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Sample Syllabus

Although the assignments and readings change every year, this sample schedule is intended to give you a sense of the types of reading and other work required in the course.

Sailing the Chesapeake: Cultural and Natural Landscapes (ENGL 181A)

“Heaven and Earth never agreed to frame a better place for man’s habitation.”
Captain John Smith, True Relation of Occurrences and Accidents in Virginia (1608)

“If these biology fellers are right, there’s a lot to learn about an arster.”
John Larrimore, Skipjack Captain for Forty Years

“Sailing the Chesapeake” is a course that aims to introduce you to the ecology and culture of a distinctive geographical region through study of the history, natural history, and literature of that place. The central assumption of the course is that experience is essential to the study of place and art and ideas. The course includes a number of “experiences” that enhance the academic study of the Chesapeake and its watershed, from a canoe trip on the West Branch of the Susquehanna; a trip, guided by Chesapeake Bay Foundation naturalists, on the Main Stem of the Susquehanna, at Harrisburg; and a long weekend of Bay Studies at Echo Hill Outdoor School, on the Bay near Chestertown, Maryland, including sailing on a historic skipjack on the Chester River, Bay Studies in a historic Bay workboat, and sampling of local cuisine, music, and folklore. There is also a day of education and service — a bank planting on the tributary of the Susquehanna in Lancaster County. These experiences will inform our reading, which will range from John Smith’s own account of his 1608 exploration of the region, to a novel by “the Thoreau of the Chesapeake,” Gilbert Byron, to recent poetry, fiction, and essays about the Bay and/or its watershed. The overall effect should be a broadening and deepening of your understanding of the Chesapeake region, and what I hope will be an unforgettable experience.


  • Gilbert Byron. The Lord’s Oysters. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977.
  • Richard Harwood, ed. Talking Tidewater: Writers on the Chesapeake. Chestertown, MD: Literary House Press, 1996.
  • James Michener. Chesapeake: A Novel. New York: Random House, 2003.
  • John R. Wennersten. The Chesapeake: An Environmental History. Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 2001.
  • Optional Book: Alice Jane Lippson and Robert L. Lippson. Life in the Chesapeake Bay: An Illustrated Guide to the Fishes, Invertebrates, Plants, Birds, and Other Animals of Bays and Inlets from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras. Fourth Edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. (Any edition of the book will be fine.) This is an excellent illustrated field guide to the estuary.



3: Introduction to the course


10: Jack Brubaker, “Harrisburg: Water Gaps,” “Harrisburg: Renewal,” “Harrisburg: Ice,” “Harrisburg: Drought,” pp. 140–156 in Down the Susquehanna to the Chesapeake (Packet); Susan Q. Stranahan, “Geology,” pp. 7–37 in Susquehanna: River of Dreams (Packet)

13: Float Trip on the Main Stem of the Susquehanna at Harrisburg with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

17: James Michener, “Voyage Seven: 1811,” pp. 405–413 in Chesapeake: A Novel; Film:Expedition Susquehanna (2007)

19: Jack Brubaker, “Long Reach River,” pp. 79–117 in Down the Susquehanna to the Chesapeake (Packet), Susan Q. Stranahan, “Logging” pp. 75–115 and “The River and the Bay,” pp. 279–301; response paper one due in class

23–26: Trip to Maryland’s Eastern Shore (leave late Thursday afternoon and return Sunday evening)



1: William Warner, “The Bay,” pp. 3–12 in Beautiful Swimmers: Waterman, Crabs, and the Chesapeake Bay (Packet); Andrew McCown, “Of Crabs and Chicken-neckers, Bare Feet and Hurricanes, Out-of-Town Newspapers and Mister Fishnocks,” pp. 25–32 in Here on the Chester: Washington College Remembers Old Chestertown (Packet); Robert Day, “The Statue Man,” and “The Linguist,” pp. 80–91 and pp. 102–108 in Talking Tidewater; Tom Horton, “Thoreau Times Forty,” pp. 172–177 in Bay Country: Reflections on the Chesapeake; and Tom Horton, “The Last Skipjacks,” pp. 139–153 in Talking Tidewater

8: James Michener, “Voyage Eleven: 1886,” and “The Watermen,” pp. 640–709 in Chesapeake: A Novel; response paper two due in class

15: Gilbert Byron, The Lord’s Oysters, pp. 1–156

16: Canoe trip on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, Rolling Stone to Karthaus (all day)

22: Gilbert Byron, The Lord’s Oysters, pp. 157–330; response paper three due in class


29: John Smith, A Map of Virginia (1612) at, pp. 75–99 and pp. 141–151, the latter from “Proceedings of the English Colony”; James Michener, “Voyage Two: 1608,” pp. 44–56 in Chesapeake: A Novel; John R. Wennersten, The Chesapeake: An Environmental Biography, pp. 3–37


5: John R. Wennersten, The Chesapeake: An Environmental Biography, pp. 38–139


12: Tom Horton, “Short Important Trips of Oysters,” pp. 52–59 in Bay Country (Packet); Tom Horton, “Killing Geese,” pp. 71–79 and John Barth, “Goose Art,” pp. 59–71 and Bill Gifford, “Modern Man” pp. 171–186 in Talking Tidewater

13: Service Trip with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation: Bank planting along a tributary of the Susquehanna River

19: William Warner, “Beautiful Swimmer,” and “Lester Lee and the Chicken Neckers,” pp. 90–119 and pp. 145–184 in Beautiful Swimmers (Packet)

21: No Classes — Thanksgiving Holiday (until November 23)



3: Wennersten, “Is the Chesapeake Dying?” pp. 177–215 in The Chesapeake: An Environmental Biography; Tom Horton “The Bay Connects Us, They Bay Reflects Us,” and “State of the Bay” pp. 3–42 in Turning the Tide: Saving the Chesapeake Bay, Revised and Expanded Edition (Packet)

10: David Finkel, “Bay Blues,” pp. 154–170 in Talking Tidewater; Tom Horton, “Saving the Bay, pp. 197–209 in Bay Country (Packet); course evaluations