Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

The Future City on the Inland Sea
A History of Imaginative Geographies of Lake Superior

By Eric D. Olmanson

Winner of the AAG’s John Brinckerhoff Jackson Prize · Winner of the Great Lakes American Studies Association/Ohio University Press Book Award

“If you are looking for a fine piece of scholarship that elegantly melds historical geography and environmental history … this is your book.… Beautifully written and well researched.… Anyone who specializes in the history of the Great Lakes or midwestern history should read this book.”

Michigan Historical Review

“Olmanson vividly demonstrates how the imaginings of human beings intersected with the realities of a given physical setting. He is especially good at discerning the meaning in stories people tell about themselves and the places they discover and inhabit.”

American Quarterly

“Gracefully written, Olmanson’s reading of the evidence is sophisticated and nuanced. An excellent study of important aspects of the exploration and development of a specific region over a periodof time.”

Terence Kehoe, author of Cleaning Up the Great Lakes: From Cooperation to Confrontation

“Eric Olmanson has traced the frontier history of Lake Superior in a most unusual and creative way: as a series of past human imaginings of alternative future landscapes. Interpreted through the lens of this thought-provoking book, maps and topographic descriptions become windows into human dreams, revealing imaginative geographies that eventually produced profound material changes in the regional landscape. Olmanson’s findings have implications for American historical geography that reach far beyond the shores of the greatest of of Great Lakes.”

William Cronon, author of Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West

Throughout the nineteenth century, the southern shores of Lake Superior held great promise for developers imagining the next great metropolis. These new territories were seen as expanses to be filled, first with romantic visions, then with scientific images, and later with vistas designed to entice settlement and economic development. The Future City on the Inland Sea describes the attempts of explorers under government, commercial, or scientific sponsorship to project their imaginative visions on a region where the future did not happen as planned.

Author Eric D. Olmanson takes a fresh look at the settlements in the vicinity of Chequamegon Bay and the Apostle Islands by analyzing the texts and images left by the missionaries, geologists, ordinance surveyors, newspaper editors, and boosters. The Future City on the Inland Sea shows how new visions of the place absorbed and replaced the old ones, eventually producing what might be called for the first time “a region.”

More than a regional geography, The Future City on the Inland Sea is an appraisal of these early efforts to meld geographies of physical nature with those of human ideals, a demonstration of how thoroughly and paradoxically those two realms are entangled.

Eric D. Olmanson is an institutional historian for the University History Project, University of Wisconsin-Madison.   More info →


Introduction: “Imaginative Geographies”


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Retail price: $34.95, S.
Release date: February 2007
56 illus. · 304 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Additional Praise for The Future City on the Inland Sea

“Though the future has turned out quite differently, readers will enjoy thinking about how the future was seen so long ago and the factors that have changed that vision.”


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