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Cornell Wilderness Term - 2006

Low Lake from the Wilderness Field Station (credit: David Kesler)
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.

Courses 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.

ENG 1-347
American Literature: Encountering the Wilderness in Literature and the Visual Arts

Leslie Hankins

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.

POL 1-371
Wilderness Politics

Craig Allin

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 Preservation System.

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 in America.

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 instructor.

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.

The Cornell
Wilderness Term

The Boundary Waters
Canoe Area Wilderness


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