Friday, September 25, 2009

Two Years Before the Mast

A friend of mine has undertaken a cool project on the Web that I'm enjoying a lot and recommend you check out.

Two Years Before the Mast is a classic literary work that tells the true story of Richard Henry Dana, a Harvard student who, in 1834, signed up to work as a common seaman aboard a trading vessel bound from Boston to California. Dana's realistic account of the harsh life of a working sailor became very popular and helped reform the trade.

My friend is doing something clever: republishing Two Years Before the Mast as a blog, with each post corresponding to the actual date Dana made an entry in his journal plus 175 years. The blog began on August 14, the day Dana set sail. The most recent entry, on Sept. 22, describes a harrowing escape from pirates. As with all blogs, it's read from the bottom up. I'm finding that following Dana's journey in real-time gives it an unusual immediacy and intimacy. You're right there with him. Despite its age, it's a good, quick read.

The blog's proprietor, Mike Peterson, is a New England newspaperman I've never met in person but feel like I've gotten to know very well via the Internet. I guess that's not uncommon these days. While going about his journalism jobs, Mike led "Newspapers In Education" programs that introduce newspapers into classrooms as teaching materials (he says a big problem is that too many teachers have grown up not reading newspapers themselves; they're often amazed by what they find in there). He also spearheaded a program called TeachUP that provides serialized stories meant to be published in newspapers and studied in schools, complete with lesson plans (I provided modest input to "Stories in the Stars" about the constellations). In addition, he runs the "Weekly Storybook" website, a similar effort to teach classic tales and myths from various traditions, also with lesson plans. And in his spare time, he was nice enough to give me frank feedback on an early draft of WHTTWOT.

I really like Mike's concept of creatively combining media and content to find novel ways to educate and entertain. This is all good stuff. I'm glad to know him.


Sherwood Harrington said...

Me too!

Mike said...


And here I was supposed to be glad to know YOU.