Mississippi: An Anthropocene River

Mississippi: An Anthropocene River

Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW)

Meandering Mississippi. Map by Harold N. Fisk, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1944.

September 17, 2019
Mississippi: An Anthropocene River
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How can the planetary Anthropocene be made legible on a regional level without dismissing its inherent complexity? After having explored the knowledge forms, cosmologies and technospheres of the “age of humankind” in conferences, exhibitions and publications for several years, the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin, is now conducting a site-specific investigation on the Mississippi River.

The project Mississippi. An Anthropocene River (2018–19) explores human impacts on the Mississippi region and makes the historical, social and ecological transformation of this human-environment system tangible. Through November 2019, researchers, artists and activists in collaboration with local initiatives in the United States will develop local approaches to planetary transformations in accord with new methods of transdisciplinary research and education.

The Mississippi River’s meandering path has carved out an iconic landscape in U.S. mythology and has more recently become a symbol for human impact on the environment. For centuries it was a waterway of colonial exploitation and commerce; its banks lined with the historic centers of plantation agriculture and chattel slavery. Throughout its history, it has been an ever-changing ecosystem, an artery for trade goods and a depository for both sediments and pollutants. Today, human transformation of the river landscape ranges from the forested areas on the upper reaches of the river, to industrial agriculture in the Midwest, to petrochemical centers in the delta and the oxygen-depleted “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico.

What impacts does the transport of raw materials, goods and people have on the river system? How did people bring about the river in its contemporary form? How can the interplay between ecologic crisis and human interests be made legible along the river? Can a balance between “natural” and “artificial” systems be achieved? Who owns the land and the water and how did this ownership come about? These questions will be addressed in field studies, public forums and workshops along the river, engaging with historic and contemporary landscapes.

From September to November 2019, students, scientists, artists and authors will explore the Mississippi River by canoe from its Headwaters to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico in an Anthropocene River Journey. Since 2018, five Field Stations have been investigating historical and contemporary issues of landscape formations along the river and will highlight their explorations during this journey in field studies, public forums, exhibitions and workshops. In November, the weeklong Anthropocene River Campus: The Human Delta will synthesize the downstream and open up novel collaborative and exploratory epistemological practices.

The research platform anthropocene-curriculum.org is the shared working tool and digital entryway into the project. On it, research questions will be discussed, data shared and results presented continuously and openly. The platform serves not only to document the individual research projects, but is itself a research instrument through which data sets and media can be exchanged and combined. An Anthropocene River School will thus transfer the results of the field studies into an ongoing, collaborative teaching format, making them accessible both on site and online. The platform therefore tests collaborative technologies suitable for researching and acting in the Anthropocene on both the planetary and local levels.

Mississippi. An Anthropocene River is a project by Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin, and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG), Berlin, in collaboration with numerous international partners, funded by the German Federal Foreign Office as part of the initiative #WunderbarTogether as well as by the Max Planck Society.

Mississippi. An Anthropocene River is a part of the Anthropocene Curriculum (since 2013), an international long-term project for experimental forms of Anthropocene research and education, funded by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media due to a ruling of the German Bundestag.

Haus der Kulturen der Welt is supported by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media as well as by the German Federal Foreign Office.


Press contact:
Anne Maier, Head of Press, Haus der Kulturen der Welt
T +49 (0)30 397 87 153 / anne.maier [​at​] hkw.de

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Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW)
September 17, 2019

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