MLAS Course Roster


Fall 2011 Courses


MLAS 270 38

American Economic Growth and Development

Instructor: Jeremy Atack
Location: Calhoun 204
Days and Time: Tuesday 6:30-9:00PM
First Meeting : Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Course Description:
Anyone listening to news stories during the past few years should have been struck by the historical parallels being drawn between current economic events and our past.  For example, the most recent economic crisis which began in 2006-7 has been repeatedly described as our worst since the Great Depression.  Is this true?  What are the similarities?  What are the differences?  What lessons should we learn (have learned?) from the past?

The goal of this class is to provide you with precisely this longer term perspective that will enrich your understanding of current public policy debates including the role of (state and federal) government, regulation, the origins of the federal reserve and our monetary system, the contribution of immigration, impact of transportation improvements and many, many other issues, including the changing US economic position in the world.  Our focus is upon economic issues and where economics is especially important in understanding and interpreting events, the economic underpinnings will be clearly explained at an elementary/introductory level—that is to say, no prior economics background is required (though some might be useful).  At the same time, we will, of necessity, recognize the political and social dimensions of issues which we discuss.  In general, however, I try to hew to the path of positive economics—understanding the choices that face/faced us and the consequences that follow therefrom—rather than dictating what we “should have done or should do.”

I am suggesting a couple of texts (which I urge you to buy used rather than new).  Material from these should be read, ideally prior to class, to provide a broader historical context into which the events we will discuss in class will be placed (classes will generally cover less than the texts).  Relevant material in these texts (given the mix that is possible) can be deduced via the chapter titles and the book index relative to our topical approach.  Links to other reading and listening material for this class will also be provided. 

For those who can remember much of their high school or college American history: Jeremy Atack and Peter Passell, A New Economic View of American History (Norton 1994)

For those who feel the need for more historical context and detail (in addition to the above):
Lou Cain and J. R. T. Hughes, American Economic History
Gary M. Walton and Hugh Rockoff, History of the American Economy

Remember, buy used books whenever possible!  The specific edition of Hughes/Cain or Walton/Rockoff is unimportant.  Needless to say, my lectures are closer to Atack/Passell than to the other texts.

By and large, I approach the subject matter by topic rather than chronologically (although there will be a chronological narrative within the topic, usually beginning with some modern related issue and then looking back to see the path that we took to arrive at where we are today).

My lectures will take the form of PowerPoint presentations on each topic which I hope will stimulate your interest, questions and discussion during class.  My expectation is that each class will be divided somewhere between 60-40 and 70-30 between my presentation and our discussion thereof.

Broad topics to be covered:

  1. Overview of long term economic growth in America and the rest of the world
  2. The evolution of money and banking in America
  3. State and Federal revenue and debt
  4. Panics and Crashes
  5. Recessions and Depressions
  6. Population and immigration
  7. The economics of unfree labor in America
  8. The economic benefits and costs of free labor
  9. Land Settlement and use
  10. Invention and innovation
  11. Agriculture
  12. Transportation
  13. Trade policy and industrialization
  14. American equality and inequality

Term Paper:
There will be a 10-15 page paper for this class.  The subject of the paper is some aspect (time period, event, a particular business, whatever) of the economic growth and development of your home town (i.e. where you grew up).  The secret to writing a good paper is to revise many times, focusing your argument, improving your narrative, etc..  To help you in this, I will comment on (but not grade!) a preliminary outline and a limited number of drafts. 

Grading will be based the term paper, class participation in discussions etc., and your brief (i.e. no longer than 15 minutes) presentation to the class on a specific, assigned topic of interest and relevance to a particular class. 

Course Instructor:
Jeremy Atack has been a Professor of Economics at Vanderbilt since coming here in 1993 (from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he was also Professor of Economics) and was appointed to the History Department in 2000.  He is also a Research Associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a position he has held since 1989.  Professor Atack grew up in England, did his undergraduate work at the University of Cambridge (Jesus College) and his Ph.D. at Indiana University.  He has also taught at De Pauw University, Wabash College, and Harvard University.

Professor Atack is an economic historian who specializes in the growth and development of the U.S. economy; a topic on which he has published many articles and several books.  Among those books are A New Economic View of American History (co-authored with Peter Passell, Norton 1994) and The Origins and Development of Financial Markets and Institutions (co-edited with Larry D. Neal, Cambridge 2009) and his work in progress, Crucible of Growth (co-authored with Robert A. Margo) which deals with the emergence of the U.S. as the world’s manufacturing center in the late nineteenth century. Recognitions of his professional contributions are his past service as the President of the Business History Conference, President of the Agricultural History Society and the co-editor of the Journal of Economic History.  He currently serves as President-Elect of the Economic History Association.



MLAS 260 93

Fiction Writing Workshop (Creative Writing)

Instructor:  Wade Ostrowski
Location: Buttrick 316
Days and Time: Wednesday 7:00-9:30p.m.

First Meeting : Wednesday August 31, 2011

Course Description:
This course, a workshop dedicated to understanding the craft of writing fiction, seeks to support and advance the work of both beginning and experienced writers. The bulk of our classtime will take the form of the writing workshop, in which we will actively discuss drafts of students’ stories and provide criticism that will not only allow the writer to make decisions during revision but also allow the class to learn about the architecture of a piece of fiction.

To do this, we will focus on the elements that make up contemporary fiction, such as characterization, setting, dialogue, point of view, and significant detail, and how to set up and revise those elements to make a story “work.” Key concepts will include scene vs. exposition; conflict, crisis, and resolution (narrative arc, or plot); and metaphor and symbolism on a large scale. All of this will be discussed in relation to both published 20th- and 21st-century short stories as well as, centrally, students’ own work.

As one must, you will read much more than you write; your responses to your peers’ work in progress and your examination of stories by established writers will allow you to think about style and technique from a more objective standpoint than is often possible when putting your own fiction on the page. Be prepared to write, read, and think—all of the above creatively. Writing fiction is both work and play, and we’ll enjoy heavy doses of both.

Required Texts

  • Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft (8th edition)
  • Other selected short stories (available online as links or PDFs)
  • Student stories-in-progress (distributed electronically the week before being workshopped)


  • One short-short story (400–1,000 words), which will be workshopped in small groups
  • Two full-length short stories, which you will submit to the entire workshop for discussion; these may also be sections of a longer work
  • Brief written responses to other students’ drafts
  • Attendance at a formal reading, followed by an essay articulating how the work read or the writer’s comments apply to your own creative writing
  • Final portfolio, consisting of revised and rewritten stories and a writer’s memo

Course Instructor:
Wade Ostrowski received his M.F.A. in fiction writing from Vanderbilt University and his B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He has taught creative writing and literature courses at Vanderbilt since 2009; prior to pursuing his graduate degree here, he followed a career in publishing that ranged from the Midwest to the East Coast and back again and included working on the editorial staff of the American Heritage Dictionaries and editing first-time mystery novelists, among other experiences. His short fiction has been published in The Missouri Review and elsewhere.

Syllabus: MLAS26093syllabus_Fall11.pdf PDF





MLAS 340 03

Capstone Workshop

Instructor:  Michael Hodges
Location: Furman 209
Days and Time: Tuesday from 6:00-9:00p.m.

First Meeting : Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Course Description:
The aim of this class is to help each student develop a capstone project that will be read and orally examined by a committee of three including Michael Hodges, Martin Rapisarda and a chosen expert in the field.  To this end a good deal of time will be left for independent research, consultation with experts and writing.  At the beginning we will consider some writings that exemplify different ways of getting at a problem.

Course Instructor:
Professor Michael Hodges received his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia in 1967 and after a brief stop at the University of Tennessee has been at Vanderbilt for 39 years.  He was Chair of the Department of Philosophy for 9 year and is currently Director of Undergraduate Studies.  He has published two books--one with co-author John Lachs and many articles on subjects in American Philosophy, Wittgenstein, Philosophy of Mind and the Philosophy of Religion. This is the fourth time that he has taught in the MLAS program which he finds one of the most rewarding teaching experiences in his career.




MLAS 260 92

Russian Cinema

Instructor:  Konstantin Kustanovich
Location: Buttrick 205
Days and Time: Tuesday from 6:00-9:00p.m.

First Meeting : Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Course Description:
Most of the time in this course will be devoted to the contemporary Russian cinema. We will spend one class discussing the classical Russian avant-garde of the 1920s. (Eisenstein, Kuleshov, Pudovkin, and Vertov.) During the second class we will discuss two major periods in the history of the Soviet Cinema from the 1930s through 1985—Socialist Realism and The Thaw. For this class we will watch two representative movies.

After these two classes we will watch and discuss the perestroika and post-Soviet films (1986 to present). Below is a list of topics we will cover and some sample films (not all these films will be in the final syllabus; they can be substituted with other films):

  • End of Censorship. "Chernukha/Black Stuff" (dark sides of life), eroticism, violence, and other important social topics of the time (movies: Taxi Blues, Thief, In the Land of the Deaf, Return).
  • Revisiting Stalinism. (Repentance, East-West, The Inner Circle, Burnt by the Sun.)
  • Russia in Wars and at Home. (Brother, My Step-Brother Frankenstein, Prisoner of the Mountains, The Cuckoo.)
  • Mafia. (The Tycoon, Wedding, The Quickie, Bimmer.)
  • Empire, Nationalism, Religion. (The Barber of Siberia, War, The Island, Brother 2.)
  • Latest Developments (To be determined.)

The emphasis in the discussions will be placed on interpretation of the movies within social and political context. Techniques will be discussed where appropriate, mostly in the class on the avant-garde.

There will be 2 or 3 take-home tests and no final exam. The students will do homework by watching the films and answering questions posted on OAK for each class. Some readings will also be assigned to prepare for a class.

The grade will be calculated based on the tests (60%) and participation, including homework (40%). Homework (answering questions for each class) will not be graded but it will be counted toward student's participation. In other words, I will not expect you to provide the "correct" answers, but rather to watch the assigned movies and to work on the assigned questions.

Course Instructor:
Received his first education (MS in mechanical engineering) in St. Petersburg, Russia (then Leningrad, Soviet Union).
Received MA at NYU and Ph.D. at Columbia in Russian Literature.
Has been teaching Russian literature, culture, cinema, and language at Vanderbilt since 1987. Has taught Russian literature and language at Columbia, Hunter College, Brooklyn College, and Lafayette College.
Author of The Artist and the Tyrant: Vassily Aksenov's Works in the Brezhnev Era and numerous articles on Russian literature and culture.

Interests: Russian literature and culture is not only his occupation but also his life interest outside work. Also likes arts, music, hiking, picking wild mushrooms, and collecting Russian artifacts.

Syllabus: MLAS_2011_Russian_Cinema_Syllabus.pdf PDF





MLAS 290 06

American Slavery and Slave Resistance

Instructor:  Richard Blackett
Location: 212 Benson Hall
Days and Time: Monday 7:00 p.m.

First class: August 29, 2011

Course Description:
Whenever and wherever slavery existed, slaves ran away. Some aimed to reach family members from whom they had been separated, others longed for temporary respite from the rigors of the plantation system. These acts have generally been classified as "petit marronage." There were those who sought to put permanent distance between themselves and their owners, to seek freedom in a free state or another country where slavery did not exist. This we call "gran marronage." It is the latter that interests us most in this course. At its core these were political acts. We will focus our attention on the critical decade of the 1850s as the United States inched its way to war.

Course Instructor:
Richard Blackett is a historian of the abolitionist movement in the US and particularly its transatlantic connections and the roles African Americans played in the movement to abolish slavery. He is the author of Building an Antislavery Wall: Black Americans in the Atlantic Abolitionist Movement, 1830-1860 (Louisiana State University Press, 1983); Beating Against the Barrier: Biographical Essays in Nineteenth-Century Afro-American History (Louisiana State University Press, 1986); Thomas Morris Chester: Black Civil War Correspondent (Da Capo Press, 1989); Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War (Louisiana State University Press, 2001); editor, Running A Thousand Miles for Freedom: The Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery (Louisiana State University Press, 1999).

More Information:






MLAS 260 94

Human Existence, Faith & the Questions of Ethics (ethics)

Instructor:  Charles Scott
Location: Furman 109
Days and Time: Tuesday, 6:00 p.m.

First Meeting : Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Course Description:
The purpose of this course is to engage several ways of understanding human life in relation to faith and our guiding values.  We will read works by Viktor Frankl, Paul Tillich, Soren Kierkegaard, Simone de Beauvoir, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Nikos Kazantzakis (Zorba the Greek).  The course will be conducted in a seminar style with guided and active class participation and discussion.  We will have the opportunity to explore ways of thinking that are different from our own, to come to a deeper and clearer understanding of our own thought, and to enjoy ourselves in the process.

Course Instructor:
Charles Scott is Research Professor of Philosophy and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Emeritus.  He has taught many years at Vanderbilt and along the way also at Yale and Penn State.  You can read a summary of his career at the Vanderbilt Philosophy Website (Faculty) as well as view his vitae.