Writing and Academic Inquiry: a Semester at Sea Workshop

Discipline: English Writing
Instructor: Chamberlin
Credits: 3
Day: A
Start: 1050
End: 1205
Field Work: Day 1 - Hilo - 17 January | Hawaii, United States
Prerequisites: None Download Syllabus

The primary goal of this course is to help you hone your writing skills so that
you can produce clear, convincing, and sophisticated prose. We will develop these skills
through a wide range of methods: readings, discussions, in-class writing exercises, formal
essays, and reflective responses to the cultural and historical landscapes we encounter
on our voyage. Because writing is an organized way of thinking, our engagement with
the subject matter will be focused primarily on issues of style, craft, and execution. By
learning how something works, we can more fully understand why it works. As such,
we will pursue the craft of writing as apprentices, reading a wide range of authors in the
pursuit of understanding their different styles and techniques, so that we might adapt
those rhetorical strategies as tools ourselves.
Yet unlike a traditional classroom setting, our voyage will also allow us to fine-
tune our critical thinking and research skills through the exploration of different cultures.
After all, writing is not simply a process of learning and expression but also an important
way to develop a conscious voice as an individual. We are each members—citizens, if
you will—of diverse and myriad communities. Be it our regional or national background,
educational or economic circumstances, ethnic or racial history, or sexual or political
preference, we understand the world and define ourselves in relation to the institutions
and groups to which we belong. Yet ultimately, and perhaps most importantly, we are
our own persons. Over the course of this semester, then, we will explore the ways in
which individuals—including ourselves—negotiate the different and sometimes difficult
responsibilities of culture. By seeking to understand what “belonging” means, we will
not only learn to see the world in a more complex way, but also continue the life-long
process of developing our own voices as artists, writers, thinkers, and citizens.

Still, it’s one thing to understand something and it’s another thing to do it. So
we’ll sharpen our writing and critical thinking skills through practice and collaboration.
By semester’s end you will possess not only a more sophisticated writing process, but
also academic skill sets transferable across disciplines. To achieve this objective, the
student learning goals for this course are as follows:

1. To produce complex, analytic, well-supported arguments.
2. To read, summarize, analyze, and synthesize complex texts purposefully in order
to generate and support writing.
3. To analyze the genres and rhetorical strategies that writers use in different
rhetorical situations.
4. To develop flexible strategies for organizing, revising, and editing writing of
varying lengths to improve development of ideas and appropriateness of expression.
5. To hone skills at critical self-assessment and reflection on the process of writing.

Field Work

Country: Hawaii, United States
Day: 1 - Hilo - 17 January

After reading “The Third Chase” in Hohn’s Moby Duck, we will set off on a “chase” of our own. Driving south from Hilo, we will wind our way through some of the old sugar cane plantations that he describes in his book, taking careful note of the economic changes that have happened in this once thriving region. Next, we will pass the volcanoes, stopping briefly to see some of the otherworldly landscapes on a short walk. However, our real goal lies further beyond—the southernmost tip of the southernmost island in the southernmost part of the United States—where we will beachcomb as Hohn does in his book, following in both his physical and literary footsteps. You might wonder: Why collect trash? What value flotsam? Here, the manufactured world collides with the natural one in the form of plastic toys and flip-flops washing up on shore. For in addition to its unique and beautiful geography, this place has also become one of the richest U.S. beachcombing sites due to prevailing ocean currents and trade winds. Our task, then, will be to analyze the juxtaposition of the natural world and the synthetic one, as well as to compare Hohn’s depiction of the Hawaiian landscape with what we find ourselves. Guiding our journey will be Bill Gilmartin, a naturalist and Director of the Hawaii Wildlife Fund. Gilmartin also features in Hohn’s chapter on Hilo, so like many things on this voyage we will encounter him first on the page and then in reality. In addition to Hohn’s work, we will also read selections from Mark Twain’s Letters from Hawaii prior to our visit. These chapters are a series of dispatches that Twain wrote for The Sacramento Union during his 1866 trip to the state, and they will add an historical layer to our understanding of the place. Academic Objectives:

  1. Discuss and relate reading selections on Hilo from Donovan Hohn’s Moby Duck and Mark Twain’s Letters From Hawaii.
  2. Introduce concept of question-driven writing and research practices through the metaphor of beachcombing, while literally beachcombing.
  3. Synthesize reading and personal experience of field lab by writing a “Letter From Hawaii,” a reflective writing exercise in the form of a dispatch from Hilo that is modeled after the Twain excerpts.