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