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World in River, World in Flux

Summer Term 2022

Rivers are the settings of the formation of civilizations, national identity orders and war conflicts; they are flowing spaces of memory, places of longing, and highly frequented trade routes. They function as “natural” borders between states and connect them at the same time, which is why they have always been used as migration and refugee routes. As such, the world’s rivers are important geopolitical spaces. The currently renewed disputes between the riparian states of Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia over the Nile and its water resources, in which economic interests, colonial legacies, but also the challenges of climate change converge, are just one of many examples of the political pressure to which rivers are exposed.

In addition, there is the very concrete pressure to exploit rivers that arises from regulating hydraulic interventions, which is being increasingly criticized by environmentalists. Rivers demonstrate the effects of the Anthropocene. Flood catastrophes such as the recent flood in Germany’s Ahr Valley clearly show that it is not only the major rivers but also their local branches that have long since become focal points of global crises. Yet the fact that the political use of rivers as border zones can also contribute to the creation of largely untouched biospheres is demonstrated by the floodplains of the Elbe, which, as peripheral landscapes, have been able to develop ecological diversity. People, rivers, and their (evolutionary) histories are in relationships of exchange that are only beginning to be explored.

The collective power of imagination has always made rivers places of passing, transition (into the realm of the beyond), or initiation (baptism) as well as transformed the source, course, banks, and mouth of the river into symbols of life, and assigned river gods, elemental spirits, and mermaids to them. The drying up and flooding of rivers as their catastrophic modes connect current ecological debates with the mythologies of rivers. In the summer semester of 2022, the Mosse Lectures will aim to combine a reflection on the spatially structuring dimension of rivers, on their geographical, geopolitical, economic–historical and ecological significance with a reflection on rivers as a resource for the self-interpretation of premodern and modern society.



The MOSSE-LECTURES at the Humboldt University in Berlin are a cooperation of: