Literature of the Sea, taught by Dr. Richard King, takes advantage of our maritime museum, coastal setting, and three field seminars to read and study canonical and lesser known American novelists and poets who set their works in the watery world, often in the exact places where we travel as a class.
In a typical semester we may read Ernest Hemingway when sailing on the Straits of Florida, John Steinbeck when exploring Cannery Row on Monterey Bay, and Mark Twain on a steamship headed down the Mississippi River. We read Rachel Carson beside our own Mystic River estuary, Kate Chopin on the sands of the Gulf of Mexico, and Herman Melville’s masterpiece Moby-Dick aboard Mystic Seaport’s historic whaleship the Charles W. Morgan, a vessel nearly identical to the vessel Melville climbed aboard at age twenty-one. Back in the classroom, we discuss the relationship between literature and students’ emerging knowledge of maritime history and marine science while examining these works through a mixture of lecture, small-group tutorials, formal and creative writing, and occasionally even drama.
Williams-Mystic supports the Williams-Mystic Essay Contest in Honor of Joseph Conrad and the Searchable Sea Literature website, which is run by students. We offer additional research and internship opportunities in Literature of the Sea both during the semester and the summer.
Read Student Work Here
In my paper I looked at four 20th century poets—Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Robinson Jeffers and John Haines. The former two wrote about the East Coast, the latter two the West Coast. By doing a location-based reading of a selection of these poets’ works, I looked at the way place influenced the way their poetry interacted with the ocean. I chose this to write about because in a program where we travel to America’s different coasts and read literature from each of them, it seemed inevitable that there should be differences in the way these coasts affected their writers.
I live in Akron, Ohio, and attend Denison University, where I major in Biology and concentrate in Neuroscience. I had the time of my life in the Spring 2010 semester of the Williams-Mystic program.
In Under the Sea-Wind (1941), Rachel Carson tried to balance scientific descriptions of marine ecosystems with an equal dose of poetry, and to introduce the public to an environment worth protecting through expressive, yet unbiased, writing. I wasn’t convinced that Carson had achieved her goal of impartiality, so in this short essay, I examined a portion of the narrative that tips the balance away from realism and towards romanticism.
I was an American Studies major at William College. Growing up, I lived in central New Jersey before moving up to Williamstown, Massachusetts when I was eight.
How does the ship — as a symbol and a technological artifact — relate to social relations in the world? This paper aims to clarify that question by comparing Richard Henry Dana Jr.’s Two Years Before the Mast with my own experience on board the SSV Corwith Cramer in the Gulf of Maine.
I am a recent graduate of Oberlin College, where I studied creative writing and biology. I hope to one day see the New York Mets win the World Series.
I wrote “On Walking” while visiting an aquarium in Oregon. After several minutes of observing a skate, I became interested in the shape of its body–the way its tail rippled in the jet of water flowing from the side of the tank, how its body fluttered against the glass like a moth brushing up against a window. I thought it would be fun to write a poem comparing the skate to a human foot but I also liked the idea of skates and people eventually finding a dark, calm place after days of travel.
I graduated from Bates College in 2011 as an anthropology major concentrating in Environment, Place, and History, and Medieval Worlds. I wrote my senior thesis on youth in the contradance community, and hope to have all my friends singing sea chanteys within a few months.
This journal entry came from a couple days’ worth of material at the beginning of our Pacific Northwest Field Seminar.
I graduated from Connecticut College, where I majored in Studio Art. I love music and art and just being near the water.
I wrote this journal entry during the Williams-Mystic California Field Seminar in October 2010. We were visiting Drake’s Beach on the coast when we had what we call a “Literature Lab”. We all had to sit down and write about the sound of the ocean, in the way Henry Beston had done in The Outermost House. I think I sat on a washed up log. I’ve always loved the ocean, and its sounds, and this is my way of sharing it.
“The Pequod” by Steffi O’Brien and Whitney McClees F10 [link: to come]
Steffi: I am a recent graduate of Colgate University as of May 2011. I double majored in geography and music, and spend as much time of my free time as possible singing sea chanteys and going contra dancing. F’10 was a fabulous semester, and I loved every minute of my time at Williams-Mystic!
Whitney: I graduated from Drew University and was an Environmental Science and Theatre major, with a minor in French. I spend quite a lot of my time singing sea chanteys and playing in the ocean.
For our “Moby in the Meeting House” performance, we decided to sing the sea chanteys mentioned in Moby-Dick. However, following the time-old tradition of changing lyrics, we meshed the text fromMoby-Dick and the sea chantey, “The Diamond,” together. We aptly named it: “The Pequod,” after Ahab’s whaleship.
Post-WM Maritime Works
Katie graduated from Stanford University in 2011, where she studied Marine Policy and Science Communications. She first visited China Camp while on a field seminar to the Bay Area with Williams-Mystic in Fall of 2009 and was so inspired by the remnants of this last 19th-century Chinese shrimp-fishing village that she returned a few months later to interview its only remaining resident, Frank Quan.