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

Manlio Della Marca
Uwe Lübken


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

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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.

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