Between Land and Sea: Observations on Biological and Cultural Change


Fall 2014, Winter 2015 and Spring 2015 quarters

Taught by

evolution, biology, anthropology
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 and seamanship, we will study, interpret and communicate what we see, how we see and why. Beginning the year with a six-day field trip, we will engage in sail training aboard a classic sailing vessel and practice both foundational field methods in evolutionary studies and the documentation of sights and sounds through recordings and field journals. We will then return to the sea in spring with a two-week long expedition. How will our senses, and the brains that interpret for them, have changed in the interim? What might we see that we could not before? What do we see in the spring that was truly not there in the fall?

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 this program, 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:

  • We will delve into art history, learn to analyze artworks, and create poems, songs, images and visual stories about the natural and cultural worlds that we inhabit. We will consider how our cultural attitudes, experiences and biases impact both the artworks that we create and those that we appreciate.
  • 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.

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

Final Schedule and Room Assignment


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Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning

More information about online learning.

Required Fees

$300 in fall, $250 in winter, and $1,311 in spring for overnight field trips.


Date Revision
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)

Class standing: Freshmen ONLY ; 100% of the seats are reserved for freshmen

Maximum enrollment: 54


Course Reference Numbers

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

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Enrollment Closed

Course Reference Numbers

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

Go to to register for this program.


Enrollment Closed

Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16 credits): 30020
Fr (1-16 credits): 30187

Go to to register for this program.

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