“Give Earth a Chance” Exhibit

Click the image above to visit the digital exhibit “Give Earth a Chance: Environmental Activism in Michigan,” the pilot project published in Jan. 2018 by the Environmental Justice HistoryLab.

In March 1970, students in Environmental Action for Survival (ENACT) organized a four-day Teach-In on the Environment at the University of Michigan, the precursor of the national Earth Day demonstration that mobilized twenty million participants on April 22, 1970.  “Give Earth a Chance” explores these pivotal events from the perspectives of the ENACT activists at the University of Michigan and their counterparts in Environmental Action, the national committee that coordinated the first Earth Day.  The exhibit traces the origins of the environmental movement in the state of Michigan and in modern America and then focuses in depth on the ways that activist groups and policymakers responded to the “ecological crisis” during the late 1960s and early 1970s.  “Give Earth a Chance” tells the stories behind major environmental breakthroughs in Michigan, including the establishment of the Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshores, the enactment of the landmark Michigan Environmental Protection Act of 1970, and the formation of the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor.  The exhibit also investigates the volatile political conflicts over air and water pollution, toxic chemicals, and nuclear power at the state and national levels as environmental organizations launched campaigns to save the Great Lakes, reduce automobile emissions and industrial contamination, fight for environmental justice, and limit environmental degradation by government, corporations and consumers.

“Give Earth a Chance: Environmental Activism in Michigan” is a public history exhibit created by a team of eight University of Michigan undergraduate students (Joshua Blum, Meghan Clark, Amanda Hampton, Maya Littlefield, Julia Montag, Trent Reynolds, Hannah Thomas, Kiegan White) and Professor Matt Lassiter during the Fall 2017 semester in History 399: “Environmental Activism in Michigan.” The design of the online exhibit combines a historical narrative with more than six hundred archival documents, photographs, video clips, and interview segments–allowing the audience to explore original sources and multiple perspectives in depth.  The students conducted most of this research at the Bentley Historical Library, the Department of History’s main partner in the “Michigan in the World” program from which this project emerged.

This digital exhibit, published in January 2018, led to the establishment of the Environmental Justice HistoryLab, a part of the U-M History Labs initiative in the Department of History. In spring/summer 2018, three students who worked on “Give Earth a Chance” (Meghan Clark, Hannah Thomas, and Amanda Hampton) became the first Ecology Center History Fellows, launching an Environmental Justice HistoryLab partnership with the Ecology Center of Ann Arbor to document the history of environmental activism, justice, and sustainability in Ann Arbor and the state of Michigan since the 1960s.  The “Give Earth a Chance” exhibit also provided the foundation for the fiftieth anniversary commemoration of the 1970 Teach-In on the Environment, in March 2020, including a panel featuring the leaders of the ENACT Teach-In of 1970 and a second roundtable with current students activists from U-M and Ann Arbor high schools in dialogue with two of the 1970 leaders.  The ENACT Teach-In and Earth Day sections of this project also featured in the Made by History project of the Washington Post (March 11, 2020).

The “Give Earth a Chance” research team, from left: Professor Matt Lassiter, Trent Reynolds, Maya Littlefield, Hannah Thoms, Kiegan White, Meghan Clark, Amanda Hampton, Joshua Blum, Julia Montag.