Shipwrecked! Imperialism, Capitalism, Racism and Cannibalism in the Golden Age of Sail

Fall 2013 quarter

Taught by

Explore the history of imperialism and early globalization through real-life stories of shipwrecks and mutiny in this 8-credit Evening & Weekend Studies program.  Learn the history behind The Mutiny on the Bounty , experience the true-life story of the shipwreck that inspired Melville’s Moby Dick , and read the horrific tale of incompetence and cannibalism following the wreck of the tall ship Medusa , which inspired one of the most famous paintings of an era.  Then, set sail on the waters of the Puget Sound/Salish Sea to "learn the ropes" for real on an actual wooden sailing ship.  This program is not for the faint of heart but is open to any and all!

We will study historical accounts of famed shipwrecks and mutiny and the political, economic, and social contexts in which they took place.  The "Age of Sail" constituted the genesis of western ideas about nationalism, globalization and cannibalism, and early European exploration by ship helped create and perpetuate enduring (and all-too-inaccurate) racial narratives that persist to this day.  Together, we will debunk the distortions of history; sail the seas of literature, film, music, art, and rhetoric; and explore how the stories, language, and traditions of tall-ship sailors continue to shape the way we understand and describe the world.  You won’t have to "walk the plank" before you learn what it means to be "three sheets to the wind" or "have the devil to pay."  Above all—and this is guaranteed—no one will be "keel hauled" in the course of this program!

Look forward to guest speakers in such areas as music, art, and maritime studies.  Texts and films will be accompanied by lectures on historical geographies of globalization, imperialism, and culture, as well as workshops on art and music of the period.  Be prepared to learn and/or compose sea shanties and, weather permitting, sing them on the deck of a wooden ship under sail! 

Book-length readings (and/or excerpts) will include: The Bounty: the True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty (Caroline Alexander); In the Heart of the Sea (Nathaniel Philbrick); The Wreck of the Medusa (Jonathan Miles); The Custom of the Sea (Neil Hanson); Horrible Shipwreck! (Andrew Jampoler); The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition (Caroline Alexander); and others.

Film screenings may include: Moby Dick (2011); The Mutiny on the Bounty (1962); Shackleton (2002); and more.

Seminars on readings and films, along with workshops on art, music, history and geography will be complemented by a full-day Saturday field trip aboard a wooden sailing ship in the South Sound, so program participants can experience some of the conditions of life experienced by the sailors whose stories we will learn.

A rollicking time will be had by all, and we’ll have salt in our veins by the end of the quarter, for sure!

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

geography, history, political economy

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Evening

Advertised schedule: 6-9:30p Tue/Thu plus one Saturday field trip


Buy books for this program through Greener Bookstore.

Online Learning

No Required Online Learning: No access to web tools required. Any web tools provided are optional for students.

Required Fees

$100 for wooden ship sailing field trip

Registration Information

Credits: 8 (Fall)

Class standing: Freshmen–Senior; 25% of the seats are reserved for freshmen

Maximum enrollment: 25


Course Reference Number

(8 credits): 10031

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