Since adding a local instance of WordPress two years ago, Middlebury students, faculty and staff have created hundreds of blogs. Every semester classes use our learning management system, Segue, to conduct online discussions.

MiddLab won't replace or replicate this activity. We don't want to build a single application that everyone needs to sign into and discuss their research. Rather, MiddLab will provide an aggregate view of the conversations occurring online relating to Middlebury course and project work.

To kick us off, here's a blogroll of some popular and interesting Middlebury and MIIS authors.

Middle East Studies at Middlebury (0)
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Equipo Monterey El Salvador (0)
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The Keys to The Lost Symbol - Recently Updated Pages (0)
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Live Blogging the State of the Union

Presidential Power - Tue, 01/20/2015 - 8:18pm
Hi all, It’s been awhile, so I may be a bit rusty, but it’s time for another live blogging of the president’s State of the Union address.  As always, I’ll be watching this on CNN.   I hope you can join in using the comments sections.  Remember, part of the fun here is giving some history […]

Why Didn’t Mario Run? That Was Always The Question

Presidential Power - Fri, 01/02/2015 - 8:35pm
To run, or not to run? That seems, even today, to be the question. Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s death yesterday has sparked a wave of nostalgia, particularly among old-school liberals, regarding what might have been.  If only Cuomo had run for president in 1992! (Or 1988, for that matter.) Given his name recognition, […]

A Single Payer Health Care System: As Vermont Goes….?

Presidential Power - Sat, 12/20/2014 - 11:50am
As Vermont goes, so goes the nation? Back in 2010, as many of you may know, Peter Shumlin narrowly won election as Vermont governor in part on a promise to implement a single payer health coverage system run by the state. Although the term “single payer” can encompass a range of plans, the essential idea […]

Was Obamacare Worth It? Some Democrats Think Not.

Presidential Power - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 3:53pm
I’m up today at US News with a new post that serves as a sequel of sorts to an earlier post I wrote discussing the impact of Obama’s policy agenda on Democrats’ loss of control of Congress. In recent days Democrats such as New York Senator Chuck Schumer have openly questioned whether Obamacare was worth […]

Pssst, Mitt: It Takes 23 People to Vet One Of My Posts!

Presidential Power - Sun, 12/07/2014 - 12:31pm
Before I can post any essay at my Presidential Power site, it needs to pass through a rigorous vetting by a host of people on my blogging team. This includes fact-checking by my team of research assistants, and a legal review by my lawyers looking for potential libel issues. I have a technical staff that […]

Follow the 2014 Team

Transitional (In)justice - Thu, 12/12/2013 - 2:19pm

This page serves as a space for communication between the Transnational (In)justice team and the world.  Feel free to post updates on your experience or comment on what you’ve learned from the posts.

Teaching with Social Media

Teaching with Technology - Thu, 12/08/2011 - 7:26pm

This is the second screencast published on this site that is based on an interview I did with Prof. Louisa Stein from the Film and Media Culture department.  In this screencast Prof. Stein discusses her course on Millennial Media.  In this course, students were required to create their own blogs and to post to Twitter.

To encourage students to read each other’s work, Prof. Stein created “blog collectives” and required students to comment on the blogs of students in their collective.  An additional site was set up for the course that aggregated posts from all student blogs using the FeedWordPress plugin.

Course Hub Case Studies

Teaching with Technology - Thu, 12/01/2011 - 5:59pm

The Course Hub is a meta-platform for aggregating resources for a given course across a variety of platforms including WordPress and Moodle.  Below is a screencast showing how the Course Hub has been used in courses this fall.

Integrating Moodle and WordPress

Teaching with Technology - Tue, 10/11/2011 - 10:59am

Louisa Stein is an assistant professor of Film and Media Culture who used both Moodle and WordPress in the spring of 2011 for a course on the “Aesthetics of the Moving Image.”  Prof. Stein used WordPress for the public face of this course and Moodle for the weekly outline of readings, online discussion and assignment submissions.  Watch the screencast below for more details.

Prof. Stein used WordPress for general information about the course including assignment descriptions (see: Assignments > Montage vs Long Take Wars).  These assignment descriptions then contained links to Moodle assignment “activities” where students could submit their assignments.  The WordPress site was also used as a place where students could blog about projects and share the videos they produced as part of their course work (see: Categories > Montage)

Prof. Stein used Moodle to distribute readings, collect assignment submissions and as a place for online discussion and used Moodle’s grading functionality to grade assignments and forum posts.

This screencast is the first in a series based on an interview Alex Chapin did with Louisa Stein in the spring of 2011. 

Middleverse de Español

Teaching with Technology - Tue, 06/21/2011 - 3:16pm

What: Constructing a Virtual Social Space for Language Acquisition

Who: Maria Woolson, Research Associate and former Faculty Spanish & Portuguese Department

Class: All sections of Spanish 210, Intermediate Spanish Language I

Technology Used: Second Life

Number of students: approx. 80

Location: http://slurl.com/secondlife/teaching 6/55/166/26/


Clickers in a large lecture class – Catherine Combelles

Teaching with Technology - Thu, 06/17/2010 - 1:54pm

What: Clickers (personal polling devices) in a large lecture class

Who: Catherine Combelles, Assistant Professor of Biology

Class: BIOL0145 Cell Biology and Genetics

Technology Used: Personal Polling Devices (Clickers)

Number of students: approx. 70

Learning objective: To monitor the students’ understanding of concepts covered in lecture and promote peer learning and discussion.

Description of use: Catherine used the clickers for every lecture from day 1 to the last day of classes, and throughout the duration of each lecture. At the beginning of each lecure, she started with a question that tested their understanding of concepts from the past lecture or on their readings for the day. She would then pose between 3-4 more questions depending on the lecture content that day.

All of Catherine’s questions were prepared beforehand; she never created questions on the fly (although she would like to play with that in the future). She sometimes skipped a question if it became clear that it was not needed based on the students’ understanding. But typically, she asked all of the questions she had prepared. She would pose a question, let students answer on their own, then show the class how all students answered before showing the correct answer. If the answers were too spread out, without satisfactory agreement throughout the class, Catherine would have the students talk among themselves and convince their peers of their choice before re-answering. During the students’ discussion, she would walk around, listen, gauge what the learning issues may have been and answer or prompt further questions.  With the help of this peer learning, the goal was to get most of the class to re-answer correctly.

Catherine says that the toughest part in all of this was writing good questions. Otherwise, she felt it was a fantastic way to pace the lecture, break at key points, check on students’ understanding before moving on, and trigger discussion on tougher questions that might be subject to interpretation.

Assessment: This technology proved very effective and helpful. Catherine will use the clickers again next year. Students responded positively to clicker use in their evaluations.  They reported that the clickers were a fun way to stay engaged in lecture, raise quesitons and keep up with the material. There were criticisms about the quality of some of the questions, but the overwhelming feedback Catherine received was to continue using them.

This technology could potentially be used in a variety of lecture courses.  Catherine would be happy to be approached by anyone that would like to learn more about them.


How Do I… » Data Collection and Analysis » Survey/Polls

Tools » Clickers

I’m back…kind of. Plus: Choir performance!

If I only spoke in Russian for a year... - Sat, 04/17/2010 - 6:12am

I’m sorry for being away. But here’s something exciting to make up for it!..

Listen and watch “Beryozovye sny” (“Dreams of Birches”) and another choral piece performed by my choir at the 2010 Student Spring Festival today.

Can you find me below!? Answer posted at the end, along with a video of the first one, and the sound file of the second one.

Basically, I’ve been really busy. Six hours of choir practice a week, ten hours at my internship, and the workload of two mainstream Russian literature courses are my excuses. I think my host family thinks I have disappeared. This is not actually true, but they kind of look at me all dazed when I come back home after my three 11-hour days (Tues-Thurs) in a row, not understanding what I’ve been doing.

The good news is, that I feel like I’m within a good weekend-long lurch, so to say, of catching up totally, meaning I can get back to some blogging and keeping you all in the loop. I realize I have yet to talk about Severobaikalsk, the second half of spring break, and life here generally.

The even better news is, as I realized first while typing an email to Ben in Italy yesterday, that I’ve accomplished what I came here to do: I wanted to come abroad for a year to learn how to “live like a local” in a crazy, far-out place, and in my short moments of reflection, I realize that I’ve kind of built my life in a place, where the fact that it’s a mid-sized city in the middle of Siberia doesn’t make that much of a psychological difference.

This being the case, I’m crazy antsy to get out of here and get back home. It looks like I’ll hit St. Petersburg for 2 days, visit Ashley, Nick, and Zach in Yaroslavl for 2 days, and then fly on home on May 30. So hope to see you all in Arizona May 31!

I’m the third one from the right on the top row. Yes, we are wearing red bow-ties. So great.

Also, cool fact: on SoundCloud.com, the site where the sound files are hosted, you can make a comment that’s timed with a spot in the track, so if you hear something you like, comment on it–in time! Just click on the thin bar below the sound-wave.

Spring Break (Days 4-5): Far-Eastbound

If I only spoke in Russian for a year... - Thu, 04/01/2010 - 1:39am

Our longest ride of the week–40 hours–came next: Chita to Khabarovsk on the Irkutsk-Vladivostok train. Most of our wagon-mates were on ’til the end of the line. More notably, nearly a third of the car consisted of a band of Uzbek migrant workers.

They were spread out through the car, but it seemed that the “main” guy was one of the two sitting across from us, since the others came to him for tea, bread, etc., for which it seemed they had pooled their money together.

Most of them had made the early spring journey from Central Asia to the Far East coast to work during the warm, shipping season before. The main guy/our neighbor told us that he owned a grocery shop back home with several employees, but still needed the extra money from summer work–a fate to which he seemed to measuredly resigned.

Ryan got suckered in to giving a fairly long English lesson (i.e. translating words from Russian to English) for a really eager guy who was planning on eventually taking English lessons, but neither of us was brave enough to try Uzbek (or Kazakh, Tajik, or any of the others they spoke) –getting their names was difficult enough.

Otherwise, “poyezd yest’ poyezd” (“the train’s the train”): sleep, eat, read, repeat.

But. There’s usually one lady that pushes the beer/juice/ramen/fresh pirozhki cart back and forth the entire journey. This one, the job was divided up between two awesome women.

There was a buxom, slightly made-up, kind woman who strode into the cart every 30 minutes carrying a tray of fresh pirozhki and pigs-in-a-blanket. With a flick of the wrist she unveiled the tray’s contents, usually with a fairly creative salesman line. For instance: “Mmm. Hot, fresh pirozhki –just like me!” or “Oooh! What pirooozheshki I have!”

The duty involving slightly more manual labor (namely, pulling the waist-high beverage cart) was carried out by a short, headscarf-clad, Buryat lady. She, too, employed an equally entertaining dose of attitude in her work: when asked if she had a pad of paper, or even a piece, she stopped, cast an evil eye at the asker, and mumbled as she walked on, “What do you think I’m pullin’ a concillary shop here?”

Ohh, Russian Railways.

Spring Break (Days 2-3): Chita rocks

If I only spoke in Russian for a year... - Wed, 03/31/2010 - 1:38am

Commemorative monument to Chita's founding in 1653 (other pictures at end of post).

If they made shirts that said “I <3 Chita,” I would buy one and wear it all the time.

‘NICE’ & ‘TRAIN’. Two words that up to now I hadn’t considered being utterable in the same sentence. Nevertheless. The train was nice (that is, from Ulan-Ude to Chita). Relatively speaking, of course.

Yes, the Russian men still smelled, and the beds were still 6 inches too short for my legs, which, hanging out into the aisle, no matter, people walked through as if they weren’t there at all. But, the windows were able to be opened, and the wagon was clearly not of Soviet production (a personal first). We took off from our UU hotel at 4 a.m. (in an 80 ruble taxi!), slept ’til midday, ate, and began to see the outskirts of Chita a few hours later, around 5 p.m. local time.

Coming in from the west on the south side of the Chita River, you see the city stretches along the north bank, as if back into time: the more recent industrial smokestacks from the middle of last century–the last suggestion of economic development in most Siberian, Soviet-expanded cities–stand like bookends of the city-timeline at its westernmost limits. The colorful paints and woodwork of the dark-stained izby (traditional Russian houses) dot the horizon of concrete 5- to 10-story apartment high-rises, which lead eastward to the smorgasbord of a city center, a mix of centuries-old onion domes and a handful of gaudy, glass-gilded hotel resorts.

So exciting!

SETTLED IN, AT LAST. The train station was euphorically bustling with the arrival of the Moscow train and the impending departure of another. Perhaps it was just the pleasantly positive (+3 deg. C.) temperature (at last!).

In comparison with the hotel-search fiasco of Ulan-Ude, our walking three blocks up, three blocks over, and into the Forestry School Dorms (which housed the appropriately named Hotel [read: hostel] “Taiga”) to receive a two-bed private room for $40 for a day and a half was beautifully simple. The refrigerator, water boiler, teacups, TV, and comfy beds and pillows were just the icing on the cake.

After a mostly unsuccessful attempt to track down a few of the guidebook-recommended (to cite my source: Lonely Planet, Russia. ed. Simon Richmond. 5th ed. Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd, 2009: Footscray, Australia) cafés, we noted the joint Subway and Baskin Robbins, complete with budget-priced menu and free WiFi.

Yes, a total sell-out as far as culture experience goes, but we were hungry. But, I’d argue that our coming across the, as labeled in the guidebook, “Huge Green Tube” (bottom of post) might have redeemed us.

WHAT TIME IS IT? When we “fell back” in the fall, I told you about how babushkas, a decade later, are still upset about the government-imposed daylight savings time on account of its disrupting their biological rhythms. Since the rest of the country “sprang ahead” without telling Ryan nor I on Sunday, I’m kind of on their side now.

We got up at what we thought was 9 a.m. to go track down the Catholic church that the Internet had slightly hinted was located at address x about 100 years ago. Worth a shot, right?

Approaching the given address and only seeing an Orthodox church with its own Palm Sunday service letting out, we asked a babushka for help. She directed us to the other side of town. Not really sure how much further we had to go until we’d see the so-called “Old Bridge” (not shown in the guidebook), I asked another nice-looking lady preparing to cross the street.

Good choice.

AWWW!! She was amazing. She practically grabbed us, totally forgetting about where she was going, to take us to the trolley stop a few blocks away and to wait with us there. Then she remembered that it was a different stop, and walked us there too. On the way, she told us about her work directing a university athletics program. She recommended the Decembrists Museum. She said it was “the Petersburgers’ fault” that the streets were straight and made sense (but “in the good meaning of ‘fault'”).

Passing one of the administrative buildings of Chitinskii Province, she pointed out, “This one, the Japanese POWs built for us. Good fellows (molodsty). Not like any of that Chinese construction!” A convivial laugh together ensued.

She set us on the right trolley bus, and Ryan and I found the church with no further problems. We walked in, around what we thought was 10 a.m., and two guys sitting there told us that mass started at noon.

Thinking we had two hours to kill, we walked around that side of town, hit the market (so close to China!), wandered through a few clothes shops just opening up, and made our way back 15 minutes before (when we thought) mass started.

If my foreshadowing hasn’t been explicit enough, we were late by an hour, but since the church’s lenten devotion, which they said after mass, kept us there for more than an hour extra, I felt like Jesus was probably okay with my ignorance to the Russian government’s messing with time (and not telling me about it).

The sights from the rest of the day:

  • A synagogue, mosque, and the Orthodox church the Decembrists built for themselves. Some residents use this as reasoning to call Chita the “Jerusalem of Siberia,” apparently. We had a conversation with a few of friendly worshippers at the mosque, who said we could come in and take pictures, but then disappeared for ten minutes; given the fact we were an hour behind, we left.
  • Decembrist’s museum (housed in their old church). It was obviously a Soviet put-together museum: one icon in the entire place (despite the fact that, again, it was in an old church) and there were lots of anti-tsar poems and comics and generally romanticizing, pro-revolutionary propaganda. Though, despite the obvious Marxist influence, I was actually taken by the manuscripts, artifacts, deathbed love letters, execution and hard-labor orders signed by the Nicholas I, chants mocking the tsar that the revolutionaries wrote for their kids, and secret society rules and member charters, written in the hand of the Decembrists themselves.
  • The parliament building of the short-lived (less than a year) Far East Republic, which Chitan socialists founded shortly after the 1905 October Manifesto. Nothing but a building, but a testament to the multi-faceted history of the region: Chingis Khan was born here; Buryats, Mongols, and Chinese inhabited the region; the Russians came and took over along with their Cossacks; the Decembrist women came and “civilized” the place; and the White Army held out here against the Bolsheviks almost longer than anywhere else.
  • Chitinskii Province History Museum. Another really well-put together (by Marxist historians) museum, with great natural history exhibits of Siberia’s rocks and animals (nothing too new), ethnographic exhibits (complete with mini Buddhist datsan), and an outrageously outdated, one-sided, and chauvinistic display on the two world wars. There was a veteran that kind of browsed past the bulk of the museum to get to that display to show his grandson: cute, but again, one-sided.

Passing by the gold-topped, baby-blue Assumption Cathedral (noted for its general beauty, plus the perfectly symmetrical floorplan, uncharacteristic of Orthodox churches) next to the train station was our last stop before grabbing dinner. We chose a Ukrainian restaurant, which turned out great: good baklazhani (an eggplant-veggie mix), a pork-bacon-and-cheese heart-attack-on-a-plate dish, and assorted vareniki (ravioli-type dumplings filled with meat, cabbage, potatoes, cheese, berries, poppy-seeds–in different ones).

After a last ice cream at Baskin Robbins and a nap, Ryan and I headed out the door at 3 to catch our two-day train to Khabarovsk.

The verdict on Chita: sooo good. Clean, wide streets; beautiful buildings at every turn representing the region’s super-rich, like, oligarch-rich history; nice people (for the most part …it could have just been the good weather, too); good museums; good hostel. Not too much to complain about. I’m impressed, despite the Lonely Planet diagnosis:

…the city might be considered one of Siberia’s more appealing. Sadly, each attractive area is a little too diffuse to make the overall impact particularly memorable.


Spring Break (Day 1): ‘Trevoga’ redeemed in U.U.

If I only spoke in Russian for a year... - Sun, 03/28/2010 - 5:18am

"Art belongs to the people," says Lenin. On the UU Opera House

Russians have a word (“trevoga”) for the spiritual qualms that you experience before traveling until you’re safely seated on your train/plane seat. I call it stress. Whatever it is, I feel it.

The day of our departure, I went straight from classes to my internship, and then straight to choir rehearsal, leaving early around 8 p.m. to inhale my dinner, grab my things (packed the day before), and run to meet Ryan at the station to catch our 9:40 overnight train to Ulan-Ude. The guidebook says it’s nickname is “UU,” but I’ve never heard that in real life. (Prophesy from the future: more “the guidebook was wrong” moments to come).

Regardless, we got in at 6 a.m. and bought the last of our train tickets (the ticket lady in Irkutsk had advised us to hold off on getting a few of them, since better seats opened up in the end).

MISTAKE ONE: Not booking the hotel. We spent the first hour in Ulan-Ude walking around the center’s five or so hotels, finding that only the most expensive were available. Luckily, the first hotel/the one we wanted (we’d stayed there in the fall on our Midd expedition) let us drop our bags there while we waited to see if a room opened/did our sightseeing. Though we also lucked out, since a room opened up by midday, we learned our lesson and decided to call ahead to the other hotels to make reservations.

Too bad that all the phone numbers online and in the guidebook are bad…

BREAKFAST & MORNING SIGHTS. I had a cocktail glass of oatmeal (I’d say “a bowl of” oatmeal, except it was actually served in a cocktail glass…) and a kettle of green-colored Earl Grey tea at a Marco Polo cafe, whose advertised “Free WiFi” was neither free, nor functioning. Too bad Russian MTV doesn’t make up for disappointments like that.

Ryan and I saw the head (i.e. the Wizard of Oz looking, somewhat cross-eyed, largest head of Lenin in the world –built to celebrate his 100th b-day in 1970). Walked past the opera house (Soviet stars and emblems at every chance –engraved with the wisdom of a Lenin quote “Art…”). Walked through the arch (constructed in 1891 to celebrate a military victory against neighboring China, total rip-off of Napoleon’s in Paris) about a hundred times, at that, searching for an ATM, and then an Internet connection, then this marshrutka, then that one…

‘…WEATHER OUTSIDE IS FRIGHTFUL…’ The snow steadily fell all day, and since we didn’t have a hotel yet and weren’t necessarily up for traipsing about the snowy, forested acres of the architectural-ethongraphic museum that I’d seen in the fall, we decided to keep our cultural exploration to indoor museums.

  • History: Lenin and company were held at bay within the walls of the Buddist-style building of the largely ethnographic museum. The only display open was a collection of 400-year old Buddhist manuscripts, icons, statues, and medial diagrams (rather graphic for the eyes used to Western medicine). There were also jars of dragon bone, wolf tongue, elephant skin, dried raven blood, and other Harry Potter potion ingredients. If I’d known the German words for these animal-body-part combinations, I’d have clued in the German tour group next to us, who was making do with a tour guide (“Tell them this…. Did you tell them that?”) and confused-looking translator (“Und das ist…”).
  • “Literature”: After we spent 20 minutes searching for the Literature History Museum along Victory Street (banner read, “Praise to the people who is victorious!”), we finally found the well kept-up wooden house with the right address. Except that museum had been traded out with about 3 different ones since the guide book’s publication, and now housed a small, but nice exhibit of a Polish dude’s drawings of Buryatia and the handcrafts from the youth-senior cultural center.
  • Nature: I justified my 30 rubles ($1.00) with accidentally walking into the kids exhibit with random almost-loose (as in, the glass had disappeared from all the aquarium frontings) reptiles and a monkey (all getting along in perfect Soviet harmony), and then a to-scale model of Baikal, which gave me a visual (at long last) of the lake’s relative dimensions. Usually, Aleksandr Pavlovich (Baikal Studies teacher) usually just drew a slanted “V” on the board to represent the lake’s walls….

NOMADS & THE BURYAT IRISH. The Mongolian restaurant we found was good, nice service, and the right price for the sampling of all my faves (irony?) from my trip in October to Ulan-Baatar.

Ryan and I had seen an “Irish” “Pub” earlier in the day, so we thought we’d give it a whirl for a last, after-dinner drink. On-tap Guinness plus Russian guys and Buryat girls dressed in britches and the green-white-and-orange were entertainment enough until it was time to go back to the hotel to pack for our train to Chita.

Ulan-Ude, with wider streets, kinder population, and slightly improved traffic, despite the winter weather, was a great break from Irkutsk on day one. We were sad to leave, happy with what we’d got done and seen, but as I’m reflecting in retrospect from Chita’s Baskin Robbins’ WiFi (Chita entry coming from Khabarovsk in 2-3 days upon arrival), I can say that Ulan-Ude was nothing compared with what’ll be a great rest of our “spring” break.

A half month of vacation. Updates soon.

If I only spoke in Russian for a year... - Thu, 03/25/2010 - 5:07am

Spring is coming... slowly.

I don’t know why (and neither does our coordinator), but Midd decided to give us half a month of vacation: our trip to Severobaikalsk (posts coming soon) and an 11-day spring break.

Two weeks in between–just enough to recover from the first trip and getting ready for the second–have left me stressed a bit, and busy: classes, choir, internship (see post on my site-resume), and craziness in general.

So, I’m more than happy that within a few hours I’ll be on a train to Ulan Ude, Chita, Khabarovsk, and Vladivostok for a week and a half of relaxation, with some playing catch-up squeezed in there.

I promise posts on Severobaikalsk and the rest of March, plus photos and updates while on the road, as much as Internet time allows.

The blog is intentionally left blank

Film and Media Culture at Middlebury - Thu, 02/04/2010 - 10:48am

Please note that the FMMC blog is going dormant, as our new departmental website will be more frequently updated. Please visit there for any news and updates to FMMC.

From the First Day to the 5th Week.

architecture abroad - Mon, 10/26/2009 - 5:42pm

So I know it’s been over a month since I’ve posted – but now that i’m feeling more settled I can give a much better report on life at the Architecture School in Ferrara. I’m taking classes in first and second year, but have friends in 3rd and 4th so I’m starting to get the full picture and understand exactly what the typical Italian Architecture program is like.

My first year class is a drawing/design studio – called “corso integrato di disegno” which is very very basic, but provides some interesting starting points for students who haven’t taken that many arch classes before. It’s broken up into 3 components, history, geometry and lab – some of which are significantly more enjoyable than others. History is on average a 2 hour segment once a week that goes over drawing basics, the history of the art form and famous architects who’ve contributed something significant to the movement. Geometry is less interesting and seems to be the least favorite part for all of the 130 students. It started out with sacred geometry problems, like proportions of cloisters and the significance of the golden ratio – but has since moved to mathematical projections of objects in various ways. It’s interesting, but not terribly easy to understand in italian. Also on average a 2 hour segment once a week. The third piece at 4 hours once a week is lab. So far we have been drawing outside in the piazza and working to redraw the plans for Mies Van der Rohe’s famous Farnsworth house. Lab should be the most time consuming, but also teach the most valuable lessons about drawing plans, sections, elevations and perspective renderings. Its all done by hand – and some without a ruler – but it’s good eye training and the class, like I said, teaches some really valuable lessons for those people who’ve never done this. In all honesty I wish I’d taken a more advanced class (having done most of these exercises in the past) but acknowledge that it is good practice at least. It’s also good to be in class with freshman, who are eager to make friends and meet everyone. Much friendlier at the beginning than other older students who’ve made close friends in past years.

My second year class is “urbanistica” which basically goes over the history of the evolution of cities. It’s absolutely wonderful – and by far my favorite class here. It’s a long loooong time to sit still (as it’s two 4 hour lectures per week) but we always get a 10, no 15, no 30 minute coffee and cigarette break at some point during the 4 hours. Classes are usually based around a theme (like post WWII reconstruction) or dedicated entirely to one or two cities – the best of these being Ferrara. It was absolutely wonderful to sit and learn about Ferrara from the late 600s until today and then step outside and walk past all of the same monuments. The prof is really passionate and very very accepting of foreign students – of which there are many in the class. He also invites tons of guest lecturers to speak, giving a new perspective (and often a new dialect). Coursework consists of a semester long project in groups (everything is in groups) in which we study the evolution of a nearby city and produce a book explaining it. There is also ONE oral exam at the end of the semester (in january really) that relies on knowing the material of 3 books really really well. The books are fascinating, but reading in italian takes a little more effort. Yeah..

Overall – I’ve had some hard weeks and some wonderful ones. Some classes are awful some are wonderful – but in general I am really glad to be here. The program is huge, and wont coddle you the way american ones might, but the information and point of view is unique and certainly worth hearing. I’ve made friends with tons and tones of italians, and exchange (erasmus) students. Generally the exchange students will be great friends to have because they too are going to the same difficulty with comprehension and also know very very few people. The italians are more cliquey but all thing its the coolest thing that you come from the states and chose to come here – to Ferrara – really!?

I’m going to leave you all with some nice pictures of the architecture school and the medieval wall around the city. The first (above) is taken from the top of the wall looking back at the building, and the second is the opposite direction looking out over the grassy field and the bike path.
The facoltà is really fortunate to be situated where it is in such a picturesque spot!!

Bus 68

architecture abroad - Sat, 10/10/2009 - 4:43pm

oh yes mr. pei

As happens with all blogs that I involve myself with, I fall behind… way behind. So although I started writing this quite a while ago (september 16th they tell me), I will finally finish it now.

It was my first week of real class. I had more or less made some course choices (mostly around scheduling availabilities) and found myself in a more comfortable situation after a LONG day of studio (9am-6:30pm no joke): the dark lecture hall.

The course was “Methodologie des Structures” (same in English) and was set up like an architectural history class ‘cept it was all about the engineering side of things. At this point, I’ve actually already finished the course and taken the final (more on that later). In his opening spiel however, my professor started describing a project he had worked on when he was just starting out as an engineer, you know, something small, unheard of… like I.M Pei’s addition to the Louvre.

I think I can pretty safely say that most professionals in the field of architecture would agree that Mr. Pei’s intervention was successful. At the very least, I’ll put my neck out there and say that it rocks. Anyway, I was entranced with his description of the structural system that held together the delicate pyramids of glass. The smaller inverted pyramid proved to be the most interesting, and apparently is even an example of failed maintenance despite it’s distinguished status.

The best came after class though. Tired from a long 12 hour day of courses, I got on my bus, Bus 68 that quite conveniently goes from right in front of ESA to a couple hundred meters away from my apartment, and began my pleasant, yet lengthy, journey home. About halfway back, having just crossed the Seine, I found myself a pane of glass away from 673 very famous panes of glass. The glass pyramids that had just dazzled me from the projector were right in front of my very eyes. Writing this now, after having become a little more accustomed to the splendors of Paris (and the route of Bus 68) it seems almost silly, but I was bewitched that night. They shimmered and sparkled in the fading light, an unearthly sight. The next day I decided to take my time and walked home following bus 68’s route, through the Latin quarter, across le Pont des Arts (a ped bridge, the bus crosses either Carrousel or Royal), through the Louvre courtyards (where I snapped the above photo) and back up l’Avenue de l’Opera past Garnier’s masterpiece to home.

I won’t lie to you and say that Paris is a perfect city or that my time here has been spent primarily sitting in cafes sipping cafe and looking fabulous, but I will say that it does have a little ‘je ne sais quoi’. Also, although not surprisingly, it’s an excellent city for studying architecture, historic and contemporary. It’s hard to complain when you see all these masterpieces on the bus ride home.

architecture at unife.

architecture abroad - Tue, 09/22/2009 - 12:09pm

So I arrived in Ferrara about two weeks ago and have been slowly exploring the city. I’m living with 3 italian students – one from Sicily, one from Puglia and ove from Venice – in a wonderful but small house right in the center of the city. (i’m attaching a picture of the narrow street i live off of) The city is small for a “city” but is full of students and feels almost like a college town. There is a beautiful castle (complete with moat) and a brilliant white  cathedral right in the center of the city. The piazza between the two is always full of people and very lively until 3 am most nights. Also, becuase Ferrara is relatively small (130,000 people) and doesn’t have the fame of Rome, Venice or Florence there aren’t as many tourists or English speakers. This makes for a much more beneficial environment in which to learn Italian and actually feel integrated into he community.

As far as the architecture program – the building is an old palace that was converted into this school. It has huge rooms and windows, and is a really inspiring space to be in. As far as work, I’m still really unsure about what courses I am taking as the responsability for selection is all on the shoulders of the Middlebury student. Italian students at the school have fixed courses for 4 of their 5 years, but middlebury students are essentially given the option of picking any available single class in the first 3 (or 5 if you ask reeeallly nicely) years.  This is a really daunting task.  Today i went to the first year design studio to see what it was like.  It is actually composed of two classes, one traditional studio much like middlebury’s intro or intermediate studio, and one geometry class.  There seems to be a huge focus on geometry, partially to give a better understanding of early italian architecture (churches, monasteries etc.) and why certain shapes appear more often than others.  We’ll see how it unfolds.

Tomorrow i am going to go to a 2nd year studio as a point of comparison, and thursday i’m planning on going to an upper level urbanism class.  The program seems structured to the point that it might be worth just starting at the beginning, so that as the second semester approaches (at least for students staying the year) you will be completely prepared.  I think second semester of freshman year is very very CAD intensive and most upper lever classes depend on that – but i’ll know more by the end of the week.

Middlebury also has a required language/literature class for all Middlebury students in Ferrara.  So far it has been somewhat interesting as we are reading works about Ferrara or by authors who lived here.  It is looking like it will be in conflict with whatever classes i take at the architecture school (because they meet from 9am until 6 or 8pm on some days) but all of the professors seem understanding – so i’ll keep you posted about flexibility in scheduling as i learn more about arch classes.

I’m going to return to class picking.. drawing.. and italian poetry for the night, but i’ll keep you updated as the week unfolds.


time management

architecture abroad - Wed, 09/16/2009 - 4:17pm

At ESA you don’t get to choose any of our courses until your 3rd or 4th year. Even then, the choice is mostly between studios (i.e. which professor you prefer) and maybe an either/or elective option. Since I was place with the 3rd semester/2nd year students, however, there are no alternatives. I’m not, however, taking the full load of courses which means that apart from the studio I get to pick and choose what I take. I chose to take the art class, and two more engineering based courses: “Methodology of Structures” and “Construction”. Surprisingly, there isn’t much overlap between the two. My reasoning was that art would be fun and that the two structures classes weren’t available to me at Middlebury. A year abroad is supposed to be different, right? The other options were a “Descriptive Geometry” course, an art history, an architecture history (they said the teacher was awful, otherwise…), “Methodology of the Project” and of course, English. There is also a computer class where we learn all the fancy architectural software programs. It meets on Saturday mornings (I know!) and although I’m not taking it for credit, I have been making it to school and following it since I so desperately need to be caught up to speed with all the fancy computer stuff we do here.

The advantage of having a choice is

that there some classes that are painfully boring (so I hear), others that are unnecessarily hard (also hearsay) and still more that offer pretty much the same thing that I could get at middlebury (art history for example). The disadvantage is that I continue to be the ‘cas spéciale’ [read: outlier]. I’ve been getting a lot of “why weren’t you in class this morning?” from other students and while this is a helpful conversation starter as I slowly try to make the ever-elusive “real french friend” that they told me about in orientation, I always feel bad when I explain that I’m mostly just taking what I want.

Part of me would love to do it all, but since there’s still a class to take at the Centre Madeleine (Middlebury’s outpost in Paris) and cultural/language adjustments to make (and some traveling to do perhaps?) I know that it really isn’t a very good option. Plus, the atelier (studio) counts only as one class even though you meet for at least 12 hours a week (and pour your heart and soul into it). [note: Middlebury requires a minimum of about 14-15 hours a week of total class time, but if you’re following an architecture or science curriculum (with labs) they usually tell you to take 5 courses] A lot of what you see on this schedule is related to orientation activities, which in two days will be replaced by the course I’m taking at the Middlebury Center. I’m still overwhelmed but have finally gotten all of my paperwork handed in for the residency permit, opened a bank account, got a cell plan, a metro card etc. Now it’s just time to work…

classes have begun

architecture abroad - Tue, 09/15/2009 - 11:32am
the steps @ ESA

so… i started writing this post a looong time ago, and while it’s been sitting on the to-do list for quite some time, the crunch of still getting used to it all and piling schoolwork on top of it has been a lot. so what i’m going to do is get you up to speed with a spurt of short posts over the next couple days. the good news is that since you’re hearing about the trying first weeks as i reflect back on them instead of as i live them, you’ll be subjected to less b*tching and moaning.

Student Thesis Online: Transmedia Storytelling in Television 2.0

Film and Media Culture at Middlebury - Tue, 07/14/2009 - 1:05pm

One of FMMC’s honors graduates this past year, Aaron Smith, wrote a project that warrants broader dissemination, given its timely topic and “prescriptive” tone. Aaron wrote about transmedia storytelling in contemporary television, specifically exploring what lessons can be learned from experiments from the last decade and how future storytellers might devise more successful examples.

Aaron has posted his thesis online, inviting comments through the CommentPress system – you can comment on individual paragraphs, sections, or the entire project. Aaron would appreciate feedback – anyone interested in contemporary television narrative and transmedia issues will find interesting material to chew on here. Below is the thesis abstract to whet your appetite – please comment, reblog, or otherwise engage with his work:

Transmedia Storytelling in Television 2.0” by Aaron Smith
In the era of convergence, television producers are developing transmedia narratives to cater to consumers who are willing to follow their favorite shows across multiple media channels. At the same time, there still remains a need to preserve an internally coherent television show for more traditional viewers. This thesis offers a model for how transmedia storytelling can coexist with and enhance a television narrative, using Lost as a case study. By building a world to be discovered, creating a hierarchy of strategic gaps, focusing on the unique capabilities of each extension, and using the “validation effect” to reward fans for their cross-media traversals, television/transmedia producers can provide a satisfying experience for hard-core and casual fans alike.

Come see and hear Senior Work!

Film and Media Culture at Middlebury - Mon, 05/04/2009 - 8:24am

The Film & Media Culture Department welcomes the Middlebury community to two events presenting the independent work of our seniors:

Thursday 5/7, 7:30 pm in Dana Auditorium: Independent Video Screenings by Waylon D’Mello, David Ellis, Jason Gutierrez, and Matt Leonard.

Following the screening at around 8:30 pm on 5/7, we will have a end-of-semester reception in Axinn’s Abernethy Room to celebrate the retirement of Don Mitchell.

Monday 5/11, 1:30 pm in Axinn 219: Independent Written Work presentations by Ioana Literat, Jared Rosenberg, and Aaron Smith

Hope to see many of you there.

Two Screenings on April 15 and 16

Film and Media Culture at Middlebury - Sat, 04/11/2009 - 7:43am

This week, there are two screenings with filmmakers attending:

On Wed April 15 at 7:45 pm in Dana, we’ll be viewing the PBS broadcast of Planet Forward. The show is a companion to the website, which features short user-generated videos about global warming and energy issues. The show’s producer and host, Frank Sesno, is a Middlebury alum, former trustee, and parent, and he has involved our current students in the project – two Middlebury videos are featured on the show, and one student appears on a panel.

Following the airing, we will watch some of the Middlebury-produced videos in full, and then have a panel discussion about the project and the issues with some of the student video producers, Film & Media Culture professor Jason Mittell, and Environmental Studies professor Jon Isham.

On Thursday, April 16 at 7 pm in Axinn 232, come see Wings of Defeat introduced by director Linda Hoaglund. Wings of Defeat brings viewers behind the scenes of World War II’s Pacific theater to reveal the truth about the Kamikaze-the “suicide bombers” of their day. Interviews with surviving kamikaze, rare battle footage and Japanese propaganda reveal a side of WWII never before shown on film. American vets from the greatest generation tell harrowing tales of how they survived attacks. Wings of Defeat shatters the myth of the fanatical kamikaze to reveal a generation of men forced to pay for an empire’s pride with their lives. The film is the 2009 winner of the Organization of American Historians Eric Barnouw Award.

Special Screening of Revolutionary Road with Screenwriter Justin Haythe

Film and Media Culture at Middlebury - Mon, 03/09/2009 - 2:27pm

Justin Haythe ’96 will return to Middlebury to screen Revolutionary Road, which he adapted from the Richard Yates novel. The screening will be in Dana Auditorium on Sunday, March 15 at 7:30 pm, followed by a question & answer session.

Merci de toutes ces nouvelles!!!!

Chers poitevins et cheres poitevines,

Quel plaisir de vous lire et de decouvrir ces merveilleuses photos sur votre sejour en France. L’article de Catherine Meisel-Valdez que nous avons publie dans la Gazette de cette semaine (allez lire la Gazette en ligne sur le site de l’Ecole francaise) nous a fait aussi decouvrir le quotidien de votre sejour a Poitiers, et cela donne envie a de nombreux etudiants qui s’inscriront pour l’ete prochain.

L’ete au Vermont se deroule bien aussi, le bal masque de la semaine derniere etait une belle reussite (merveilleux costumes, tres belle ambiance, un bonmoment de detente bien merite apres tous les efforts de nos etudiants dans leurs cours), et nous nous preparons pour le voyage a Montreal de ce week-end.

Merci de continuer a partager vos photos et impressions sur le blog!!!!!

A bientot,


La Rochelle

Voici d’autres photographies de La Rochelle prises lors de notre visite au bord de la mer (pour en savoir plus, lisez le blog de Bethany). 

Bonne lecture !




Le château de Chenonceau

Voici une photographie du château de Chenonceau où nous sommes allés le 13 juillet pour une visite splendide mais aussi pour notamment un déjeuner extraordinaire et inoubliable.  Que cette photographie vous fasse rêver d’un monde magique et royal !



Bonjour Barbara!

J’aimerais bien t’envoyer des spécialités culinaires, mais…Thierry travaille encore sur le blog qu’il nous faudrait pour cela! Mais nous avons bien mangé des spécialités du Poitou-Charentes le weekend dernier, plutôt de la Charentes que du Poitou en fait…nous sommes allés à La Rochelle pour une journée au bord de la mer avec déjeuner (fruits de mer) dans le vieux port. D’abord la visite de la ville, dont l’histoire est scandée par les guerres de religion, et dont les Québecois et Acadiens sont partis pour la Nouvelle France, aujourd’hui le Canada. Et après le déjeuner chacun a choisi: la plage, le port, promenades, spectacles ambulants, et pour tous un beau temps fixe. Le lendemain nous sommes retournés à nos cours, dont tous peuvent lire les détails dans la Gazette dans un article écrit par Catherine Meisel-Valdez.

Nous avons vraiment de la chance d’avoir ce beau temps depuis bientôt deux semaines…et vous? Ou est-ce une question indélicate? On ne sait jamais! Mais vous nous manquez aussi beaucoup, le Vermont aussi, mais nous continuons un petit peu plus ici, jusqu’au 8 août. Notre prochaine excursion sera à Rochefort, encore sur la mer, et Brouage, mais dans deux semaines. Les étudiants seront libres le weekend du 26-27 pour voyager s’ils le veulent, à Paris, à Bordeaux, ou bien ailleurs. Ils vous en diront des nouvelles dans le blog, et nous enverrons aussi des photos.

A plus,


Le château est toujours là

Pour les nostalgiques du château, je poste une photographie tirée aux aurores de juin. J’attends en retour des châteaux poitevins !