Despite the long-understood variability in the Mississippi River, the upper portions of the river have historically received less attention than the lower reach and this culminated in the lower river dominating twentieth century river management efforts. Since the seventeenth century, there have been multiple tendencies in how the upper river was characterized, including relatively spare notes about basic conditions such as channel width and flow rates which shifted to an emphasis on romantic descriptions of the riparian scenery by the mid-nineteenth century. Finally, by the late nineteenth century the upper river was routinely portrayed as a flawed entity requiring human intervention to fix it. While the tone and specific language changed over time, there remained a consistent emphasis that whatever was being reported about the river was scientifically accurate.

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