Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

2017-18 Evening and Summer Graduate Courses

MALS photo

The following courses are scheduled through the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program for the 2017-18 academic year. All MALS courses must enroll a minimum of five students to be offered. Most enroll between five and ten students and all are capped at 15 students. The MALS thesis, MALS 670, is a one-unit, one-semester course, and may be written any term.

Fall 2017


The Geometry of Light
In 1425, Fillipo Brunelleschi, a Florentine artisan, conducted a “modest experiment,” demonstrating in practical terms by means of a primitive precursor of the modern camera the Concept of linear perspective in visual perception. In 1435, Leon Battista Alberti published his essay On Painting, developing in precise terms by means of geometric reasoning and workshop diagrams the constructive Method of linear perspective. Upon these formative events, we will build our course: a study of the relations among Geometry, Light, and Art. Among other topics, we shall study elementary optics, the formation of the rainbow, optical instruments, color perception, and visual illusions. Among other texts, we shall study S. Edgerton’s The Rediscovery of Linear Perspective in Italian Art and The Mirror, the Window, and the Telescope; C. Boyer’s, The Rainbow: From Myth to Mathematics; J. Heilbron’s, Geometry Civilized; M. Woolfson, The Fundamentals of Imaging; and T. Wieting’s workshop essays. Conference.

Half course for one semester.
Thomas Wieting, Professor of Mathematics, emeritus
Tuesdays, 7:00–8:30 p.m.


American Climate Change Politics
The United States is a significant contributor to global climate change. The American economy and way of life generate greenhouse gasses in the in-country use of fossil fuels and the consumption of goods. Despite intransigence within certain members of the population and the government, the United States has positioned itself as a leader in climate negotiations and in identifying innovative solutions to climate problems. This course considers climate change and climate change politics in the United States. Climate change politics in most nations is centrally coordinated and mandated by a national government; in the US, the federal government does not have a climate policy per se, but a series of federal actions the aggregate of which forms the basis for American climate policy. The US has seen great innovation and political motivation to act against climate change at the state and local level, particularly in the West Coast. This course will examine federal, state, and local climate policies. The course also considers values associated with climate politics, the role of science in climate politics, and undercurrents of skepticism. Conference.

Half course for one semester.
Chris Koski, Associate Professor of Political Science and Environmental Studies
Wednesdays, 5:40–7:10 p.m.


Religious Reformations & Social Transformations in Early Modern Europe
According to the well-known tale, the Protestant Reformation started when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses challenging the sale of indulgences to the door of the cathedral church in Wittenburg in 1517. In reality, the sixteenth-century fracturing of Western Christendom was the product of many forces, including the transformation of popular piety, reform movements within the Roman Church, and broader changes in European culture and society. This course will examine the processes that brought about the end of centuries of religious unity in Western Europe as well as the many social, political, and cultural consequences of this epochal transformation. Among the topics we will consider are: the complex relationship between popular religious practices and the institutional Church in late medieval Europe; the rise of the Lutheran and Calvinist churches in parts of Germany, Switzerland, France, and the Low Countries; theological and doctrinal conflicts among reformers and between reformers and Catholics; and the Roman Church’s response to the Protestant movement at the Council of Trent. In addition, we will also examine how the Reformations (Protestant and Catholic) transformed European society by looking at the nature of religious violence, the hardening of confessional divides, and the gradual emergence of forms of religious coexistence and cooperation. Conference.

Half course for one semester.
Michael Breen, Associate Professor of History and Humanities
Wednesdays, 7:30–9 p.m.

Spring 2018


Science and Society: Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine

The promise that stem cells hold for tailored human therapies has captured the interest of scientists and non-scientists alike. This course is designed to increase scientific literacy and enable all students to build a nuanced understanding of regenerative medicine. Each week, students will read and analyze journalistic science writing and/or primary scientific literature to (1) trace the history of stem cell research, focusing on key discoveries from the 1950s to the present, (2) dissect key findings that have propelled the field, (3) appreciate the parallels between embryonic development and regenerative processes, (4) recognize that scientific pursuits are influenced by human nature and politics, and (5) consider how governmental regulations have impacted stem cell research. Weekly writing assignments will help students solidify their understanding of the scientific process, including experimental design and science as a human endeavor. Conference.

Half course for one semester.
Kara Cerveny, Assistant Professor of Biology
Tuesdays, 6:10–7:40 p.m.


Media, Persons & Publics in a Globalized World
The meteoric rise of new forms of digital data and social media in the past 20 years has generated, on the one hand, fantasies of utopic intimacy (the immediacy promised in a new "global village"), and on the other, moral panics about unprecedented estrangement (the hyper-mediation of virtual worlds and corporate or government "big data"). In this course, we challenge this dichotomy of intimacy/immediacy versus estrangement/mediation by taking an anthropological approach to the question of human communication. Drawing on interdisciplinary debates in philosophy, linguistic anthropology, and media studies, we develop tools for understanding all communication as both mediated and material, grounded in embodied practices and technological infrastructures and situated in historical events. This in turn will allow us to grasp how circulations of media forms and commodities participate in the creation of types of persons and publics across multiple scales of time and space. Bringing those theoretical and methodological debates into dialogue with ethnographic studies and other forms of media, we ask: how do people sense and interpret themselves, others and their worlds? What is the boundary between the human and nonhuman in a digital age? What roles do states or transregional capitalisms play in the mediation of valued and devalued persons and publics? What are the possibilities for communication amidst great gaps in access to valued forms of media? Conference.

Half course for one semester.
Charlene Makley, Professor of Anthropology
Wednesdays, 5:40—7:10 p.m.


Red Sci-Fi: Science Fiction in Soviet Literature and Film
Though working behind the Cold War “iron curtain,” post-World War II Soviet writers and filmmakers were preoccupied with the same ideas and questions as their Western and American counterparts, often working in parallel genres. One such genre was science fiction, which became enormously popular in the Soviet Union starting in the mid-1950s. Relying on the rich tradition of the 1920s, the postwar writers and filmmakers used science fiction to reflect on urgent societal and philosophical issues. In the presence of state censorship and official ideology, science fiction became the venue for veiled and subversive critique of the regime. In this course, through reading and watching major works of Russian sci-fi fiction and cinema, we will explore how they imagined artificial intelligence and time travel; space exploration and alien species and robots; the quest for immortality; and the nuclear apocalypse. We will situate these works in their immediate artistic and cultural contexts and the wider, primarily American, comparative context of postwar science fiction. Readings and screenings from the Strugatskii brothers, Alexander Beliaev, Alexei Tolstoi, Andrei Tarkovskii, Kir Bulychev, Sever Gansovskii, Pavel Klushantsev, and others. Conference.

Half course for one semester.
Marat Grinberg, Associate Professor of Russian and Humanities
Wednesdays, 7:30–9 p.m.

Summer 2018


The Art of Speech
Studies suggest that Americans fear public speaking more than they fear death itself. Yet, many of us would agree that skilled orators have the ability to change not only minds, but also the world. In this course we will examine the hallmarks of exceptional speeches. Using influential speeches from antiquity to the present, we will pay attention to rhetorical devices, pathos, ethos, structure, audience, openings, visuals, body language, vocal variety, humor, storytelling, and “sticky” endings. Assignments will include oral presentations and written analyses. Oral presentations will develop skills in delivering original speeches, giving effective speech evaluations, using visuals aids, creating data visualizations, and becoming comfortable with impromptu speaking. Conference.

Half course for one semester.
Laura Leibman, Professor of English and Humanities
Tuesdays from 6:00-9:00 pm, June 26 through August 7


Family History in the 20th-Century U.S.
This course will use secondary historical studies published in the last twenty years to examine the changes in marriage, family and household structure in the U.S., mainly during the twentieth century. Topics include enslaved and free black families from the Civil War through Reconstruction; the fortunes of immigrant families to the late 19th century U.S. and the problem of assimilation; how American families coped with the economic and political crises of the Great Depression and World War II; the enduring influence of the postwar baby boom and the ideology of the “traditional” American family; and how the revolutions in sexual and social mores during and after the 1960s shaped Americans’ understanding of what constitutes a legitimate family. Conference.

Half course for one semester.
Jacqueline Dirks, Cornelia Marvin Pierce Professor of History and Humanities
Wednesdays from 6:00-9:00 pm, June 13 through August 1 (no class on July 4th)