When people today visit or imagine Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world, they often perceive a cold, remote, and pristine body of water, relatively untouched by industrialization. Yet, Lake Superior has experienced substantial environmental change—including today’s impressive but incomplete ecological recovery—in its existence, especially over the last 150 years. So argues the renowned environmental historian Nancy Langston
in her latest book, Sustaining Lake Superior: An Extraordinary Lake in a Changing World
(Yale University Press, 2019). An interdisciplinary scholar to her core, Langston ushers her training in science and history to tell a story of industrial development, ecological change, toxic pollution, and environmental injustice—and yet also one of ecological and human resilience. Much like the topic of her study, Langston moves fluidly across various political jurisdictions, from states and provinces, to national governments and international agreements, to First Nations and tribal territories. In so doing, she gives voice to a host of actors, including indigenous peoples (past and present), corporate executives and technicians in the pulp and paper and mining industries, government regulators and engineers, environmentalists, scientists, environmental justice activists, politicians, union workers, and many others. Sustaining Lake Superior
illustrates the promises and limitations of ecological and human resilience, the inseparability of the local from the global, and the ongoing relevance of history for responding some of the most urgent challenges of climate change and environmental injustice.
Nancy Langston is Distinguished Professor of Environmental History at Michigan Technological University.
Joshua Nygren is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Central Missouri. His research focuses on the intertwined histories of conservation, industry, and the state in the twentieth-century United States. You can find him on Twitter @joshua_nygren. Thanks to Justin Dean and UCM’s Digital Media Production program for production assistance.