Based on a forthcoming book, Wennersten's presentation explored the early days of capital-building, when the Anacostia figured prominently in Pierre L'Enfant's vision of Washington as a political and commercial center. He traced the river's history through its Civil War-era transformation into an urban river and sewage conduit whose problems have continued into the modern era. The river, he noted, became a metaphor for regional racial divisions that extended from slavery days through the public housing controversies and urban discontent of the twentieth century.
A retired professor of history and government, Wennersten taught for 32 years on three campuses of the University of Maryland system, as well as in Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. His earlier books include The Oyster Wars of Chesapeake Bay; Maryland's Eastern Shore, a Journey in Time and Place; and Chesapeake Bay, An Environmental Biography.