Tag: research

Robins Presents Kapok Paper

Jonathan Robins presented a paper on the history of kapok and kapok substitutes at the 2024 American Society for Environmental History Conference. The Conference convened April 3-7 in Denver, Colorado.

Kapok is a tree fiber once widely used for stuffing mattresses, pillows and life jackets. However material shortages during World War II inspired new research into artificial materials. Unfortunately the newer materials eventually displaced kapok and other natural fibers from key markets. The research is part of a larger project on historical transitions from biomaterials to synthetics in fiber-consuming industries like rope, fishing nets and insulation.

About Jonathan Robins

Jonathan E. Robins
Jonathan E. Robins
Associate Professor of History

Jonathan Robins is an award-winning historian of commodities, environments, and politics. He has published on oils and fats, fiber crops and textile industries, food and consumption, economic development, and environmental and labor history broadly. His current research interests include waste and waste landscapes, technological transitions in natural and synthetic fibers, and agroforestry. He serves on the steering committee of the Commodities of Empire project and as global book review editor for Agricultural History.


About the Social Sciences Department at Michigan Tech

Michigan Tech’s Department of Social Sciences offers bachelor of science degrees in AnthropologyPolicy and Community DevelopmentSustainability Science and Society, and Social Science, along with a bachelor of arts degree in History. Our graduate program includes masters and doctoral degrees in Environmental and Energy Policy and Industrial Heritage and Architecture (the only one of its kind in the world), and a master’s in Sustainable Communities. Plus, you can get a graduate certificate in Public Policy in by taking three courses in just one term.

Questions? Contact us at socialsciences@mtu.edu. Follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter for the latest happenings.

In Print: Wellstead Published in Policy Design and Practice

Wellstead Policy Design
Adam M. Wellstead
Professor of Public Policy, Social Sciences

Adam Wellstead (SS) is a co-author of a paper published in Policy Design and Practice. The paper is titled “Public Value and Procedural Policy Instrument Specifications in ‘Design for Service.'”

Michael Howlett of Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada, is the other co-author of the paper.

Wellstead joined Michigan Tech’s Social Sciences Department in 2011 after a 15-year career with the Canadian federal government. Wellstead’s background in policy and public management contributes to the research and teaching in the Environmental Policy Program. Additionally, his research interests include investigating multi-level governance arrangements in the natural resource sector, measuring policy capacity and evidence-based policy-making, policy mechanisms, and theories of the policy process. In addition, Wellstead enjoys developing and conducting (primarily online) surveys and undertaking structural equation modeling using LISREL.


About the Social Sciences Department at Michigan Tech

Michigan Tech’s Department of Social Sciences offers bachelor of science degrees in AnthropologyPolicy and Community DevelopmentSustainability Science and Society, and Social Science, along with a bachelor of arts degree in History. Our graduate program includes master’s and doctoral degrees in Environmental and Energy Policy and Industrial Heritage and Architecture (the only one of its kind in the world), and a master’s in Sustainable Communities. Additionally, you can get a graduate certificate in Public Policy in by taking three courses in just one term.

Questions? Contact us at socialsciences@mtu.edu. Follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter for the latest happenings.

Mining for clues of those who mined for copper – An Article from The Daily Mining Gazette

With just a few days left in the archeology field school term, the site trenches and pits that have been excavated have revealed some significant artifacts!

Learn more about a stone that appears to be a tool used extensively for grinding! The face of the rock, which is in stark contrast to other rocks unearthed in the trench, indicates that the marks and smoothness are cultural or man-made.

Read the full article at The Daily Mining Gazette.

Robert Hazen, Michigan Tech Social Sciences Major, Shares His Experiences in the Documentation of Historic Structures Course

Hello! My name is Robert Hazen, and I am a Social Sciences major here at Michigan Technological University. This summer I took the four-week course, Documentation of Historic Structures, led by Dr. Sarah Fayen Scarlett (Michigan Technological University), Dr. Hilary-Joy Virtanen (Finlandia University),
and Dr. John Arnold (Keweenaw National Historic Park) where our class was immersed in the history and documentation of the Kemppa Farm in Misery Bay.

Image of Robert Hazen presenting to the audience of Misery Bay community members.
Robert Hazen shares stories and findings with Misery Bay community members

While many of us have not done documentation work before, we all brought different skill sets to the table and were able to add new skills to our toolbox. All of us came from different backgrounds, have different experiences, and even have different perspectives—all of which are useful in an immersive class like this, especially when hashing out the historic details concerning genealogy, timelines, and land and building use. Over the course of these past four weeks, I feel like we have all grown together, and we have all worked together quite well.

While it feels like you have just met these students, time moves quickly, and we are at the end of the course. We all forged new friendships and part of me is sad that it is over. I am sad that we all did not have more time together, but I am also sad that we left some questions unanswered. When you give a presentation to a community about their community, you are coming to them with the knowledge that they may or may not know, but there are also questions that will go unanswered. I think the one thing about this work is that I am only 95% satisfied with the finished product and 5% disappointed that I can never answer every question.

For this project, I researched and put together slides for the deep-time overview of the Keweenaw Peninsula with a specific focus on Misery Bay. I used my skills as a researcher to find digitized census records, plat maps, historical aerial images, homestead deeds, genealogical records, and other historical documents. This helped guide us in developing a timeline for the Kemppa Farm but given our time restraints and research limitations—the lack of digitized records or records hidden behind a paywall—we never were able to piece together some pieces of the puzzle.

Regardless of our limitations, our class exceeded everyone’s expectations, including our own. While we can all come away with a list of different skill sets, we all should come away with viewing people, buildings, and landscapes through a different lens than those around us—appreciating the time and efforts of past people in shaping the landscape to create a life of their own.

Finally, as an Indigenous scholar, one of my goals is to highlight the importance of Indigenous land use in the Upper Peninsula, acknowledging that we are on the ceded territories of Ojibwe homelands. It is important to acknowledge and understand the importance of land for Ojibwe Peoples, especially the land around Misery Bay. While we do not know the extent of Ojibwe settlements in Misery Bay, historic maps and newfound evidence provides us with more pieces to the puzzle.

While I come away from this course with a renewed sense of appreciation of the past, it is always important to look to the future and think about historic preservation efforts for sites like the Kemppa Farm. I want to thank Dr. Sarah Fayen Scarlett, Dr. Hilary-Joy Virtanen, and Dr. John Arnold for sharing with us all their knowledge and providing us with new tools to navigate the world around us. This was an unforgettable experience, and I know that this group of students is destined to do great things with their futures. I could not be prouder of the work we all put in. Thank you!

Robert Hazen is a Social Sciences major at Michigan Technological University. He is the 2022 winner of Michigan Tech’s Outstanding Future Alumni Award given to recognize the contribution of a student volunteer who supports the Alumni Engagement mission of “Celebrating Traditions. Creating Connections.” Consideration is given to students who are making a difference, and demonstrate a commitment to the success of an existing Michigan Tech tradition, or create a new one!

Read about the field school experience Robert enjoyed.

Summer Field School Draws Together a Broad Range of Collaborators and Students Across Disciplines

Summer Field School includes 8 students from Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan; 3 Instructors; 3 generations of property owners; 6 visiting heritage professionals; 5 great days on the banks of Lake Superior; PLUS a dog and a resident turkey (!) all combined for an exciting place-based learning experience!

What does MTU History Associate Professor of History Sarah Fayen Scarlett get when she takes on leadership of the 2024 Vernacular Architecture Forum (VAF) annual conference planning committee? Well, perhaps a few headaches between now and 2024. But also, several unique opportunities to engage in local fieldwork documenting everyday buildings and their cultural meanings for people in the Keweenaw—past, and present.  She’s sharing the opportunities this responsibility brings with Upper Peninsula students and professionals. Together they’re working on publishing a conference guidebook featuring local vernacular architecture and conference tour sites. Themes include exploring cultural identity, environmental change, industrial communities, and contemporary heritage practice. Scarlett’s “Barns and Beaches” field school gave upper peninsula college students a great applied learning experience.

Image of Summer Field School students documenting Kemppa Farm
NMU student Tori Conquest takes a break from documenting the c. 1907 animal barn at Kemppa Farm in Misery Bay. Photo S F Scarlett

Barns and Beaches Field School Uses the Keweenaw Community As A Classroom

The Summer Field School attracted students in a variety of fields such as history, anthropology, folklore, and material culture studies. The June class included two Michigan Tech Social Sciences majors, an incoming Industrial Heritage & Archaeology grad student, four Northern Michigan University anthropology students, and an MTU graduate student as a teaching assistant. The four-week 3-credit course was team-taught by Scarlett, Keweenaw National Historical Park Historical Architect John Arnold (Industrial Heritage PhD 2017), and Finlandia University Finnish Studies Associate Professor and folklorist Hilary Virtanen. The instructors contributed their expertise in documenting everyday buildings and cultural landscapes. They mentored students in the collection of information from people associated with such places.

The group of eleven formed an instantly cohesive team. Their skills and interests were well-matched for the task at hand: to document and create materials describing a Finnish American homestead farm in the Misery Bay area of Toivola and an adjacent summer cottage built in the 1940s. Both properties had remained in the families that established them.

Students Develop Field Work Skills

Image of Lieutenant Dan the Turkey
Kemppa Farm resident “Lieutenant Dan” the turkey (along with Ruby the little black dog!) kept the crew on their toes around the campsite! Photo Hilary Virtanen.

During the second week, the class met at the Kemppa farm in Misery Bay, Toivola. Students camped in the farm’s front pasture, thanks to the owner and steward of the property’s heritage Luann Hayrynen. This made it convenient for students to document the Kemppa family farm and the neighboring summer cottage, Dell Shack. This intensive fieldwork was augmented by a visit to the Hanka Homestead Farm, a Finnish American homestead farm museum in Baraga County affiliated with the Keweenaw National Historical Park (KNHP) as well as lecture and demonstration visits from area professionals including KNHP staff historian Jo Holt, landscape architect Steve DeLong, Park superintendent Wendy Davis, and MTU’s geospatial scientist Dan Trepal.

Students and instructors precisely measured, photographed, and created field drawings of buildings. They conducted oral history interviews of occupants and their family members to gain insights into the history of the sites’ developments over time and their cultural significance to the families and their neighbors. And they investigated materials offered for examination by the study participants, including family photographs and documents that helped solve building history mysteries. All of this activity generated a vast amount of data. Over the final two weeks, students converted raw data into computer-generated architectural floor plans of each selected building. They deepened their understanding of the properties’ histories with creative research with archival documents, deep geological and cultural historical data, and even aerial and satellite photographs of the Misery Bay area over time.

Read about Robert Hazen’s experience as an undergraduate student in the Summer Field School

Image of a Hay Barn built in 1907
c. 1907 Hay Barn. Photo John Arnold.

Students Present Findings to the Local Community

Students acquired skills in historical architecture documentation and interpretation. They learned to conduct semi-structured oral history interviews. And they wrote interpretive content for use in the 2024 VAF guidebook. The first week centered on intensive readings, lectures, and in-class fieldwork skill-building activities in the Archaeology Lab. One highlight was a virtual visit from Professor Emerita Carol MacLennan on Indigenous land use in the Keweenaw.

During the final week of class, students prepared a group presentation of their findings for local community members at the Misery Bay School. The goals of this culminating event were to spread the word about the upcoming conference and our work at the Kemppa Farm and Dell Shack, but also to have another opportunity to learn more about these properties from people who have their own important perspectives: long-term neighbors. As a result, many stories and memories were shared over refreshments between students, property owners, and neighbors. These relationships will continue to develop as preparation for the VAF conference continues.

For more information about or to participate in the VAF conference in 2024 please contact Dr. Scarlett at sfscarle@mtu.edu.


New Social Sciences Chair Appreciates Multi-Disciplinary Approach

Dean Hemmer, Dean of The College of Sciences and Arts, said he was pleased to announce that Don Lafreniere has accepted the position of chair of Social Sciences.

“Leading a department housing so many different disciplines is a challenge and I am confident that Don is more than prepared for the task,” Hemmer said. “His extensive leadership experience, both inside and out of academia, together with his distinguished scholarly record, made him a clear choice for the position.”

Don Lafreniere
Don Lafreniere

Lafreniere (la-fren-YAY), an associate professor of geography and GIS, also directs the Geospatial Research Facility and the Historical Environments Spatial Analytics Lab. He holds BS degrees in geography and history from Eastern Michigan University. He earned his Ph.D. in geography from the University of Western Ontario.

He took a unique route to Michigan Tech — his first career was working for Marriott and Princess Cruises managing hotels, lodges, and portfolios. Lafreniere, who has been at Tech since 2014, answered a few questions about himself and his plans for the department.

Why Michigan Tech? What brought you here?
Growing up in the Sun Parlour of Canada, in Windsor, Ontario, I also longed to live in the north. I had a chance to live in Alaska for a few years and wished to return to a northern climate when I was seeking out a faculty position.

But the size of the institution played a large part. Tech is large enough to be a genuine research institution but small enough to be a community. Communication is easy here. “If I need to reach someone in another department, or say, the provost, It’s not hard.”

The other major factor was that we really have a robust heritage community. When I first flew into CMX, the landing path took us over the dredge (Quincy Dredge No. 2 in Torch Lake). Seeing the dredge and the stamp mill behind it I thought: This is a living, robust landscape that I want to live and work in.

The department is unique. What Social Sciences is to us at MTU, would be eight different disciplines somewhere else. That creates truly interdisciplinary scholarship because of how freely we interact across disciplines. What we do here is special.

Because geography is the scientific study of space, and everything is somewhere, geographers can study anything. In my research, I help my colleagues and students think about the impacts of spatial relationships in a different way. My expertise is in GIS (geographic information science) and using historical information to learn how populations and places change through time and impact society today.

I love it when a student realizes, through mapping some data, that the societal issues they have heard about in the news or in another class can be visualized.

What do you like about teaching?
We have hardworking students who are innately curious. And as someone who is not teaching to majors (as we do not have a geography program at Tech), I can take the best of my discipline and apply it to situations in our students’ everyday lives in ways students can understand.

I love it when a student realizes, through mapping some data, that the societal issues they have heard about in the news or in another class can be visualized. An example would be a student exclaiming, “I had no idea that racial segregation is so bad in my hometown” It connects the theoretical ideas to their actual lives. And generally what follows is a flood of questions.

You mentioned that you want to work on the department’s branding message to potential students and parents. What will your goals be?
We do need to get across the unique nature of our programs. A big focus of our department is how we work with communities in our research and teaching. This creates a unique, applied social scientific, signature experience for our students that we need to market more to potential students.

You have four children and live in Boston Location. But we need to know: What’s with the giant antenna?
I do have a 100-foot radio tower in the yard. I’ve been an amateur radio operator since I was a teenager. I met my wife of 23 years, Erin, on the radio. [Editor’s note: Immediately before this interview, Lafreniere was talking about the pandemic over his radio with someone in Micronesia.]

Gorman: Before There Was C, There Was N

Gorman, Story of N book cover
The book also made #1 on Carl A. Zimring's Best Books of 2013!

A recent article in the Michigan Tech News highlighted Hugh Gorman’s book, The Story of N and how our current need to fix the nitrogen cycle bears a striking resemblance to problem in the carbon cycle that needs fixing.  Read the full story in the article entitled: “Before There Was C, There Was N: How Humans Derailed the Nitrogen Cycle and Are Trying to Put It Back on Track

It also mentions that his article that came out of his work on the book, “Learning from 100 Years of Ammonia Synthesis: Establishing Human-Defined Limits through Adaptive Systems of Governance,” Gaia 22.4 (2013): 263-270, that won second place in Gaia’s Best Paper competition for 2013.  Congratulations, Hugh!