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The Beach: Exploring the Literature of the Atlantic Shore

The Beach: Exploring the Literature of the Atlantic Shore


(Credits of English 181C, GH and US; and 1.5 Credits of Kinesiology 001, GHW)

Lowcountry South Carolina is a land of romance, mystery, and complex natural and cultural entanglement. In class we read writers inspired by their time in the marshes and barrier islands of the Lowcountry, as well as writing from multiple disciplines that helps us understand the history, culture, and ecology of the region.

Over Spring Break we travel to coastal South Carolina, near Charleston, for a week of paddling kayaks and learning, featuring visits with local writers, journeys to historical sites, and exploration of the varied landscapes of the southeastern Atlantic coast.  This is the most wildlife rich of the Adventure Literature field trips: dolphins, alligators, lizards, owls and eagles are among the animals we frequently encounter, and we occasionally sight river otters, swallow-tailed kites, and the rare red-cockaded woodpecker.


Class meets each Tuesday of the semester from 6:00 to 8:00PM.

Late-February: A day of kayak instruction and training in the pool at McCoy Natatorium

March, during Spring Break:  Low Country expedition with Nature Adventure Outfitters of Awendaw, SC, the premier kayak outfitters in the Charleston area (

ENG 181C, in conjunction with KINES 001 603, meets every Tuesday of the spring semester from 6:00-8:00PM. In late February, we have on-campus kayak training at McCoy Natatorium on a Sunday evening. We spend spring break in South Carolina, exploring the region by kayak, meeting with authors and activists, and getting a stronger sense of the history, culture, and ecology that inform the literature we study.

Readings may be drawn from some of the following:

  • Jennifer Ackerman, Notes from the Shore (New York: Penguin, 1996)
  • Henry Beston, The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod (New York: Ballantine, 1971)
  • Franklin Burroughs, The River Home: A Return to the Carolina Low Country (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993)
  • Rachel Carson, The Edge of the Sea (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1955)
  • Lena Lencek and Gideon Bosker, The Beach: The History of Paradise on Earth (New York: Viking, 1998)
  • John Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina, ed. Hugh Tallmadge Lefler (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967)
  • John McPhee, “An Island” in Encounters with the Archdruid (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971), pp. 79–150
  • Peter Meyer, Nature Guide to the Carolina Coast (Wilmington, NC: Avian-Cetacean Press, 1998)
  • John Murray, editor, The Seacoast Reader (Guilford, Connecticut: Lyons Press, 1999)
  • Carl Safina, Song for the Blue Ocean: Encounters Along the World’s Coasts and Beneath the Seas (New York: Henry Holt, 1997)
  • John and Mildred Teal, Life and Death of the Salt Marsh (New York: Ballantine, 1971)
  • Henry David Thoreau, Cape Cod (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988)
  • Joseph J. Thorndike, The Coast: A Journey Down the Atlantic Shore (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993)

While the syllabus changes every year, this example illustrates the variety of readings that inform our study of the Lowcountry.

Calendar of Assignments

Week 1: Organizational Meeting

Week 2: Introduction to the course

Waves and Tides

Week 3: “The Headlong Wave” from The Outermost House by Henry Beston; “Wind and Water” from The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson; “Tide Fingers,” by Robert Finch; “The Edge” from The Salt House by Cynthia Huntington (Course File); Film in Class: Ribbon of Sand

What is the Most Ethical Human/Nature Relationship?

Week 4: “The Star Thrower,” by Loren Eiseley; Lisa Coutou rier, “The Hopes of Snakes,” from her The Hopes of Snakes; and David Quammen, “The Face of the Spider” from his The Flight of the Iguana (Course File)

Confronting the Wild Other (Low Country Wildlife)

Week 5: “The Moon By Whale Light,” (pp. 111-180), in Ackerman, The Moon By Whale Light;Douglas Chadwick, “Interview with a Whale” (Course File)

Week 6: “The Eyelids of Morning,” (pp. 60-110), in Ackerman, The Moon By Whale Light; Film in class—Realm of the Alligator. Reports on Barrier Island Geology (Bingham) and Kayaks by (Foster)

Week 7: Susan Cerulean, “Origin Moment,” from her Tracking Desire; David Gessner, “Learning to Surf” and “When you See a Skimmer; Barbara Hurd, “Moon Snail: Unseemly Proportions,” “Jellyfish: The Unfinished,” and “Angel Wings: Missing Pieces,” from her Walking the Wrack Line: On Tidal Shifts and What Remains (Course File); Film in class—Alligators, with Nigel Marvin; Reports on Red Wolf Reintroduction (Renfrew) and Low Country Development (Belinski)

Living on Barrier Islands

Week 8: DeBlieu, Hatteras Journal (pp. 3-59);  Film in Class—Sewee: From the Forest to the Sea; MID-TERM ESSAY DUE

Week 9: Deblieu, Hatteras Journal (pp. 105-151,172-222); Film in class—Nature Scene: Bull Island; Reports on Bull and Capers Islands (Redcay) and Sea Turtle Conservation (Clark)

Writing on the Carolina Coast

Week 10: John Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina, (read only  the “Journal”—available online and in the Course File); Susannah Miles, The Sewee: The Island People of the Carolina Coast(Course File—Only available in the filing cabinet in 139 Burrowes); Film in class—Nature Scene: Forest to Sea; Report on “Common Flora and Fauna of  the South Carolina Low Country” (Jones)

Week 11: Burroughs, The River Home (pp. 3-78); Reports on “Native Americans of the South Carolina Coast” (McGowan) and “The History of Charleston, SC” (with emphasis on founding, early settlement of the Santee River and the barrier islands) (Marcus)

Week 12: Burroughs, The River Home (pp. 133-202); Reports on “Common Ocean Birds of the South Carolina Low Country” (Brenner) and “Common Birds of the Low Country’s Swamps and Bays” (Karpov) and “Common Seashells of the South Atlantic Coast”

Week 13: John Leland, Porcher’s Creek (pp. xi-61); Reports on  “Common Seashells of the South Atlantic Coast” (Roebuck) and “Rice Plantations and Rice Culture in South Carolina with emphasis on Plantations along Huger and Quinby Creeks and the Pompion Hill Chapel” (Plakat)

Week 14: John Leland, Porcher’s Creek (p. 62-114); Film in class—Nature Scene: Bull Island After Hugo;Reports on “ “Gullah Culture” (Fitzgerald)  and “Archibald Rutledge, Hampton Plantation, and McClellanville, SC (including St. James Santee Church)” (Morgan) Rutledge,Home By the River (pp. 13-79,  157-167); and  Roger Pinckney, “Once Upon a Turtle Moon,” from Orion ; and Pinckney, “Out of Africa,” from his Blue Roots: African-American Folk Magic of the Gullah People (Course File); and Pinckney, “Bucking a Stiff Ebb Tide”; Film in class—God’s Gonna Trouble the Water (on Gullah culture)

Reports on “Hurricane Hugo and Other Hurricanes of the South Carolina Coast” (Thomas) and “Environmental Dangers of the South Carolina Low Country” (Gilmore)

Week 15: FINAL EXAM DUE—Please send this to me by email attachment by 5:00 today.

Fees and Registration

The class fee of $400 covers all instruction and most program materials, overnight accommodations from the expedition start date to the expedition end date, equipment (kayaks, all group gear — such as tents and stoves — and some personal gear), meals during the expedition, and ground transportation during the expedition. The fee also includes transportation to and from the expedition, as well as entrance fees to museums. All outdoor activities are weather dependent, so last-minute changes to the itinerary and cancellations are possible if the weather is threatening.

For full-time Penn State students (with 12 or more credits)
Upon your acceptance, this course will be added to your spring semester schedule. No additional tuition payment is required. Your class fee will be charged to your student account.

For non-full-time students (part-time students or non–Penn State students)
You will receive a bill for payment, which includes tuition — based on your residence and semester status — and the information technology, activity, and class fees.

How to Register

Students should register for ENGL 181C. Students can take the English course as ENGL 496, which may help them fulfill some degree requirements.


Because of the nature of this program and the commitment we make to it, the registration deadline is January 11, or when the course fills. After this date, please call Wanda Bickle at 814-863-6780 for information about late-registration opportunities, if applicable.

Penn State Cancellations or Changes

You will be notified of any cancellations or changes. If some unforeseen event forces Penn State to cancel or postpone the program, you will receive a full refund of your registration fee; however, the University cannot be held responsible for any related costs, including cancellation fees assessed by airlines or travel agencies.


To cancel your enrollment, email Wanda Bickle at by January 11, 2012. Note: Do not use Lionpath; it will not remove you from the course, and you will be held responsible for all the fees. After this deadline, $50 will be deducted for administrative expenses.


The University reserves the right to revise the schedule of tuition and charges without further notice. For more information on tuition, visit


Penn State encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs. If you anticipate needing special accommodations or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact the planner at 814-863-6780 before your participation.