I’ve just returned from a cruise up the Inside Passage of British Columbia to the Panhandle of Alaska. Professors can’t afford a cruise on this luxurious line (Silversea), so it has been my privilege to work for my passage by serving as a lecturer on board one of their ships–last summer and again this summer.
To my delight, I have found the many of the passengers on board these ships to be keenly interested in the nexus of history, politics, geography, and wildlife I discuss in my talks. (I have lectured on “How Alaska Became American,” “How the Mounties Tamed the Gold Rush,” and “Welcome to Canada: A Very Small Country with a Very Big Backyard.”) Out of a few hundred on board (these are relatively small cruise ships), a hundred or so attended each talk and many more told me they watched the lectures via the closed-circuit broadcast on the ship’s television.
One guest, a Harvard graduate and former college professor who made his fortune running an electronics company, engaged me in a couple of conversations about the implications of oil, natural gas, and even water pipelines snaking down from Alaska to points south. Another, a businessman from New York now residing in Atlanta, was fascinated by how the Alaska Purchase not only advanced American “Manifest Destiny” but thus provoked the Canadian Fathers of Confederation to get busy to organize a country while they still could. (The Alaska Purchase not coincidentially coincides with the founding of Canada: 1867.) Still another, an Englishwoman with a background in both higher education and business, was intrigued as I briefly discussed Canadian culture in terms of pragmatism and individualism, and particularly “religion à la carte”—a trend she recognized in her own country but had not previously had an occasion to discuss.
Three cheers, then, for a cruise line that does not devote all its entertainment budget to casinos, nightclub acts, and shopping. Three cheers for any institution in our society that refuses to dumb everything down and caters instead to the genuine curiosity many people do have about the world, past, present, and future. And three cheers for any ship that will take aboard a humble academician and give him and his companion (last year my beloved spouse; this year our beloved firstborn celebrating his B.A.) a very pleasant trip in exchange for some lectures on, of all things, history, politics, geography, and wildlife.