Adam Mandelman

Position title: Dana-Allen Dissertation Fellow (2014-2015)

Geography, UW-Madison

Portrait image of Adam Mandelman

The Place With No Edge: Boundaries and Permeability in the Mississippi River Delta, 1845-2010

Even after Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana residents have struggled to make the problem of subsidence and land loss in the Mississippi River delta a visible, national crisis. My research examines the history of both that crisis and its invisibility by focusing on the uncertain boundaries of the region’s watery terrain. Created over several thousand years by the muddy Mississippi, the delta is defined by flood, sediment, and muck. Yet the ambiguity of the landscape—a “place with no edge”—has often been interpreted as an invitation to eliminate environmental uncertainty in pursuit of rigid, impermeable boundaries. Since the early 18th century, Euro-American attempts to inhabit, rationalize, and render profitable this messy “wetlandscape” have left residents mired in unintended consequences. By following the flow of water through river levees, swamp logging frontiers, oil and gas canals, a subsiding city, and even human skin, my research suggests the perils of pursuing edges in a deltaic environment. More broadly, the project examines the changing social and ecological values at work in places where land and water meet. I argue that understanding how people negotiated the watery places of the past is essential for confronting the drowned worlds of the future.

Adam Mandelman is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Geography at UW-Madison. His work draws from scholarship in environmental history, cultural and historical geography, political ecology, ecocriticism, and science studies. His research has been supported by a Wisconsin-Mellon Summer Dissertation Fellowship; the Department of Geography’s Whitbeck and Trewarth Awards; a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship; and a University Fellowship from UW-Madison. He received his M.S. in 2008 from UW-Madison’s Department of Geography for research on indigenous identity and historic preservation in Hawai’i. He received his B.A. in 2003 from Sarah Lawrence College. He maintains a blog about watery places and other themes in nature-society geography. Adam is completing a dissertation entitled “The Place With No Edge: Boundaries and Permeability in the Mississippi River Delta, 1845-2010.”