Melville-Nelles-Hoffmann Lecture will examine history of the ‘Big Muddy’

Christopher Morris, professor of history at the University of Texas at Arlington, is the featured speaker in the annual Melville-Nelles-Hoffmann Lecture in Environmental History sponsored by York’s Department of History and the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.

Right: Christopher Morris

On Wednesday, March 2, from 4 to 6:30pm, Morris will present a lecture on the history of the Mississippi titled, “Land, Water, Fish, People: Life Along the Mississippi River”, drawn from his forthcoming monograph on the central place of the Mississippi River in history and in American popular culture.

In his talk, Morris will offer a tour of five centuries of the environmental history of the Mississippi River and the interaction between its people and landscape. From the early hunter-gatherers to present-day industrial and post-industrial society, Morris will illuminate humanity’s role in changing the face of the “Big Muddy”, America’s great river.

When it was first encountered by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1541, the Mississippi River was a lush, ecologically diverse wetland, but by the 1890s, much of the Mississippi River valley was drying. In his presentation, Morris will offer an overview of how centuries of deforestation, swamp drainage, the introduction of foreign species of animals and plants and the construction of levees has led to drought, disease and severe flooding. He will talk about how the river valley’s residents have been adversely affected and how, most recently, the problem with Hurricane Katrina is also the problem with the Amazon Rainforest, drought and famine in Africa, and fires and mudslides in California, which he posits is the end result of ill-considered bending of natural environments to human purposes.

According to York history Professor Myra Rutherdale, river histories have become popular forms for trying to understand the nexus of environmental and social histories. “Like many of the great Canadian rivers, the Mississipi is an iconic river with a rich past and present,” she says.

As an historian, academic and author, Morris’ research centres on slavery and the history of the Southern United States. He is the author of Becoming Southern: The Evolution of a Way of Life, Vicksburg and Warren County, Mississippi 1770-1860 (Oxford University Press, 1995); co-editor of Manifest Destiny and Empire: American Antebellum Expansion (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1997), and co-editor of Southern Writers and Their Worlds (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1996).

This free lecture is open to the public and will take place in the Executive Learning Centre’s private dining room in the Seymour Schulich Building on York’s Keele campus. For more information, visit the Department of History website.