Anthropocene River Journey

August 20th, 2019

What travel routes, forms of travel, and narratives are suitable for the new planetary realities?

From September to November 2019, the Anthropocene River Journey meandered on and along the Mississippi River and its tributaries as part of a canoe-based, eighty-day expedition down the river from the headwaters in Northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Students of the Augsburg University’s River Semester and twenty-five scholars, artists, and activists from around the world brought together the findings and practices of the individual field stations and collected their own observational research, making connections with local people along the way. Participants used the Anthropocene Curriculum online platform to collect their research and draw it into a common narrative depicting the downstream connections of the river system, and engaging with ongoing debates about how to react to, cope, and deal with the effects of the Anthropocene.

How do we travel through the Anthropocene? This question is not only an ecologically ethical one—being directly related to processes of resource depletion and fossil fuel extraction—but also has an aesthetically conceptual dimension. Previously, travel anticipated the unknown—a “foreignness”—which the traveler or travelers familiarized themselves with and appropriated. In the Anthropocene, where a limitless interweaving of humankind, nature, technology, and economics replaces the white patches of terra incognita, this logic runs into nothingness. But what travel routes, forms of travel, and narratives are suitable for the new planetary realities? And how could travel be understood as a cultural technique of relating to something rather than as a process of appropriation?

These are the prerequisites under which students, scientists, artists, journalists, and authors explore the Mississippi in an Anthropocene River Journey. Calling in at the five Field stations along the river, travelers develop and test new types of access to the complexity of the Anthropocene river system in talks, lectures, and excursions. At some stages, they are accompanied by students from Augsburg University, Minneapolis, who, as part of the River Semester, are covering the entire length of the Mississippi River—from the source regions in the north to the Gulf of Mexico—in canoes and vans in about eighty days. In experimental seminars on ecology, political science, biology, art, astronomy, and history, they are seeking answers to the challenges of the Anthropocene.