A People’s River History

Secret History seeks to examine both the historical context of lost river communities and the forces that displaced them. The project looks at the economic and social situation of still-existing river communities that have been largely abandoned by their populations. And it looks at modern efforts to gentrify and lock out underprivileged people from river corridors today.

Secret History intends to be a people’s history of the river, inspired by postmodern historians such as Howard Zinn who wrote in Declarations of Independence:

All written history is partial in two senses. It is partial in that it is only a tiny part of what really happened. That is a limitation that can never be overcome. And it is partial in that it inevitably takes sides, by what it includes or omits, what it emphasizes or deemphasizes. It may do this openly or deceptively, consciously or subconsciously.

And in A People’s History of the United States:

Thus, in that inevitable taking of sides which comes from selection and emphasis in history, I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves… And so on, to the limited extent that any one person, however he or she strains, can “see” history from the standpoint of others.

In Secret History, I hope to reexamine the history of the river and the role that working class people have played in the development of the wealth of river communities, regional watersheds, and the nation. I am particularly drawn to the invisible stories of working people, women, native people, and people of color.

6 comments for “A People’s River History

  1. Cheryl Gomez
    September 25, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    I am 67 years old and I want to say that your project is the most remarkable tribute to Howard Zinn and all unsung historians of the people that I have seen in decades. I want to congratulate and thank you with all my heart.

  2. Lola (Hudson) Sponaugle
    April 25, 2017 at 8:41 pm

    I was born January 4, 1941 on a shanty boat moored on the Ohio River at south end of New Cumberland, West Virginia. The family moved from there shortly after my birth so I don’t know any more than what I have said. Do you have any photos taken of boats in that area about that time period? I would be interested in purchasing any…perhaps one would be my birthplace. Thank you. This is a very important part of American history that not many people have heard about. Thank you for putting it out there. Are there any books that can be purchased?

    • June 5, 2017 at 4:55 pm

      I haven’t traveled the Ohio River yet so I don’t yet have any photos from that area. But I wonder if others do. Have you checked the county library system or the historical society?

    • Thomas Potterf
      April 2, 2020 at 2:17 pm

      Hi Lola, you may know of this author, his name is Harlan Hubbard . He and his wife built a shanty boat about the time of your birth along the Ohio River and lived the shanty boat life for several years. He goes into great detail on the building and navigating of his creation

      . “Shantyboat a river way of life”

  3. m
    June 3, 2019 at 4:38 pm

    read Suttree to get a feel for American river life. Read Howard Zinn if you’re a self-hating authoritarian.

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