LA3514/5514 Making the Mississippi

University of Minnesota Department of Landscape Architecture. Spring semester, 2016- 2018

Matthew Tucker, ASLA
Assistant Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture

LA 3514/5514 Making the Mississippi will examine the complex socio-cultural values that are symbolized by, and encoded within, the Mississippi River. Through a combination of critical analysis and precedent studies, we will explore historical and contemporary discourses associated with the river. In doing so, we will examine how these discourses have shaped our cultural imagination of the river as well as the policies, ecologies and physical forms of the river. Throughout this examination we will consider the explicit and implied ethical positions encoded in varying perspectives. Finally, we will speculate on how the emerging Anthropocene paradigm may shape and “make” the future river.

The course will examine a range of ways in which the Mississippi River is valued and represented and how those values are manifested and reinforced in socio-cultural narratives associated with the river; how the values are expressed in social policy and physical form within and along the river; and how these values pose ethical considerations regarding future “civic life” of river communities. This examination will consider the river through a variety of lenses that have “made” the river and influence its “making” today and into the future. These will include such topics as the river’s physical geography, patterns of human settlement across cultures, cultural traditions through story and song, ecological processes and others. Most of these discussions will be considered from a “landscape” perspective, which favors the physiological and cultural patterns as expressed on the land.

Beyond a basic ecological or cultural geographic survey of the river, the course seeks to reveal the broad-and often contradictory-challenges presented by the river’s past and its future. These challenges are made even more complex by the pressing issues facing society as posed by the emerging Anthropocene paradigm. This complexity includes how climate change and associated systems have-or could have-both acute and systemic influence on the river’s ecology, hydrology, commerce, settlement and other factors in the future.  The course seeks to build off this complexity by providing an opportunity for you to critically examine these challenges and to articulate speculative, future scenarios for the upper Mississippi River in the 21st century and beyond.