Natural History, Marine Biology, and Research

Monterey Bay is home to the nation’s largest marine sanctuary and also home to Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station. This course, based at Hopkins, explores the spectacular biology of Monterey Bay and the artistic and political history of the region. We will conduct investigations across all of these contexts toward an inclusive understanding of “place”, ultimately to lead us to explore our own lives in relation to the natural world, historical and cultural milieu, and the direction of our individual life path.

The location at the entry point to the Big Sur Coast of California provides a unique outdoor laboratory in which to study the biology of the bay and the adjacent coastal lands. It is also an area with a deep cultural, literary and artistic history. We will meet marine biologists, experts in the literary history of Cannery Row and the writings of John Steinbeck, local artists and photographers, experts in the neuroscience of creativity, as well as people who are very much involved in the forces and fluxes that steer modern culture. This rich and immersive approach provides students a rare opportunity to reflect on their relationships to nature, culture, and their own individual goals.

The course emphasizes interactions and discussions. We will be together all of the time, either at our base at the Belden House in Pacific Grove, hiking and camping in Big Sur’s pristine Big Creek Reserve on the rocky coast, and traveling to the Tassajara Mountain Zen Center in the Ventana wilderness for several days.  This is not an ordinary academic experience, instead it is an adventure of a personal, intellectual, spiritual and physical kind. We welcome people with wide interests; artists, poets, writers, engineers, scientists and musicians.  Mostly we invite people with an open mind and a sense of adventure.  

Students are expected to have read the several books provided as introductory material before the course begins, and each is also expected to become our local expert in an area such as plant identification, bird identification, poetry, weather prediction, photography, history, ethnography, etc. The course requires an individual research project of your choice on a topic related to the general theme. Final reports will be presented at the last meeting of the group and may involve any medium, including written, oral, and performance media.

Important Logistics

This course will be held at the Hopkins Marine Station in the Monterey region, and housing will be provided nearby. Students will arrive at Stanford on Labor Day and be transported to Monterey as a group after dinner on campus. Return transportation to campus from the Belden House in Pacific Grove will be provided on the Saturday before autumn classes begin.  Do not bring everything you need for the year to Soco! Addittional storage will NOT be available on-campus or at the Belden House to accommodate your fall belongings. Plan to have your fall belongings shipped or delivered to you after the class returns from Monterey. 

Accommodation Requests

Meet the Instructor(s)

Stuart Thompson

Professor of Biology (Hopkins Marine Station)

Stuart Thompson received his doctoral degree from the joint program for Zoology and Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Washington. He came to Stanford as a postdoctoral fellow and then joined the faculty of the Department of Biology. His current research concerns the flow of information at synapses between neurons, intracellular signal transduction and Ca2+ homeostasis in neurons, and the physiology of neural stem cells.