teacher, learner, humanist: united by water, part one

a repurposed paper factory is now the home of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Last week, I learned and experienced and played in Alpena, Michigan. I participated in my first ever National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) program, this one part of the Landmarks in American History and Culture series specifically for two-year college faculty. Our program: United by Water: Exploring American History through the Shipwrecks and Maritime Landscapes of the Great Lakes, was co-hosted by Alpena Community College, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Our leaders, Cathy Green, John Jensen, Patrick Labadie, Kurt Knoerl, Jamin Wells, Wayne Lusardi, Jeff Gray, Russ Green are experts in their fields of marine archealogy and maritime history; some work for governmental agencies, some for various non-profit marine organizations, and very few for academia. After my summer workshops with the UW-System, I was reeling with information on pedagogy and high impact practices (HIP). Our first morning in Alpena was a series of lectures–not HIPS, mind you–I was still eager to learn and absorb information. In the afternoon, when a mostly sleepless night was catching up to me, I worried I wouldn’t make it through another lecture. And then James Delgado, reknowned maritime scholar (and two-time diver on the Titanic shipwreck, mind you) began to speak. He spun tales of maritime culture, shipwreck, and human interest. He held me spellbound, attentive, and wanting more. He touched my heart and soul, which he would readily admit is his goal.

Jim Delagado and I are sailing out to sea, er, Thunder Bay, along with the rest of the workshop participants and leaders, to view shipwrecks.

I realized throughout the week that pedagogy takes many forms, and sometimes the best teachers are those who don’t actually “teach” for their day job–and yet, in their own way, they do. As the week continued, we left the classroom and explored archives and conservation lab; gazed at shipwrecks through glass bottom boats, a snorkle mask, a video sent from a remote operated vehicle, and sidescan sonar. Here’s where all the lectures coalesced–out there, in the watery depths and shallows, in the site itself.

While I spent most of the week thinking about maritime culture and my place in it, I also thought briefly about pedagogy and practice. I appreciated the different styles of the instructors, and kept an open mind about presentation styles I personally do not use (lecture! because I’m terrible at it!). Personality and attitude and passion make the biggest impact, more so that particular practices, I think.

I also thought about partnerships, and the amazing programs organized under the federal government. I thought about models of working together, private and public, educational and commercial, to capture students’ interests, provide compelling opportunities, and transform the world.

In short, I learned so much more than I thought I would, and I will be forever changed because of this amazing experience.

diving into the wreck

Sometime in 1996, I sat in the cafe at Schuler Bookstore, likely sipping a hazelnut cafe au lait, and reading around in my Norton Critical edition of Adrienne Rich’s poems and prose, and it’s like a crack appeared in the universe, a shaft of light shone in, and my life was forever changed. (note: I should mention that at about this same time I had a similar experience whilst reading Walt Whitman in the bathtub).

I was a Master’s student, and realizing how much I didn’t know, and how much I wanted to know.

This week, I’m joining 24 other two-year college faculty from around the nation in Alpena, Michigan, where we’re learning about the Great Lakes maritime heritage under the instruction of some amazing faculty with serious street, er, water cred: Jim Delgado, Kurt Knoerl, Jamin Wells, Cathy Green, and John Jensen, to name a few. Many work for the National Marine Heritage Centers, part of NOAA (The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration).

From shipbuilding traditions to shipwreck discovery, from native influences to european skirmishes, from ¬†past to present, we’re learning to explore the landscape of history and culture. We’re looking to material culture and narrative history, all grounded in specific places with rich, often forgotten history as part of the NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops.¬†

We’re diving into the wreck, as Rich writes:

I came to explore the wreck. The words are purposes. The words are maps. I came to see the damage that was done and the treasures that prevail. I stroke the beam of my lamp slowly along the flank of something more permanent than fish or weed the thing I came for: the wreck and not the story of the wreck the thing itself and not the myth...
(excerpt)