Course Descriptions

Read on and discover some of the engaging topics that we studied at Alumni College 2015.

The People’s Civil War

Amy Feely Morsman
Associate Professor of History

The Civil War raised vexing questions about Americans’ sense of identity, loyalty, and belonging to community, state, and nation. Though many explorations of the war dwell primarily on the battlefields and military leaders, this course will focus on a wide range of actors including civilians and soldiers, politicians and plebeians, natives and immigrants, women and men, slave and free. How did this complicated conflict shape the people’s understanding of their place in American society? What did it prompt them to do in the midst of this national emergency? Lectures and discussions of provocative historical documents will help us address these and other questions.


Frankenstein’s Flesh—Three Literary Bodies

Cates Baldridge
Professor of English and American Literature

To what extent is our condition defined and our destiny determined by the physical bodies that envelop us? Conversely, how can the limitations of our embodied state best be transcended: through religion? imagination? love? self-denial? We will accompany a trio of novelists as they investigate the agonies, ecstasies, ambiguities and transformations of the flesh, and follow them as they employ the body as a lens through which to investigate a wide range of political, philosophical, and moral issues. Some questions we might encounter:  Does the possession of a human body automatically qualify one as a “human being,” or does the essence of our humanity lie elsewhere? Is it possible to found a workable system of ethics in the body’s desires rather than against them? What measure of heroism, grace, and wisdom can be prompted by the body’s inevitable decline? We will take this journey by means of a close but free-wheeling examination of three remarkable literary works: Mary Shelley’s science-fiction classic, Frankenstein (which is very different from all the movie versions); D. M. Thomas’s magical-realist masterpiece, The White Hotel; and Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee’s harrowing Disgrace.


The Ides of March

Christopher Star
Associate Professor of Classics

“Beware the Ides of March!” On the 15th of March in 44 BCE, Brutus and Cassius, along with several other conspirators, carried out one of the most famous political assassinations in history. By killing Julius Caesar, the recently declared dictator for life, the assassins believed that they would end the threat of tyranny in Rome and bring back freedom to the centuries old Republic. They were mistaken. Within two years Brutus and Cassius were defeated by Caesar’s right-hand man, Mark Antony, and his adopted nephew, Octavian, the future Augustus Caesar, at the Battle of Philippi. In this class we will closely consider the events of that day in mid-March and their lasting repercussions. We will investigate a wide array of texts ranging from ancient sources, to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, to modern film. As we investigate these works, we will attempt to answer several questions. Why did Brutus and Cassius fail to restore the Republic? Were they champions of freedom or disloyal traitors? What is the nature of freedom and of tyranny? What is the relationship between politics and revenge? Why, after more than two millennia, does Julius Caesar remain a central figure in art, literature and the popular imagination?

The Changing Vermont Landscape
Chris McGrory Klyza
Professor of Public Policy, Political Science and Environmental Studies

As you make your way to the Bread Loaf campus, you drive through what many consider one of the most beautiful landscapes in the United States: forests, farms, mountains. How did the Vermont of today get to look this way? In this course, we will discuss the forces of geology, ecology, and human culture on the place we call Vermont. We will emphasize Vermont after the Ice Age, especially since the arrival of Europeans. This landscape has changed dramatically—and continues to change. We’ll focus our discussion on changes in forests, farming, population and development, mining/industry/energy/pollution, transportation, conservation, and tourism. We will conclude by focusing on current themes, such as the rise of the local food movement, land trusts, and conflict over local energy. We will have one field trip to explore the Vermont landscape, but the course will not involve any hiking.


The Rise and Sprawl of the Modern American City

Caitlin Myers
Associate Professor of Economics

Man has not always been an urban creature. Prior to the advent of the industrial revolution, less than 3 percent of the world’s population was urban; now more than half of the world’s population and eighty percent of the U.S. population lives in cities. We will explore the relationship between technological innovation and urbanization, with a primary focus on the American city. Along the way we will consider the rise of Chicago in the 19th century and the sprawl of Houston in the 20th, the role of the housing market in the financial crisis, the economic impacts of big box stores, and the how neighborhoods impact economic mobility. 

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