Course Descriptions

Read on and discover some of the engaging topics that we'll delve into at Alumni College 2014. Please choose one of the five courses offered.

The Mountains of the Northeast

Jeff Munroe, Professor of Geology

The mountains of the northeastern U.S. have fascinated writers, naturalists, and recreational users for centuries. While certainly not as tall as the Rockies, as covered by glaciers as the Alps, or as remote as the Himalaya, the northeastern mountains nevertheless possess a variety of attributes that make them alluring destinations and topics for study. From the rugged High Peaks of the Adirondacks, to the winding Green Mountain ridges that define Vermont, eastward to the famous White Mountains of New Hampshire, and northward to mighty Katahdin in the Maine Woods, these mountains define the landscape of this region. This course will provide an overview of the natural history of these mountains, focusing on geology, glacial history, modern climate, and the distribution of alpine environments. A field excursion will be made to examine these environments first-hand and to observe topics presented in lecture. Necessary hiking will be kept to a minimum by visiting a summit accessible by vehicle or tram.


Architectural Eras and Treasures of Addison County

Glenn Andres, Professor of the History of Art and Architecture

The National Trust has twice designated Vermont  a national treasure. With its long and mainstream history and its noteworthy state of conservation, it embodies and preserves much of the American architectural experience.  Addison County, in turn, with representative buildings from every era since the Revolution, has proven itself an ideal workshop for decades of Middlebury students to explore that experience in a first-hand way. Through lecture and field trip this course will consider this remarkable resource. It will examine structures noteworthy in themselves, but also the lessons and stories of the Middlebury region’s built landscape – farms, villages, private and institutional building types, vernacular and high styles, builders and patrons. How were these buildings shaped by their functions, technologies, associations, fashions, ambitions, and place? And how do they connect with the world beyond the Green Mountains?

Contemporary Moral Issues

Steve Viner, Assistant Professor of Philosophy

Is morality relative to one’s culture?  Are there moral norms that are timeless and universal?  Is there such a thing as global justice, and if so what does it require of us?  In this course, we will begin by investigating the nature of morality and moral statements.  We will then seek to understand what a human right is and, if they exist, what they morally demand of us.   We will then turn to evaluating the moral requirements and the obligations that many believe are found within specific, applied moral issues like immigration, world poverty and armed humanitarian intervention.

Seeking Simplicity

Rebecca Kneale Gould, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Studies

The pursuit of simplicity is a longstanding theme in American culture, variously articulated by the Puritans, the Amish, the American Transcendentalists and modern homesteaders. Many of us also strive to lead "simple lives" whether by spending time in the natural world, engaging in various kinds of contemplative practices (such as yoga or meditation) or by reminding ourselves that "the examined life" is well-worth cultivating and trying to lead.  But simplicity is never simple is it?  In this class, we will engage the question of simplicity with full attention to its complexities both historically and in our own time and our own lives. We will begin with some in depth exploration of historic, paradigmatic examples of people and groups for whom the pursuit of simplicity was a guiding ideal (if not always a reality!). We will go on to probe questions about the practice of simplicity in the present, with attention to the ways in which "simple life" ideals are interwoven with contemporary challenges of environmental degradation, consumerism and overwork. Throughout the class, we will also do some "simplicity work" of our own, engaging in contemplative practices such as meditation, reflective writing and quiet, solitary exploration of the beauties of the Bread Loaf campus. 


Time Around the Table: The Food and Foodways of Italy

Ilaria Brancoli Busdraghi, Visiting Lecturer in Italian

In this course, food will be our guide in the exploration of Italian history and culture. Eating is a primordial need, and we all require the same basic nutrients, but societies around the world have taken very different approaches to satisfy this physiological drive. Thus food is a powerful lens through which we can look at and learn about a culture. The choices that a culture made historically and makes today about issues surrounding food tell us about aspects of its identity, be it social, national, regional, ethnic, or religious.

We will try and answer a number of questions in this course: What do we mean when we talk about Italian food? What did one eat in Ancient Rome, during the Middle Ages, or during the Renaissance? And what about today? What are the historical events that have given shape to what we have in mind when we describe food as  “Italian” and “Italian-American.”  

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