Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Industrial Heritage and Archaeology (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Social Sciences

Advisor 1

Don Lafreniere

Committee Member 1

Fredric L. Quivik

Committee Member 2

Sarah Fayen Scarlett

Committee Member 3

John Bonnett


Redundant historical industrial sites, or postindustrial landscapes, face numerous preservation challenges. Functionally obsolete, and often derelict and decaying, these cultural landscapes often retain only a fraction of their original infrastructure. With their historical interconnections made indistinct by their physical separation and obscured by the passage of time, surviving remnants are isolated and disjunct, confounding both their legibility and their consideration for formal historic preservation. Nevertheless, they persist. This dissertation presents a theoretical understanding of the nature of postindustrial landscape preservation, and argues that the material persistence of its historical constituents is the result of previously overlooked processes of informal material conservation, here termed vernacular preservation.

Further, this dissertation examines ways that heritage professionals can manage and interpret these vast, complex, and shattered landscapes, using 21st-century digital and spatial tools. Confronted by ongoing depopulation and divestment, and constrained by limited financial capacity to reverse the trend of blight and property loss, communities and individuals concerned with the preservation of vernacular postindustrial landscapes face many unique management and interpretation challenges. The successful heritagization of the postindustrial landscape depends on its comprehension, and communication, as a historically complex network of systems, and I argue that utilizing advanced digital and spatial tool such as historical GIS and procedural modeling can aid communities and heritage professionals in managing, preserving, and interpreting these landscapes.

This dissertation presents heritage management and interpretation strategies that emphasize the historical, but now largely missing, spatial and temporal contexts of today’s postindustrial landscape in Michigan’s Copper Country. A series of case studies illustrates the demonstrated and potential value of using a big-data, longitudinally-linked digital infrastructure, or Historical GIS (HGIS), known as the Copper Country Historical Spatial Data Infrastructure (CC-HSDI), for heritage management and interpretation. These studies support the public education and conservation goals of the communities in this nationally-significant mining region through providing accessible, engaging, and meaningful historical spatiotemporal context, and by helping to promote and encourage the ongoing management and preservation of this ever-evolving postindustrial landscape.