Folklore class teaches appreciation for nature through writing

As April progresses, the minds of MU students wander to places outside their course materials. Likely, some tigers would choose to be outside, immersing themselves in the warmth of spring rather than remaining surrounded by hundreds of peers reading from a slide show presentation.

The dream of exploring the outdoors in a relaxed environment may seem out of reach in most classes at MU, but Professor Mark Morgan has made this a reality for six students. Morgan, an MU associate professor, teaches Human Dimensions of Wildlife through the School of Natural Resources. He created the idea for the parks, recreation and tourism writing intensive course after reading Ozark Outdoors by Vance Randolph, an individual largely responsible for popularizing the region.

Previously, Morgan taught a course in which students published a collection of fishing stores by Missouri anglers titled Hook, Line and Sinker. He then expanded this concept to include hunting and fishing in the Ozarks after recognizing the trend of individuals not appreciating the variety of activities the outdoors has to offer.

Morgan submitted a grant proposal to the campus writing program for scholarly and creative works. Shortly after receiving funding, he hired a teaching assistant to begin collecting modern day folklore stories throughout the 2016 fall semester.

“Our collective goal is to popularize the Ozarks as a hunting and fishing destination through storytelling that involves actual participants,” Morgan said.

Due to the small class size, Morgan has assisted students in their writing skills. He has provided the opportunity for students to have their work edited and then resubmit their revisions.

“My objective is to teach students the craft of writing through practice, not theory,” Morgan said.

Assisting in this process is Leif Nordstrom, a double major in English and Philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He began researching for the Hunting and Fishing folklore project in August 2016. He works in a quarter-time assistantship position, serving as a teaching assistant.

“The first step was to gather quality information about what we have come to call the ‘pioneers’ of the Ozark region,” Nordstrom said.

The course has offered Nordstrom opportunities as a current candidate for a master of science in natural resource management with a focus on human dimensions. He is also a candidate for a Certificate in Nonprofit Management through the Truman School of Public Affairs. In March, he presented about the hunting and fishing folklore course in Rogers, Arkansas, at the National Association for Interpretation Region 6 Workshop.

When introducing the writing process, Morgan explained that writing is an art much like cooking, singing or painting. It is an effort that takes experience to build upon to become something greater.

Students have written profiles describing the lives of Vance Randolph, Henry Schoolcraft, Silas Turnbo, and George William Featherstonhaugh.

 “This particular assignment was rather challenging, as most of these explorers wrote in a journal format, which required me to comb through essentially the entirety of their writing to find anecdotes and experiences that might be useful for the project,” Nordstrom said.

These individuals played a key role in exploring, recording and preserving the history of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.  This work will serve as a method to collectively introduce the rich past of the area and serve as a foundation for readers to build upon. The publication is designed to describe the Ozarks being settled in the late 1800s and progress in sequential order through the present. 

Students enrolled in the course have undergone a three-level process of editing 48 modern day folk stories. Sophomore Clayton Koob, studying parks recreation and tourism and minoring in geology, explained that this course has allowed him to become a better editor and enhance his writing skills.

 “I enjoy the structure of the class, and how it is laid out with editing as an individual, then groups, and eventually as a whole class,” Koob said.

 “While I may be a ‘furner,’ as a traditional Ozarkian would say, I now know what the unorthodox fishing practice gigging is; I can name various mythical creatures with names crafted out of the most expansive imagination, such as the ‘Karkhagne,’” Nordstrom said. “I can explain the origins of European settlers in the Ozarks, and talk about those explorers who dared to venture into its mysterious terrain; and most importantly, I now have a deep respect and appreciation for a tremendously rich culture.”

Overall, Morgan said the process of creating the publication, “is a unique concept for marketing fisheries and wildlife, different from other strategies that focus on increasing licensing, purchases, retail sales, skills and/or knowledge.”

> Photos by Nichole Gann

Nichole Gann

About the Author Nichole Gann

Growing up in the farming community of Marshall, Missouri, I gained an appreciation for agriculture, which is sometimes overlooked. I was involved in the 4-H Shooting Sports program for nine years and competed four years at the National 4-H Shooting Sports competition. My time learning various life skills in the program provided me with a greater foundation to serve the interests of our community through agricultural communication. It gives me reassurance to assist youth in becoming leaders of tomorrow through my service as a 4-H volunteer. I have an appreciation for all things old, from listening to vintage records, traveling to historic locations, quilting, wandering through antique stores and typing on my manual typewriter. I find that we can all benefit from expanding our minds, whether it is by understanding our past or planning for our future. I look forward to serving you this semester as a reporter for CAFNR Corner Post.