​​A comparison photo of the Colorado River 16 years apart.

Thursday, Sept 29, 2016 at 7:30pm
Harris Theatre, George Mason University


Official Fall For the Book Event 

The American West is parched. Drought has created a water emergency, leading to calls for radical action. What if we had had a warning about the consequences of unchecked development in a dry climate? Could we have prevented a situation that threatens the health of an entire ecosystem and has had grave economic, social, and political impacts?

We had such a warning as early as the 1870s, thanks to John Wesley Powell, soldier, ethnologist, and director of the United States Geological Survey. Powell explored the Colorado River basin and concluded that the arid West was incapable of supporting substantial human populations at any distance from the main water sources.


Thomas Moran (1837-1926); Cliffs of Green River; 1874; Oil on canvas; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas; 1975.28

In 1954, Wallace Stegner chronicled Powell’s explorations in Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the American West. With a novelist’s eye for character and a biographer’s attention to fact, Stegner brings us along on Powell’s journey and illuminates his conclusions.

Rick Davis, Project Director and Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Mason states “The 100th Meridian Project takes Stegner’s book as a point of entry to a river more complex than the Colorado – the river of American history, whose tributaries include science, policy, finance – in an effort to understand why Powell’s recommendations were ignored, and whether there are contemporary parallels to past centuries’ willful rejection of sound scientific guidance.”

The Valley of the Babbling Waters, Southern Utah.” 1873, chromolithograph

Uniting students and faculty from the sciences, arts, and humanities, the Project brings the story of water ecology, land use, and public policy up to our present time and place. The 100th Meridian Project will present a one-hour multi-media performance, uniting science and art, to bring this critical problem to a general audience. Exhibits, seminars, and interactive media will surround the performance to engage further with this rich network of stories and issues.

Davis hopes that “Audience members will gain new insights into how science is communicated, translated into action, or condemned to oblivion. Through The 100th Meridian Project, we hope to create a collaborative research protocol that can be applied in an ongoing process to any number of critical issues in the contemporary world.”

Shoshone Falls on the Snake River (1900), Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, OK.

The project is supported in large part by Mason’s Multidisciplinary Research Initiative, and is a collaborative effort, reflecting scientific exploration and artistic expression led by the College of Visual and Performing Arts, the College of Science, and Fall for the Book, with contributions from the School of Art, the School of Theater, the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, the School of Music, and The English Department. Additional project partners include STEAM at Mason, the Volgenau School of Engineering and the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences.

The 100th Meridian Project

Resources. Links .Ideas.

RePhotographic Project – Mark Klett 

The use and reuse of images of the Colorado River, changes over time, and how the photographs were made in the first place.

Spiral Jetty (Utah), Dubai, etc

Manipulated landforms/artworks responsive to water.

Naomi Klein on climate change

Gold Fame Citrus

New novel about the motives for western expansion.

Learning from Las Vegas- Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown

PBS stories on drought

Research in the news: Humans turned the world’s ecosystem structure upside down

​The rise of humans threw a wrench into the way other land species organized themselves, according to a new statistical analysis covering millions of years of ecosystem evolution.