SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
S251 Weblog 07 March 2014
21° 56’S x 136° 29’W
Course and Speed
Toward Hao Atoll with Alacrity
Clear starry sky after a magnificent rainbow
Having just a bit more than a week left in our voyage, thoughts on the ship have seriously turned to writing papers. If your first reaction is that this must be the boring part of the trip, after our exploits as sailors and adventurers have been so well described in this blog, I‘m here to argue that our role as scholars gives a deeper meaning to the whole experience. We began ashore in Woods Hole thinking about issues of sustainability and those ideas have informed our actions and inquiries throughout the trip. In each place we stopped we met for an hour or two with the local mayor, and spoke with fishermen, farmers, artists, policy makers, teachers, students, old people and little kids. We asked about water and energy use, the impact of invasive species, the changing uses of traditional boats, the cargo that gets carried into and out of islands, the modification of local diets with the introduction of processed foods, the effects of tourism, and the role of colonial politics. None of this would have been possible without the extraordinary efforts of my colleague Moohono Niva, who has mined his extensive contacts on behalf of our students, made repeated calls to town halls, acted as our translator in French, Tahitian and Marquesan, and imparted his own knowledge as an archaeologist and cultural expert.
All of the students are registered in five courses: Maritime History and Culture (MHC), Marine Environmental History (MEH), Oceanography, Nautical Science, and Maritime Studies. As I don’t teach Nautical Science or Oceanography, I’m not going to explain them here, beyond acknowledging that much of our shipboard program is dedicated to the hands-on teaching of those subjects, and they have been discussed in previous blogs. In Maritime Studies we had a common core of readings, from the journal of David Porter, who commanded the US Frigate Essex to the Pacific in 1812 and made extensive descriptions of the island of Nuku Hiva, to Breadfruit, a novel by the contemporary Tahitian writer Celestine Vaite. We also read traditional Polynesian narratives, and essays on culture and colonialism. We have had several discussions of these works, starting in Woods Hole and continuing into our morning Maritime Studies classes on the ship. Students are in the process of tying the readings, discussions and their own observations in Polynesia together into a paper for the course.
MHC and MEH are interdisciplinary courses team-taught by the whole faculty, and the papers for these courses are the most important ones to acknowledge to our blogging public, because we plan to make them available for you to read through our web-based SPICE Atlas. Because we are publishing them online, these papers go through a rigorous process of two drafts and revisions, and each student is responsible not only for writing a research paper for each course, but for reading and commenting on four papers written by classmates. While this is hard work, it allows the broadest possible sharing of research on a wide range of topics. When we return to Tahiti, each student will give an oral report on her or his two projects as well.
(You can visit our current SPICE Atlas, with essays from previous classes, at http://www.sea.edu/spice_atlas. Watch for updates with entries from this class in the summer.)
We’re not done yet! We still have one more week on the ship and an additional week in Tahiti, where our conclusions will continue to be challenged and we will persist with the necessary documentation of what we are learning.
I just want to add that working with this particular group of students has been wonderfully rewarding. In communities on shore they have been invariably curious, friendly and polite. They are not afraid to ask hard questions and have followed up with thoughtful discussions and intelligent commentary. Several people along our route have told me how impressive our students areas humans and as brains. The papers will tell the whole story!