Johnson County Community College
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Progressive Era


Progressive Era

The Missouri River at Weston Bend State Park, Weston, MO
The beauty of the Missouri River is seen from a vista at Weston Bend State Park in Weston, Mo. 

The Missouri River at the Port of Kansas City, MO
The Missouri River is also a site for industrial development. Seen here is the Port of Kansas City, Mo. 
Photos courtesy Patrick Dobson.

JCCC professor, author discusses role of rivers in Progressive Era

Feb. 27 presentation explores nature as solution to industrialization 

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. –Rivers, for all their power to position cities and to transport goods, may possess another power: serving the social good. 

Patrick Dobson, adjunct professor of history, will examine the role of rivers during the Progressive Era (from 1880 to 1920) during a presentation at 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, in the Craig Community Auditorium (GEB 233) at Johnson County Community College. 

Admission is free, and the public is invited to attend. Those with an interest in history, sustainability or the politics of natural resources are especially encouraged to attend; no prior registration is necessary. 

The audience will be introduced to three men with varying conceptions of a river’s ultimate purpose. They are:

  • Author John Gneisenau Neihardt
  • Irrigation advocate William Ellsworth Smythe
  • Nevada politician Francis Griffith Newlands.

“The three men’s goals often contradicted, conflicted and overlapped each other,” Dobson said. “Neihardt, Smythe and Newlands believed, however, that bending rivers to social purposes counteracted (the) negative aspects of industrialization.”

The study of the three men in microcosm reveals turn-of-the-century attitudes about nature in macrocosm, Dobson said.  “With enough capital, expertise and efficient bureaucratic direction, Americans could streamline nature for modern and industrial structures,” he said.

Dobson will release his latest book, “The Long Mirror: A Missouri River Journey” sometime later this year. In 2009, his book, “Seldom Seen: A Journey into the Great Plains,” was published by the University of Nebraska Press. 

He teaches American History and Western Civilization at JCCC, and when not in the classroom, builds bridges with Ironworkers Local Union #10. 

The presentation is sponsored by the Kansas Studies Institute (KSI), located at JCCC. The institute’s goal is to provide engaging lectures and activities that highlight the people, places and history of Kansas. 

For more information, contact James Leiker, director of the KSI, at 913-469-8500 ext. 3673 or