Looking downstream of Detroit along the Detroit River

Hi! I am Ramya, a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Department of History. I am a returning fellow, and I am very much looking forward to getting to know new fellows and learn from them as I work on a new project. One of my biggest takeaways from my first time at CHI was the sense of camaraderie as a cohort. I am an environmental and borderlands historian andmy dissertation examines the impact of dredging on the human and non-human lives of the Detroit River from 1865-1930. My dissertation, tentatively entitled “Freshwater Frontier: Island making, dredging, and infrastructure in the Detroit River 1865-1930” explores the origins, motivations, and effects of dredging to offer a new history of the Detroit River. In so doing, it attempts to offer a new analytical lens by thinking about dredging as a historical, material, and ecological process. Furthermore, given the binational nature of the shipping channel, this dissertation argues that dredging is as much a territorializing process as it is a technological and political process. This is not a story about the rise and fall of dredging for dredging continues as a maintenance activity, worth multimillion contracts, every year; rather, it is a story of nature being altered and manipulated for greater economic returns. Between 1865 and 1930, the Detroit River went from a transportation chokepoint to an efficient and managed waterway. In examining dredging as a political, technological, and territorializing process, this dissertation is a new environmental history of the Detroit River that pays special attention to infrastructure and its impact on humans and non-humans.    In essence, one of my key inquiries is therole of dredging as a political and territorializing process in the Detroit River in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I have long been interested in movement, migration, and mobility along and across political borders and explored this in my master’s thesis in urban design at Lawrence Technology University. I am particularly interested in questions of rivers as borders and broadly, borders themselves. I am interested in how borders manifest themselves on the ground and on water.   

For my CHI fellowship this year,ideally, I would like to develop a pedagogical project which uses the Detroit River as a case study to think about using Digital Humanities to teach environmental studies/history. Currently, I am thinking of developing a full class website (for a 17 week class which would use the Detroit River as a case study) that will have primary sources, visualizations, guides to further reading/viewing/listening, as well as analysis and commentary. As I see it, such a website would not replace in-class teaching but augment the in-class components, but offer students more resources. I see such a website as an accessible part of my doctoral research (as well as taking in research that is outside the temporal bounds of my dissertation. But these are just ideas for now J

I am looking forward to yet another enriching year as a CHI fellow!