About Us

The Great Lakes Institute seeks to create a space in which study of the liberal arts can be constructively undertaken outside the university context. The critical function of the institute is to instill in participants a habit of conceptualizing and contextualizing their working relationship with the world, through the disciplined study of history, philosophy, political theory, environmental studies and related fields. It is our conjecture that the humanities have always been environmental, and that the surest way to ground our conceptual language is to be engaged in practice and relation.

A Garden and a Library
The Great Lakes Institute organizes studies within a working farm and trades school. The sale of fresh, organic food and locally crafted objects supports the school. In turn, the physical work influences the nature of intellectual pursuits at the institute. Members form a community of scholar-workers engaged in economic and intellectual exchange with the surrounding community and the world at large. The Institute hosts both structured and unstructured approaches to humanistic study.

Research by People
The Great Lakes Institute prioritizes vernacular approaches to learning and practice. It is our belief that by working together, we can sidestep the dehumanizing demands of capitalist-imperialist institutions. Vernacular modes of working and thinking have the distinct advantage of being pleasurable and of making space for attention to the aesthetic aspects of cultural production.

A Place of Crossing
The Great Lakes region has been a crossroads for millenia. Like all crossroads, it has been an incubator for the exchange of ideas, goods, skills, and relationships. Our goal is to highlight the potential of mixture, hybridity, and collaboration offered in this important place and at this critical moment. We adopt a vision of pluralism that exposes the multiplicity of historical voices, Indigenous and in transit, to point toward a shared future. It is a core principle of the research undertaken here to recognize the material and natural conditions for intellectual activity (in both form and content), and particularly, the influence of the local landscape and climate on the development of culture. Hence the name of the institute reflects the importance of the unique ecology of the Great Lakes watersheds.

The Great Lakes Institute is influenced by many historical, contemporary, and imaginary institutions:

CIDOC, Deep Springs College, Tuskegee Institute, Albertian Order of Leibowitz, Institut d’études martiniquaises, Cairo Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Halifax Humanities (Clemente Schools), Vivarium, Collège de France, South Harmon Institute of Technology, Institute for Advanced Studies, Alcoholics Anonymous, Order of Cistercians.


Philippe Mesly

Philippe is a writer and translator whose work examines intersections of political economy, religion, and environmental issues. He has run several public humanities programs and works as a gardener.
Philippe Mesly
Julia Henderson

Julia is a researcher in the areas of religion and philosophy, with particular emphasis on monasticism and Christian mysticism. She currently lives in Toronto with her cat, Duck.
Julia Henderson