Ships of Wisdom: Ancient Trade Routes and the Diffusion of Ideas

Winter 2015 and Spring 2015 quarters

Taught by

classics, archaeology

In this program, we will investigate how and why humans, throughout history, have taken to the sea to explore the limits of their known world. What were the motives and the consequences of these dangerous ventures? We will focus on some specific case studies, including the ancient Mediterranean, the Pacific Northwest, the Chinese empire, the Polynesian islanders and the Atlantic during the age of sail. We will also learn about some theories of economic and cultural exchange over long distances. Some of the questions we will address include: How did humans develop the navigational and boat-building technologies needed for overseas exploration? What motivated overseas exploration? What new kinds of knowledge were gained through this travel and what is the relationship between the material goods and the ideas and ideologies that were traded? How do modern archaeologists and historians go about piecing together answers to questions like these?

We will read texts on archaeology, ancient history and philosophy, anthropology and maritime studies. In addition to historical and scientific accounts, we’ll read works of literature, seeking an understanding of the age-old connections between human cultures and the sea. We will consider the religious, philosophical and scientific practices that grew out of those connections—practices that are the common heritage of coast-dwelling peoples around the globe. We will also work on reading, writing and critical thinking skills. In order to test our theories in practice, we will have opportunities to become familiar with the local coastal environment and its rich cultural history. This will take the form of a field trip to the Makah Museum and other sites of historical and archaeological interest on the Washington coast in winter and a three-day sailing expedition in spring.

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

history, archaeology, philosophy and the humanities.

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day


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

$80 in winter for a field trip, $250 in spring for a three-day sailing expedition.

Registration Information

Credits: 16 (Winter); 16 (Spring)

Class standing: Freshmen–Sophomore; 50% of the seats are reserved for freshmen

Maximum enrollment: 40


Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16 credits): 20114
So (16 credits): 20115
(1-16 credits): 20583

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Accepting New Students


Students entering in Spring Quarter need to have some background in world history and will need to read Moby Dick over the Spring break.  Contact program faculty to discuss whether or not this program is a good choice for you.

Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16 credits): 30077
So (16 credits): 30078
(1-16 credits): 30351

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