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Aerial view of Cedar Bog Lake and environs, 1978.

Cedar Bog Lake and environs, 1978

Minnesota: A History of the Land

U research stars in a television documentary

By Gayla Marty

From Brief, February 16, 2005

In 1936, a University graduate student began work in a bog that would transform the budding field of ecology. He was blind in one eye, suffered from a liver ailment, and was aided in his work by his wife. Raymond Lindeman would die before his research was published, but the bog, now part of Cedar Creek Natural History Area near Cambridge, Minnesota, lives on.

Cedar Bog Lake is one of the shining stars in a new television documentary, Minnesota: A History of the Land, that illustrates the role of U research and activities statewide. The show will premier on Twin Cities Public Television February 21-22, 8-10 p.m., with two episodes aired each night.

Minnesota: A History of the Land
Feb. 21-22, 8-10 p.m.
tpt 2 Twin Cities Public Television, WDSE Duluth/Superior, and KFME Fargo/Moorhead

Episode I
16,000 BCE-1870s CE

Episode II

Episode III

Episode IV
1940s and Beyond

For more information, see

From ice age to suburban sprawl, the documentary tells the story of how the land and people of Minnesota continue to shape each other. It includes animations, historic recreations, new videography from 60 locations across Minnesota, and rarely seen historic photos.

"The scope of disciplines is really pretty amazing," says executive producer Barbara Coffin of the U's the Bell Museum. She counts 28 University faculty and staff from ten colleges and units who participated as advisers, project staff, interviewed experts and subjects, voice-over talent, and historic reenactors.

In addition to Cedar Creek, their units included the College of Natural Resources, Bell Museum of Natural History, College of Biological Sciences, College of Liberal Arts, College of Landscape Architecture, Institute of Technology, College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, and the College of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences, on the Twin Cities campus; the University of Minnesota Duluth; and the Southern Research and Outreach Center, Waseca.

At the University of Minnesota Duluth, Students for Environmental Defense (SED) formed in the 1970s to fight pollution in Lake Superior, a story told in the fourth hour of the series. Historical footage of SED events is juxtaposed with interviews of participants today.

Executive Barbara Coffin on location at Cedar Bog Lake. The documentary took six years to create and demanded intensive research during the first years. Seeing it all come together was the most gratifying part of the project for Coffin. But one of her favorite moments was filming from an open-door helicopter.

"The image of our videographers hanging by harness as they captured prized shots will linger in my mind for years," she says. "The sweep of landscape features below us and the fingerprint of humans upon the land is both grand and revealing."

The film was produced by the College of Natural Resources (CNR) and Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), and "marks a new approach to continuing education for the college," says Coffin.

"We asked ourselves, Can we reach people with content-rich material through engaging, visual storytelling? We think the answer is 'yes,' documentary video can be an effective outreach and teaching tool."

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