The UIC Freshwater Lab
Professor Rachel Havrelock
The planning, management, and conservation of the Great Lakes coalesce as a complex project, vital to the health and economy of the Midwest at large. Addressing pressing questions such as balancing the region’s water and energy needs, financing infrastructure improvements, the right to water vs. its privatization, and the uneven social impacts of toxins requires a multi-disciplinary approach that at once engages stakeholders in local communities, governmental agencies, the public and private sector. I propose the first research initiative on the Great Lakes rooted in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Academic centers supporting Great Lakes research and policy based in Science and Engineering proliferate across Midwest campuses, but no existing initiative interacts with the scientific research while endeavoring to address the social, economic, and political dimensions of water distribution and management. With algae blooms compromising Lake Erie, Detroit residents at risk of losing water service, Tar Sand and Fracked Gas pipelines surrounding the shores of the lakes, and drought stricken regions near and far looking to Midwestern water stores, it is a necessary moment for a humanistic and social-science based approach to water issues.
Building on the momentum of the Water after Borders: Global Stakes, Local Politics conference, enabled by the Mellon Foundation, I propose to establish an enduring “lab” for humanistic approaches to Great Lakes issues. Driven by current and historical problems and triumphs, the Freshwater Lab will convene conferences, working groups, and courses that explore solutions and creative approaches to pressing issues. The Freshwater Lab will promote innovative research on the history, policy, and politics of resource distribution and prepare students in the Humanities for work in public policy and public life.