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The History of the Maine Coast

The History of the Maine Coast is an experiential, hands-on course that provides students with the opportunity to not only study history, but to actively involve themselves in the practice of exploring, researching, and ultimately retelling historical stories about the Maine coast. In our effort to experience history as the telling and understanding of stories, we will read primary source documents, maps, poems, photographs, ships’ logs, and landscapes. As an inquiry based class, students’ questions about the material we encounter will guide our work together. Students will be asked to think, research, and write like historians—critically, deeply, and with thorough consideration of things like context, causality, and contingency. By highlighting the processes necessary to the in-depth study of local history, students not only gain content knowledge, they also gain transferable skills such as how to write a compelling research question and analyze historical documents and artifacts. While the course is primarily focused on the coast of Maine, we approach our topic knowing that the story of one area can never be fully understood in isolation, and therefore the course places many of our topics within the context of state, regional, national, and global trends and events.

This course will span a broad chronology from prehistory to contemporary time, focusing on themes that have had a major impact on past and present coastal Maine life. These themes include the geologic history of the coast, the Wabanaki tribes of Maine, European colonization of the state, Maine’s role in the Triangle Trade, and the rise of Maine’s major industries, with particular focus on the maritime industries of shipbuilding, lobstering, and fishing. In addition, we will explore more intangible questions about life along Maine’s coast: the relationships between people and the sea as evidenced in the art, literature, food, music, and oral traditions of the coast. Ultimately, we seek to understand as much as possible about how the coast of Maine has shaped—and been shaped by—the people who have lived and worked along its shores. To conclude the semester, students complete an independent research project based on original research, interviews, and the experiences culled from extensive time in the field, at historical societies, and in museums.