Return to Learn: Middlebury Alumni College (for parents and friends too!)

Join old friends and new in this beloved Middlebury tradition!

Thank you for Returning to Learn!

Many thanks to our participants, faculty, and staff for a successful 45th Alumni College weekend of thoughtful discussions and building community on our summery Bread Loaf campus. Next year’s dates are September 1–4, 2022; we hope to see you there!

Questions? Email us at or call the Alumni Office at 802-443-5183.


Event Highlights

  • A visit from President Patton on Thursday afternoon
  • Cocktail hours outside the Little Theater
  • Guest speaker: Middlebury Artist in Residence Carolyn Finney, PhD
  • Movie Night!
  • Conversations over meals and evening receptions
  • And five courses taught by some of Middlebury’s finest instructors


With Lodging Without Lodging 1st Time With Lodging 1st Time Without Lodging Fee for Wed Early Arrival Lodging
$565 $465 $510 $420 + $60


Class Participants List

See who else has signed up for your course by checking this list.

Course Descriptions & Homework

Ethics and Health Care in the U.S.
James Calvin Davis

Do we have a “right” to health care? How should a moral society define “death with dignity”? What is the proper balance between individual liberty and the common good, when our medical choices potentially conflict with health needs in the broader society? This course offers an introduction to medical ethics, the field that addresses moral questions like these related to health care.

We will begin with a brief history of modern Western medical ethics, identifying foundational norms that are now widely accepted in U.S. health care and the significant events that prompted their development. Then we will use these norms to evaluate a wide range of private medical decisions and public health issues, including end-of-life choices, healthcare access, organ donation, and our obligations in medical emergencies. Participants are encouraged to bring their own questions and experiences as together we develop deeper skills in ethical reasoning about health care.

Microbial Ecology of Lake Champlain
Erin Eggleston

Despite their small size, microbes have outsized ecological and evolutionary impacts in aquatic systems. How can organisms that are so small impact global nutrient cycling? What roles do microbes play in freshwater ecosystems? How do these microbial communities change in response to environmental factors, and what does this tell us about the health status of our local waterways?

Using Lake Champlain as a case study, we will investigate the complexity of microbial communities in freshwater systems. Additionally, we will consider how environmental and ecological changes lead to algal bloom formation. What is a “bloom”? Who are the key biological members? When and why do blooms make toxins? Finally, we will consider the complexity and challenges associated with water management in these ecosystems. A field trip aboard Middlebury College’s R/V Folger and additional laboratory components will allow participants to get firsthand experience with some of the research tools and methods in this field.
Note: Participants will need to be able to navigate a few stairs aboard the research vessel.

Understanding the Holocaust
Rebecca Ayako Bennette

Why did the Holocaust happen? How could the Holocaust happen? We will look at several aspects of the Holocaust, including the long-term conditions and events that led up to it, the measures employed in undertaking it, and the aftermath. We will also discuss the varying interpretations that scholars of the Holocaust have proposed. To help us understand, we will engage the period through a variety of mediums such as reading diary excerpts, looking at election campaign posters, and listening to resistance songs written in the ghettoes.

The Myth of a Polarized America?
Matt Dickinson

*Course registrations are full.*

Journalists, politicians, and cable-news pundits tell us that America is a deeply divided nation. But is it? This course examines the evidence regarding the widely shared assumption that we live in a polarized country. What do we mean by polarization? Who, if anyone, is polarized, and on what issues? How did we get here, and what can be done about it?  

Dutch Art in a Global Context
Carrie Anderson

*Course registrations are full.*

The artists of the so-called Dutch “Golden Age”—Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and many others—are best known for their portraits of wealthy Dutch burghers, landscapes of the local countryside, and scenes of domestic merrymaking. The widespread popularity of images of local people and places, however, obscures the significant global activities of the Dutch Republic in the 17th century. With the increasing profits made by the Dutch East and West India Companies (founded in 1602 and 1621, respectively), trading hubs like New Amsterdam (New York City), Mauritsstad (Recife, Brazil), Batavia (Jakarta, Indonesia), Elmina (Ghana), and Willemstad (Curaçao) became central nodes in an expansive global trade network. In these regions, Dutch merchants traded European goods for local commodities like beaver pelts, textiles, spices, ivory, and gold. They also oversaw the cultivation of sugar (in Brazil) and nutmeg (in Indonesia), both of which depended upon the labor of enslaved people—a trade with which the Dutch were also intimately involved.

This course will consider how global trade shaped artistic production in the Dutch Republic and its colonies.  We will examine works in a range of media—including paintings, prints, books, textiles, and ceramics—that pictured and mediated diplomatic, social, and economic negotiations between the nascent Dutch Republic and the cultures it encountered across the globe. In addition to classroom discussions, we will take a field trip to Middlebury College Special Collections, where we will look at a number of 17th-century printed images, including maps and illustrated travel books.


Carrie Anderson (Dutch Art in a Global Context)

Carrie Anderson in dark teal sweater, standing outside

Carrie Anderson, associate professor of history of art and architecture, has been teaching at Middlebury College since the fall of 2014. Her primary area of specialization is 17th-century Dutch art, within which she focuses on themes related to inter- and intracultural diplomacy and exchange. Her work has been published in the Journal of Early Modern HistoryArtl@s, Early Modern Low Countries, and Oud Holland. Carrie’s first book, The Art of Diplomacy in the Early Modern Netherlands: Gift-giving at Home and Abroad, is under contract with Amsterdam University Press. Carrie is also the co-PI of the in-progress digital art history project Visualizing Textile Circulation in the Dutch Global Market, 1602–1795. Carrie teaches courses on 17th-century Dutch art, the global baroque, early modern patronage, 17th-century Dutch printmaking, and the arts of Spain and the Spanish Americas. She also team teaches a winter term course called Data Science across Disciplines.

Rebecca Ayako Bennette (Understanding the Holocaust)

Rebecca Ayako Bennette in light indigo knit sweater with grey background

Rebecca Ayako Bennette is the director of Jewish studies and a professor of history at Middlebury College. She received her PhD in 2002 from Harvard University and has taught at Middlebury since 2005. She is the author of, among other works, Fighting for the Soul of Germany: The Catholic Struggle for Inclusion after Unification (Harvard, 2012) and the upcoming Diagnosing Dissent: Hysterics, Deserters, and Conscientious Objectors in Germany During World War One (Cornell, 2020). 



James Calvin Davis (Ethics and Health Care in the U.S.)

John Calvin Davis, in light green button-up shirt, trees in background

James Calvin Davis is the George Adams Ellis Professor of Liberal Arts at Middlebury. He teaches in the Religion Department, where he specializes in ethics and Christian studies, focusing on the role of religion in American public life. He is the author of five books, including In Defense of Civility: How Religion Can Unite America over Seven Moral Issues That Divide Us (2010) and, most recently, American Liturgy: Finding Theological Meaning in the Holy Days of US Culture (2021).



Matt Dickinson (The Myth of a Polarized America?)

Matt Dickinson in light blue button-up shirt, bookshelves in background

Matthew J. Dickinson is professor of political science at Middlebury College. He authors a blog on presidential power, found here. He is author of Bitter Harvest: FDR, Presidential Power, and the Growth of the Presidential Branch (1999) and the coeditor of Guardian of the Presidency: The Legacy of Richard E. Neustadt, and has published numerous articles on the presidency, Congress, and the executive branch. His current book manuscript, titled Clerk or Leader? The President and the White House Staff: People, Positions and Processes, 1945–2020, examines the growth of presidential staff in the post–World War II era.


Erin Eggleston (Microbial Ecology of Lake Champlain)


Erin Eggleston in black-and-white striped top, in Bicenntenial Hall

Erin Eggleston, PhD, is an assistant professor of biology at Middlebury College. Her research focuses on microbial ecology. She seeks to understand the complex relationships between microbes and how they shape, and are shaped by, their environment. Recent projects include mercury-cycling microbes in the soils of the St. Lawrence River, coral microbiome and reef resilience, and community dynamics of harmful cyanobacterial blooms. To study these environments, Erin uses a variety of fieldwork, molecular biology, and microscopy. Erin is also actively engaged in science communication and outreach efforts, including Femina Sciscitator, a blog and online community for women in STEM. For more information check out her lab website.

Alumni and Families
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