DrexelNow recently spoke with Dr. Paula Marantz Cohen, distinguished professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of English and Philosophy. She recently authored a blog post in The American Scholar about what constitutes a good education.
Cohen is currently reading Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America by John M. Barry, which focuses on the riveting and nearly forgotten story of the greatest natural disaster this country has ever known—the Mississippi flood of 1927.
Why did you make this selection-- what is it about this book/topic that you find important?
It was recommended to me when I was visiting Memphis a month ago by Robert Bain, who owns a gallery there. He is married to the artist Brenda Joysmith, whose work was featured in the exhibit Literacy Within Reach, which was recently brought to Drexel by past University interim president Chuck Pennoni. He said the book was important for understanding the South and America more generally. My daughter is teaching in southern Arkansas right now, so that motivated me further.
So far, has the selection lived up to your expectations? Why or why not?
Yes. It is an extraordinarily erudite, absorbing and detailed account of the 1927 flood that anticipated the contemporary flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina. The book takes us back to the 19th century and the efforts made then to control the Mississippi River by various gifted and quirky visionary engineers.
Is there a passage/quote you find particularly interesting? Why?
I am struck by how the book is also about the war between the Corps of Engineers and civilian engineers, as this would continue through the 19th and early 20th centuries, reflecting, as the author puts it, "the growing importance of a profession—the first of the technocratic disciplines." As a faculty member at Drexel, a school that has a strong historical emphasis on engineering, I find this power play, which helped define the profession of civil engineering, of particular interest.