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Hanford North Archeological District by Jon Roanhaus
The Columbia River in all its dimensions: scientific, engineering, historical, cultural.

River and Region: The Columbia River and the Shaping of the Pacific Northwest

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This seminar will explore the crucial role of the Columbia River in the past, present, and future of the Pacific Northwest. Topics will include the lives and legacies of the indigenous peoples that Lewis and Clark encountered more than two centuries ago; the historic fisheries that attracted thousands of Chinese and, later, Scandinavian workers; the New Deal’s epic dam-building initiatives beginning in the 1930s; the impact of the Manhattan Project’s plutonium bomb development at Hanford Atomic Works in WWII; and the twenty-first-century server farms dotted across the Columbia Plateau. We plan to visit with local water managers, farmers, ranchers, loggers, Native American fishermen, and energy administrators, as well as elected officials and environmental activists, to examine the hydrologic, meteorologic, and geologic bases of the river’s water and energy resources, and the practical, social, environmental, economic, and political issues surrounding their development in the Pacific Northwest region.

The Columbia River and its watershed provide a revealing lens on a host of issues. A transnational, multi-state river with the largest residual populations of anadromous salmonids in the continental US, it is a major source of renewable hydroelectric power. (The Grand Coulee dam powerhouse is the largest-capacity hydropower facility in the US; nearly 50% of Oregon’s electricity generation flows from hydropower; in Washington State it’s nearly two-thirds, the highest in the nation.)  The river provides a major bulk commodity transportation link from the interior West to the sea via an elaborate system of locks. It irrigates nearly 700,000 acres of sprawling wheat ranches and fruit farms in the federally administered Columbia Basin Project. We will look at all these issues with respect to rapid climate change, ecosystem impacts, economics, and public policy.

We will begin with classroom briefings on campus, in preparation for the two-week field portion of the seminar.  We plan to then travel widely throughout the Columbia basin, visiting water and energy facilities across the watershed, e.g., hydro, solar, wind, and natural gas power plants; dams and reservoirs with their powerhouses, fish passage facilities, navigation locks, and flood-mitigation systems; tribal organizations; irrigation projects; the Hanford Nuclear Reservation; and offices of regulatory agencies.  We hope to meet with relevant policy experts and public officials, along with several of the stakeholders in the basin.

Over the summer students will be responsible for assigned readings from several sources, including monographs, online materials, and recent news articles.  During the trip, students will work in small groups to analyze and assess one aspect of the river’s utilization, and the challenges to responsible management going forward.  The seminar will culminate in presentations to an audience of Stanford alumni in Portland, Oregon.

Important Logistics

Students will arrive on campus on Monday, September 4 (Labor Day) and will be housed at Stanford before departing for the travel portion of the course. Do NOT bring everything you need for the year to SoCo! Storage provided while traveling is VERY LIMITED and will NOT accommodate your fall belongings. Plan to have your fall belongings shipped or delivered to you after the class returns, when you will be in your autumn quarter housing (date: TBD). Travel expenses during the seminar will be provided (except incidentals) by the Bill Lane Center for the American West and Sophomore College.

Application Alert!

This course uses interviews as part of the application process—keep a close eye on your email after the deadline passes.

Meet the Instructor(s)

David Freyberg

Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment

David Freyberg

David Freyberg has been on the faculty in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford since 1981.  His teaching and research center on water in the environment and the human use of water, especially in the North American West.  He spends as much time as possible outdoors, for both teaching and research.  Currently he is working with students on sediment-impacted reservoirs, design tools for recycled water systems, cross-border water management between the US and Mexico and Canada, ecosystem services related to landslides and sediment management, and managed aquifer recharge in California.  He is one of five faculty who co-taught the course The American West.  Prof. Freyberg has earned recognition for excellence in teaching, including the Stanford School of Engineering Tau Beta Pi Award twice and the School of Engineering’s Eugene Grant Award for Excellence in Teaching twice, most recently in 2019.  He is Stanford’s representative to the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc. (CUAHSI), and the past chair of the National Research Council’s Water Science and Technology Board.  He is the co-author of the widely-used text, Water-Resources Engineering.

David Kennedy

Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, Emeritus

David Kennedy

David M. Kennedy, the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, Emeritus, is a native of Seattle, a 1963 Stanford graduate, and the founding Faculty Director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West.

Professor Kennedy has long taught courses in the history of the twentieth-century United States, U.S. foreign policy, American literature, and the history of the North American West. Graduating seniors have four times elected him as Class Day speaker. In 1988 he received the Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching, and in 2005 the Hoagland Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. 

Reflecting his interdisciplinary training at Yale University in American Studies, which combined the fields of history, literature, and economics, Professor Kennedy's scholarship and teaching are notable for the integration of economic and cultural analysis with social and political history, and for engagement with questions of America’s national character as well as America’s distinctive regional identities. His Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (1999) recounts the history of the American people in the two great crises of the Great Depression and World War II, both of which episodes deeply shaped the modern-day Pacific Northwest. With Lizabeth Cohen, Professor Kennedy is also the co-author of a textbook in American history, The American Pageant, now in its seventeenth edition.

Professor Kennedy has taught and lectured about American history in Italy, Germany, Turkey, Denmark, Finland, Canada, Britain, Ireland, Australia, Russia, and China. He has been featured in several historical documentary films, including “American Creed” (PBS, 2018) produced jointly with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack appointed him in 2014 to the Advisory Council for the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail. This will be his fifth Sophomore College course, and his second focusing on the Columbia-Snake River system.