Thursday, July 7, 2022

Abundant Waters Digital Exhibit Now Online

by Sara Daniels

3D view of the Clarke's "Fur, Freighters, Fuels" section of the exhibit

The Clarke Historical Library officially opened its most recent exhibit,
Sunset at CMU Biological Station,
Beaver Island
Abundant Waters: Our Most Precious Resource
on February 22, 2022. Now, we are proudly presenting the exhibit's digital companion. Exploring the state's cultural, environmental, political, and economic history through its 3,200 miles of freshwater coastline and 76,000 miles of rivers, this website offers new ways to approach the exhibit's driving question: how often do we actually think about our relationship with Michigan's most precious resource? 

Home to over 20% of the world's surface freshwater supply, Michigan is a state surrounded by, defined by, and embroiled in issues of water. The digital exhibit of Abundant Waters delves into the depths of Michigan's past in order to uncover our lasting connections with water and reveal how our future and the future of Michigan’s lakes and rivers are one in the same.

The digital exhibit is a culmination of months of research and community efforts. With contributions from WCMU Public Media, CMU professors and students, and members of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Conservation Community, the exhibit approaches Michigan's waterways through a multitude of perspectives. It provides an engaging and multidimensional platform on which to experience for yourself Michigan's greatest resource—water. From a 3D perspective of the Clarke’s physical Abundant Waters exhibit to a series of videos exploring the conservation of Michigan’s waters, the digital exhibit contains a number of fresh features and new approaches to exploring this topic and showcasing the many ways humans have interacted with and been affected by water.

Ernest Hemingway canoeing in northern Michigan

Take, for instance, one of Michigan's flashier roles as a rum-running capital, with 75% of the alcohol smuggled into the United States during Prohibition passing through one of Michigan's water borders with Canada. Or consider Michigan's status as the “Arsenal of Democracy” during World War II—it went beyond building bombers, with one of Michigan’s own Chris-Craft ships among the first to make landfall in Normandy on D-Day.

Michigan's waters have occupied countless other roles in personal, state, and national histories, which the Clarke explores in its digital exhibit. Its Great Lakes have been a 
The Edmund Fitzgerald
graveyard to hundreds of ships
; its northern freshwater springs have been touted as miracle healers. Its ports and straits have acted as home to both war and industry, while its waters hold a sacred, life-giving status for Indigenous communities

To the famous American novelist Ernest Hemingway, Michigan was "a great place to laze around and swim and fish when you want to. And the best place in the world to do nothing." To others, it’s the best place in the world to do something—for the Soo Locks, that’s 80 million tons of commodities navigating the St. Mary’s falls each year. For each of the hundreds of millions of others to come in contact with Michigan, its waters represent something unique and personal.

Abundant Waters taps into this complex tapestry, illuminating the webs of connection flowing through Michigan's waterways and tying together facets of history and human experience. The exhibit aims to help the public reflect on our complex and meaningful relationships with water and to help us understand how water connects us all across time and space. 

Canoe manifest bound for Drummond Island c. 1818

Ultimately, Abundant Waters explores the lakes and rivers of Michigan as cultural, spiritual, and commercial epicenters, ones that define and sustain the region physically, ecologically, and economically. It imagines water in its many forms—mover of industry, mode of exploration, borderlands between/hubs within nations and peoples, and carrier of story—and in its ultimate form, as the veins that carry the lives of not just Michiganders, but people everywhere. Visit the digital exhibit today, with its new features and extended access to photographs and primary documents, to discover for yourself how we see ourselves—and each other—in Michigan's great waters.

The Abundant Waters exhibit is funded, in part, by an award from the American Library Association as part of the ALA’s American Rescue Plan: Humanities Grants for Libraries program.

3D view of the Clarke's "Disasters" section of the exhibit

Friday, July 1, 2022

Good Luck, Christa Clare!

by Bryan Whitledge

Since Christa Clare joined the Clarke Historical Library, a lot has changed: the Clarke moved from the fourth floor of the Park Library to the first floor with a (not so) brief layover at Rose Arena, dozens of staff members as well as members of the Clarke’s governing board have come and gone, hundreds of students have earned some extra money working part-time in the Clarke, thousands of books and records have been acquired, and tens of thousands of researchers have made use of the library. Through all of the changes, Christa has been central to the success and excellence of the Clarke.

Christa Clare Portrait

A good many of the Clarke’s regular visitors and supporters would count Christa as a friend. Her warm smile and genuine kindness have been available to everyone who has walked through the doors—attendees of speaker series events, CMU employees coming into the library on business, Clarke board members coming for the semiannual meeting, donors dropping off materials to add to the collections, new student employees on their first day, and more. Countless relationships with donors, benefactors, and supporters have started with Christa’s friendly, “Hi, how are you today?” offered to anyone who has walked into the Clarke. It is no overstatement to say that there has been no better person to welcome visitors, to converse with people about anything and everything they wished to talk about, and to make everyone feel like the Clarke was an excellent place that would take care of history and make it available to everyone.

For the staff, Christa has meant more to our success than she will ever know. As with many offices and workplaces, most people have little idea all of the little cogs, widgets, and levers that are needed to make the Clarke machine move. Christa has been relied upon to keep the machine running by handling a multitude of behind-the-scenes tasks. Because it would be impossible to list all of her contributions, we have offered up a very small sampling of all that she has provided and has helped with during her time at the Clarke (in no particular order): 

Christa and a colleague
gathering, sorting, and keeping track of all sorts of financial reports, helping hire students, purchasing new books, purchasing old books (but new to us), tracking acquisitions, creating lists of donors, providing the address of an old colleague, covering the reading room when we are short-staffed, purchasing supplies, processing payments, adding bibliographic information to the catalog entries, making sure student staff get paid, reporting broken… everything—lights that won’t turn on, copy machines that won’t act right, HVAC systems that are too hot or too cold, phone lines that won’t operate, etc., managing our memberships in dozens of historical organizations, arranging for catering, giving us a band-aid in the all-too-frequent event of a paper cut, and being a sympathetic ear and a friendly conversationalist. 

We’ve counted on her to relay our messages that we would be absent. And we’ve all come to expect that she will wish us well and hope we feel better before she hangs up the phone.

Getting the job done is great, but Christa takes it one step further—she infused her personality, compassion, and zest for life in the Clarke’s work culture. Every staff member, including every single student employee, has received a birthday card signed by the entire staff each year… and if a person’s birthday falls during the winter break or when a student is away during the summer, you can bet that Christa will put a stamp on it and make sure the birthday celebrant gets their card. Not as joyous, but possibly more meaningful, she also has made sure that sympathy cards were circulated for a colleague who suffered a loss or illness. These small gestures have gone a long way to make staff members feel welcome and valued.

When it comes to a making the most of life, Christa walks the walk. It has not been unusual to come to work in the morning and see a container of cookies awaiting the students—why? Because Christa woke up and thought fresh homemade cookies would brighten our day. She has shared the bounty of her garden with the staff because, why not? When she feels like fresh flowers will spruce up her space, she brings in fresh flowers. And for those who say they don’t have a green thumb, Christa never gives up on the aspiring horticulturalist and continues to bring in cuttings and shoots and offers some helpful advice.

The Clarke staff as "Scrabble" for Halloween, 2012

Everyone has shared a laugh with her, and a lot of those laughs start with ideas for social events. The Clarke’s Halloween costumes at the annual staff potluck were second-to-none… for a long time, at least… and she was always the ring-leader master-minding the whole operation. You can guess who wiped away the competition in the winter ugly sweater contest. And you know who has been behind-the-scenes making sure there were plenty of chairs, napkins, cups, and, most importantly, good attitudes at a barbecue for graduating students. Just when the winter doldrums were really settling in for everyone and she could tell, Christa would suggest that the staff hold a tea exchange and tea party to lighten our spirits. It was just what we needed.

Similar to how one book or one box of records is only a sliver of everything that the Clarke holds about Michigan history, this is merely a sliver of how meaningful Christa has been to Clarke and to the lives of the staff members. We wish her the absolute best in her retirement.