Author: Amy Spahn

A Digital Time Travel Machine Reveals Keweenaw History

The miners in the boom days of the Copper Country knew that in order to find what they wanted, they had to “drill down.” Today, thanks to the efforts of researchers in Michigan Technological University’s Social Sciences Department and a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, those wishing to find out about the people and the places of the Keweenaw’s past can “drill down” through history.

Keweenaw Time Traveler is an online map-based tool allowing visitors to explore the layers of history for any location in the Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon county region. The project uses proven technologies and techniques of participatory Geographic Information Systems (GIS). It also employs collections of geographic data and tools that are interactively connected, enabling users to incorporate their own information about a place and store that data long-term, to create a high-resolution database that maps changes in the social, natural, industrial and built environments of the Copper Country from 1850 to 1970.

The project is the brainchild of Social Sciences faculty Don Lafreniere, assistant professor of historical geography; Sarah Scarlett, assistant professor of history; and PhD candidate John Arnold, an architect by profession. They have received $259,882 from the National Endowment of the Humanities to support their work.

The project can be accessed at

Read the full story.

From Tech Today.   



Lafreniere Co-Authors Paper on Racist Housing Practices

housingstudiesAssistant Professor Don Lafreniere (SS) co-authored a paper, “Racist housing practices as a precursor to uneven neighborhood change in a post-industrial city” in the journal Housing Studies




Racial dynamics and discrimination have been extremely important in influencing decline in the American Rust Belt. The mid-twentieth century departure of white and middle-class populations from cities was precipitated by a breakdown of discriminatory housing practices. This study examines the relationship among housing condition, vacancies, poverty, and demographics in Flint, Michigan, from 1950 to 2010. Historical census data from the National Historical GIS and housing condition data from the City of Flint government are aggregated to neighborhoods defined by economic condition factor (n = 102). Results of rank-difference correlation and geographically weighted regression indicate that, across neighborhoods with the greatest decline in housing condition, the strongest correlate was most often the increase in vacancy rates driven initially by racially motivated suburbanization – suggesting that demographic change alone is not primarily responsible for neighborhood decline. This research is important to understanding the long-term and ongoing consequences of mid-twentieth century racist housing practices, particularly as it relates to the implications of maintaining legacy infrastructure.

Scarlett Receives Funding for Isle Royale Research Project

Dr. Tim Scarlett
Dr. Timothy Scarlett

Timothy Scarlett  is the principal investigator on a research project that received $20,000 in a co-op/joint agreement from the National Park Service, Isle Royale National Park. The project is entitled “A Proposal for Archaeological Testing at the Ghyllbank Townsite (20.IR.0224), Isle Royale National Park, Keweenaw County, Michigan.” This is a 16-month project.

From Tech Today.


Graduation 2016 copy
Spring 2016 Graduation. Back Row: Professors Hugh Gorman-Department Chair, Carol MacLennan, Audrey Mayer, and Tim Scarlett. Front row: Graduates Valoree Gagnon, Adrian Blake, Ashma Vaidya, and Fred Sutherland.

The Department of Social Sciences would like to congratulate the 2015-2016 graduates from our Environmental and Energy Policy (EEP), Industrial Archaeology (IA), and Industrial Heritage and Archaeology (IHA) graduate programs.

  • Steve Sarich, MS- IA
  • Dan Schneider, MS- IA
  • Jennifer Riehl, MS- EEP
  • Melanie Yang, MS EEP
  • Rob Anthony, MS- IA
  • Eric Pomber, MS- IA
  • Adrian Blake, MS- IA
  • Brian Delrue, MS- EEP
  • Chris Henderson, MS- EEP
  • Valoree Gagnon, PhD- EEP
  • Mizanur Rahman, PhD- EEP
  • Fred Sutherland, PhD- IHA


Mayer Co-Authors Paper on the Importance of Landscape Ecology in Policymaking

Audrey MayerAudrey Mayer co-authored a paper titled “How Landscape Ecology Informs Global Land-Change Science and Policy” in BioScience.  Mayer will appear on the podcast BioScience Talks ( on June 8, 2016.

ScienceCodex, a science news website, published an article about Mayer’s BioScience journal article on the need for policymakers to pay attention to landscape ecology to make informed decisions for managing climate change, land use and urbanization. 

Read more in a guest blog by Mayer in MTU’s Unscripted:  Science and Research.

Environmental Histories of the Future

EnvironmentalHistoriesWe’re living in a time of rapid environmental change. What will future environmental historians think of us? What events will become turning points that might make the future more sustainable–or less sustainable?

Students in Professor Langston’s undergraduate US Environmental History class at Michigan Tech created timelines that explore compelling current events. Some of these events may have the potential to change our shared environmental futures.

Welcome to environmental histories of the future! Please explore the website at and share it with your friends.

GIS Students Present Online Mapping Tool to Calumet Historic District Commission

211 213 5th Street, Calumet, MI
211 213 5th Street, Calumet, MI

Matt Durocher (MS IA) and Kevin Brefka (Anthropology) presented a new online mapping tool to the Calumet Historic District Commission at their monthly meeting.  The tool will allow the Commission to more effectively manage the historical assets in the district as well as use the tool to provide important building information to prospective developers.  The tool was created for their class project in Professor Don Lafreniere’s GIS for Social Sciences class.  You can see the tool at