22W Course Descriptions

Course Descriptions: Winter 2022

More information on most courses, including schedule and recommended readings, can be found online as indicated at the end of each description.

Four courses will be presented online. Learn more about equipment you’ll need for online learning in those courses.

All courses begin the week of January 3.

Dan Van Tassel:  Shakespeare: Three Plays and Selected Sonnets

8 Mondays (January 3 – February 21), 9:30-11:30
Online via Zoom, Enrollment limit: 15

In this course it’ll be our pleasure to read and discuss three of Shakespeare’s plays and a selection of his sonnets.  Dramatically, we’ll be exploring the major genres of history, with Richard the Third, of comedy, with Measure for Measure, and of tragedy, with Hamlet.  Additionally, nine representative sonnets will provide a testament to the Bard’s poetic excellence and ready wit.

For further information, click here

Dan Van Tassel, author of Back to Barron and articles on Shakespeare, Hardy, Lawrence, and Beckett, grew up in Wisconsin, graduated from St. Olaf College, and earned graduate degrees from the University of Iowa.  He taught at Concordia College, Pacific Lutheran University, Cal State San Marcos, and Muskingum College, where he served as academic dean and professor of English. 


Richard Collman:  There is a Balm in Gilead

4 Mondays (February 7-28), 9:30-11:30
Village on the Cannon Community Room, Enrollment limit: 20

Course objective:

Historian W. E. B. DuBois proclaimed spirituals “the sole American music.”  Composer Antonin Dvorak called Black spirituals “America’s voice.”  During Black history month, we will study the cultural context of some spirituals, sing them (no vocal skills necessary), and seek to understand their appeal to both head and heart in our time.

For further information, click here

Instructor: Richard Collman is a retired minister-musician who has loved spirituals all his life.

Active in music and the arts in Northfield, he has taught many and varied CVEC courses over the years.  He welcomes this chance to explore the heart of spirituals and their messages for us today. 


Rich Noer: Quantum Entanglement

8 Mondays (January 3-February 21), 1:30-3:30
Village on the Cannon Community Room, Enrollment limit 20

Albert Einstein was deeply ambivalent about the theory of Quantum Mechanics developed by others in the late 1920s (building on his 1905 proposal of light quanta, or photons). Seen by most physicists as immensely successful, QM did however seem to imply certain strange behaviors: events that could only be predicted statistically, and particle properties that did not exist until actually measured. Einstein argued in a now famous 1935 paper that the QM-predicted outcome of a certain hypothetical experiment would exhibit “spooky action at a distance”: two particles, once “entangled” by their common origin and shot off in opposite directions, would forever remain entangled, such that whatever happens to the “left” particle would be found to instantaneously influence the “right” particle’s behavior – even if the two particles were light years apart. Surely QM must be faulty if it entailed such inadmissible effects.

For years, that 1935 paper intrigued philosophers but was (at best) ignored by physicists…until philosopher/physicist Abner Shimony happened on an unpublished 1963 paper by theorist John Bell suggesting the possibility of actually testing Einstein’s entanglement prediction, and set off a long series of experiments that have seemingly shown that Einstein was correct in his deduction but wrong in his conclusion. In this course we’ll examine more closely the history sketched above and the recent experiments leading to what is now called by some “the second quantum revolution.”

Graduates of the Quantum Reality course (Winters 2015 and 2016) should consult the further information page when considering enrollment in this course.

For further information, click here

Rich Noer taught physics for 38 years at Carleton. Courses connecting physics with the humanities, usually through history and philosophy, were a special interest. His five previous courses in the Elder Collegium continued this interest.


Carol Trosset:  Nature Observation and Citizen Science

8 Tuesdays (January 4 – February 22), 9:30-11:30
Online via Zoom, Enrollment limit: 15

Direct field observation of plants and animals is the foundation of the study of ecology and of biological organisms. Understanding the impact of processes like climate change also depends on regular, reliably documented, observation. Also, close observation greatly enhances anyone’s appreciation of the natural world. Class participants will learn some basic natural history, practice observational skills, and learn how observational data leads to scientific understanding: a process that includes finding patterns in data and identifying mechanisms that can account for them.

Each week’s readings will elaborate on the topic introduced in the previous class session. After the first week, each class meeting will begin by discussing those readings. The second half of each meeting will introduce a new topic and will include observation exercises.

All readings will be provided to participants without charge as pdf documents or web links. Some specific readings may be changed to accommodate the interests of class members.

For further information, click here

Carol Trosset (a former Northfield resident) has a master’s degree in biology and was a Minnesota Master Naturalist Instructor. She began studying natural history as a child in southwestern Ohio, and throughout her life has developed these interests and skills through nature activity groups, short courses, volunteer work, and travel.  A PhD anthropologist, she has studied Welsh culture in Wales, Australia, and Argentina.


Karen Achberger:  German Cinema

8 Tuesdays (January 4 – February 22), 1:30-3:30
Village on the Cannon Community Room, Enrollment limit: 20

“German Cinema” offers an intimate view of Germany’s history as told through eight of its most renowned films, telling a timely tale of the Weimar democracy and how it failed. We will examine the last 90 years of German history in four periods, experiencing cinema as a powerful medium that serves both to document and to shape the times. The first films we will see trace the path of a fragile republic during the interwar years, offering stories that first prepare the Volk for an autocratic leader and a fascist dictatorship. These are followed by films that illustrate three moving iterations of Germany’s post-Holocaust struggle with collective remembering—and forgetting (!)—of its Nazi past.

For further information, click here

Karen R. Achberger is Professor Emerita of German at St. Olaf College, where she taught for 41 years (until 1 Sept. 2020). While this is her first time teaching a full CVEC course, she taught German Cinema for more than 20 years at St. Olaf.


George Kinney:  Taking Personal Climate Action in Northfield

8 Wednesdays (January 5 – February 23), 9:30-11:30
Village on the Cannon Community Room, Enrollment limit: 20

To address global warming in time, major actions and investments must happen at the global, national and regional levels, but what local communities and their residents do is also critically important.  In this course, using Northfield and surrounding areas as the example, we will examine how personal actions, purchases, food choices, and daily activities add to the overall concentrations of carbon dioxide and other gases that cause warming. 

For further information, click here

George Kinney holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Chemistry, has taught high school sciences, worked in industry, and worked for Dakota County regulating hazardous and solid waste, as well as cleaning up hazardous spills and dumps. Previously, he taught a course on ‘Waste’ in the Collegium.


Jim McDonnell:  Recent Irish Short Stories

8 Wednesdays (January 5 – February 23), 1:30-3:30
Village on the Cannon Community Room, Enrollment limit: 20

The short story has been a central mode of Irish literary expression since the beginning of the 20th century. Frank O’Connor declared that it is fitted to Ireland because the genre reflects “a society that has no signposts, offers no goals and no answers.” In reality, it continues to flourish in an affluent modern Ireland because it captures the lives of ordinary people in terms of seemingly small events and decisions that often have momentous consequences. We will discuss a wide selection of recent stories by both men and women that span many varieties of Irish and human experience in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Except for aperitifs from James Joyce and Edna O’Brien in the first class, this course confines itself to stories written in the past 25 years.

For further information, click here

Jim McDonnell retired from the Carleton English Department in 2007 after teaching there for 38 years. He spent most of his early childhood in rural Ireland and returns there frequently.


John Barbour:  Religious Conversion

8 Thursdays (January 6 – February 24), 9:30-11:30, Online via Zoom, Enrollment Limit: 15

This course explores the process of personal transformation in its psychological, social, cultural, and religious dimensions. What is going on when a person experiences conversion? We will investigate autobiographical accounts, including the most famous conversion narrative: Augustine’s Confessions. We also discuss theories of conversion, such as William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience. Topics include differing views of conversion in various Christian traditions; attitudes to conversion in other religions; deconversion, or the loss of faith; and contrasting understandings of what makes a conversion authentic or not. Our goal is to consider conversion from as many perspectives as possible in order to understand this dramatic and fascinating human experience.

For further information, click here

John Barbour was a professor of Religion at St Olaf College for 36 years until his retirement in 2018. His academic field is Religion and Literature, focusing on the modern novel and religious autobiography from Augustine to the present. He has written five scholarly books and Renunciation: A Novel.


Dave Hagedorn:  Jazz Appreciation

8 Thursdays (January 6 – February 24), 1:30-3:30
Village on the Cannon Community Room, Enrollment limit: 20

This course is designed to enhance understanding of jazz by making students aware of how composition and improvisation intersect and change through history.   We will study the music from its beginnings to the present, with a large emphasis on listening skills.  No musical experience is required, but you need to be able to count to 4 and group those counts, normally in sections of 4, 8, 12, 16 and 32.  Many recordings will be used for more than just a unit, so listening will get more in depth.  Most of the recordings will be available on YouTube, and the instructor will send mp3 recordings of those that are not.  In order to have time for comparison, we will not listen to entire recordings in class.  Though the volume of listening in preparation for class looks large in the syllabus below because of the number of pieces and partial pieces we will cover, students should expect to have to allocate roughly two hours per class to listening.

The class is organized by topic and then discussed historically each week.   This will point out innovations through time on each instrument, rather than dealing with a specific time period each week.   A week is also devoted to Minnesota musicians, and the last week for current trends.  Performers studied are the primary innovators on specific instruments, so there will be a number of players not studied.

For further information, click here

Dave Hagedorn is a percussionist and retired college jazz band director.  Jazz I at St. Olaf College won two DownBeat student music awards under his leadership, and also toured Cuba in 2016.  Currently, he performs regularly in Northfield and the Twin Cities. Hagedorn holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music, The New England Conservatory and University of Minnesota.


Sandy Johnson:  Sisters and Saints—Women in American Religious History

8 Fridays (January 7 – February 25), 9:30-11:30
Online via Zoom, Enrollment limit: 15

Scholars of women’s history rarely examine the role of religion, and scholars of religion rarely examine the role of women.  This class explores the ways that women have influenced religion in the United States, and the ways religion has influenced women.  We’ll read a book of essays on the subject and explore the particular contributions of individual women as well.  The focus will be on Christianity, but some attention will be paid to other religious traditions.

For further information, click here

Sandy Johnson had a first career as a developmental psychologist.  Following divinity school at Pacific School of Religion (M.Div. 1991) she was a United Church of Christ Minister (including 13 years at First UCC in Northfield).  Her interest in women’s place in religion was piqued by a class on Women in American Religious History and shaped by her own experience.