Course description

This course explores how we can 'think with and through rivers'. What knowledge we can derive from their flow, the notions of time, borderless geography, structures and forms of knowledge from water sciences to mythology, and the philosophies of popular historiography their communities impart. We will look specifically at the River Nile, through the experiences of its communities in Egypt, and trace the different ways it has been narrated through ancient texts, songs, poetry, film and political archive. We will start by using the River as a structure, understanding the history of its lines, separating earth from water, life from afterlife, and stitching a continent to a sea. We will then explore the techniques of mapping rivers (from cartography to song), the rivers as forces of nature and how they have been circumvented and negotiated, and instruments of politics to be resisted. We will explore the different 'waves of knowing' that the Nile has rippled over time from Pharaonic Nilometer to colonial water sciences, and third world nationalist hydraulic projects, to the deep mythologies of Nubian communities.

From ancient Egyptians to Nubian communities, peasants, hydroelectric technicians, and the lands that thirst for it - How has the river been articulated through lyrical geography and as epistemological reference? Most importantly, how can the river emerge as protagonist and not merely as silent medium of our stories? The course material will consist of both primary resources (particularly relating to indigenous river communities), as well as theoretical readings that serve an understanding of these sources and the forms of knowledge they represent, from environmental humanities, eco-feminism, science and technology studies and cultural history. Although the focus will be on the River Nile, comparative contexts will also be explored.

Course Objectives

  • To reflect on the many ways the Nile can be a source of political, cultural, social, economic and geographical lives

  • To explore the many ways the Nile (or a relationship with the Nile) can be articulated - through music, cartography, poetry, dance

  • How can we talk about Rivers (and the Nile in particular) in a way that is more inclusive of all its environmental, social and cultural lives and inhabitants, rather than the context which it serves?

  • How can we attempt to acquire and reflect some of its wisdom in our story-telling, without, as Timothy Mitchell remarks, "acquiring the intellectual mastery of social processes that dams seem to offer rivers"

How could all the events we explore be told from the Nile’s perspective

Course Engagement expectations

-  Active participation. Each of the 8 block-classes will be held in two parts – a talk and discussion of readings for the first 90 minutes, and a second part in a workshop-like setting where primary sources will be analyzed in small groups and discussed

-  Discussion Prompt on a chosen topic. Students are invited to sign up for a ‘contribution’ for one class each – a presentation or prompt to start a discussion on the week’s topic. This is a 15 min contribution, and can be done in pairs.

-  Research paper with visual, textual, or audio presentation. End of course project in the form of a research paper engaging with primary sources relating to the river and a visual or lyrical presentation or engagement with the Nile. The latter can be done in pairs. (Working on other rivers can also be negotiated)

Classes will be held on the following dates on Fridays, from 10-14Uhr,

28.10, 11.11, 2.12, 16.12, 6.01, 20.01, 10.02, 17.02

Semester: WiTerm 2022/23