ND-ECI Seminar: Jon Coleman


Location: Zoom

Headshot Coleman 2

Please join the Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative for a virtual seminar presented by Jon Coleman, Professor of History, University of Notre Dame. 

The title of his talk is "Forgetting the Kankakee: How 786,000 acres of wetlands became history."


Abstract: Between 1884 and 1920, steam dredges unbent the Kankakee River, turning a serpentine watercourse one surveyor called "the most crooked stream in the world" into an angular channel locals knew as "the big ditch."  Driven by forty-horse-power steam boilers producing sixty pounds of pressure, the dredges could remove thirteen hundred cubic yards of dirt per day. The Kankakee Valley’s large landowners and investor syndicates arranged for the machines to chew through the glacial till. These “respectable citizens” called themselves “progressives” for their commitment to elevating dirt above water, and they exerted their influence in Indianapolis and Washington DC. They rewrote Indiana's drainage laws and secured public funds to drain the Kankakee marshes. This talk introduces the lawyers, land owners, and lawmakers (spoiler: they were all the same people) behind the dredges and reveals how they overcame protests and rival land use regimes to enact their vision of the future. 

Bio: Jon T. Coleman grew up in Boulder, Colorado and received his BA and MA from the University of Colorado. He graduated with his Ph. D. from Yale University in 2003. His research and teaching interests span colonial and contemporary American and integrate social, cultural, and environmental approaches. He has written three books: Vicious: Wolves and America (Yale, 2004), Here Lies Hugh Glass: A Mountain Man, a Bear, and the Rise of the American Nation (Hill & Wang, 2012), and Nature Shock: Getting Lost in America (Yale, 2020). Vicious won the W. Turrentine Jackson Award from the Western History Association for the best first book in western American history and the John H. Dunning Prize from the American Historical Association for the outstanding monograph in U. S. history published by a young scholar (defined as a first or a second book). He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2013 and an ACLS Fellowship in 2020.