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Great Lakes History in a Time of Water Crisis

Sat, April 1, 3:00 to 4:30pm, The Drake Hotel, Superior

Session Submission Type: Roundtable


The Great Lakes basin holds almost 85% of North America’s available freshwater and is home to some 40 million people, yet its environmental history is still under-examined. This roundtable asks: what’s special about the environmental history of the Great Lakes? What difference has the border made in environmental governance? Governments within the Great Lakes have developed innovative institutions such as the International Joint Commission to address the problems of water and toxics that flow across national borders. Under what environmental, social, and political conditions did these novel governance institutions evolve, and have they been successful in negotiating new mobilities of toxics, epidemics, and peoples? How have cities such as Chicago and Toronto been shaped by their Great Lakes environments, and how in turn have they shaped those environments? Climate change has made negotiations over water withdrawals, diversions, and dams even more complicated than they were when the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreements and Great Lakes Compact were negotiated. Will governance institutions developed in very different political contexts be able to respond to novel environmental challenges? Roundtable participants will consider where Great Lakes scholarship is headed and how it can contribute to the broader field of environmental history. Rather than prepared papers, the roundtable moderator will pose pre-circulated questions to the participants. The discussion will then evolve in relation to participant responses and audience participation, which will be welcomed at various points throughout the roundtable. The roundtable includes scholars from various career stages, disciplines, and areas of research: Lynne Heasley, Nancy Langston, Ken Cruikshank, Jamie Benidickson, William Knight, and Daniel Macfarlane.

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