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

“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.”


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.

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Related Subjects

History · American History



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


Release date: Aug. 2014
≅ 304 pages
Rights: World