Students across U-M are taking a deep dive into one of the world’s most spectacular natural resources: the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Theme Semester, underway now and presented by LSA, focuses on the social, political and environmental history of the lakes, as well as the unique challenges facing the region. Special lectures, films, panels and exhibits are scheduled throughout the semester.

“The theme and title of the semester are meant to encompass not only the Great Lakes as bodies of water, but also the Great Lakes as a crucial determinant of the region’s history,” said David Porter, faculty lead for the theme semester, professor and chair of English language and literature, and professor of comparative literature.

The semester is titled “Lake Effects,” a reference to the Great Lakes’ ubiquity and impact.

The Great Lakes Basin includes parts of eight states and Canada. The lakes are one of the world’s largest surface freshwater ecosystems, with about 84 percent of North America’s surface fresh water, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Porter said the idea for the theme semester partly grew out of a desire to supplement LSA’s global engagement with a heightened focus on regional issues.

Porter said the Great Lakes are economically, environmentally and politically significant on regional and global levels.

“The Great Lakes are useful and important to study not just because of issues in the region, but (they’re) also a useful microcosm for understanding issues around the world,” he said.

A highlight of the semester is a panel series that kicked off Jan. 13. Upcoming panels include:

  • “The Fishery — Living in Living Systems” at 5 p.m. Feb. 3.
  • “Great Lakes Histories — Indigenous Cultures through Common Futures” at 5 p.m. Feb. 24.
  • “Using and Moving the Water — Rights, Access and Equity” at 5 p.m. March 16.
  • “Politics & Policies — The Great Lakes Task Force” at 4 p.m. April 6.
  • “Looking Forward — Legal and Policy Prescriptions for the Great Lakes” at 5 p.m. April 20.

The Feb. 3 panel will be held in the Vandenberg Room of the Michigan League, and the rest will be in the Pendleton Room of the Michigan Union.

In addition to the various special events scheduled during the semester, about 50 Great Lakes-related courses are being offered.

One new program is the Department of English Language and Literature’s Great Lakes Writers Corps. It offers aspiring student writers a hands-on learning experience that includes an introduction to literary journalism, a funded summer research placement and a production course during which they will create a potentially publishable long-form story or podcast.

The April 7 Water@Michigan conference, which is co-chaired by the Water Center and the School for Environment and Sustainability, will be devoted to the Great Lakes theme.

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