The Learning Lab literary seminar for Fall, 2017:
Edgar Allan Poe: “The Raven” and Beyond
Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849) was a remarkably prolific writer. Everyone acknowledged his unique talent, either hating or loving it. After his death at 40, his fame would grow, especially in Europe, to the point that an English critic in 2009 could declare without hesitation, “No American author has influenced the history of literature and the arts more than Edgar Allan Poe.”
Darkly handsome and deeply ambitious, Poe, in life, was the antithesis of the highly esteemed and dignified Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (whom he hated). Poe was ever the “bad boy” of his era—born to impoverished actors, orphaned early, and, although adopted by a wealthy couple, later disowned by them for his gambling and drinking.
Disinherited, unlucky in love, often in debt and poverty-stricken, Poe died early and in strange circumstances; but he left behind haunting prose and adept verse full of gripping imagery. (In our day, Poe’s “The Raven” is far better known than Longfellow’s “Hiawatha.”)
During our three seminar classes, we will study closely 7 of his poems and 4 of his stories. On October 26, we will take a field trip (optional) to Harvard’s rare book library, where, by special arrangement, we can view pertinent Poe materials, including memorable illustrations of his works.
Section 1: Thursdays — October 12, 19, 26 (field trip), November 2, 9, and 16, 10:00 a.m. – noon at the home of Nan Bourne, 29 River St.
Section 2: Thursdays — October 12, 19, 26 (field trip), November 2, 9, and 16, 2:00 p.m. — 4:00 p.m. in the History Room of Norman Williams Library.
Optional field trip to Boston/Cambridge: Thursday, Oct. 26
(It either can be a day-trip or involve an overnight stay at a private Boston club.) Do you know there is a commemorative statue of Poe in Boston? On the field trip, we will visit it briefly.
There will also be another 6-week Learning Lab seminar given on Poe in the winter (2018). It will involve further study of his poetry and prose not included in this initial offering.
The Song at the Sea: A Concrete Passage
If “The Song at the Sea” (Exodus 15: verses 1-18) were a Hollywood movie, it would be a blockbuster packed with action, suspense, spectacular special effects and Meryl Streep starring in the role of Moses. But “The Song at the Sea” that we’ll discuss in this class is the triumphal 30-line epic poem that the Israelites sing as they cross the Sea of Reeds on dry land. This poem glorifies the divine providence on behalf of Israel, celebrates the drowning of the Egyptian charioteers and horses, and anticipates Israel’s conquest of Canaan — and it’s also an action-packed drama with a surprise ending and an even more surprising ancient form of animation.
Tuesday, November 14 2:00 – 4:00 Norman Williams Library Mezzanine
Lives and Careers of Remarkable Women in Our Community
Last year, our series “How Professionals Think” introduced attendees to the life and career decisions of a group of our esteemed colleagues and neighbors. Their diverse and fascinating stories proved to be extremely popular, so we are bringing the course back…with a special twist! In this new series of talks, we present an intriguing mix of women in our community with their own interesting stories to tell. Join us for any or all of these presentations and learn about their backgrounds and approaches to their fields.
Mondays, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m., Norman Williams Library Mezzanine
Oct. 16: Mary Holland, naturalist and author
Oct. 23: Jeannie Lindheim, professional hospital clown and animal communicator
Oct. 30: Nira Grannot Fox, researcher of change in learning, problem solving, life, and more.
Nov. 6: Jevgenija Saromova, executive chef at the Lincoln Inn
Nov. 13: Margaret Edwards, former UVM professor of English
Nov. 20: Deanna Jones, executive director of the Thompson Senior Center
Civilization at a Crossroads
In this course we will become acquainted with a group of contemporary observers and social critics outside the mainstream who urge us to consider fundamental cultural alternatives to modern industrial civilization. From different vantage points, these writers argue that the global capitalist/consumerist economy is causing intolerable social and environmental damage, and is not sustainable. Political and technological fixes are not enough, they say, and we need to fashion a postindustrial civilization on very different moral and cultural foundations. Together, we will explore the writings of Wendell Berry, Riane Eisler, Derrick Jensen, John Michael Greer, Vandana Shiva, Paul Kingsnorth, and Charles Eisenstein. Their ideas are challenging and provocative, often disturbing but ultimately liberating. We should have some lively class discussions!
Section 1: Wednesdays, Sept. 20 through Nov. 8, 10:00 a.m. – noon, at the home of Nan Bourne, 29 River St., Woodstock
Section 2: Fridays, September 22 through Nov. 10, 10:15 a.m. – 12:15, Norman Williams Library History Room
We live in interesting times, as the Chinese curse puts it. The syllabus for this course will be the interesting times we live in. This will be a seminar discussion that encourages critical thinking, reasoned argument, fact-based analysis of issues of interest to the class. We will focus on our present situation, with the US Constitution as a primary reference for viewing everything from freedom of speech to emoluments. We will explore issues of war, peace, justice, race, class, poverty, inequality – whatever the class considers most important. One purpose is to prioritize. We can’t cover everything, but we can cover some things in depth and look for their interconnectedness. Google machines (phone, iPad, etc) will be an in-class tool. Be prepared to do serious homework to support your case on subjects you care about.
Tuesdays, Oct. 3 – Nov. 21 1 – 3 p.m. Norman Williams Library History Room
Lessons from the Gilded Age: Life in America 1870 – 1912
Our current situation in the U.S. is sometimes called a “second Gilded Age” because of the concentration of wealth and power into the hands of a select few. What was the original Gilded Age like? How did it arise and how did policymakers and reformers respond to it? In this course we’ll look at the dramatic growth of the American economy after the Civil War and the various social and political effects it caused. The half-century after 1870 was a turbulent, troubling, yet vigorously innovative era that ushered in the modern age.
Many issues we are still dealing with today, including immigration, racial injustice, inequality, urbanization, unemployment, and the role of government, became urgent during that time. The list of colorful and important figures of that age includes Theodore Roosevelt, J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, William Jennings Bryan, Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Eugene Debs, Jane Addams, Clarence Darrow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Booker T. Washington and many more.
This course was given previously, but it is back by popular demand; it seems even more relevant now.
Tuesdays, October 3 – November 14 10:00 a.m. – Noon, at the home of Nan Bourne, 29 River Street, Woodstock.