In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we ask “5 Questions” of William “Vijay” Pinch, professor of history. Pinch spent five weeks this summer interacting with maritime scholars and working in the archives and library at Mystic Seaport.
Q: What were you studying at Mystic Seaport this summer?
A: From June 25 to to July 27, I was privileged to be a student in a “summer institute” at Mystic Seaport, focused on “The American Maritime People.” The institute is usually pitched to graduate students, but every few years it is offered to college and university faculty with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This was one of those NEH-funded summers. The faculty who teach at the institute represent some of the top scholars in maritime history, especially in the context of the Atlantic and (mostly) North American world. What was especially interesting to me, as someone who was not originally trained in maritime history (or North American history for that matter), was to see how the field of maritime history has broadened, so that it now encompasses everything under the rubric of the human interaction with and perception of the sea over time. This appealed to my wider world-historical instincts. Similarly, it was instructive to see the ways in which the maritime experience mediated New England’s interaction with other parts of the Americas and the wider world. We also examined marine environmental history, fisheries history, the history of oceanography, naval history, and the recent maritime past and maritime present–including the geo-strategic challenges on the horizon (especially in the Pacific and Indian Oceans), the rise of container shipping, bulk cargo supertankers, and the mega-cruise ship phenomenon.
Q: How does this inform, or how is it informed by, your other areas of interest?
A: My initial interest in the summer institute at Mystic stemmed from a desire to refine and improve my maritime world history course. I’ve offered the course in varying incarnations over the past seven years or so, and each time I struggle with what to include and how to organize it. So the five-week course was excellent for stimulating new thinking along these lines. I’d like for students to be able to take better advantage of all that Mystic and the wider region have to offer. What makes the summer institute special is the combination of traditional classroom learning with more hands-on “public history” kinds of activities.