Munson Institute

The Frank C. Munson Institute of American Maritime Studies at Mystic Seaport, The Museum of America and the Sea, invites your participation in six-weeks of advanced study.

Through the Institute’s Survey, Seminar and Independent Research courses, participants will study the American maritime past – the vast number of seafarers and citizens of shoreside communities who have shaped this country even as they shaped, and were shaped by their maritime environment. Working on the sea and on the inland rivers and lakes, these people transformed the United States through developments in transportation, technology, the national economy, naval forces, and international diplomacy. Their history offers a naturally dramatic and compelling way to understand the national identity as well as the interaction between humankind and nature. With an economy based on container shipping and a foreign policy that relies heavily on the navy, the United States citizenry continues to be deeply dependent on these maritime activities, just as it is dependent on the health of the world’s oceans.

The Munson Institute employs interdisciplinary perspectives on American maritime studies, with an emphasis on the most recent social, cultural and environmental approaches. The institute samples four hundred years of American maritime history. Attention is placed on the most influential recent work in maritime studies, much of it by scholars who are members of the Munson faculty.

Munson Institute reading list

Faculty studies examine a wide range of topics: Lisa Norling on the independent lives of whaling wives in New England; Jeffrey Bolster on the large population of “Black Jack” sailors of color in the ante-bellum cities of the East Coast, and the historic impact of fisheries on the natural stocks; John Hattendorf on the United States Navy; John Jensen on demographic portraits of Great Lakes sailors and the maritime cultural landscape; Mary K. Bercaw Edwards on Herman Melville’s career at sea and Helen Rozwadowski on the development of marine science and coastal recreation. While serving as co-directors, Glenn S. Gordinier and Eric Roorda will offer perspectives on Early National policy and conflicts with the citizenry, and on Cuban immigrant rafters and the contemporary cruise industry, respectively.

In addition to sessions led by the faculty and guest speakers of the institute, the curriculum will involve field seminars in nearby port communities. Trips to Stonington, New London and Groton, Connecticut, as well as Newport, Rhode Island, will be part of the curriculum. The field seminars will also feature maritime tours from the perspective of the water with cruises under steam, aboard a science vessel and a replica whaleboat.

Mystic SeaportMost of the Munson Institute takes place at beautiful Mystic Seaport, one of the largest and most comprehensive maritime museums in the world, in coastal Connecticut. The Museum covers seventeen acres, with sixty historic buildings, and more than five hundred historic vessels. The Institute will take special advantage of primary source materials from the vast manuscript collections of the G. W. Blunt White Library at Mystic Seaport; the facilities of the Conservation Resource Center at the Museum, where artifacts and photographs are preserved for research; and the public exhibits of Mystic Seaport itself. All together, these facilities make an inspiring campus for program participants.

These resources, in the way of faculty, skills, collections, and natural setting have helped the Munson Institute to garner repeated awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities to host NEH Summer Institutes for College and University Faculty.  This rare honor has been awarded to the Munson Institute four times within the passed seven years.

Survey, Seminar, and Independent Research Courses

America Goes to Sea Maritime History Survey Course: Meeting three mornings a week, this course explores the history of maritime America from before Columbus to the present, tracing a variety of topics in roughly chronological order along the way. Subjects include the rise of the U.S. merchant marine and international commerce, the evolution of new technologies, the history of U.S. naval forces, and the development of seaport communities. Questions of gender, race and class are examined closely. The survey closes with discussion of current issues facing the oceans and the United States, and builds on earlier environmental history and policy discussions.