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Sample Syllabus

Fall Semester

Bob Burkholder
109 Burrowes Building
Phone: 814-865-6488

“Over the past four hundred years the Cape’s landscape and its people have probably inspired more memorable writing than any other nonurban area of comparable size,” writes Robert Finch of Cape Cod. In this course we will come to understand why the Cape has stirred the imaginations and talents of so many — from the indigenous people who lived there for millennia before the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620, to Thoreau, who hiked the Cape extensively, to Henry Beston, who built his “outermost house” on the Great Beach at Nauset in the 1920s, to contemporary writers and poets like Annie Dillard, Robert Finch, David Gessner, John Hay, Cynthia Huntington, and Mary Oliver. Our reading will span the last four hundred years, touching on what Cape Cod has been, what people imagine it to be, and what it might become in the future. Over Thanksgiving break, we will travel to the Cape, where we will live, work, and study for a week at the Massachusetts Audubon’s Wellfleet Sanctuary, a one-thousand-acre nature preserve on Massachusetts Bay. There we will venture out to hike in the footsteps of Thoreau and Beston and to boat to Billingsgate Shoal to learn about seals and sea birds. We may see pilot whales or right whales in the waters off the Cape. We will explore the bayside marsh and help sea turtle researchers working to save stranded turtles. We will travel to historical villages and lighthouses, spend a day in historic Provincetown, where the Pilgrims first struck land, hike the famous Provincelands dunes, and end our stay with a visit to Plimouth Plantation, where we can see how the Pilgrims lived and celebrated their first Thanksgiving. If you have ever wanted to know about the mystique, the rich history and culture, and the nature of Cape Cod, then there is no better chance than through this extraordinary course.


  • Henry Beston. The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2003.
  • Robert Finch, editor. A Place Apart: A Cape Cod Reader. Woodstock, VT: The Countryman Press.
  • Robert Finch. The Primal Place. Woodstock, VT: The Countryman Press.
  • David Gessner. A Wild, Rank Place: One Year on Cape Cod. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1997.
  • Cynthia Huntington. The Salt House: A Summer on the Dune of Cape Cod. Hanover, NH: Dartmouth University Press, 2003.
  • Greg O’Brien. A Nature Guide to Cape Cod and the Islands. Cape Cod: Codfish Press, 1990.

Registration and Late Drops

You must be fully registered for this course (that is, your semester bill must be paid) in order to go on the trip to Cape Cod in November, and if you don’t go on that trip you will not be able to complete the work of the course. If you drop the course, you forfeit all of your course fee.


This is an academic course with an experiential component, not just a series of outdoor adventures. You will get the greatest benefit from the course if you give balanced consideration to both the intellectual and physical requirements of the course. Reading is a significant part of this course — it will make the trips much more meaningful to you — so the expectation is that you will do the assigned reading, complete it on time, and come to class ready to discuss it.


There will be a very short, multiple-choice quiz on assigned reading at the beginning of each class meeting. In order to accommodate legitimate absences from class, your lowest quiz score will be dropped before calculating your final quiz average. You must read the assigned material carefully to do well on these quizzes. Missed classes can result in a significant lowering of your grade because you will miss the quiz and the opportunity to participate in discussions. Without exception, missed quizzes cannot be made up.

Class Presentation

Each student in the course will be required to do a brief (10–15 minute) presentation on some pre-determined topic related to the content of the course. These reports will be based on topics suggested by assigned reading and course trips and will serve as an end-of-semester review of some of the significant content of the course. You will have an opportunity to sign up for a report early in the semester, and you can spend the first half of the course gathering information for your presentation. The expectation is that the reports should draw on and reiterate information from the reading and trips and also add to that information. The aim should be to review and deepen the knowledge we acquire during our experiences off campus. PowerPoint presentations work best, so it is highly recommended that your report take that form. Reports will be graded on visual appeal, the quality of the information presented, the organization of that information, and the overall effectiveness of the presentation.


There will be take-home midterm and final exams that will require you to write a brief interpretive essay (3–4 pages) on a question about the work of the semester. You will be asked to use your experiences and your reading as evidence in your essay, so it’s important to keep up.

Field Journal

You will be required to write a field journal during the trip to the Cape. Before we go, you will be supplied with an itinerary for our trip and prompts for each of the required entries. These entries should be a serious reflection on what you have learned from your experience, comprised of your detailed observations, some discussion of the information presented to you on the trip, and your consideration of the meaning and importance of what you experience.

Responses to Films

Films simply enhance the content of the course. They can broaden and deepen our discussion of the way in which our culture perceives and represents the human/nature relationship. I will show a number of films after our class discussions during the semester. You must write a one-page response to four of these films. This response must demonstrate that you’ve watched the film, paid attention, and can cite some specific things from the film to support your ideas. The response essay should address two questions: (1) How does the film enhance your knowledge of the Cape, and (2) How does the film relate to assigned reading in this course? Because responses generate huge amounts of paper for me to manage, they will only be accepted the week after the film is shown in class.


Participation and good humor are keys to the success of this course. In the end, we will be spending a lot of time together, including a week together on Cape Cod. We will have much more rewarding and enjoyable class meetings if everyone chimes in and these, in turn, will make our trips much better than they would otherwise be. So participation is a significant part of how your final grade will be determined. Obviously you need to be on the trips and in the class meetings to participate: absences will affect your grade in a negative way. Please attend and please be of good cheer!

Your Final Grade will be determined in this way: the field journal is 20%, the quizzes are 25%, the class presentation is 10%, the take-home midterm is 15%, the take home final examination is 15%, responses to films are 5%, and participation is 10%. You must complete all the required work described above in order to receive a grade in the course.

You must do all your own work. Do not copy words or ideas directly from other sources without placing them within quotation marks and footnoting them. Rely on your own writing and thinking. If you are unclear about whether or not you are plagiarizing a source, please come talk to me about it. I will penalize cheating as severely as I can!

You must complete all of the assigned work of this course to pass it. You must hand in all assigned work on time unless you have arranged with me beforehand for extra time; that is, if it appears that you’re not going to be able to complete assigned work on time, you must let me know. Late papers may be penalized, depending upon how late you are in getting them to me. Extremely late papers will receive an “F.”

The Pennsylvania State University encourages qualified persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation in this course or have questions about physical access, please tell the instructor as soon as possible.


(Those assignments designated “Reserve” in the syllabus can be found in online course reserves and in the filing cabinet in 138 Burrowes Building [from 8–5 weekdays]). There is a photocopier in that room for your convenience. The copier takes change and bills, but it does not accept Lion Cash. Please be sure to return the file in good order to the filing cabinet when finished so your classmates can also use it.)

Week 1: Introduction to the course


Week 2: “Foreword,” “ Introduction,” “How Cape Cod and the Islands Were Formed,” and “The Forces of Erosion,” pp. ix–xiv, 9–32 in A Guide to Nature on Cape Cod and the Islands; and “Loomings,” pp. 1–9 in A Place Apart: A Cape Cod Reader; FILM: Cape Cod: The Sands of Time (13 mins.)


Week 3: “Loomings,” and “How They Lived,” pp. 10–31 and 33–53 in A Place Apart; Selection from Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower (Reserve); FILM: We Shall Remain: After the Mayflower (c. 40 mins.)


Week 4: Chpt. 1, “The Shipwreck”; Chpt. 3, “The Plains of Nauset”; Chpt. 5, “The Wellfleet Oysterman”; Chpt. 6, “The Beach Again”; Chpt. 9, “The Sea and the Desert” in Thoreau’s Cape Cod; FILM: We Shall Remain: After the Mayflower(concluded from 9/15; c. 40 mins.)

Week 5: Henry Beston’s The Outermost House, Chpts. 1–5

Week 6: The Outermost House, Chpts. 6–10; FILM: Portrait of a Coast (29 mins.)


Week 7: “Leviathan,” pp. 105–110 and 128–140; “Men’s Lives,” pp. 141–146, 151, 167–168; “Natural Mystery,” pp. 185–188, 214–234, 246–249; “Land’s End,” pp. 251–254, 281–299 in A Place Apart


Week 8: Robert Finch, The Primal Place, Chpts. 1–6

Week 9: The Primal Place, Chpts. 7–9

Week 10: The Primal Place, Chpts. 10–13; David Gessner, A Wild, Rank Place, pp. 1–27

Week 11: A Wild, Rank Place, pp. 28–135; FILM: The Sea Behind the Dunes (c. 58 mins).

Week 12: Cynthia Huntington, The Salt House, pp. 1–87; FILM: Voyage of the Lonely Turtle (c. 55 minutes)


Week 14: NO CLASSES — Thanksgiving Holiday (until 11/30)

Week 15: The Salt House, pp. 88–183

Week 16:“The New Cape Codders,” pp 363–40 in A Place Apart; Course Evaluations

Take Home Final Examination is due in my office no later than 5:00 p.m. on the Monday of finals week