Profile of a FWIS: America's Frontier, Then and Now

FWIS 153, The Lewis and Clark Expedition

An Interview with John Boles, Instructor

What do you think is interesting/distinctive about this FWIS course?
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark produced detailed, colorful journals describing what they saw, dangers they encountered, and various crises overcome during their more than two-year exploration of the American West in 1804–1806. They were often the first Europeans to see dozens of new species of animals and plants, and they offer pioneering ethnographic accounts of several Indian nations. Whether one is interested in botany, geology, Native Americans, natural history, or the problem of leadership—how did this group of explorers survive their adventure?—then an analysis of the journals of Lewis and Clark provides vivid information and insight. What was the role of Sacagawea? How did the explorers respond to the problem of grizzly bears? How did they find their way? How did they cross the Rocky Mountains in the middle of winter? What was the purpose of the trip in the first place. Students explore all these issues, and more, by reading the first-person accounts left by Lewis and Clark. Their words enable us to experience this incredible exploratory journey in a unique way.

How did you get interested in this particular topic? 
I got interested in this topic because I was invited to lead a Rice alumni trip to the region; this eventually led to nine such trips during which we retraced significant portions of their trail. These trips allowed me to experience the incredible geography of the region, get a sense of the difficulties Lewis and Clark encountered, and by canoeing the Missouri River and camping at authentic Lewis and Clark campsites, enabled me to understand the immensity of the task before them. The combination of their journals and the actual experience of portions of their trail have given me much greater understanding than just the books alone would have.

What is one thing you hope students draw from this FWIS?
I hope students grasp the excitement of studying the past; discover the value of examining primary written texts and learning how to understand them in their full complexity; and learn the challenge and excitement of writing well. I want them to discover how writing is an aspect of thinking. One doesn’t know what one knows until trying to write it out; in that sense, writing is an act of discovery as much as it is a process of communication. I want students to step out of their comfort zone of today and try to see life as people did two centuries ago.

 

FWIS 154: The Good, the Bad, and the Border

An Interview with Elizabeth Cummins Munoz, Instructor

How did you get interested in this particular topic?
First of all, Willie Nelson. I always loved his version of Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty,” and over the years I came to understand this little country-western ballad as a sort of lament to the tragic misunderstandings of different cultures with distinct moral codes coming into contact. Later, as I focused my literary research on the historical fiction of Greater Mexico, I began to understand that fiction and art is an incredibly important tool for people on the border of multiple cultural realities to make meaning out of their lived contradictions. 

What do you think is interesting/distinctive about this FWIS course?
The readings, films and music in this course come from all over the US/Mexico borderlands–north, south, and smack dab in the middle. From these different vantage points, students will look at representations of familiar figures from new perspectives: Mexican cowboys and American outlaws, cross-dressing heroines of the Alamo, north-south border crossers, and those who carry many metaphorical borders within them. Throughout, students will ask the same question, What does right and wrong look like in this version of the borderlands? We will then use writing to interrogate our own understanding of these moral codes and ask real questions about the place of art and representation in all these messy ambiguities.

What is one thing you hope students draw from this FWIS?
I hope they fall in love with some of the beautiful writing and film that they are introduced to! And I hope they come to see how artistic creation can serve as a space in which people make meaning out of the contradictions they experience, a way to comprehend competing codes of right and wrong that many of us experience in our own “borderlands.”