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Literature in the Landscape: English Students Study Abroad in Scotland and England

By Ellison McVicars

Students pose for a photo at the Pentland Hills.
Cal Poly students encounter Highland “coo” cows on the Pentland Hills Hike.

In summer 2022, 17 students and two professors from the Cal Poly English Department visited the English Lake District and Edinburgh, Scotland as part of a new Cal Poly Global Program for an immersive experience of literature in the landscape.

The group frequently made its way to Grasmere, Cumbria, home of the Wordsworth Trust's Museum honoring William and Dorothy Wordsworth and other local writers, the poets' home, Dove Cottage and the Jerwood Centre for rare books and literary archives. Jeff Cowton, the principal curator and head of learning, hosted the group at Jerwood, where they learned how to handle manuscripts (delicately!), gained repeated special access to rare first-edition books usually open only to credentialed professors and scholars, and even had the chance to wear period garments while exploring the grounds.

Students are seated at a table, examining engravings
At the Jerwood Centre in Grasmere, students handle engravings from the 19th century that depict the breathtaking Lake District.

Students examine period costumes
Students pick out period costumes to wear at Dove Cottage, the home of William and Dorothy Wordsworth.

Cowton described the experience as a privilege and said he wanted to give students “an experience you couldn’t get anywhere else.” With his guidance, students wrote captions for an upcoming museum exhibit highlighting tourism in the Lake District, including how it has changed over the centuries.

Professor Catherine Waitinas and Associate Professor Brad Campbell took the students on hikes to locations featured in the literary readings, where students studied in situ how walking, wayfinding, and literature work together. Not once did the group meet in an actual classroom: their meetings took place in the great outdoors, from town greens to mountain- and lake-sides and even in a cave. English student Jenna Lyons felt that interacting with the texts in this way “connected me to the literature and the English major.” The whole trip exemplified Learn by Doing in the humanities.

Students sit on the farm house
At the Yorkshire moors students climbed around and on the farm house that is said to be the inspiration for the setting in Wuthering Heights.

Students sit in the grove, reading and talking.
Guided by the Jerwood team, students sit in John’s Grove in Grasmere and experience the peace that William and Dorothy Wordsworth often wrote about.

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