Fall 2019 HC 221H: Thinking Like the Sun: Travel in Ancient and Emergent Minds

Fall 2019-2020

Professor: Barbara Mossberg

4.00 credits

  • CRN 12749: Monday & Wednesday, 10:00 - 11:50 @ CHA 201

“I cannot rest from travel/I will drink life to the lees”—Tennyson, “Ulysses”

Ahoy, armchair travelers! People did not always have access to planes to jet across the world, or satellite imagery in which to gaze at our earth whole. For most of human history earth was traversed laboriously on foot, or by donkey or camel, or by dug-out canoe, or home-made raft: travel was arduous, and people did not go far. Yet the idea of travel is primal in the human imagination; as early as the Sphinx, our own lives are conceived as a journey in sync with a universe in motion. Our course finds us fascinated by this phenomenon—our ability to conceive experience and worlds beyond our own immediate environment. We will be what most of humanity has been over time, armchair travelers, embarking on a learning mission on the ways people historically have “traveled.” “There is no frigate like a book,” Emily Dickinson said. By reading accounts of imagined travel, we will see what we can learn about ourselves as human beings: we will investigate travel depicted as a way of understanding the meaning of our own life journeys. In works ranging from Gilgamesh to Sophocles’ Sphinx, Homer’s Odyssey, Dante’s Inferno, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, Thoreau’s "Walking", John Muir’s 1000 Mile Walk to the Gulf, Travels in Alaska, and “Yuba Windstorm,” Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, to Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, we examine the idea of travel depicted in literature as a learning journey, and learning as a travel journey, engaging with accounts of the disarray and transformation of departing from knowing and venturing into the unknown. “Why do we leave what we know best?” Charles Wright asks:

What is it inside us that keeps erasing itself

When we need it most,

That sends us into uncertainty for its own sake

And holds us flush there

                                        until we begin to love it

And have to begin again?

What is it within our own lives we decline to live

Whenever we find it,

                                    making our day unendurable,

And night almost visionless?

I still don’t know yet, but I do it.

Students will have the opportunity to research travel attitudes in works associated with their majors and life interests. We will examine how the depiction of ancient travel intersects with perspectives on exploration depicting our own world today. In regarding “outlandish” tales, from narratives composed around the globe over thousands of years, we inquire into what may be defining to human nature—learning travel without jet lag!