MLAS Course Roster

Summer 2012 Courses

* See individual course descriptions for first class meeting date and place.

MLAS 260 98:

Liberty, Authority, and Justice

Instructor:  Robert Talisse
Location: Garland 101
Days and Time: Mondays, 6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m
First class: Monday, June 4

Course Description:
“Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains.”  So begins one of the great works of Political Philosophy.  A series of questions instantly emerges: Is it true that we are born free?  What does freedom mean?  Is freedom our natural condition?  Are we “everywhere in chains”?  Is society a kind of chain?  Do governments take away our freedom?  If so, are governments nonetheless justified?  Do we need the chains?  Must we obey the laws?  Why?  What would life be like without them? And is our condition, such as it is, consistent with justice?  What does that question even mean? 

In this seminar, we will explore major texts in Political Philosophy for answers to these (and other) important questions.  Readings will range from the historical works of Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Mill to contemporary works by Martin Luther King, Isaiah Berlin, John Rawls, Virginia Held, Robert Paul Wolff, and others.  Class time will be spent discussing great texts with a view towards figuring out whether any of them says what’s true.  Alas, at the end of the course, we will have to consider the very real (and in my view somewhat terrifying) possibility that the entire political world – states, governments, laws, institutions, elections, politicians, public offices, and so on – is irremediably unjustified.  That is, we will have to confront what Robert Nozick claimed is the fundamental question of Political Philosophy: Why not anarchy?

Students will write weekly one-page reactions to the reading and two papers (one due roughly mid-term, the other due at the end of the course).  As mentioned above, class will proceed by way of lively discussion. 

The required books are:

  1. Political Philosophy: The Essential Texts (second edition), edited by Steven M. Cahn, Oxford University Press
  2. In Defense of Anarchism, Robert Paul Wolff, University of California Press

Course Instructor:
 Robert B. Talisse is Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Vanderbilt.  His research specialization is Political Philosophy, with special focus on democratic theory.  He is the author of nearly one hundred scholarly articles and author or co-author of nine books.  His website is here:

MLAS 260 82:

The History of Fashion: Sex, and Propaganda

Instructor: Alexandra Sargent
Location: Buttrick 205
Days and Time: Tuesdays, 6:30p.m.-9:30p.m.
First class: June 5, 2012

Course Description:
Louis XIV stated that “Fashion is the mirror of history.” And really, it is.

Fashion, through the ages, has been a source of frivolity, serious business, and propaganda. It is a visual art form that like all others captures the spirit and multi-dimensional belief systems of each age.

“The History of Fashion: Sex and Propaganda” is a study of fashion’s connection to fine art and architecture. Aristocratic trend-setters like Nefertiti, Elizabeth I, Louis XIV, Madame Pompadour, Napoleon I, Queen Victoria, are just a few fascinating historic personas who used clothing and accessories symbolically and theatrically to influence people and to glorify themselves and their era.  Studying period silhouettes, fabric, and the treatment of the human form, we will investigate the history of clothing and how it has represented significant aspects of each age in Western civilization, from the influences of the ancient worlds of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, into modern day. We will approach the history of fashion through specific examples of clothing that have been designed and worn for practical reasons and for dramatic impact. We will look at how people through time have worn clothing to make statements about their place in the world, and how elements of clothing have represented religious and political belief systems, socioeconomics, cultural norms, and technological innovations through the ages.

For the mid-term and final projects, students will explore subjects of personal interest in relationship to the history of fashion, choosing elements from multiple periods and making a case for how the development of any civilization can, to a degree, be understood by what it was wearing.

Because everyone holds opinions and ideas about what fashion is and has been, I expect this class to be a lively group discourse on the meanings and messages of style and art through the ages. Students will be encouraged to respectfully contribute their areas of expertise, keeping in mind that fashion can be understood as a material record of many areas of the history of man and that no one person can know everything there is to know about the subject matter at hand.   We will all share our individual points of view and discover how they complement each other in regard to this vast subject.

Course Instructor:
Alexandra Sargent holds an MFA in Costume Design from Northwestern University. She is the costume designer and costume shop manager for the Vanderbilt University Theatre Department and teaches Costume Design, The History of Fashion, and Costume Technology. Alex has worked as a freelance costume designer for theatre and dance, and has taught at Middlebury College, The University of North Carolina at Wilmington, The International Academy of Design and Technology, and Vanderbilt University. Discovering the endless connections between fashion and art history, and exploring how clothing can be used in bold and meaningful ways to give an audience insights into the eccentricities of characters in theatre and film, has made for an exciting and rewarding career.

Course Syllabus: MLAS 260-82 syllabus summer 2012.pdf

MLAS 280 04:

The Tangled Web of Astronomy and Religion

Instructor:  David Weintraub
Location: Buttrick 205
Days and Time: Mondays, 6:30p.m.-9:30p.m.
First class: June 4, 2012

Course Description:
The interdependence of cosmological theories and religious teachings from the eighth century B.C.E. to the middle of the seventeenth century.  This course is, at its foundation, about the trial of Galileo Galilei by the Roman Inquisition (the Congregation of the Holy Office) in 1633. In order to understand why Galileo was put on trial and to discuss and evaluate both the cases for the prosecution and for the defense, we must understand Galileo's astronomy and why his astronomy was an issue for the Roman Catholic Church in the early seventeenth century.  To understand Galileo's astronomy, we need to know about the theories of the universe constructed by by the Babylonians, the early and classical Greeks (including Plato and Aristotle) and Romans (Ptolemy), progress in astronomy in the first millenium, debates in physics in the late Middle Ages, and the breakthrough ideas of Copernicus, Tycho, and Kepler in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. To understand the relationship between Galileo's astronomy and early seventeenth century Roman Catholic theology, we must understand the original Platonic (Augustinian) underpinnings of early Catholic theology and the struggles of early Catholic intellectual leaders in establishing Christian dogma, the Aristotelian (Thomist) foundation of medieval Catholic theology, and the intellectual struggle between Aristotelian and Catholic concepts about the physical universe. Our main texts will be Dava Sobel's Galileo's Daughter, Plato's Timaeus, Aristotle's On the Heavens, Galileo's Siderius Nuncius and Letter to Madame Christina, and some original documents from the Inquisition trial of Galileo. 

Course Instructor:
David Weintraub is a Professor of Astronomy and the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Director of the Program in the Communication of Science and Technology, and co-Director of the Program in Scientific Computing at Vanderbilt University, where he has been since 1991.  He is currently Chair of the University Faculty Senate and served previously as Chair of the College of Arts & Science Faculty Council.  Prior to joining the faculty at Vanderbilt, he earned his undergraduate degree at Yale, his doctoral degree at UCLA, and was a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Florida.  He teaches basic classes in astronomy, advanced courses in astrophysics and on black holes, as well as a course on the trial of Galileo. 

Weintraub's research interests are focused on questions involving how planets form and whether the formation and existence of planets is something that is normal or unusual around other stars.  For his research he has used telescopes in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Wyoming, Spain and Chile as well as orbiting telescopes, including the NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory.  He is the author of about 70 refereed journal articles based on these research projects and has had five students complete their PhDs under his supervision, all of whom remain in the field as professional astronomers.

Weintraub was awarded the Chancellor’s Cup in 2001 (awarded annually to the Vanderbilt faculty member 'who has made the greatest contribution outside the classroom to undergraduate student-faculty relations in the recent past'), the Jeffrey Nordhaus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in the College of Arts  & Science in 2003, the Chancellor’s Award for Research in 2005, the Thomas Jefferson Award in 2009, recognizing a Vanderbilt faculty member “for distinguished service to Vanderbilt through extraordinary contributions as a member of the faculty in the councils and government of the University,” and the Ernest A. Jones Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award in 2011. His first book Is Pluto a Planet? was published in 2006 by Princeton University Press.  His second book How Old is the Universe?, which was released in January 2011, also by Princeton University Press, is currently being translated into both Spanish and Polish.