

Castonguay, Stéphane, and Matthew Evenden, editors, Urban Rivers: Remaking Rivers, Cities, and Space in Europe and North America. Pittsburgh UP, 2012.

Chabrowski, Igor. Singing on the River: Sichuan Boatmen and their Work Songs, 1880s–1930s. Brill, 2015.

Cioc, Mark. The Rhine: An Eco-Biography, 1815-2000. U of Washington P, 2002.

Cronon, William. Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. W. W. Norton, 1991.

Cusack, Tricia. Riverscapes and National Identities. Paperback ed., Syracuse UP, 2019.

Evenden, Matthew. “Beyond the Organic Machine? New Approaches in River Historiography.” Environmental History, vol. 23, no. 4, 2018, pp. 698–720. https://doi.org/10.1093/envhis/emy054

Evenden, Matthew. Fish versus Power: An Environmental History of the Fraser River. Cambridge UP, 2004.

Heidegger, Martin. Holderlin’s Hymn “The Hyster.” Indiana UP, 1996.

Heynen, Nik, et al., editors. In the Nature of Cities: Urban Political Ecology and the Politics of Urban Metabolism. Routledge, 2006.

Knoll, Martin, et. al., editors. Rivers Lost, Rivers Regained: Rethinking City-River Relations, Pittsburgh UP, 2017.

Lübken, Uwe. “Histories of the Unprecedented: Climate Change, Environmental Transformations, and Displacement in the United States.” Open Library of Humanities, vol 5, no. 1, 2019, pp. 1–25. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16995/olh.347

Lübken, Uwe. “’Poor Dumb Brutes’ or ‘Friends in Need’? Animals and River Floods.” Beastly Natures: Human-Animal Relations at the Crossroads of Cultural and Environmental History, edited by Dorothee Brantz, U of Virginia P, 2010, pp. 246–263.

Mauch, Christof, and Thomas Zeller, editors. Rivers in History: Perspectives on Waterways in Europe and North America. Pittsburgh UP, 2008.

Miller, Char. “A Sylvan Prospect: John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and Early Twentieth Century Conservatism.” American Wilderness: A New History, edited by Michael Lewis, Oxford UP, 2007, pp. 131–147.

Mink, Nicolass. “A Narrative for Nature’s Nation: Constance Lindsay Skinner and the Making of Rivers of America.” Environmental History, vol. 11, no. 4, 2006, pp. 751–774. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3985801.

Morris, Christopher. The Big Muddy: An Environmental History of the Mississippi and Its Peoples from Hernando de Soto to Hurricane Katrina. Oxford UP, 2012.

New York Times. “Vagaries of the Ohio,” 24 Nov. 1895, p. 10.

Phillips, Christopher. The Rivers Ran Backward: The Civil War and the Remaking of the American Middle Border. Oxford UP, 2016.

Pisani, Donald J. “Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: Nationalizing the History of Water in the United States.” Environmental History, vol. 5, 2000, pp. 466-482.

Pritchard, Sara B., Confluence. The Nature of Technology and the Remaking of the Rhône. Harvard UP 2011.

Schönach, Paula. “River Histories: A Thematic Review.” Water History, vol. 9, no. 3, 2017, pp. 233–257. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12685-016-0188-4

Shallat, Todd. Structures in the Stream: Water, Science, and the Rise of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. University of Texas P, 1994.

Steinberg, Ted. Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History. Oxford UP, 2002.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 1852. Oxford UP, 1998.

Stradling, David, and Richard Stradling. “Perceptions of the Burning River: Deindustrialization and Cleveland’s Cuyahoga.” Environmental History, vol. 13, no. 3, 2008, pp. 515–35. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25473265.

Tarr, Joel. The Search for the Ultimate Sink: Urban Pollution in Historical Perspective. U of Akron P, 1996.

Trotter, Joe W. River Jordan: African American Urban Life in the Ohio Valley. UP of Kentucky, 1998.

White, Richard. “‘Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living?’: Work and Nature.” Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, edited by William Cronon, W.W. Norton, 1996, pp. 171–185.

White, Richard. The Organic Machine: The Remaking of the Columbia River. Hill and Wang, 1995.

Winiwarter, Verena, and Martin Schmid. “Umweltgeschichte als Untersuchungsozionaturaler Schauplätze? Ein Versuch Johannes Colerus ‘Oeconomia‘ umwelthistorisch zu interpretieren.” Umweltverhalten in Geschichte und Gegenwart, edited by Thomas Knopf, Attempo, 2008, pp. 158–173.

Wood, Peter H. “Missing the Boat: Ancient Dugout Canoes in the Mississippi-Missouri Watershed.” Early American Studies, vol. 16, no. 2, 2018, pp. 197–254. Project MUSE, doi: 10.1353/eam.2018.0008

Published : 2021-09-30

Della MarcaM., & LübkenU. (2021). “Down Beside where the Waters Flow": Reclaiming Rivers for American Studies (Introduction). Review of International American Studies, 14(1), 13-24. https://doi.org/10.31261/rias.12459

Manlio Della Marca  manlio.dellamarca@lmu.de
Amerika-Institut, LMU München, Germany  Germany

Manlio Della Marca is an Assistant Professor of American Literature at LMU Munich and holds a Ph.D. in English-language literatures from the “Sapienza” University of Rome. Before joining LMU’s Department of English and America Studies, he was a Doctoral Fellow at the International Forum for U.S. Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2010) and a BAA Research Fellow at the Eva Hesse Archive of Modernism and Literary Translation in Munich (autumn 2013). In 2014, he was awarded a DAAD postdoctoral fellowship for his project on the unpublished correspondence of Ezra Pound with the media theorist Marshall McLuhan and Eva Hesse. His publications include essays on Ezra Pound, Edith Wharton, Thomas Pynchon, Philip K. Dick, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Leslie Marmon Silko. He is currently working on a book titled Homo Legens: Modes and Moods of Reading.

Uwe Lübken 
Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU)  Germany

Uwe Lübken is professor of American history at Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich. He has held teaching and research positions at the universities of Cologne, Munich, Münster and at the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C. His publications include a prize-winning book on the US perception of the National Socialist threat to Latin America and several edited volumes, special issues, and articles on (American) transnational history and the history of natural hazards and catastrophes. He has published a history of flooding of the Ohio River (2014) and co-edited volumes on urban fires (University of Wisconsin Press, 2012), the management of natural resources (Berghahn Books, 2014) and city-river relations (Pittsburgh University Press, 2016). His current work explores the intersections of mobilities and the environment.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The Copyright Holder of the submitted text is the Author. The Reader is granted the rights to use the material available in the RIAS websites and pdf documents under the provisions of the Creative CommonsAttribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0). Any commercial use requires separate written agreement with the Author and a proper credit line indicating the source of the original publication in RIAS.

  1. License

The University of Silesia Press provides immediate open access to journal’s content under the Creative Commons BY 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Authors who publish with this journal retain all copyrights and agree to the terms of the above-mentioned CC BY 4.0 license.

  1. Author’s Warranties

The author warrants that the article is original, written by stated author/s, has not been published before, contains no unlawful statements, does not infringe the rights of others, is subject to copyright that is vested exclusively in the author and free of any third party rights, and that any necessary written permissions to quote from other sources have been obtained by the author/s.

If the article contains illustrative material (drawings, photos, graphs, maps), the author declares that the said works are of his authorship, they do not infringe the rights of the third party (including personal rights, i.a. the authorization to reproduce physical likeness) and the author holds exclusive proprietary copyrights. The author publishes the above works as part of the article under the licence "Creative Commons Attribution - By the same conditions 4.0 International".

ATTENTION! When the legal situation of the illustrative material has not been determined and the necessary consent has not been granted by the proprietary copyrights holders, the submitted material will not be accepted for editorial process. At the same time the author takes full responsibility for providing false data (this also regards covering the costs incurred by the University of Silesia Press and financial claims of the third party).

  1. User Rights

Under the Creative Commons Attribution license, the users are free to share (copy, distribute and transmit the contribution) and adapt (remix, transform, and build upon the material) the article for any purpose, provided they attribute the contribution in the manner specified by the author or licensor.

  1. Co-Authorship

If the article was prepared jointly with other authors, the signatory of this form warrants that he/she has been authorized by all co-authors to sign this agreement on their behalf, and agrees to inform his/her co-authors of the terms of this agreement.

I hereby declare that in the event of withdrawal of the text from the publishing process or submitting it to another publisher without agreement from the editorial office, I agree to cover all costs incurred by the University of Silesia in connection with my application.