Campus Currents

Go West, Young People

Lewis and Clark Like Lewis and Clark, above, UNH students canoed on the Missouri River and celebrated reaching the Pacific Ocean in Oregon.

The journey began at the Cahokia Mounds site outside St. Louis. Ten UNH students and their three instructors stood on top of the largest earthen construction in the Americas, a 100-foot-high mound that may have taken an ancient Native American civilization 100 years to build, one basketful of earth at a time. It was an appropriate starting point for a summer-school field trip designed not to reenact but to re-discover Lewis and Clark's exploration of the American West 200 years ago.

From the top of the mound, the students looked west to the 630-foot stainless steel Gateway Arch at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. "It was surreal," recalls art student Debbie Kinson, "like traversing time at a glance. A thousand years." The view was especially appropriate for students who had studied American history intensively on campus for three weeks in July prior to embarking on their two-week expedition by minivan from St. Louis to Fort Clatsop, Ore.

Missouri River

Humanities 592: Discovery and Re-Discovery of America began with the Enlightenment, explains political science instructor David Corbin, "because you need an appreciation of the Enlightenment to understand what 'discovery' meant to Thomas Jefferson, both politically and intellectually." Taking the perspective of Jefferson and the European-descended Americans of the time, the students looked west to the prospect of conquest, discovery and profit. For the opposite perspective, Kathryn Askins, a graduate student specializing in Native American history, helped the class take the view of the Native Americans, who looked eastward at the onslaught headed their way. From that standpoint, of course, the West was already discovered, and even Lewis and Clark themselves were on an expedition of "re-discovery."

The class maintained this bifocal outlook throughout the trip. They saw an authentic Jeffersonian Peace Medal and a replica of one of the hollowed-out tree trunks that the original Corps of Discovery paddled up the Missouri and portaged over mountains and cactus fields. The students met with Mandan and Nez Perce Indians and visited a prairie-grass restoration site. ("Grass isn't just grass anymore," commented one student while collecting specimens under the guidance of botanist Janet Sullivan.) Askins gave each rider in her van an Indian-style name that fit his or her personality.

Pacific Ocean in Oregon

The UNH Corps of Re-Discovery also spent three days on the Missouri River--gratefully going the "wrong way" for easier downstream paddling in their lightweight polyethylene canoes. Although experiencing the famous trek in a 21st-century sort of way was much less taxing and time consuming, the students did share some of the emotions expressed in Lewis and Clark's journals 200 years ago. In a group journal, one student quoted William Clark: "Great Joy ...We are in View of the Ocean." And in keeping with the parallel perspectives of the course, she signed herself with both her English and Indian names—Kathy "Earth Woman" Zerbolias.

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