Between Land and Sea: Observations on Biological and Cultural Change

Fall 2014, Winter 2015 and Spring 2015 quarters

Taught by

media arts, media and film, experimental media
maritime literature, English literature
biology, anthropology

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, and how does this impact our representation of the natural world? Through the perspectives, methodologies and skills of documentary filmmaking, 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 brief ship voyage and foundational studies in documentary studies and evolutionary science, we will spend the long cold months exploring ashore with a significant focus on documentary film production. 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 that we see in the spring 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 real, 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, film 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 film studies, documentary filmmaking, evolutionary biology, literary studies and seamanship:

  • We will delve into film history, learn to analyze films and create short films about the natural and cultural worlds that we inhabit. We will consider how our cultural attitudes, experiences and biases impact both the films that we create and the filmic language 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


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Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning

More information about online learning.

Required Fees

$249 in fall, $250 in winter, and $1,311 in spring for overnight field trips.

Registration Information

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

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

Maximum enrollment: 54


Course Reference Number

Fr (16 credits): 10033

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Enrollment Closed

Course Reference Number

Fr (16 credits): 20024

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Enrollment Closed

Course Reference Number

Fr (16 credits): 30020

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