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National Parks are often referred to as “America’s best idea.” Recent scholarship and well-publicized difficulties within the agency have shown that, perhaps inevitably, the National Park Service and the extensive system that it manages, has taken on important characteristics of the society of which it is a part, for better or worse.
Angie Tillges is the Great River Passage Fellow. She is a public space artist and educator who is skilled at working with public institutions and community organizations on projects of social, artistic, and ecological importance. She leads projects that provide people the opportunity to make personal and lasting connections with public spaces in their communities.
We recognize the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., mainly through its associated landscape, whether of gloriously blooming cherry trees or the famous monuments surrounding it. It is a famous place largely because of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, which draws a large number of visitors to the capital.
Rivers have long been the spines of our greatest cities. Regardless of your geography prowess, you have no doubt heard of them—Thames, Seine, Potomac, Tiber, Ganges, Nile. These names twist through our history and culture in ways that imitate their own billowing shapes. They feed our wells and our fields. They clean away our rubbish. They are the arteries of our civilization…
How do we see an urban, industrial river? How do we hear its stories? Who gets to tell them? I first got on the lower, tidal Schuylkill River on October fifth, 2015. With a boat captain, a first mate, and a photographer, I was helping push a floating lab for experiments in sustainability into position. Since that day, these questions about how to see and to listen for Philadelphia rivers’ stories have occupied me, a historian trained originally in European literature and in the print culture of the colonial Atlantic world…
In November 2016, I visited Water/Ways, hosted from October 1 to November 13 at the Goodhue County Historical Society in Red Wing, Minnesota. This traveling exhibition and community engagement initiative— which then moved on to Sandstone, Minnesota—is part of the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street and is available at a series of venues nationwide through April 2017.