The Caribbean Islands have seen enormous changes in the last five centuries. Europeans brought devastating diseases that decimated native populations, and transported millions of enslaved Africans to the islands to work plantations of newly introduced crops. Early naturalists described amazing new species of plants and animals even as they were being exterminated and replaced. Today, this region bears little resemblance to the islands encountered by Christopher Columbus. As a tourist destination in the 21st century, the Caribbean continues to change as new demands are placed on limited resources. In this semester, we explore how we can document these changes using the source materials and methodological approaches of both the humanities and sciences.
On Shore in Woods Hole
During the six-week shore component students take two concurrent classes, team-taught by SEA faculty. Maritime History and Culture explores political, cultural, and demographic changes in the Caribbean from the arrival of Europeans to the present. Marine Environmental History uses both scientific and historical evidence to develop an ecological timeline for the Caribbean. Students examine the marine and terrestrial resources that drove European expansion, and track the impact of introduced species, human development, and pollution on coastal ecosystems. Students will approach both courses from the perspectives of science, maritime studies, and navigation.
Authentic documents lie at the core of students' research into historical and environmental change in the Caribbean. Historical source materials start with the logbook of Christopher Columbus’ first voyage. From there they move on to include maps and charts, colonial documents, commercial records, voyage accounts, species surveys, ecological impact statements, tourist brochures/websites, and the literature of Caribbean people from both the Colonial and post-Colonial periods. Modern documents include the Caribbean Common Market’s study on the impact of climate change, and a report to the U.S. Congress on cruise ship pollution.
On Shore in the the Caribbean
Before joining the SSV Corwith Cramer, students will spend one week on shore in the U.S. Virgin Islands to explore the region more in-depth, implement their anthropological research projects, and take part in a variety of guided learning opportunities.
At Sea in the Caribbean
Aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer, students study the environmental consequences of over 500 years of change and human development in the Caribbean region. They conduct sampling surveys of the area's biology, geology, chemistry, and physics using state-of-the-art equipment and laboratory facilities. They also apply their nautical science skills to operate and navigate the vessel as a member of the crew. Port stops in a variety of Caribbean islands such as Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic encourage students to explore this diverse region.
Special Program Features
The nations throughout the Caribbean Sea provide a dynamic model for comparison. During the shore component in Woods Hole, students develop original and wide-ranging research plans closely guided by faculty to prepare for their travel abroad. This research prepares students to observe and document changes they will find during the port stops, and to compare the current Caribbean environment with what scientists and mariners observed in the past.
Students will then spend one week on shore in St. John, USVI to explore the region more in-depth, implement their Humanities research projects, and take part in a variety of guided learning opportunities.
They will then begin the sea component to come face to face with the environmental consequences of over 500 years of change and human development while visiting several islands rooted in diverse colonial legacies. They will examine present-day conditions of fisheries and water quality, as well as ecosystem health, diversity, and response to climate change. While on shore during two to three port stops, students will conduct their research while engaging with Caribbean peoples, culture and the physical environment.
Taking a comparative approach as eyewitnesses, students are encouraged to make observations and connections linking complex colonial pasts with the contemporary challenges and opportunities facing developing nations in a globalized world.