Course Descriptions

Read on and discover some of the engaging topics that we'll delve into at Alumni College 2013. Please choose one of the five courses offered.

Rereading Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick

Daniel Brayton, Associate Professor, English and American Literatures and Environmental Studies

The publication of Moby-Dick in the fall of 1851 doomed Herman Melville’s literary reputation, at least in his own lifetime. Briefly famous for his youthful narratives of travel in the Pacific, Melville slid into obscurity largely because readers were unprepared for the rigors of his whaling novel. Yet today there is no more canonical, widely celebrated American novel than Moby-Dick.  Not until after its author’s death—just before the centennial of his birth, in fact—did Moby-Dick find a reading public ready to appreciate its challenges and wonders on a broad scale. It was, truly, a novel before its time.  In our brief grapple with this mighty book, we will attempt to grasp the literary qualities that make Moby-Dick a great American novel and a work of literary modernism. We will also discuss what this book’s exploration of the relationship between humanity and the marine environment has to tell us about the state of the world’s oceans today.

Television and American Culture

Jason Mittell, Associate Professor of Film and Media Culture and American Studies

Television is one of the most powerful and important forms of communication of the last 60 years, binding together the globe with shared knowledge and experiences, and molding our opinions and outlook on the world. This course explores American life through an analysis of the medium of television. Touching on television from its origins in radio to its future in digital convergence, we will consider television's role in both reflecting and constituting American society through the contexts of the economics of the television industry, television as a site of gender and racial identity formation, and television’s role in the everyday lives of viewers. We will consider not only why TV is what it is today, but how it might look different tomorrow.

World War II and the World It Created—FULL

Russ Leng, ’60, James Jermain Professor Emeritus of Political Economics and International Law

Please note that this course is fully enrolled.

Traumatic events create great changes, and no event in the 20th century was more traumatic than World War II. We will have an extended conversation about World War II and its short- and long-term consequences. What changes occurred after the war, and which of those changes that the victors had promised—or those who bore the sacrifices had expected—turned out to be illusions? We will start by revisiting what happened during the war, diplomatically, on the battlefields, and on the home-fronts. Then we will discuss the changes that grew out of the war, in political, economic, and legal relations among states, in the conduct of war, and in racial and gender relations within states, particularly in the United States.

Cultivating a Geographical Eye—FULL

Anne Knowles, Associate Professor of Geography

Please note that this course is fully enrolled.

Awareness of our surroundings is a basic human trait. In this sense, we are all born geographers. We intuitively sense what makes places common or unique, what we love in some landscapes and loathe in others. We also recognize the remnants of history in the places we visit or call home, and we routinely use maps to navigate the world. In this course we will explore the ways geographers go beyond intuition and habit to understand just how deeply human actions and ideas have been inscribed in historical and present-day landscapes. We will learn how to unlock the stories embedded in historical maps, how to see geography in great works of literature, and how to use the latest digital technologies to visualize major events such as the American industrial revolution, the battle of Gettysburg, and the Holocaust during WWII. The course will also include a field trip to practice “reading” the landscape and a hands-on mapping exercise to apply the skills of spatial thinking.

Past, Present and Future of Lake Champlain: The Views of Oceanographers—FULL

Patricia Manley, Professor of Geology, and Thomas Manley, Visiting Assistant Professor of Geology

Please note that this course is fully enrolled. 

Nestled between the Green Mountains to the east and the Adirondack Mountains to the west within the Champlain Basin, lies the sixth great lake, Lake Champlain. Formed in three distinct phases since the last deglaciation, Lake Champlain is the sediment repository of these time periods. Historically it has been a waterway for native peoples, important in American historical marine battles, a key transportation pathway for commodities in the 1800’s and now it is an important recreational lake. Presently the lake is undergoing dramatic changes due to human impacts, invasive species and global warming. This course will explore the lake’s geologic formation, its cultural history and an understanding of the present day water movement in hopes of gaining knowledge to address the issues the lake will face in the future. We will also be utilizing Middlebury College’s new research vessel, R/V Folger for this course.