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An International Interdisciplinary Colloquium


September 28, 2011
Carter Hall at USI
9:00 am - 3:30 pm


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Click on program name for abstract information

Session I
9:00 am

Dr. Betty Hart: “Deep River”

Dr. M.T. Morris: “The Mississippi River Watershed:  How Upstream Policies and Downstream Disasters Affect Us

Musical presentation on rivers by the Chamber Choir, directed by Dan Craig

Session II
10:00 am

Dr. Paul Doss: “Rivers, Dirt, Fish, and Growing Old: a Perspective on Space and Time

Dr. Robert Reid: “The Great Flood of 1937: The Katrina of the Twentieth Century

Session III
11:00 am

Dr. Niharika Banerjea: “Searching for Community at the Banks of the River: Middle-class Women and Same-Sex Desires in Kolkata

Dr. Brandon Eggleston: “Find the River”

12:00 pm


Session IV
1:00 pm

Dr. Tamara Hunt: “London's River, London's History

Dr. Michael Kearns: “Moral Compasses on the Mississippi, as Dramatized by Mark Twain and Herman Melville

Session V
2:00 pm
Original works by Matthew Graham, John Gibson, Nicole Reid, Leisa Belleau, and Pat Aakhus

What is The River Colloquium?

The River Colloquium features international interdisciplinary presentations by twelve USI faculty members from Health Professions, Geology, Sociology, History, English, Political Science and Art.  The program will examine various rivers from diverse perspectives, including the Mississippi River as an icon of African American culture, its role in the work of Melville and Mark Twain, and the delicate relationship between the quest for cheap energy and upstream flood control.  The Ganges will serve as a locus for thinking about Yoga as a journey, and as a search for community at its banks.  The Thames will be featured as a force in shaping the culture of London.  The Ohio will feature in an historian’s discussion of the Flood of 1937, and in original works by poets and fiction writers.  A geologist will discuss how rivers change, like people, through time and space.  This event, open to the USI and Tri-State Community, is the eighth in a continuing program which has included The Parthenon Project, The Ram in the Thicket, Day of the Dead, The Gothic Imagination, The Great Wall, Islands and Masks, supported by grants from the CAC, Liberal Arts and the Society for Arts and Humanities.  The Colloquium is part of a regional celebration of the Steamboat Bicentennial.  For more information contact Pat Aakhus, Director for the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies and Program Director, International Studies Major.    

Abstracts of Presentations

Session I, 9:00 am

Dr. Betty Hart: “Deep River”
In all cultures, the river is deeply tied to the life of its people.  In the literature and songs of African Americans, the river is no less a defining symbol of their physical and spiritual lives.  In early Negro spirituals, the river is tantamount to salvation.  Songs such as “Deep River,”  “Down by the Riverside,” and “Roll Jordan Roll” encode the struggles and deliverance of African slaves in Antebellum America via escape routes to the  north—routes which required the perilous crossing of the Mighty Mississippi or the Majestic Ohio onto the freedom shores of Northern soil.  T. S. Eliot says of the Mississippi in Huckleberry Finn, “A river, a very big and powerful river, is the only natural force that can wholly determine the course of human peregrination....”  In this novel, as well as novels such as Morrison’s Beloved, the river does behave as a kind of deity, lording over the lives of its patrons.  The river is a giver and a taker of life, a road to and away from trouble, a provider and, most of all, a mystery capable of yielding up awesome secrets between humans and nature.  This presentation looks at some of these portrayals of the river as evidenced in the art and literature of African Americans.

Dr. M.T. Morris: “The Mississippi River Watershed:  How Upstream Policies and Downstream Disasters Affect Us”
The Mississippi River is a lot of things: a cultural icon popularized by Mark Twain’s writings, a muddy navigation corridor that was a key element to the nation’s westward expansion, a sewer system filled with fertilizer and chemical runoff. Living on its banks can be a blessing and a curse: agricultural towns reap the benefits of rich soils left behind by past floods while waiting for the next violent wall of water to threaten their levees. In this presentation, Dr. Hallock Morris will discuss how upstream flood control policies – paired with our nation's quest for cheap energy sources -- have negatively impacted the fragile fringe that is Louisiana’s coastline and contributed to the disaster known as Hurricane Katrina.

Musical presentation on rivers by the Chamber Choir, directed by Dan Craig

  1. Deep River arranged by Rene Clausen
  2. Sicut Cervus - Gregorian Chant
  3. Down in the River to Pray arr. Craig
  4. O Shenandoah arr. Erb
  5. Tres Cantos Navitos dos Krao

Session II, 10:00 am

Dr. Paul Doss: “Rivers, Dirt, Fish, and Growing Old: a Perspective on Space and Time”
Rivers are remarkable workers on the Earth's surface, always trying to make the world flat.  Carrying water, with all its erosive power, down to base level...some final elevation.  Where they start, up in the high country, they scour out canyons and pick up the boulders, cobbles and gravel from crumbling mountains, ultimately transforming that sediment to the sand, silt, and clay we see here in the plains and lowlands.  You can whitewater kayak on the Ohio River, as long as you head about 1000 river miles upstream and start calling it the Monongahela River.  When fly-fishing for Cutthroat Trout on the Yellowstone River, the water you stand in will, in several days, flow past the Gateway Arch in St Louis as part of THE Big River, the Mississippi.  There will be no trout there though.

Rivers have a personality that changes in space the same way people change through time.  The "Young" Yellowstone and Monongahela Rivers are fast, reckless, and energetic, catering to the Rainbow and Brook Trout, and the fly-fisherman.  As they depart the mountains, and enter the plains, they seem to be on a middle-aged mission.  They build floodplains by depositing sediment, sort of like a river's 401K account.  They must get their quota of erosion and transportation fulfilled.  And it's here those rivers house Smallmouth Bass, Pike, and Walleye, and host the Speedboat Spin-casting fisherman.  As rivers approach the coast, they are "old," lazy, and stubborn--they'll flow wherever they damn well please—kind of like retirement. Here the Catfish, Largemouth Bass, and Gar are in charge, avoiding the johnboat fisherman and the "Noodlers," those adventuresome folk who blindly catch monster Catfish with their bare hands.  The rivers are getting ready to die so to speak, ready to reach a velocity of zero, give away their inheritance and build a delta, and then disperse into the salt water. Just like Johnny Cash said in Big River, "Go on, I've had enough, dump my blues down in the gulf."

Some of that "dead river" water will soon evaporate from the ocean, get carried to the Mountains, and fall as snow, supporting some youngster's snowboarding habit before melting and starting the whole trip over. The comparison of a river to a human life-span is not really that far-fetched.  Jacques Cousteau once said "We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one."  Rivers form one of the highways in the water cycle, and humans are inextricably linked to those highways for sustenance, commerce, transportation, recreation and, ironically, both warfare and tranquility.

Dr. Robert Reid: “The Great Flood of 1937: The Katrina of the Twentieth Century”
The American Red Cross Report on the 1937 flood of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers said ”only a Dante could describe in verse or a Wagner in music, the power of this flood and the destruction it caused.” Well-known to those residents of the Tri-State who experienced this calamity, the 1937 flood is unrecognized by historians of the New Deal period and ignored by scholars of environmental disasters. As we approach the 75th anniversary of this event, the flood and its impact will be considered in this visual presentation.  

Session III, 11:00 am

Dr. Niharika Banerjea: “Searching for Community at the Banks of the River: Middle-class Women and Same-Sex Desires in Kolkata”
Recent work exploring lesbian experiences in India emphasizes that lesbian and feminist causes must work together to respond to ‘compulsory heterosexuality’. This position raises several issues, among which the tenuous nature of same-sex experiences and the possibility of community are abiding concerns. If categories are inherently limiting, then what kind of same-sex desiring subjects are possible beyond the primarily urban upper middle-class English speaking environment in which ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ identifying selves exist? This paper is interested in those contexts within which same-sex communities are possible in India between self-identified and apparently absent same-sex subjectivities. Drawing from select interviews with middle-class women in Kolkata, India, I discuss the possibility of same-sex desiring communities within patriarchal structures, and not as discrete identities at the margins of a heteronormative, globalizing city.

Dr. Brandon Eggleston: “Find the River”
For thousands of years individuals have been practicing the ancient mind-body practice of yoga. Yoga in the West is a group of physical poses that have been adapted from a lifestyle and worldview that seeks to meet each stage in life with peace, understanding, and awareness. The river has for many years been seen as a metaphor for describing the life of the individual in many ways similar to how one’s yoga practice is a metaphor for life of a yogi. Michael Stipe, lead singer of the rock band R.E.M., described the river as a metaphor for a life path in a song, “I have got to find the river…”. Rivers are generally described to flow in one direction at various speeds and styles similar to the different stages of life. Each river’s flow and path is unique just like the individual’s life and yogi’s practice. The experience of flow is described as being present in the moment and not thinking of the past or future. The end result of the river is ultimately a lake or ocean just as the individual’s yoga practice prepares all for the common result of life which is death. Both yoga and the river focus on the natural process and less on the final outcome of both which cannot be changed, but must be accepted. Namaste.

Session IV, 1:00 pm

Dr. Tamara Hunt: “London's River, London's History”
The River Thames has been a barrier, a border, and a means of transit and commerce for two thousand years of London's history. As this overview will show, the river has been instrumental in shaping the face of London and its inhabitants - geographically, economically, socially, and culturally. 

Dr. Michael Kearns: “Moral Compasses on the Mississippi, as Dramatized by Mark Twain and Herman Melville”
Melville’s The Confidence Man: His Masquerade and Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn present dramatically different views of the Mississippi River, yet both demonstrate how that river in particular, in the literary consciousness of 19th-century America, functioned as a pathway to the wonderful, the strange, the terrifying, and the ultimately mysterious. 

The river carries Huck Finn on a journey of moral discovery, but part of that discovery includes the recognition as he puts it that people—adults—can be “awful cruel” to one another; another part includes the recognition that the “Sunday school” shenanigans of Tom Sawyer lead imperceptibly to the darkness and depravity of the King and the Duke, the Shepherdsons and Grangerfords, and even Col. Sherburn.  To flow south, the novel suggests, is to enter the same kind of dark heart that Conrad would dramatize a few decades later.

In Melville’s novel, no such clear lines emerge.  The entire novel is as murky as the river on which it is set, and this, not surprisingly, seems to have been Melville’s aim.  The novel does offer plenty of lively conversation about the “confidence man,” a prominent figure in America in the middle of the 19th century who doubtless proliferated because of the explosive growth of the American economy.  Yet to be wary of confidence men, the novel seems to suggest, is also to directly contradict the nation’s Christian orientation.  On the river, both novels imply, the only truly helpful navigational aid seems to be one’s moral compass, but then only if one has learned how to read that compass.

Session V, 2:00 pm

Original works by Matthew Graham, John Gibson, Nicole Reid, Leisa Belleau, Pat Aakhus

A Teaching Enhancement Awards (TEA) Grant Project

through the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence and with support from the School of Liberal Arts and the Society for Arts and Humanities.

Contributors of Photographic Works

Katie Waters Professor of Art and Acting Chair of the Art Department has shown her work nationally and internationally and is recognized as one of the nation’s finest realist painters.  Katie is not as well known for her extraordinary photography which she has shared in previous colloquiums and we are very pleased that she will be showing some very exciting works from her travels internationally as well as some exceptional photos of Chicago. 

Joan DeJong, Chair of the Art department and an outstanding designer will also be exhibiting photographic works that capture the international flavor of her diverse interests and travel from China and Egypt to her backyard on the Ohio River.  These are remarkable works that capture the landscapes of many rivers and the people that live along them. 

For more information, contact:

Pat Aakhus, Director of International Studies
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