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Imagine being able to re-trace Lewis and Clark's 1803 Expedition to explore the western United States. Nate Lowe, assistant professor of writing, and seven Lakeland undergraduates spent five days in Montana during their May term course, camping alongside and canoeing the Missouri River, just as the explorers did over 200 years earlier.
The course enhances the learning experience and deepens knowledge of the expedition by immersing students in the exact place where the history unfolded.
The group canoed about 50 river miles in three days. Everyone took a role in setting up camp, cooking/preparing meals, building fires and telling stories around the campfire. "The descriptions from the Lewis and Clark journals came alive around us," Lowe said. "Our group floated by the famous 'White Cliffs' and the mouth of 'Slaughter River,' where Lewis and Clark saw innumerable dead buffalo.
"We did some of the same scientific experiments as did Lewis. For example, we watched a tablespoon of water evaporate in 36 hours, an indication of just how dry the climate is. The students imagined the many buffalo, elk and big horn sheep the expedition saw and hunted, and what it must have been like to encounter a grizzly bear."
Students kept journals to document their discoveries, wrote a research paper and gave presentations in class about the expedition. The group discussed the politics, ecology, relations with Native Americans, commerce/international trade, military command and the logistics of this unprecedented (and still unmatched) journey.
Prior to the train trip to Montana, the students read Stephen Ambrose's "Undaunted Courage," a 1996 biography of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and the expedition of the Corps of Discovery. JD Botana, a senior majoring in writing, said the best part was imagining what Lewis and Clark experienced during their historic expedition.
"We got to stay at some of the landings they used to establish camps," Botana said. "It remains much like they would have seen it."
Another highlight for Botana was the campfire talks by the group's guide, a mountaineer who had participated in Lewis & Clark reenactments.
"He had so many stories," Botana said. "He would tell us some very outlandish things - he's had lots of time to craft his art."
Although Botana has taken advantage of a number of unique educational opportunities - such as spending a semester in Japan - he considers the Lewis and Clark class one of the best experiences he's ever had.
"When you actually go to a place, it helps you understand context," Botana said. "The combination of the trip along with the readings and verbal presentations helped me create a better interpretation of the historical achievement of the event."
Lowe said there is support for future offerings of the class, which was created by professor of English Linda Tolman and first offered in 2001. "I was really pleased with this year's trip, and the work the students put into it," Lowe said. "It was a rewarding, interactive educational experience for all of us."