Students to Develop a ‘Sense of Place’ in New Interdisciplinary Course

Canoeing on the Shawsheen River, participating in an archeological dig and documenting aspects of campus with waterproof cameras are just a few of the activities that students will take part in for the new interdisciplinary course to be called INTD 410: “Academy Hill: A Sense of Place.”

Christine Marshall-Walker, Instructor in Biology, and Mark Cutler, Instructor in Spanish and Director of Outdoor Pursuits, will teach the course, which is being offered for the first time this Spring Term.

“The course is essentially designed to explore the natural world and the environment of the region of Andover and to look back using many disciplines of study to understand how [Andover] came to be what it is now. We will be specifically focusing on the campus environment, but also expanding and taking a global perspective on something that’s very local,” said Cutler.

Students who sign up for this course will automatically be placed in Outdoor Pursuits for their sport. The course will meet three days a week and will combine the after-school sports period with ninth period, from 3:15-5:30. The course will count towards the athletic requirement. Like any other Outdoor Pursuits program, the course will have weekend commitments twice throughout the term.

There will be no application process for the class, and priority will be given to Lowers in signing up for the course. Marshall-Walker said the course aims to expose students to all the resources available on campus, such as museums and the archives, which Lowers would be able to use during their Upper and Senior years.

Marshall-Walker said, “We want to give students the tools to really understand where you are living and extract very readily all the meaning of the history of where you are, either naturally or human-oriented history of who’s lived here, why they chose to live here, why they have been allowed to live here, what they have done to the land and how they have shaped the community.”

Marshall-Walker said that she and Cutler want to offer students tools that they can use to gain a perspective on the biological and regional history of the school. “We wanted a course that would offer students a way of developing a ‘sense of place’ at Andover,” said Marshall-Walker.

Rather than learning in a traditional classroom, students will canoe on the Shawsheen River on a weekly basis to observe and discuss the historical junctures along the river, including the urbanization and the industrial development of the region. The class will take advantage of the log cabin in the sanctuary, where students will receive brief lectures and share reflections or presentations. Students will hike through particular areas of campus and participate in archeological digs with the Peabody Museum.

The assignments for the course will be project-based. Students will have the chance to start their own blog and document aspects of the campus with high-end waterproof cameras, according to Cutler.

Members of the History department, the Biology department, the Andover Historical Society, the Peabody Museum, the Addison Gallery and this year’s Artist in Residence, James Prosek, will collaborate with the interdisciplinary course. Head of School John Palfrey will also teach a few classes on the institutional ethics that Andover has lived by in shaping the land of the Academy.

The course will eventually culminate in a larger presentation for the Andover community, where participating students will discuss how a “sense of place” translates to the “responsibility of a place.”

Marshall-Walker said the ultimate goal of the course is the stewardship of the land moving forward. “If we were to take a picture of this campus a hundred years from now, what would we hope to see? Or even fear what we might see? We need to think about our roles in stewarding these natural resources,” said Marshall-Walker.

“We’re hoping to build a class of 12 students, and I hope that there will be a variety of students, not just Eco-Action students, because that would very much be preaching to the choir. I want to attract some students who are looking for a different kind of science or a different kind of humanities class or even other subjects like anthropology,” said Cutler.

An informational session will be held for students interested in the course on February 4 from 6-7 p.m. in Ada’s Room in Paresky Commons.