This post is the fourth in the “Seeds: New Research in Environmental History” series cosponsored by NiCHE and Edge Effects highlighting the work of members of the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) Graduate Student Caucus. Follow the whole series here.
At some point, Michilimackinac disappeared. No doubt, the physical space remained—the watery straights where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron collided still lapped upon the shores of state’s two peninsulas. Boats persisted in navigating the nexus of the Upper Great Lakes and commerce continued to buzz. However, the significance of this watery world—a landscape that once served as a geopolitical landscape for trade and diplomacy amongst indigenous, colonial, American peoples—seemingly washed away into the very waters that gave Michilimackinac its prominence. Remnants of the landscape existed in the first half of the nineteenth century as seen in the image above. However, with the dissolution of Richard White’s “middle ground”, embodied by the 1836 Treaty with the Ottawa and the 1842 Treaty with the Chippewa, Americans would be most influential towards shaping the Michilimackinac landscape during the latter half of the nineteenth century. And while American diplomacy no doubt contributed to this disappearance, changing ecologies also contributed to this shift. Lumber companies cleared trees for market. Commercial fishing, too, utterly collapsed many once-thriving Great Lakes fisheries. Nineteenth-century industrialization played its part in altering huge swaths of northern Michigan environment. It was in this space, in the wake of environmental and diplomatic change, that a new cultural landscape emerged. The new landscape was defined by its scenic splendor, its distance from the cities, and its perceived healthful benefits.