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In Pursuit of the Whale

Overview: The course will involve close study of literature and films relating to whales and whaling, employing theoretical concepts from ecocriticism (environmentally-oriented cultural criticism) and critical animal studies. Making good use of the proximity of wild cetaceans, historic whaling sites, and the contemporary cultural industry of whale-watching, the course will combine place-based experiential learning with historically and theoretically informed methods of cultural analysis. Key questions will include: How and why have attitudes and interactions of humans and whales changed in modern history? What have whales come to mean in contemporary cultures (predominantly, but not solely, Canadian)? What role have literary and filmic representations played in these cultural transformations? How have literary writers responded to changing scientific ideas about cetaceans? And finally: where might the entangled ‘naturecultures’ of cetaceans and human primates go next? The disciplines of English literature, cultural theory, and environmental ethics; the findings of marine biologists; the recorded experiences of Western whalers; and the traditional knowledge and practices of indigenous peoples will be brought to bear on these questions. Herman Melville’s great cetological epic will be a key text and point of departure. The course can be taken at either 400 or graduate level, with differentiated tutoring and assessments. 

Research skills: Skills developed during the course will include textual analysis, critical thinking, historical research, and place-based reflection on cultural and environmental change. 

Boat Use: There will be no opportunity for students to drive boats during In Pursuit of the Whale. Boat driving is not recommended for this course. Students who wish to drive boats at BMSC must hold a PCOC and valid first aid certificate and will participate in an introductory boat check-out on the first day of orientation.

Prerequisites: For 400 level course: Third or fourth year standing and one (1) 300 or 400-level English course, or instructor permission. For 500 level course: acceptance on MA or PhD program in the humanities, or instructor permission.

Required texts: Herman Melville, ‘Moby Dick’. Philip Hoare, ‘Leviathan’. Farley Mowat, ‘A Whale for the Killing’. Linda Hogan, ‘People of the Whale’. Witi Ihimaera, ’The Whale Rider’. Charlotte Coté, ’Spirits of our Whaling Ancestors’. It is essential that participants complete the majority of the reading for the course in advance.  

Physical requirements: This course will involve hikes through the rainforest, an overnight camping trip, and walking over slippery rocks in the intertidal region of the coast. We will get in and out of boats, and we will probably go snorkeling.