Beneath the Surface: Maritime Cultural Landscapes at Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary

Part I: Recommendations and Resources for Applying Maritime Cultural Landscape Approaches

The maritime cultural landscape (MCL) approach, as an analytical tool, provides a comprehensive framework for better identifying, understanding, and interpreting the variety and significance of archaeological, cultural, and historical resources in marine protected areas. This approach was first defined in 1992 by Christer Westerdahl, and since then has been adopted and advanced by management agencies such as the National Park Service, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS). The National Marine Sanctuary System’s adaptation of MCL as a tool for management has focused on meeting resource information needs for the inventory of historic properties, as well as for site condition reports and management plans. More broadly, the approach must also consider the cognitive landscape, how places are perceived, valued, and connected to individuals and communities, which is essential to resource conservation and heritage preservation efforts. The MCL initiative was prioritized in the ONMS strategic plan for FY2017–2022: “Improve understanding and management of heritage resources by completing maritime cultural landscape-focused surveys in at least four sites.”

The Great Lakes are a vast natural highway, essential to Indigenous communities prior to European contact and utilized by Euro-Americans for hundreds of years as one of the world’s most significant industrial waterways. Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary (WSCNMS) protects a nationally significant collection of historic shipwrecks, resources central to understanding the many cultural and historical connections between Great Lakes communities and the sanctuary’s location. These wrecks and the shoreline landscape itself preserve the personal stories of entrepreneurship, innovation, tenacity, and hardship of the past. This MCL assessment was designed to provide a scholarly, comprehensive site characterization, a baseline of useful cultural landscape information closely following designation of the new site. This report, Part I of a two-part series, provides a conceptual overview of WSCNMS’s MCL and demonstrates how the landscape approach serves to identify significant areas of cultural and environmental interaction.

Key Words

Great Lakes, cultural landscapes, maritime history, maritime archaeology, heritage preservation