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A Picturesque Situation

Mackinac before Photography, 1615-1860

Brian Leigh Dunnigan

Award Winner

Great Lakes, History, Michigan

Great Lakes Books Series

Hardback
Published: April 2008
ISBN: 9780814332146
Pages: 408 Size: 9x11.5
Illustrations: 330
Review

Splendidly illustrated throughout with colorful maps, vintage artwork rendition from the land and portraits of notable historic figures, architectural plans from the era, and much more, A Picturesque Situation is a richly detailed resource

— Midwest Book Review

From the era of European exploration to the beginning of the Civil War, the Straits of Mackinac were a crucial link in the westward water transportation system of the United States. As the primary route to Lake Michigan and the Mississippi Valley, the Straits were a highway for the fur trade, a hotbed of military outposts, and one of the first settled areas of Michigan. Later, the natural beauty of the Straits, and particularly of Mackinac Island, led to the popularity of the area as a nineteenth-century tourist destination. A Picturesque Situation uses documents, maps, drawings, and prints to illustrate the unique history of the Straits from 1615 to 1860.

Beginning in the seventeenth century, Native Americans, soldiers, missionaries, traders, explorers, and scientists recorded their impressions of the Straits of Mackinac in letters, reports, diaries, books, and legal and financial documents. Military officers noted fortifications and topography, surveyors mapped boundaries, cartographers defined local geography, and travelers sketched scenery and local personalities. All of these rare and important glimpses of Mackinac before the age of the camera are elegantly presented in this oversized, full-color volume. The text of A Picturesque Situation complements its many images by detailing their history and incorporating the words and descriptions of people who visited or lived at the Straits before 1860.

Although much has been written about the history of the Straits of Mackinac, most works focus on narrow aspects of its history. Michigan historians and those interested in life in the pre-Civil War United States will appreciate the broad and striking picture of the Straits painted by A Picturesque Situation.

Brian Leigh Dunnigan is the head of research and publications and curator of maps at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is also the author of Frontier Metropolis: Picturing Early Detroit, 1701-1838 (Wayne State University Press, 2001).

Brian Leigh Dunnigan's amazing collection of images of Mackinac takes his readers on a fascinating tour, a magic carpet experience, of Mackinac before 1860. Anyone interested in the history of Mackinac and the Great Lakes will find this work to be an indispensable resource and a 'good read' besides.

– Keith R. Widder, retired curator of history for Mackinac State Historic Parks and author of Battle for the Soul: Métis Children Encounter Evangelical Protestants at Mackinaw Mission, 1823-1837

Splendidly illustrated throughout with colorful maps, vintage artwork rendition from the land and portraits of notable historic figures, architectural plans from the era, and much more, A Picturesque Situation is a richly detailed resource, captivating to simply page though and thoroughly accessible for public library collections, history shelves, and anyone interested in the cornucopia of stories behind this crossroads of frontier America."

– Midwest Book Review

Brian Leigh Dunnigan's A Picturesque Situation: Mackinac before Photography, 1615-1860 is a tour de force. Professional historians seldom praise what are too often called coffee-table books", but this one involves a successful integration of pictorial beauty with effective historical analysis. The text is entertainingly written and represents an important scholarly contribution to history of the Mackinac Straits."

– Northwest Ohio History

This is a beautiful combination of local history an art history. Dunnigan, a curator of the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan, tells the story of Mackinac in Upper Michigan. From the first Europeans to the beginning of the Civil War, Mackinac was a fur trading center, military outpost and summer resort. It was a popular place for artists and later writers like Horace Greeley and Henry David Thoreau. Using maps, sketches and paintings, Dunnigan gives a vivid picture of life at the Northern edge of the United States."

– Reference and Research Book News

The wealth of information that can be found in each portrait description, the incredible diversity and beauty of the landscape depictions, and the abundance of maps make A Picturesque Situation a must have" for the public and for scholars who study this region. Dunnigan's narrative, coupled with the paintings, maps, and drawings that provide information about this strategic island before the invention of photography, make this an outstanding volume. Wayne State University Press invested the time and money necessary to reproduce obscure and little-known maps in highly legible format. The resulting volume is a treasure trove of information for the layperson fascinated with this island and an invaluable work from scholars."

– Michigan Historical Review

All of these rare and important glimpses of Mackinac before the age of the camera are elegantly presented in this full-color volume. Brian Dunnigan's detailed research and excellent writing have, once again, brought an important place in Michigan history to life and filled an important niche in the history of one of the truly magic paces of our great state of Michigan."

– Historical Society of Michigan Chronicle

Drawing on decades of research, Brian Leigh Dunnigan presents a stunning collection of pre-photographic images of Mackinac including maps, plans, drawings, engravings, and paintings complemented by a comprehensive, thoroughly researched, and eminently readable text. No collection of Michigan history is complete without a copy of this superb volume.

– Phil Porter, director of Mackinac State Historic Parks

Like he did with Frontier Metropolis: Picturing Early Detroit, 1701-1838, Brian Leigh Dunnigan has brilliantly researched and written a book that will significantly broaden our understanding of the history of the Straits region.

– William G. Milliken, Governor of Michigan, 1969-1983

This collection of rare images and comprehensive text allows the reader privileged glimpses into the fascinating past of the Straits area. Essential reading for all those who love Mackinac Island.

– R.D. Musser, president of Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island

As he did so successfully with Detroit in Frontier Metropolis, Brian Leigh Dunnigan now presents the definitive study of the evolving appearance of Mackinac, key strategic and commercial post in the Upper Great Lakes for almost three centuries, in A Picturesque Situation: Mackinac before Photography 1615–1860. It combines finely reproduced contemporary images with Dunnigan's always careful and exhaustive scholarship in a well-written narrative that will appeal to general readers and specialists alike.

– Martin West, director of Fort Ligonier, Pennsylvania

Brian Leigh Dunnigan's A Picturesque Situation beautifully reproduces images from far-flung repositories, providing a visual record of the Straits of Mackinac before the camera made its appearance. More than that, the accompanying text is an outstanding chronicle of Mackinac history not to be found elsewhere. It combines the author's expertise in analyzing the two-dimensional record with his superb knowledge of Mackinac's rich past.

– Steven C. Brisson, chief curator of Mackinac State Historic Parks and author of Picturesque Mackinac: The Photographs of William H. Gardiner, 1896-1915 and Wish You Were Here: An Album of Vintage Mackinac Postcards

  • 2008 State History Award - Result: Winner
  • 2009 Michigan Notable Book Awards - Result: 1 of 20 selected annually
  • 2009 Michigan Notable Book Awards - Result: 1 of 20 selected annually