Between Land and Sea: Observations on Biological and Cultural Change


Fall 2014, Winter 2015 and Spring 2015 quarters

Taught by

evolution, biology, anthropology
public administration, Native American studies, art
environmental education
music composition
maritime literature, English literature

What does it mean to observe? When things change—the stakes, the shoreline, or the technology, the observed or the observer—how does what we see change? How are vision and insight intertwined into representations of the natural world? Through the perspectives, methodologies and skills of artistic practice, field studies, literary criticism, evolutionary science, natural history, cultural studies and seamanship, we will study, interpret and communicate what we see, how we see and why. As we move between sea and shore, we will focus on borders and boundaries: physical, sensory and cultural; metaphorical and literal. Coastlines are both fixed, defining a transition between two other real things, and in constant flux. We will look for pattern and subtlety in the places in between the dichotomies, developing stories about the changes and the boundaries we’ve observed. We will consider what makes a good story in science, art and literature, and we will investigate how to create, tell, assess and destroy stories. The stories that we know to be true sometimes aren’t, and those that we know to be false are sometimes true; we will ask how the stories that we tell and believe are influenced not just by our eyes and other senses, but also by our histories, personal and cultural. What we want to see influences what we do see. Why do our brains deceive us and when?

In fall, students will study and practice observation and representation in the fields of audio and video recordings of nature and culture, performance and visual art, evolutionary biology, literary studies and seamanship:  Students will delve into art history, learn to analyze and create poems, songs, images and visual stories about the natural and cultural worlds that we inhabit.We will develop skills in observation, scientific philosophy and evolutionary logic. We will generate and test stories about the natural world and our study of natural systems will include aspects of human behavior such as deceit and myth. We will interpret works of poetry, fiction and nonfiction representing human experiences. We will focus on close reading and observe how language as a technology determines meaning and perspective.  Following the framework of professional maritime training courses, we will learn to pilot, interpret charts and use tide tables as well as study marine weather systems, safety protocols, the physics of sail power and leadership and crew dynamics. We will apply this practical coursework to the sailing of a tall ship during our spring-quarter expedition.

During winter quarter, students will extend their observational skills through a series of sit spot activities in conjunction with keeping a natural history journal. Observation skills and journaling will serve as foundational skills in the Natural History of Western Washington Birds , a portion of the program that will enable students to learn 70 common birds of the region. Field trips to Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge and other nearby birding spots, coupled with weekly labs and lectures, will help students excel on identification quizzes and a final exam. Along the way, students will learn some of the natural history of select birds. Also during the winter, we'll explore the edges of the Olympic Peninsula on a multi-day field trip. We'll study indigenous navigators of the Pacific Islands, the ukulele, and chants and songs of island cultures. We'll learn about the Atlantic as a world of cultural and economic exchange and exploitation during the Age of Sail, including literatures and musics of the Caribbean region. Following the framework of professional maritime training courses, we will learn to pilot, interpret charts and use tide tables as well as study marine weather systems, safety protocols, the physics of sail power and leadership and crew dynamics. We will apply this practical coursework to the sailing of a tall ship during our spring-quarter expedition. Students will begin to plan independent projects to continue in the spring.

In the spring we will focus on the Salish Sea and local maritime cultures. We will study regional maritime history as well as traditional and modern Native maritime work and contemporary maritime travel narratives. We will continue natural history studies, including birding and other projects. Students will have the option to go to sea for ten days in early spring aboard the schooner Adventuress and/or join a 5-day terrestrial field trip tracing the Nisqually watershed from glacier to estuary.  We will also explore how Native and settler cultures intersected and how we moved forward together and apart. We will study the evolution of vibrant indigenous cultures through the canoes and waterways (the highways of the times) and how revitalization of the canoe culture has affected tribes and local communities today. We will end the year with a days’ journey on local waters aboard Native canoes. Most students will undertake major research and creative projects on topics of their choice.

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

biology, literary studies, maritime studies, leadership and media studies. 

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day


Buy books for this program through Greener Bookstore.

Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning: Access to web-based tools required, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.

Required Fees

$300 in fall and $250 in winter for overnight field trips.  An optional $1,345 may be assessed in spring if students participate in overnight field trips on the Adventuress and to Nisqually.


Date Revision
February 23rd, 2015 This program now accepts enrollment of all class levels (Freshmen through Seniors).
February 5th, 2015 Spring fee has increased ($1611 from $1311).
December 1st, 2014 $500 deposit for spring trip due February 16.
November 24th, 2014 Description updated.
November 10th, 2014 Jeff Antonelis-Lapp is joining the teaching team in winter and spring; Michelle Aguilar-Wells is joining the team in spring.
June 2nd, 2014 Fall fee has increased (from $249 to $300).
June 2nd, 2014 Andrew Buchman has joined this team.; description has been updated.

Registration Information

Credits: 16 (Fall); 16 (Winter); 16 (Spring)

Variable Credit Options

Students who are interested in the schooner voyage only may enroll for reduced credit (generally 4 credits for the ten-day schooner trip plus academic work aboard and a writing assignment).

Class standing: Freshmen–Senior; 65% of the seats are reserved for freshmen

Maximum enrollment: 69


Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16 credits): 10033
Fr (1-16 credits): 10517

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Accepting New Students

Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16 credits): 20024
Fr (1-16 credits): 20275

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Accepting New Students

Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16 credits): 30020
Fr - Sr (1-16 credits): 30187
So - Sr (16 credits): 30400

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