Alumni Online Courses

Past Courses

Bennington: Real and Imagined–The Libraries

Bennington: Real and Imagined-The Libraries

Over the span of the past 90 years, there have been multiple designs for the Campus and its buildings. This class focused on the history of the library, from its first Ames and Dodge designs for the Monument Campus of 1927, to the 2006 proposed expansion by Allied Works Architects. Between these two designs, there were at least six other design proposals, including the Edward Clark Crossett Library. For each class, there were readings and a slide presentation exploring these designs, including their formal and historical precedents. Each week an assignment was given focusing on a particular aspect of a design proposal. We explored siting, geometry, light, structure, materials, and movement.

About the Instructor

A faculty member at Bennington College since 1996, Donald Sherefkin practices architecture in New York and Vermont, and also pursues various graphic and product design ventures. He has taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, where he also headed the University’s in-house architecture office at Mies van der Rohe’s historic campus. He has participated in architectural juries at Harvard, MIT, McGill, and Pennsylvania State University. BArch, The Cooper Union; graduate work with Daniel Libeskind, Cranbrook Academy.

Richard Prince, “Graduation” (2008) and Patrick Cariou’s original

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art

What is art? Why and how do artworks move us? What is the nature of artistic freedom? One of Bennington’s most popular courses, Aesthetics, asks these and other pressing questions about art from a philosophical point of view. In this online version of the course specially curated for alumni, we used both classic and contemporary sources to discuss these questions. Readings consisted of relatively short, accessible philosophical essays with links to news articles, TED talks, critical pieces, and images as we learn about the history of aesthetics, recent controversies in the art world, and Bennington College’s own unique role in American art history.

Week 1: What is Art? Two Classic Theories
Week 2: What is Taste? A Classic Theory and some Contemporary Research
Week 3: Tastemaker Clement Greenberg, Abstract Expressionism, and Bennington College
Week 4: The Artist and the Institution: A Controversy at Mass MoCA
Week 5: Appropriation Art: Cariou v. Prince
Week 6: Street Art, and the Illuminated Mural lawsuit
Week 7: Putting it all together

About the instructor

This course was led by Karen Gover, a member of the faculty since 2005. Gover teaches philosophy, with areas of specialization in Continental philosophy, Aesthetics, and Ancient Greek philosophy. She studied English and Philosophy with honors at the University of Richmond and received her PhD from Pennsylvania State University with a dissertation on Heidegger and Greek tragedy. She has published scholarly articles in International Philosophical Quarterly, Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, and The Journal of Aesthetic Education. Her art criticism has appeared in Sculpture magazine, Ceramics: Art and Perception, and the online magazine Artcritical. Gover is the recipient of a grant from the German Academic Exchange service, she was a fellow at Williams College’s Oakley Center for the Humanities, and she is the 2011 recipient of the John Fisher Memorial Prize in Aesthetics. Her book, Art and Authority: Moral Rights and Meaning in Contemporary Visual Art is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

Literary Bennington map image


LITERARY BENNINGTON IS A COURSE DEVOTED to exploring the lineage of literary greats since the College was first founded in 1932. We read widely in the Bennington canon through the decades, rummage in the College archives for forgotten literary lore, and read through the student-run blog, “Literary Bennington,” which features author interviews, short pieces of journalism, and reviews of literary events on campus. The class read works by Bernard Malamud, Shirley Jackson, poet Mary Ruefle ’74,The Secret History by Donna Tartt ’86 and The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai ’93.

About the instructor

The course was led by Benjamin Anastas, a member of the faculty since 2012 and also a member of the core faculty of Bennington’s MFA in Writing program. He is the author of the novels An Underachiever’s Diary and The Faithful Narrative of a Pastor’s Disappearance; his memoir Too Good to Be True was published in 2012. His short fiction, essays and reviews have appeared in The Paris Review, Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, Bookforum, The New Republic, and The Best American Essays 2012.

Map Afghanistan

Portraying Conflict: 35 Years of Instability in Afghanistan

This class surveyed the way in which we analyze but also talk about and represent the past decades of conflict in Afghanistan. Anthropology faculty member Noah Coburn guided students through a typical Bennington approach by looking at both how Afghanistan is understood through academic analysis and how ethnographic approaches, literature, film, art, and policy all come together to shape our understanding of this complex political landscape. Topics included the insurgency, the challenges of development, the role of women and youth in Afghanistan’s future, and elections. Student materials were drawn from policy pieces, Khalid Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed, Sebastian Junger’s Restrepo, as well as art by both Afghan and international artists. The course concluded by asking how these pieces might come together to help us better understand the legacy of conflict in Afghanistan.

Portraying Conflict run for seven weeks beginning the week of September 8 and ending the week of October 20, 2014. In late October, all participants were invited to an end-of-course dinner and lecture in New York City with Coburn. 

Weekly readings, videos, online discussions, and podcast lectures allowed participants to meet and interact with one another virtually, share ideas, and explore using multiple media.

About the instructor

A faculty member at Bennington College since fall 2012, Noah Coburn is a political anthropologist who focuses on local politics, violence and intervention in Afghanistan and Central Asia. His book Bazaar Politics: Pottery and Power in an Afghan Market Town (2011) was the first full-length ethnographic study from Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion. More recently, his book Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan (2014) focused on the role of elections in reshaping the Afghan political landscape, and in 2014, he served as an observer in and around Kabul for the think tank Chatham House during the Afghan presidential and provincial council elections.


Understanding Japanese Culture and Aesthetics through Ikebana

Japanese faculty member Ikuko Yoshida explored the Japanese sense of beauty and the relationship between humankind and nature through the examination and practice of Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. Ikebana was derived from a Buddhist ritual of offering flowers to the deceased and became an art form that encapsulates Japanese aesthetics by the end of the fifteenth century. 

In order to fully understand the art of Ikebana, one must learn not only the technique of arranging flowers, but also the philosophy and the representation behind it. Students examined Japanese aesthetics and culture in the literature (Haiku), history, and linguistics while also exploring the perception of nature in society. After investigating the history and philosophy of Ikebana, students applied their knowledge in practice, learning to arrange flowers using various shapes of containers, in various spaces, and for various occasions. 

At the end of the course, students were invited to campus to participate in an Ikebana exhibition. 

About the instructor

With particular interests in the areas of linguistics, second-language acquisition, rhetorical thinking, Japanese aesthetics, and Japanese literature, Ikuko Yoshida joined the Bennington faculty of the Isabelle Kaplan Center for Languages and Cultures in 1998. Her Bennington course, What do Japanese students learn about WWII?, was selected as one of the top ten courses by the Educational Policy Improvement Center. She holds a BA from Kanazawa Gakuin University, Ishikawa, Japan, and an MA from Saint Michael’s College in Burlington, Vermont, where she graduated with distinction. She is a certified Ikebana instructor of the Ichiyo School of Ikebana in Japan.

Americans In Paris

Americans in Paris

This class surveyed the rich history of Americans’ fascination and engagement with the city of Paris. Beginning with Jefferson and Franklin, the class looked at succeeding generations of travelers and expatriates who have made Paris their home; study American travelers of the 19th century who popularized the “Grand Tour” as a way to complete their cultural education; artists who found inspiration in Parisian artistic circles; African-Americans who found freedoms unheard of in segregated American society; and the expatriate writers of the early 20th century. The course concluded with a look at contemporary visions of Paris on film and television. 

Weekly online discussion forums and podcast lectures allowed participants to meet and interact with one another virtually, to share ideas, and to deepen their understanding of Paris’ enduring appeal to the collective American imagination.

And, for participants who dream of springtime in Paris, Shapiro lead a cultural tour of the city for course participants (and all alumni, parents, students, and friends in the area). The walking tour culminated in an alumni gathering at the home of Alexandra Hughes ’73. 

About the instructor

About Stephen Shapiro: A faculty member at Bennington College since fall 2010, Shapiro is a scholar of 17th-century French literature and culture. His current research projects focus on the use of the footnote as a strategy of dissident political commentary, Racine’s play Esther and early modern carnival culture, and the culinary memoir. Shapiro holds a BA in Classics and Latin from Yale University and an MA and Ph.D. in French from New York University.