Bucknell Research Leads to New Historic Designation for Susquehanna River

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The U.S. Department of the Interior's recent designation places the Susquehanna among the country's most important, historically significant rivers.

The Susquehanna River near Bucknell University

The Susquehanna River near Bucknell University

"Rather than being America's forgotten river, the Susquehanna will now take its place as America's mother river, the location of human history and cultural contact." -- Katie Faull, Bucknell University

The Susquehanna River has earned a federal designation as part of the John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the designation during a ceremony in May. Researches at Bucknell University played a key role in securing the river's place in history.

"This marks an important moment in the history of the Susquehanna River and the communities that have lived along its banks for thousands of years," said Katie Faull, a professor of German and Humanities.

Faull's work is a driving force behind the designation. It began six years ago, when a student asked Faull what she knew about early Moravian missionaries along the Susquehanna River near Sunbury. The question prompted Faull to find and translate the 18th-century mission diaries that were located in the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, Pa. The ensuing detailed and demanding work allowed Faull to share the story of Moravian relationships with Native American peoples in the area, and tell the story of the river's rich history and its impact on America.

"Rather than being America's forgotten river, the Susquehanna will now take its place as America's mother river, the location of human history and cultural contact," Faull said of the designation.

The Susquehanna was one of four rivers recently added to the trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The designation recognizes the important role the Susquehanna River played in America's early history, particularly as a central corridor for interactions between Native American and Euro-American cultures. It also enables the National Park Service to work closely with state and local agencies to provide financial assistance, resource management, facility enhancement, interpretive trail route marking and promotion along the connecting trails.

"Incorporating these river segments into the national historic trail will increase public access, provide important recreation and tourism opportunities, and enrich exploration of the water routes in the entire Chesapeake watershed," Secretary Salazar said during a public ceremony in Annapolis, Md., last month.

Bucknell became involved with the historic trail project through the University's Nature and Human Communities Initiative, an interdisciplinary program focused on studying the Susquehanna Valley and looking at qualitative connections between nature, culture and society.

The research has led to three new courses at Bucknell that focus on the river. And several undergraduate students will spend their summer continuing to research the Susquehanna's history. Faull has also developed a kayaking tour associated with the new trail and focusing on 18th-century relations between Moravian Christians and Native American communities on the corridor.

"This is a unique learning and research opportunity in which students and faculty are able to participate in efforts to examine the connection between storytelling and environmental conservation on the Susquehanna River," said Alf Siewers, an associate professor of English at Bucknell. Siewers was the first faculty coordinator of the Nature and Human Communities Initiative and was awarded a Scadden Fellowship from Bucknell to work with undergraduates on the literary history of the river in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

As a result of the project, Bucknell has developed a new relationship with leaders of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, sometimes referred to as the Iroquois Confederacy. That effort was aided by former Bucknell lacrosse coach Sid Jamieson, who is also a Haudenosaunee chief.

In securing the trail designation, Bucknell collaborated with researchers at Bloomsburg University, Buffalo State University of New York, and Native American communities in Pennsylvania and New York.

About the Susquehanna River
The Susquehanna River flows from upstate New York to the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. At nearly 450 miles, it is the longest river on the east coast and one of the largest in the country. It is also the main contributor of freshwater to the Chesapeake Bay.

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Andy Hirsch
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