The Mississippi

Producer(s): 
May 7, 2017
(was 07.31.2016)

The Mississippi River is an American icon. It's a body of water that’s been shaped as much by cultural processes as by environmental ones. From the state lines it draws to its role in literature and the arts, it’s a river that flows deep in the American psyche.

This episode is about the boundaries and horizons of the Mississippi — its deep geologic past, its history as a route to freedom, and its meaning today. 

  1. A Hawk and a Warbler

    Jon Stravers — also known as "Hawk" — is an ornithologist, a musician, and a Vietnam veteran. To say that he's obsessed with birds might be putting it mildly. Since he came back from Vietnam he's spent most of his springs and summers along the Mississippi keeping an eye and ear out for birds. His latest obsession is the Cerulean Warbler, a species once thought to be in decline in the Upper Mississippi.

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  2. When The Mississippi Met the Atlantic

    Eric Carson is a geomorphologist — which, as he describes it, is basically a "double major" in geology and geography. Some time ago he and a few colleagues started asking a question about a geologic shelf where the Mississippi meets the Wisconsin River. The results could have meant nothing, or they could have meant a major new revelation about the Mississippi's historical path to the ocean.

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  3. Life on Mark Twain's Mississippi

    If there’s one writer who’s identified with the Mississippi River, it’s Mark Twain. He grew up in Hannibal, Missouri — on the river’s edge — and as a young man, he worked as a steamboat pilot. And then he wrote the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” the novel that turned the Mississippi into myth. But it also created one of the most enduring controversies in American literary history: how to depict race relations in America's past. In this interview, Andrew Levy says that "Huckleberry Finn" is actually anti-racist — and when it was first published, the big controversy was about Twain’s depiction of wild children.

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  4. The Music and Meaning of Sounding 'Mark Twain'

    When Samuel Clemens took on the pen name “Mark Twain,” he was doing more cleverly appropriating a measure of depth. He was also tapping into one of the most well-known sounds along the river: sounding calls. Owen Selles tells about these calls in this piece, adapted from an essay he originally wrote for the online magazine Edge Effects.

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  5. Boundary and Horizon: The Mississippi River in African-American History

    Angie da Silva is a historian of black cultural life in the United States, going back to the Civil War. She collects stories, both through oral history and archival research. But she's not merely a writer. She brings these stories to life through historical reenactment, often as a slave character she's created named Lila.  She says that the stories she hears and tells are too often left out of our history books.

    In this interview, she talks about her work and tells the story of Mary Meachum, a free black abolitionist who worked on the Mississippi in St. Louis.

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