Sara Porterfield

Term: Spring 2019



The Colorado River has long served as an icon of the arid American West and the central character in the story of human manipulation of water resources in the United States. However, the Colorado River Basin has shaped and been shaped by the development and use of rivers around the world. My research explores the history of a global exchange of information, technology, and ideology between the Colorado River Basin and international river basins in the late nineteenth century—an exchange that continues to the present day.

Through stories of the engineers, bureaucrats, policymakers, and whitewater boaters who traveled to and from the Colorado River Basin to rivers around the world, I show how the international history of the Colorado River Basin can help us better understand the past while also providing valuable lessons and insights for current policymaking and water management decisions.


“Grey Towers provided an inspiring and productive environment for me to jumpstart the project of turning my dissertation into a book. The legacy of Gifford and Cornelia Pinchot’s commitment to conservation issues and their practice of convening experts in their beautiful home and grounds gave me a sense of the larger conversation in which my work engages, as well as ideas for how to communicate with a broad public audience. The staff, especially Lori McKean, was incredibly helpful, and the natural beauty of Grey Towers, the Delaware River, and the surrounding environment gave me the perfect opportunity to reflect on and become re-inspired by my research.”