Vogel Prize 2016 – Sean Gohman

2016 – Sean Gohman for his article “It’s Not Time to Be Wasted: Identifying, Evaluating, and Appreciating Mine Wastes in Michigan’s Copper Country,” published in IA Vol. 39, Nos. 1 & 2 (2013), pp. 5-22

Many members of SIA have worked with, or at least are familiar with, the National Register of Historic Places, the official federal listing of properties worthy of preservation. Fewer of us, however, have been tasked with using it to evaluate a historic resource consisting of industrial residue. Such was the charge given Sean Gohman of Michigan Technological University by the Keeweenaw National Historical Park Advisory Commission in 2011. Sean takes inspiration from Richard Francaviglia, whose book Hard Places insisted that even though mining landscapes may not be pretty, they still have an important story to tell. Helping to identify which piles of industrial waste are worthy of preservation on a scale never before attempted was Sean’s assignment, a responsibility that he admirably fulfilled and expertly outlined in his article “It’s Not Time To Be Wasted: Identifying, Evaluating, and Appreciating Mine Wastes in Michigan’s Copper Country” in the Volume 39 double issue of IA. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was a perfect venue for an industrial residue study because the purity of its native copper did not, for many years, require chemical refinement, avoiding the remediation required by environmental regulations designed to protect the health of humans and wildlife.

The article details the most innovative element of Sean’s project: the application of National Register criteria devised to evaluate architectural, engineering, and archaeological sites to piles of industrial waste. Especially creative was the adaptation of a “method of construction” in Criterion C to the relationship between a pile of rocks and a technical process. Sean’s article explains the advisory commission’s goal of prioritizing piles of waste rock, tailings, and slag for management and interpretation through a 100-point rating system. Ratings were based on National Register potential within the Copper Country context, integrity, historical importance, size and scale, visibility, and accessibility. The article is accompanied by historic images, mapping, and modern photography to demonstrate the narrative power of mine waste, an element that adds “depth, scale, and impact” to industrial history.

Delivered at the Annual Business Meeting by David A. Simmons.