What is the Williams-Mystic Program?

Our courses are experiential and emphasize original research: it’s not unusual to be on a boat, at the beach, or immersed in Mystic Seaport Museum’s historical collections for class. In our unique interdisciplinary approach, our small cohort studies the literature, history, policy, and science of the oceans and coasts of the United States.

Based in Mystic, Connecticut, students live cooperatively in houses on the grounds of the nation’s leading maritime museum. Students consider the turmoil of Captain Ahab from Melville’s Moby-Dick while sitting on the deck of the world’s last remaining wooden whaling ship and present on a historical maritime artifact while actually holding it. Nineteenth century maritime skills classes complement the academics.  Students work alongside master artisans to forge iron, climb aloft to furl sails, or skipper a sailboat.

Students travel alongside faculty and staff to experience each of America’s three coasts. These extended field seminars to the East, West, and Gulf Coasts inform classroom discussions and research projects. While sailing offshore aboard a tall ship in the Atlantic, students act as the ship’s crew while collecting and analyzing oceanographic data. On the West Coast, we discuss international trade regulations while on board tugboats in busy ports and Steinbeck’s Cannery Row while on Cannery Row in Monterey. Students witness the effects of sea-level rise while paddling through vanishing marshes in Southern Louisiana. On these field seminars, students cultivate meaningful relationships with local community members as well as with other students, faculty, and staff.

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My Experience

This program completely changed my life. It took me so far away from my comfort zone and from anything I thought I would want to do with my life. And yet, after this semester of learning about the oceans and coasts, traveling to Alaska, Offshore, and Louisiana, forming such close relationships both with my classmates and the faculty and staff, and taking rigorous courses and doing original research, I’ve changed my life to focus on climate change and the environmental crisis. This section of my portfolio has five pieces of writing I did during this semester.

My Writing

Marine Policy Research paper, comparing two aquaculture facilities being built in Maine.

An article about a Williams-Mystic inspired environmental dance class I taught at Oberlin College.

Literature of the Sea paper, analyzing the animated children’s movie The Song of the Sea.

Maritime History paper, a look at institutionalized violence among sailors in the 1700s.

Marine Ecology Research paper, comparing the beaches on the Mystic Seaport Museum properties to the beaches in 1983.

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