Low Lake from the Wilderness Field Station (credit: David
Banner photo: Hegman Pictographs (credit: Heather Axen)
The Cornell Wilderness Term (CWT) is an off-campus program
comprising courses in the sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities.
Courses are taught during the first term of the academic year at the Wilderness
Field Station on Low Lake in the Superior National Forest. The Field
Station is within walking distance of the Boundary Waters
Canoe Area Wilderness, described by National
Geographic Traveler as "paradise found" and one of the "50
greatest places of a lifetime."
CWT provides students with unique opportunities for field, laboratory
and other creative work, and for reading, writing and reflecting in a
wilderness setting. Co-curricular activities--such as camping, canoeing
and evening seminars--enable cross-disciplinary sharing of ideas. CWT
courses are advertised each year in the TERM TABLE. Participation in the
program entails additional costs that are not covered by regular tuition
or financial aid, and include transportation, room and board, and use
of Wilderness Field Station facilities. Click on details
for further information about expenses, weather, and what to bring.
Offered in September 2006
Note: All classes begin on campus. Students
and faculty will travel together to the Wilderness Field Station
at the end of the first week of Term I and return at the end of
the third week.
American Literature: Encountering the Wilderness in Literature and the Visual Arts
This course, taught for the most part on site at the Wilderness Field Station at the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota/Canada, provides a rare opportunity to experience the wilderness on our own pulses at the same time that we explore literature and art made by earlier writers and artists from their encounters with the wild. Through the pens of writers, through the lenses of the f64 group of wilderness photographers, through the brushes and tales of the Canadian artist, Emily Carr and others, we will study encounters with the wilderness that shaped American culture in the first half of the twentieth century.
The stories, poems and visual artworks we study cover a wide range of styles. We will read stories or poems by Ernest Hemingway, Mary Austin, Mary Wilkins Freeman, and William Faulkner, as well as more recent works by Linda Hogan, Kim Blaeser and others. We will do close readings of the literature to examine how the stories and poems work, and consider them in the context of the visual arts—and of our own engagements with the wild--and write critical papers as part of the class portfolio. We will read and discuss the literature, ponder the artworks and consider carefully the interplay between our own encounters with the wilderness and the artworks of the wilderness that we study. To capture our own response to the wilderness, we will keep journals/portfolios which may include photography, painting, and sketching in addition to critical writing. Photo-criticism-journal or literary-criticism-sketchbook projects offer opportunities to merge art, critique and the experiential.
While at the Wilderness Field Station, the course plans a canoe trip into the Boundary Waters to see the Pictographs (ancient rock paintings) and to camp for a few days at BWCA sites. We will take time to learn about portaging canoes and surviving and thriving in a world without cell-phones, the local bar, electronic appliances and all the trappings of “civilization.” Trade all that for the chance to experience light-shows on water, roiling clouds shifting the scene in seconds, quaking aspens beside friendly firs, loud silences and the thrill of slithering into the icy water with gasps of dismay and delight—while examining how writers have channeled all that into literature or the visual arts. (Humanities) Read more . . .
Prerequisites: writing-designated course (W), liability waiver and permission of the instructor.
When Europeans first arrived in North America, they viewed it as
a continental wilderness populated by wild men (Native Americans)
and wild beasts. By the late 19th century the continent had been
tamed, and Euro-Americans were increasingly interested in preserving
vestiges of their wilderness past. The purest expression of that
impulse has been the political movement to preserve and protect
large tracts of undeveloped federal lands in a National Wilderness
Today there are 680 designated wilderness areas totaling more than
106 million acres. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in
northern Minnesota is among the oldest. It is the largest wilderness
area east of the Rockies and the most heavily visited in the nation.
It has been the object of more legislation and more litigation than
any other wilderness area. As such, it is the ideal venue for an
exploration of the politics of wilderness preservation and management
The course explores the wilderness concept and the wilderness itself.
We will study the history of wilderness preservation in the United
States, the impact of wilderness designation on national parks,
national forests, and other public lands, and the host of controversies
that inevitably arise when government agencies are directed to "preserve
natural conditions." What is wilderness? Is preserving wilderness
possible? Is wilderness preservation a waste of resources? Should
land managers interfere with natural forces? Should forest fires
be allowed to burn? Should predatory animals be reintroduced? What
is the appropriate place of people in wilderness areas? Should we
try to make the wilderness safe for visitors? Should visitors be
regulated to protect wilderness? Should concessions be made to Native
Americans whose ancestors once called these "wilderness areas"
home? How does the division of authority between federal and state
governments influence how these decisions are made? Science is indispensable
to thinking seriously about many of these questions, but ultimately
the choices to be made are political choices. We will try to understand
who is making these choices and why.
We will study the laws, regulations, court decisions, and management
practices that govern the use of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area
Wilderness. We will meet with wilderness managers, and we will participate
in wilderness management, measuring visitor impact at de facto campsites
in designated "primitive areas" where there are no official
campsites. We will travel by canoe for a week or more through the
BWCAW collecting impact data, visiting areas of historical and management
interest, and observing the influence of fire, wind, and visitor
behavior on the wilderness resource. (Social Science)
Prerequisites: POL 262, liability waiver and permission of
The details of the course will be similar to those described in the 2004 COURSE SYLLABUS. Current and historical syllabi for most Politics Department courses can be found here.