MLAS Course Roster

Spring 2012 Courses


MLAS 260 95

Classics of Moral Philosophy

Instructor:  John Lachs
Location: Furman Hall 109,
Days and Time: Tuesday, 6:30- 9:00p.m.

First Meeting: Tuesday January 17, 2012

This course is part of the MLAS Certificate in Ethics series. Enrollment priority will be given to those continuing students in the ethics certificate program, with others allowed into the course contingent upon available space.

Course Description:
Students would be asked to read substantial selections from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics; Kant's Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Mill's Utilitarianism, F.H. Bradley's essay "My Station and its Duties;” Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil; and, to cover the Stoics, portions of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations and all of Epictetus' short Enchiridion.

The primary function of the course would be the expansion of the moral imagination.  The readings would demonstrate that there are many interesting and important ways to look at the moral life.  A second purpose of our readings and discussions would be to foster the recognition that moral problems are nearly always very difficult to resolve.

The writing component of the course would present students with a choice.  They could opt to write (1) a substantial term paper or (2) three shorter papers, each on a carefully defined and limited topic in the thought of one of our philosophers (three different ones to be covered) or (3) a journal or other significant project chosen early in the semester with the approval of the instructor

Course Instructor:
Professor John Lachs is the Centennial Professor of Philosophy.   His philosophical interests center on human nature. This takes him into metaphysics, philosophy of mind, political philosophy, and ethics. He has continuing research interests in American philosophy and in German Idealism, along with research and teaching interests in medical and business ethics.

Among his many publications:

  • The Philosophy of William Ernest Hocking (ed. with Micah Hester), Vanderbilt University Press 2001.
  • Thinking in the Ruins: Wittgenstein and Santayana on Contingency (with Michael Hodges), Vanderbilt University Press, 2000.
  • In Love with Life, Vanderbilt University Press, 1998.
  • The Relevance of Philosophy for Life, 1995.
  • "Human Natures," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Association, 1990.

 John Lachs is general editor of Encyclopedia of American Philosophy (Garland). An issue of The Journal of Speculative Philosophy was devoted to his essay "Both Better Off and Better: Moral Progress Amid Continuing Carnage," with responses from a half dozen philosophers, 2001.




MLAS 260 96

The Meaning of Modern Art

Instructor:  Leonard Folgarait
Location: Cohen Memorial Hall, 308
Days and Time: Monday, 6:30 - 9:00p.m.

First Meeting: Monday, January 9, 2012

Course Description:
This course will present art of the modern period, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and ask of that art what it means, and how and why that meaning was produced. Why is modern art so difficult to understand? Why does it look so unrealistic, and why is its meaning so hidden? Why is it so often thought to be made by unskilled and unbalanced people? This course will approach these questions seriously and attempt to answer them for the general student interested in art and in modern times.

To understand modern art, we must study modern history and society. We have to examine what sort of world the artists lived in that caused their art to look as it does. Examples of art to be studied range from Impressionist paintings of the nineteenth century to computer animation and internet art of today. The style of these images will be studied as a result of the kind of world in which they were made.

Course Requirements:
There will be one written assignment, a 10 page formal research paper, on a topic to be assigned. This paper will also be presented as an in-class lecture of 15 minutes.


Week 1:  General introduction, scheduling of in-class reports, video on contemporary art

Week 2:  Manet

Week 3:  Impressionism and van Gogh

Week 4:  Cézanne

Week 5:  Cubism and film on Picasso

Week 6:  Dada and Surrealism

Week 7:  Film Andalusian Dog, and Mondrian

Week 8:  Pollock and Pop Art

Week 9:  European and American Performance Art

Week 10:  Student Presentations

Week 11: Student presentations

Week 12: Student presentations

Week 13: Student presentations

Week 14: Final paper due and concluding discussion.

Course Instructor:
Leonard Folgarait is Professor of History of Art at Vanderbilt University, where he has served as Chair of the Department of History of Art. His areas of teaching and research are the modern art of Latin America, with a specialization in the twentieth-century art of Mexico, and modern European and American art and architecture.  Special interests are: the relationship of art to politics, early cubism, surrealism, performance art, film, photography, and historiography.

He has published four books on modern Mexican art and his articles have appeared in journals such as Oxford Art Journal, Arts Magazine, Art History, Works and Days, and Quintana.



MLAS 260 64

Music, Gender, and Sexuality

Instructor:  Melanie Lowe
Location: Blair School of Music, 2133
Days and Time:
Monday, 6:30 - 9:00p.m.
First Meeting: Monday, January 9, 2012

Course Description:
MLAS 260-64 is an exploration of Gender and Sexuality in Western music, both art and vernacular traditions. We will consider such topics as musical constructions of masculinity, femininity and sexuality; gender and the musical canon; the performance of gender; feminist theory; feminist music criticism; issues of gender in music theory; queer theory; castrati; “deviant” sexualities in music; and music as sexual politics.

Class Participation and Attendance:
To ensure a lively and engaging class, participants must attend all class meetings (unless excused ahead of time by me), be on time, actively engage the material, issues, and questions outside of class, and be prepared to discuss them in class.

Required Materials:
I will provide all required materials.  Supplemental materials and streaming audio reserves will be on reserve on OAK.

Reading and Writing Assignments:
There will be weekly reading assignments.  For each reading assignment there will be an accompanying worksheet to direct you toward a critical engagement with the essay(s) and to help you prepare for the in-class discussion of the issues and questions raised by the author.  For three of the reading assignments there will be an accompanying writing assignment in the form of a response essay.

Final Paper/Project:
There will be one final paper and/or project, due during the last two week of class, on a topic of your choosing and my agreement.  I will hand out details about the final paper/project about midway through the semester.

Class Participation       34%
Response Essays           33%
Final Paper/Project      33%

If you need disability related accommodations for this course; if you have emergency medical information to share with me; or if you need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please make an appointment to speak with me, as well as the Opportunity Development Center (2-4705), as soon as possible.

Course Instructor:
Melanie Lowe is Associate Professor of Musicology and Chair of the Department of Musicology and Ethnomusicology at the Blair School of Music.  She is also affiliated faculty in Vanderbilt's Programs in American Studies and Women's and Gender Studies.  Prof. Lowe is the author of Pleasure and Meaning in the Classical Symphony and numerous journal articles on both classical and popular music.  Winner of many teaching awards, including the Madison Sarratt Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, Prof. Lowe teaches core music history courses on Western music in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Baroque, and the Classic eras, along with topical seminars on such varied topics as Mozart and Beethoven, music and American politics, and gender and sexuality in music.

Syllabus: MLAS syllabus 260 64.pdf



MLAS 290 02

Crossroads of the World: The Panama Canal

Instructor:  W. Frank Robinson
Location: Buttrick Hall, 306
Days and Time:
Thursday, 6:30 - 9:00p.m.
First Meeting:
January 19, 2012

Course Description:

Description: Panama CanalThe grandest public building in Panama is not the president’s residence or the National Assembly. It is the Panama Canal Administration Building, a stately tiled-roofed structure that sits majestically atop a hill near the Pacific end of the canal. It was inaugurated in 1914 as the headquarters for America’s canal officials. Since 1999, when control of the canal was transferred to Panama, the building has housed the Panama Canal Authority, a branch of the Panamanian government. This edifice reflects the outsize importance of the canal to Panama. The waterway accounts for 15 percent of the tiny tropical nation’s gross domestic product, and its full import is even greater. Perhaps no country in the world has one thing that has the significance that the canal has to Panama. It has been said that it dominates the hearts and minds of all Panamanians.


Description: Panama CanalThis MLAS class will focus on the Panama Canal, providing a context and a lens through which to examine the following: the history of Spanish America and Central America, United States-Latin American relations, maritime commerce, the engineering marvels of the canal’s excavation and lock design/operation, the medical and scientific struggle against malaria and yellow fever, the migration of Afro-West Indians to Panama for the railroad and canal, life for North Americans in the Canal Zone, and, in a larger context, lessons that speak to the geopolitics between small and powerful nations.

This multi-disciplinary course will show that the construction of the Panama Canal, along with being an unprecedented feat of engineering, was a profoundly important historic event with worldwide repercussions. It affected the lives of people at every level of society and of virtually every race and nationality.

Course Instructor:
W. Frank Robinson is an Assistant Professor of History and the Associate Director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Vanderbilt University. He teaches courses in the Atlantic World and Latin American and Caribbean history that cover both the colonial and national periods including the history of the Iberian Atlantic empires, modern Latin America, Central America, and the contemporary Caribbean. His research interests include twentieth century political and social movements, nationalism and populism, and Caribbean Diaspora communities. Professor Robinson is currently completing a manuscript that examines twentieth century Panamanian political history. 



MLAS 260 97

Mirrors on the Stage: U.S. Drama, U.S. Culture

Instructor:  Edward Friedman
Location: Furman 209
Days and Time:
Tuesday, 6:30-9:00pm
First Meeting :
Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Course Description: The course will deal with the representation of U.S. culture from the second half of the twentieth century, as depicted in drama and the other arts. The focus will be on theater history and on ties between artistic creation and social contexts. The primary texts will be supplemented by critical readings. The topics that will be discussed include

  • The concept of “U.S. culture”
  • Intersections among history, politics, society, and the arts
  • Majorities and minorities, texts and subtexts
  • “High culture” and popular culture
  • Literature, theater, film, and television as reflectors and refractors of U.S. society
  • Aspects of society: the family, race, gender, gender identification, class, ethnicity, religion, economic status; the “normal” vs. the “abnormal”; forms of prejudice and discrimination (including affirmative action and “reverse discrimination”); the practice of “political correctness”
  • Critical techniques and approaches to the analysis of culture: literary and dramatic models
  • The origins of American theater
  • Theater from the 1930s: center to margins; Broadway and beyond; major playwrights, trends, and innovations
  • Theater history as cultural history and as academic discipline
  • Social issues, aesthetics, entertainment, and commerce in theater, film, and television

The class sessions will consist of discussion of eleven primary texts and selected criticism, against a variety of backgrounds. There will be a short written exercise (of two to three pages) on each of the plays; these will be response papers that will not involve research, but will give the members of the class the opportunity to develop their critical and analytical skills. There will be a final paper on an additional play, to be chosen by the individual members of the class.

Evaluation will be based on the short exercises (60%), participation (20%), and the final paper (20%).



Arthur Miller, All My Sons

Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie

Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun

August Wilson, Two Trains Running

Wendy Wasserstein, The Heidi Chronicles

Rebecca Gilman, Spinning into Butter

Neil Labute, Some Girl(s)

Richard Greenberg, Take Me Out

David Henry Hwang, Yellow Face

Bruce Norris, Clybourne Park

David Lindsay-Abaire, Good People


David Krasner, American Drama, 1945-2000: An Introduction


Moisés Kaufman, The Laramie Project


Final Paper: Each member of the group will choose a play not studied in the class, and write a paper of 1500 to 2000 words (c. 5-6 pages) on the play as an aesthetic object and as a reflection of U.S. culture. This is a response paper rather than a research paper, although one may choose to read (and cite) critical studies. The selection should be a play that s/he has not read previously. Suggested works—among numerous options—include Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (two parts, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika), John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, David Auburn’s Proof, John Logan’s Red, and plays by Lanford Wilson, David Rabe, A. R. Gurney, David Mamet, Sam Shepard, Donald Margulies, Lynn Nottage, Paula Vogel, Tracy Letts, and Sarah Ruhl.

Course Instructor: Edward H. Friedman is Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Spanish, Professor of Comparative Literature, and director of the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities. He is editor of the theater journal Bulletin of the Comediantes. His primary field of research is early modern Spanish literature, and his research also covers contemporary narrative and drama. A recent publication is Cervantes in the Middle: Realism and Reality in the Spanish Novel. In the spring semester of 2010, he taught graduate seminars in American theater and narrative theory as a Fulbright scholar in the Department of English at the University of Madrid. He has taught “Don Quixote and the Development of the Novel” three times in the MLAS program.

Syllabus: MLAS 260-Mirrors on the Stage.pdf




MLAS 260 74

Why [We] Write: Perspectives on Literary Creativity

Instructor:  Kate Daniels
Location: Benson Hall, 200
Days and Time: Monday, 6:30 - 9:00 p.m.

First Meeting:
Monday, January 9, 2012

This combined seminar-writing workshop is a re-tooling of a course originally taught in MLAS in 2009.  The new version combines the research orientation of the original course with creative writing.

Why do people write poems, novels, and short stories?  Why have they done so since the earliest eras of written languages? What is this cross-cultural urge to express oneself creatively in written language all about?  What is the function of the literary imagination in individual lives as well as in human culture, overall?  In this class, designed for people interested in creative writing (fiction, nonfiction, and/or poetry), students will attempt to answer some of these questions by reviewing several approaches to understanding literary creativity, at the same time that they practice their own art through creative writing assignments and prompts that encourage them to ruminate on their own creative process.  At times, these assignments will be shared with the group, workshop-style. 

Two books will provide dual starting points for our investigations: The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain, by Alice Flaherty, and The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. 

In addition to reading and writing assignments, the class will include visits by several members of Vanderbilt’s creative writing faculty – Tony Earley, Rick Hilles, and Lorraine Lopez – who will talk in person with students about their ideas on literary creativity. 

Requirements include class participation; several writing assignments; two oral presentations; keeping a journal; viewing of three films about literary creativity; and a final writing project.  Students will be expected to attend several events in the Vanderbilt Visiting Writers Series.  The semester will conclude with a reading by students of original work.


The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain, by Alice Flaherty (Houghton Mifflin, 2004)

The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron (Tarcher, any edition).

Darkness Visible, by William Styron (Vintage, 1992)

The Thirsty Muse, by Tom Dardis (Mariner Books, 1991)

Touched with Fire, Kay Redfield Jamison (Free Press, 1994)

Other, brief readings will be provided by the instructor. 

Films:  (all available on DVD from instructor, & through Netflix)

Starting Out in the Evening

The Wonder Boys

Stranger than Fiction


Class participation 40% (includes oral presentations, class discussion, and attendance at Visiting Writer events)

Written Work 60%  (25% = final writing project, 75% = all other writing assignments)