Williams-Mystic: The Maritime Studies Program of Williams College at Mystic Seaport
Award Year: 2019
Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Maritime Education
The Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Maritime Education, established in 1995, is presented in recognition of outstanding educational programs that foster greater awareness of our maritime heritage. The award is named after broadcaster Walter Cronkite, who served as chair of the Maritime Education Initiative and overseer for the Society for decades.
In 2019, Williams-Mystic: The Maritime Studies Program of Williams College at Mystic Seaport was awarded with the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Maritime Education. We recognized its many accomplishments in the evening’s awards dinner journal:
The Williams-Mystic Program will receive the NMHS Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Maritime Education for leadership in providing an outstanding undergraduate studies program examining the history, literature, policy, and science of the sea. A collaboration of Williams College, a private liberal arts college in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut, the Williams-Mystic program is a transformative ocean and coastal studies semester offering an immersive, interdisciplinary curriculum.
Each semester, Williams-Mystic introduces students to multifaceted issues regarding our oceans and coasts through an interdisciplinary approach. The 17-week intensive program includes four core courses: maritime history, marine policy, literature of the sea, and either oceanography or marine ecology. Courses are taught in both classroom and collections spaces on the Mystic Seaport campus and in the James T. Carlton Marine Science Center, which offers facilities for teaching and research of estuarine/coastal biology and geology. Students also have access to the museum’s collections to conduct independent research.
Instruction in traditional maritime skills complements the academic program and offers hands-on opportunities to interact with maritime artisans, sailors, and musicians and includes boat handling, shipsmithing, sailmaking, boat building, and chantey singing. As participants in the museum’s demonstration squad, students learn to handle sails, work aloft, set and furl sails, and embrace the culture of seafaring life past and present. Students row and sail the museum’s 30-foot whaleboats, tong for oysters, and cook over a 19-century fireplace, embracing our maritime history and seafaring heritage.
Williams-Mystic students also get a taste of primary research through travels to the Pacific, Gulf, and Atlantic coasts to conduct fieldwork and sail on the open ocean. The spring 2019 term will take students to Puerto Rico and St. Croix in the Caribbean; Monterey Bay, San Francisco, and Bodega Bay Marine Lab on the West Coast; and the Louisiana Universities Consortium Marine Lab and Grand Isle, Louisiana. They will explore a variety of topics including the complexities of ecosystems, commerce and industry, urban and rural cultures, local history, indigenous cultures, and the impacts of land loss and climate change. In the fall semester, students will travel to Alaska to Glacier Bay National Park and Sitka to further discover how coastal communities and cultures respond to climate change.
Executive Director Tom Van Winkle explains, “This is what the William-Mystic experience has been about since the founder and first director of the program, Dr. Benjamin W Labaree, inspired its inception: Let a group of students come together to study the sea and humankind’s relationship to it through the same four disciplines while living at a museum dedicated to maritime study. Take them on field experiences, near and far, to learn of other marine habitats. Have them go to sea as the crew of a sailing vessel to experience life at sea. Then let them return to the classroom where these experiences will bring new meaning to their academic study. Do all this and you will have provided them with the best teachers possible: themselves.”
A distinguished historian and educator, Dr. Labaree taught at Harvard University and was dean of Williams College from 1963 to 1967, where he was a professor until retiring in 1992. He was director of the Frank C. Munson Institute of American Maritime History at Mystic Seaport Museum from 1974 to 1996 and taught as a visiting professor at several institutions until 1998. Labaree House at Mystic Seaport Museum is named in his honor.
The Williams-Mystic program began with Dr. Labaree and a group of inspired students. After several winters of bringing Williams College students to Mystic Seaport Museum for the January academic term, Professor Labaree and his students sketched the original plan for a full semester program on a napkin while they stopped at a Dunkin Donuts on the way back to Williamstown, Massachusetts. After several years of planning with Mystic Seaport Museum, the Williams-Mystic Program was launched in 1977.
Today the Williams-Mystic program boasts over 1,700 alumni, representing successful professionals in a variety of fields. Lifelong friendships are made during this transformative semester. Through its strong alumni network, current students and recent graduates connect with alumni, staff, and faculty past and present.
Dr. Tom Van Winkle will accept the award on behalf of Williams-Mystic. Thomas B. Crowley, chairman and CEO of Crowley Maritime Corporation, will present the award.
Categories: Maritime Organization