The Ohio State University
Co-Authors: Nicholas Breyfogle and Jay Martin
This project synthesizes historical scholarship on the Great Lakes and their waters and places current regional water quality challenges in historical perspective. Examining the human relationship with the Great Lakes over the past 400 years, we find shifting understandings of what the Great Lakes are, their utility, and their meaning to the regional inhabitants. From being a source of spiritual connection to Native Americans, to teeming with untapped potential as a transportation arena for goods and services, to being sought after recreation spots, and being a source of drinking water for a growing population, our collective human relationship with the Lakes has evolved in step with the region’s move into the 21st century.
When reviewing environmental histories of the Great Lakes, historians generally focus on one of three topics: fishing, transportation, or water quality and protection. They explore the impact of technological and political changes–from the introduction of various fish stocking methods to hydrological engineering projects like the Erie Canalâ€”to the changing relationship between federal and state governments in managing the environment. However, largely absent from historical discussions on the waters of the Great Lakes are histories focused on the eco-social relationship between agriculture and the lakes. Although scientific literature and research have turned their focus towards regional agriculture and its impact on the lakes over the past three decades, numerous opportunities exist within the field of environmental history to explore this relationship and improve our understanding of many water quality related issues facing the Great Lakes today.