History and the Sea: Drew Lipman’s (F’99) Story

“You become very aware of your impact on the planet. That circle of blue is what the planet truly looks like.”

This post was written by S’18 alumna Audra DeLaney. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. 

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Growing up around boats and sailing set Drew Lipman (F’99) up for a career involving the ocean. While a student at Vassar College majoring in history, he also developed an interest in environmental history.

He saw advertisements for Williams-Mystic and kept the program on his radar.

“I looked up Williams-Mystic and Sea Education Association. Williams-Mystic had a more humanities-based approach and I was excited about using the museum and its archives,” Drew said.

Drew’s semester began with a short orientation. Soon, the group was embarking on their Offshore Field Seminar.

“We were around for a week and then headed out onto the SSV Corwith Cramer,” Drew said. “We went from Woods Hole, Massachusetts through the Cape Cod Canal and then into the Gulf of Maine. We ended in Rockport, Maine.”

Drew remembers bonding with his watch and the mate who was in charge of his watch.

He still thinks about this offshore experience regularly. After you have sailed offshore, he reflected, it is hard not to become invested in the environment.

“You become very aware of your impact on the planet. That circle of blue is what the planet truly looks like. I loved my time at the sea,” Drew said.

As he expected it to be, the maritime history class was a highlight for Drew.

“A close second was marine ecology with Jim Carlton. I loved the field seminars in particular: the marsh, the rocky intertidal. Being able to see ecological principles at work was exciting,” Drew said. In this class, he discovered how much he enjoyed doing fieldwork.

His Williams-Mystic courses also helped Drew gain a new perspective on his history major. Prior to Williams-Mystic, Drew thought maritime history was elite naval history and white-bearded men.

“Maritime history includes Native maritime history, Black maritime history, female maritime history and so much more. The way it was taught at Williams-Mystic, especially using the museum, showed [that maritime history] is one of the most interesting approaches to talk about the origins of capitalism and race. It was intellectually exciting.”

Visiting the West Coast and Nantucket as a Williams-Mystic student helped Drew learn to appreciate place-based education.

“In Nantucket, we stayed in a field station run by the University of Massachusetts. You could see evidence of climate change in 2000,” Drew said. “While we were there, we measured the shoreline in Williams-Mystic students all linked together to the end of the point. We also went to a cranberry bog and the island’s famous whaling museum.”

Drew’s Williams-Mystic experience inspired his senior thesis topic and, in the summer of 2001, and did a research project with Williams-Mystic history professor Glenn Gordinier about Watch Hill, Rhode Island. It was a wonderful experience and got him ready for graduate school.

Williams-Mystic also provided Drew with a link to the Pequot War, a conflict between Pequot Indians and English colonists that culminated in a massacre of Pequots at a fort in what is now Mystic, Connecticut. During the first year of his Ph.D. program, Drew realized how much Kieft’s War, a war that happened in the neighboring Dutch colony just a few years later, was linked to the Pequot War. He wrote about the connection between the two wars for his master’s thesis and then decided to make the topic his dissertation. Throughout this work, Drew was able to draw on his Williams-Mystic experience.

Once Drew got a job, he revised his dissertation into a book called The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American Coast. The book argues that Natives fought for space and independence through fighting on water and connecting with Europeans creatively and commercially.

Drew is now working on his second book, which focuses on “Squanto” and the Mayflower pilgrims.

“Squanto is a real person named Tisquantum and the reason that he was able to help the Europeans was that he had been taken as a slave by an English fisherman six years earlier. Patuxet, the later site of Plymouth, is where he grew up,” Drew said. “This story is well known, but I believe I’ve found some interesting new wrinkles in the story. It’s also just an irresistible epic. A young man encounters European ships, journeys to Spain, England, the Newfoundland, then comes home to find most of his home community had died in an epidemic. And his legacy was complex: though the Mayflower passengers celebrated him, many of his Native allies accused him of betraying them. Piecing together this story anew has changed how I think about this pivotal moment, and hopefully will change readers’ minds too.”

Place-based education is a big tenet of any Williams-Mystic experience. For Drew Lipman, place-based learning has paid off in an unexpected way, leading him to pursue a career studying the very places he encountered during his semester.

 

 

One of the First to Set Sail: Alex Agnew’s (F’77) Williams Mystic Story

“To be the first semester added an extra charge to the whole experience and I think everyone felt that way,” Alex said. “Everything was new and everything was different. At the Seaport everyone seemed genuinely happy we were there.”

This post was written by S’18 alumna Audra DeLaney. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. 

It is a typical day at Vassar College in the spring of 1977. You’re minding your own business when all of a sudden Colton Johnson, the dean of students, pulls you into a meeting with a man named Dr. Ben Labaree. Dr. Labaree is in the process of recruiting students for the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program, which got its start on a Dunkin’ Donuts napkin in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and is about to embark on its first full semester: Fall 1977.

This is how the Williams-Mystic journey of Alex Agnew (F’77) began.

“I was literally shanghaied in the hallway by the dean of students because he was going to have a meeting with Ben Labaree, the founder, and there were no students at the meeting,” Alex said. “He literally said, ‘hey you, come over here,’ and we had tea in the Rose Parlor at Vassar. It was a strange coincidence that I happened to run into them.”

Alex was a first-year student at Vassar and was looking for a change in his college education. Going to Mystic and being one of the first students to participate in the program seemed like a good fit for him.

“When I got there, I was surprised that half of the students were not sailors and had no previous demonstrated interest in anything marine,” Alex said. “As I thought about it, I realized there are not programs like this in many different topics; there are not a ton of choices. It is as much about experiential learning as it is about sailing.”

Alex remembers being incredibly excited to be among the first students to do the program.

“To be the first semester added an extra charge to the whole experience, and I think everyone felt that way,” Alex said. “Everything was new and everything was different. At the Seaport, everyone seemed genuinely happy we were there.”

Dr. Labaree made everyday experiences come to life for the students in the F’77 class.

“He loved to teach history but we all really got into the policy class and that was just so cool and creative on his part,” Alex said. “We would drill down into different topic areas. He would have speakers come and he seemed to know what was going to happen when they showed up. You couldn’t know what they were going to say. He did a fantastic job.”

The literature, history, and policy classes all stand out in Alex’s mind. He wrote his policy paper on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“It was a long effort to analyze it from a political point of view. The policy paper was the big thesis for our class,” Alex said.

Alex enjoyed being on the grounds of the Mystic Seaport Museum. On Sundays, he would work as an interpreter on the Charles W. Morgan. He also chose to take celestial navigation with Don Treworgy and Susan Howell along with his assigned maritime skill, boat building.

Sailing aboard the SSV Westward deeply affected the members of F’77.

“When we were sailing on the Westward, we caught and tagged sharks and went out into the Gulf Stream to do that. It was very rough; everyone was deathly ill. The only way to stay away from being deathly ill was to stay on deck,” Alex said.

The crew on their voyage was very knowledgeable. One of his classmates told him that the SSV Westward experience was as memorable and valuable to her as the rest of the semester.

After his Williams-Mystic semester ended, Alex still had two and a half years left at Vassar. Transitioning back to school in the spring of 1978 was challenging, as it is for many alumni. Alex used what he learned in the program to bring his campus community together.

“I began to think about all the stuff that we did at Mystic that was so much fun. It created this sense of wanting more productive and creative experiences in my life,” Alex said. “I determined I was going to start a newspaper and spent some of that spring planning that.”

The newspaper Alex started, “The Syllabus,” was all about academics and policy.

“We wrote about what professors were teaching, what students were learning, what research was going on,” Alex said.

This project had a connection to the experiential learning Alex experienced in Mystic.

“I realized that everyone else was doing really interesting stuff too. Williams-Mystic gave me the confidence to think I could do stuff like this,” Alex said. “There were 75 students writing for it and we published weekly.”

Alex also served on the Comprehensive Plan Committee and pushed hard for more experiential learning and a Great Books Program, much like common read programs that exist at colleges and universities today.

After graduating from Vassar, Alex worked for the Journal of Commerce and then went sailing for a year. The man who hired him was one of the founders of Tall Ships America, which would play a large part in his career.

“I crewed on yachts. I did 10,000 ocean miles and paid for the whole thing by trading my labor on the ship for room and board,” Alex said.

Following his year on yachts, Alex worked as a daily newspaper journalist. His experiences as a sailor and a journalist came together in 1984, when he started Ocean Navigator, a magazine on marine navigation and ocean voyaging. In 1991, the magazine began running a small tall ship called Ocean Star. In 1993, they started the magazine Professional Mariner and in 1998 Alex joined the Tall Ships America board.

In 2015, Alex and two of his sailing friends started Tall Ships Maine, an organization that believes the experience of sailing on board a tall ship as part of the crew for a week changes teens’ perspectives and helps them develop leadership and teamwork skills.

“The first year, we sent 17 kids sailing on tall ships. We sent 100 kids this year and work closely with the schooner Harvey Gamage, one of the most successful training vessels after the SEA vessels,” Alex said.

Participants go out for a week aboard a tall ship and, after their voyage is complete, can continue learning about sailing through Sea Scouts. Tall Ships Maine is trying to get the next generation excited about sailing and the maritime industry. Currently, the organization is working with 25 different schools and hopes to send 200 teens out to sea in 2019.

In many ways, Alex’s time in Mystic is connected to his career and current work in maritime education. He and some of his classmates had a mini-reunion a few weeks ago visiting the Westward (tied up at the dock in Portland, ME) and they are hoping to sail on a tall ship together again in 2019.

“These little Mystic connections are not done when you leave,” Alex reflected. “They continue to bear fruit over your whole life. I feel like I am right back in it in a way.”