Mississippi Working River

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Thomas Turnbull


This article considers the history of various attempts to derive work from the Mississippi River and its constituent basin. Geographer Élisée Reclus's concept of a `working river' is expanded upon in a series of reflections, meandering thoughts, and direct observations, some of which were made from a canoe. The article considers the Mississippi as an energetic system in which nothing is lost but entropy increases. A single drop of water is followed as it makes its way from the Appalachia to the Gulf of Mexico, as it contributes to the sedimentary record of both natural and human history. The article addresses how such flows were altered by European hydrological beliefs, and how the misguided visions of these same kinds of settlers created today's cyborg watershed. Our journey ends beneath the Gulf, where ancient geological processes of hydrocarbon formation have come to shape the region's fossil-fuelled present.

Keywords: Mississipi River, Élisée Reclus, Anthropocene, Natural Rights History


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Special Issue 2: Articles