This project builds on classic works on river history and combines research in environmental history with research in food studies to examine how the consumption of fish has changed as the Ohio River has become dirtier and cleaner over the past 600 years. The Ohio River is the major river in the eastern United States, draining most of the nation east of the Mississippi. The poster examines the eating of fish in four time periods: indigenous peoples, settled agriculture, the industrial period, and the contemporary period following the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. Using a variety of sources including archeology,  the first natural history of the Ohio River, and a commercial fish survey from 2012, it finds enormous variation across these four time periods in what fish are identified as food, prepared, and eaten and in how important they are to the diets of populations living near the river. It also considers how the canalization of the Ohio in the early 20th century changed the natural environment and hence the availability of fish. The relationship between the cleanliness of the river and the use of fish is not straightforward. When the river was dirtiest, in the industrial period, fish was eaten in greater quantities and by a larger portion of the population than it is now, when the river is cleaner. This is due not only to changes in the structure of the river and in local economies, but also to loss of knowledge about how to identify and prepare foods from the river.

The Ohio River is presented as a subway system, the Ohio River Mainstem System Map at analytic landscapes.com

The Ohio River Parks Project is at ohioriverparksproject.wordpress.com.

August 2015

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