Water can be described as a molecule, a solvent, a relative, a healer, and a force that both gives and takes life. Reader, what is water to you? If any article in this issue brings you into deeper understanding of the answer to this question, then we have succeeded. Like the We Are Water MN project as a whole, the goal of this issue is to share multiple ways of knowing water and to deepen your relationship with and responsibility to water.
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A couple of summers ago, the University hosted an international graduate student workshop on the environmental humanities, that is, interdisciplinary examination of environmental questions from scholars of literature, philosophy, language disciplines, and the like. Not surprisingly, the group wanted to take a Mississippi River boat tour and I was invited along as the University’s resident “river guy.”
Climate change has virtually exploded as a subject of news reports, scientific analysis, and advocacy attention in the past six months. In November, the United States Global Change Research Program released its Fourth National Climate Assessment. Longstanding debates about the relative importance of mitigation and adaptation have further receded in urgency as this spring’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) finding that a million species are threatened with extinction have grabbed headlines worldwide.
Archaeologists, by definition, are interested in using various techniques to learn about the human experience in diverse places, from ancient through contemporary times. A key part of this has been understanding human adaptation to diverse environmental and climatic changes over time, and for archaeologists, the long arc of human existence refers to at least around three million years.
The work collected here was written about and on the sovereign land of many First Nations. The place it was assembled—the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities—is a land-grant institution that operates on Mni Sota Makoce (called Minnesota), Dakota land, and alongside and over the Mississippi River whose watershed is the major artery of Turtle Island (called North America).
Archaeology, the study of past human societies, has a certain aura of mystery to it that captures the public’s imagination. The authors in this issue, myself included, are broadly defined as archaeologists. Not the Indiana Jones kind—more the geeky and scholarly kind, whose job and passion is not only to uncover how past people lived based on the things and structures they left behind, but also to take prodigious amounts of notes, photographs, measurements, and soil samples.
A year or so ago, when I met with Amélie Allard about her work on the fur trade in Minnesota, I was interested generally in her observations about that contested, fraught place and time. When she mentioned that participants understood space from the perspective of rivers and water, rather than land, I was hooked, and asked her to think about editing an issue of Open Rivers. This issue is the result, and her guest editor’s introduction speaks more eloquently than I could to the themes and questions raised here.
When I heard about the Nobel Peace Prize Forum’s 2018 focus on “The Paradox of Water,” I hoped for a connection between our journal and the perspectives that speakers would bring to the gathering. Here, thanks to a great deal of hard work by many people, not least Augsburg political scientist Joseph B. Underhill, is the result: a collection of features and columns that explores some of the many paradoxes of water.
This issue of Open Rivers, anticipating and drawing on the upcoming Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Minneapolis, explores the complex intertwining and paradoxes of water, conflict, and peace. Anything so fundamental and complex as water or peace must, of necessity, contain seemingly contradictory or opposite qualities. The beauty of water is in how it reconciles and provides space for those complex, muddy mixes of qualities and characteristics.