University of Oregon

Saturday Seminars

While seminars are led by faculty who provide formal study guides and lead college-level discussions, participants are expected to be prepared (yes, do your homework!) to actively contribute to each session.

Registration fee for each seminar topic:

  • $135 for General Community Members
  • $95 for Active OLLI Members.

Abbey Lives!: Celebrating the Green Imagination

Saturdays: January 28, and February 4, 11, 18, 2023; 9:30 a.m.–noon

Registration is closed.


Baker Downtown Center


Can words move mountains? (Or keep them intact?) Can they move us to tears? Can they move us to action? We will get our mental hands in the muck of miracle as we marvel at inspired and inspiring, heart-breaking and eye-opening writing over time that has changed the earth--and how we see and think. We will ponder writing that has resulted in ways to respect, revere, protect, and legislate our earth. In famous and iconic poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, including Supreme Court decisions, we will wonder at text: what is so powerful about these words that describe clouds and daffodils, grasshoppers and a crab's shell and rocks? From our first recorded story etched in cuneiform in 2700 BCE, to our current Poets Laureate, to our own Dr. B, we will get in the weeds; words will rock our world.

Class will include lecture, discussion, small groups, and video, with writing in journals. Each week a text and readings will be assigned, with questions for journal writing in one's alcove or tree nook. It takes a village: we can't read it all in four weeks, but we divide into teams to report back on several works.

  • All read: Thoreau, Walden
  • Recommended: Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
  • Recommended articles: Thoreau, "Walking," John Muir, "The Forests Were God's First Temples." Hand-outs and digital versions of poetry, essays, and other reading for at home and in class.

Week 1: Overview: GOOD GRIEF: The Elegiac Voice, or, What Have We Done to the Earth? From Gilgamesh to Robert Burns, Edgar Allen Poe to Melville and Hawthorne and James Fennimore Cooper, to Gerard Manley Hopkins and Wordsworth, to T.S. Eliot's 1922 "The Wasteland," F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 The Great Gatsby, Arthur Miller's 1949 Death of a Salesman, to native American voices, we hear earthly grief and loss. Lecture and hand-outs, discussion.

Week 2: Teams report on what is "green" about iconic works of American culture lamenting how earth and its people are treated. (Fitzgerald, Miller, Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Helen Hunt Jackson's A Century of Dishonor). BUT! We can go to the woods to save our lives: Henry David Thoreau's Walden. What in these words about a little pond and modest woodland changed the world for civil and human rights, war and peace, and environmental legislation? We engage with the text and discover our inner Walden--and muskrat. Our class teams will also bring reports to us of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac, and John Muir's The Yosemite.

Week 3: ON THAT NOTE: VISIONS OF POSSIBILITY, IMAGINATION, AND HOPE: Purple prose and other lyric strategies to save the world: John Muir, Edward Abbey, Douglas Adams. We will engage with Ian Chillag's Radiotopia and do our own versions of Everything Is Alive.

Week 4: YOUR FAVORITES: Rejoicing: including Shakespeare, e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver, Mark Doty, Langston Hughes, James Wright, Gary Snyder, William Stafford, Barry Lopez, Linda Hogan, Amanda Gorman, and THE POWER OF WORDS SO FAR, including Supreme Court decisions, national legislation, public policy, and our own landscapes. Finally, Dr. B’s own Here for the Present, A Grammar of Happiness in the Present Imperfect, memoirs in prose and poetry on how to see the world like Thoreau and all our writers.


Dr. Barbara Mossberg is a Professor of Practice in Literature in the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon.


Saturdays: February 25, and March 4, 11, 18, 2023; 9:30 a.m.–noon

Registration is closed.


Baker Downtown Center


“Tragedy is not only an art form: it is also a social institution that the City, by establishing competitions in tragedies, set up alongside its political and legal institutions. The City established, in the same urban space and with the same norms as its popular assemblies and courts, a spectacle open to all citizens, directed, acted and judged by members of the various tribes.

Although tragedy, more than any other genre of literature, appears rooted in social reality, it does not reflect that reality, but calls it into question. By depicting it rent and divided against itself, it turns it into a problem. The drama brings to the stage an ancient heroic legend, a past sufficiently distant for the contrasts between the mythical traditions it embodies, and the new forms of legal and political thought, to be clearly visible; a past still close enough that this clash is still taking place. Tragedy is born when myth starts to be considered from the point of view of the citizen. Not only the world of myth dissolves in this focus; the world of the city is also called into question, and its fundamental values are challenged. The questions are posed, but tragic consciousness can find no fully satisfactory answers to them, so they remain open.” Jean-Pierre Vernant, Myth and Tragedy in Ancient Greece (1990)


We will read and discuss the seven surviving plays of Aeschylus. Note that the first play should be read before the first class. There are many paperback versions of Aeschylus available that might serve, but this one is strongly recommended:

David Grene and Richard Lattimore, eds., Aeschylus I and II (Univ. of Chicago, 2013, 3rd ed.) ISBN: 978-0-226-31144-9 (vol. 1); 978-0-226-31147-0 (vol. 2). The two volumes together cost $25 on Amazon.


February 25: Agamemnon

March 4: The Libation Bearers; Eumenides

March 12: The Suppliant Maidens; The Persians

March 26: Seven Against Thebes; Prometheus Bound


Dr. James Earl is Professor Emeritus of English in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oregon.

National Identity: Forming, Sustaining and Transitioning to Modernity

Saturdays: March 25, and April 1, 15, 22 (no class April 8), 2023; 9:30 a.m.–noon


Baker Downtown Center


The question of what defines a nation continues to be hotly disputed around the globe. The formation of a nation, and its sustainable transition to a modern entity, must involve the selection of key parts of a shared past that do not conflict with key elements of modernity but are unique enough to create a distinct identity based on cultural affinity. Framed by several assigned short readings, this seminar will examine a number of “nations”, discuss their significant elements, and assess their chances of a sustainable survival. Participants will each choose a “nation” to research and report on for class discussion (Kurds, Taiwanese, Tibetans, Navajo, Fulani, Quebecois, etc.), leading to a deeper understanding of both histories and contemporary events.

We will look at major components of identity formation (e.g., language, literature, dress, food, history, religion?) and examples of transition paths to modernity in different regions of the world. Participants will each choose a ‘national identity’ to consider its formation basis and consequences in different regions of the world including Asia (east, south and southeast), Central and Western Europe, North America, Arab and non-Arab Muslim regions, Native America, Japan, China, and Indian regional sub-nationalities. Class time will be used to report components of identity and its use to transition to (or impede) a viable modernity, share relevant readings and current events in their particular area, and culminate in class discussion.

A central reading will provide the context for this discussion, applicable at various scales from the multinational region to discrete sub-national entities. Other readings will underlie regional examples across the globe.

Session 1: Define “nation”, “state”, “national identity”, “development” and “modernity”. Discuss sources drawn upon, evolutionary paths, and consequences will be illustrated examples. Post possible case studies from which students can choose their project topic, selected by students.

Session 2: First group presents case studies. Discussion regarding similarities and differences among examples, and comparison to Session 1 basic national identity characteristics and example paths.

Session 3: Second group presents case studies. Discussion regarding similarities and differences among examples, and comparison to previous sessions’ basic national identity characteristics and example paths.

Session 4: Third group presents case studies. Discussion regarding similarities and differences among examples, and comparison to previous sessions’ basic national identity characteristics and example paths. Conclusion focuses on looking ahead to conjecture most successful/sustainable cases and anticipate troubles of other groups.


Dr. Susan Walcott is Professor Emerita of Geography at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. Dr. Walcott now resides in Eugene, OR, and has been a presenter at OLLI-UO since 2015.

Utopias and Politics

Saturdays: April 29, and May 6, 13, 20, 2023; 9:30 a.m.–noon


Baker Downtown Center


This course examines a selection of utopian novels asking what themes recur, how they are grounded in their contemporary circumstances, and in particular, how education and decision making (politics) get accomplished in each utopia. The reading for this course will include four utopian novels, one for each session, plus some excerpts from other sources that will be available both in print and on the web.

The novels are all available at secondhand bookstores such as Powell’s or Smith Family. Several are out of copyright and can be obtained for free on the web from Project Gutenberg, and in some cases Amazon supplies them digitally or in print either free or at very low cost. Audiobooks of all of the novels are available for free at

April 29: Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach (1977) (the basic themes and goals of western utopias from Plato and Thomas More onward)

May 6: Looking Backward 2000-1887 by Edward Bellamy (1888) (problems of economy, motivation, selfishness, and private ownership of property and families)

May 13: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1915) (social roles, gender roles, education and freedom, eugenics)

May 20: The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia by Ursula Le Guin (1974) (authority, free individuality, ownership, individual and society, time and change, abundance and scarcity)

Some other novels will show up for comparison purposes, such as Thomas More, Utopia (1516), William Morris, News From Nowhere (1890), H. G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (1905) and Men Like Gods (1923), B. F. Skinner, Walden Two (1948), and Ursula L Guin, Always Coming Home (1985). The instructor will supply short excerpts in the supplementary readings.

(The instructor will provide an updated syllabus in early February.)


Dr. David Kolb is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Bates College, and maintains a personal web site including his writings and reflections. Dr. Kolb now resides in Eugene, OR, and has been a presenter at OLLI-UO since 2007.

Three Great Epics

Saturdays: June 3, 10, 17, 24, 2023; 9:30 a.m.–noon


Baker Downtown Center


We will consider three works of adventure that become increasingly psychological as we move from ancient Greece to the present time. Homer’s Odyssey (700 B.C.?), George Eliot’s ;Silas Marner (1861) and Virginia Woolf’s The Waves (1931) all present a hero or heroine on a quest. For Odysseus, the goal is home, for Silas Marner, it is at first gold and then the love of a child, and for Bernard, Rhoda and others of Woolf’s twentieth century novel it is immersion in collective community, of being a wave among waves. In this seminar, we will study the epic structure of blocking the protagonist from his or her goal with a follow-up of a final celebration of arriving at the destination. We will also study what we mean by “epic style,” or the grand way the poet or novelist finds in narrating his or her subject. As one great literary critic put it, epic “is nearest of all literary forms to the wish-fulfillment dream.” The seminar will be a balance of lecture and discussion with excerpts presented from DVDs and audio CDs.

Readings to acquire on your own:

Homer’s Odyssey. Richmond Lattimore’s translation recommended. Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2007)

George Eliot’s Silas Marner. Penguin Classics (2007). Editor David Carroll.

Virginia Woolf The Waves. Annotated Edition, Mariner Books (2006). Editor Mark Hussey.

Reading Assignments and Overall Plan

Week 1:  Homer’s Odyssey (700 B.C.?). Books 1-13. General Historical Background. Overview of epic structures. Discussion of Odysseus’s character and the other dramatis personae in the book.

Week 2: Homer’s Odyssey Continued. Books 16, 22-24. Discussion, in particular, of the father-son reunion and the controversial “justice” of the ending.

Week 3: George Eliot’s Silas Marner (1861). The evolution of the novel form in England. George Eliot’s biography. Presentation of the “anonymous hero.” Discussion of the ambiguities surrounding the characters and their quests.

Week 4. Virginia Woolf’s The Waves (1931). Virginia Woolf’s inheritance of the psychological novel tradition. Her biography. Discussion of her modification of the epic tradition. Analysis of the cast of complex characters and voices.


Dr. Henry Alley is Professor Emeritus of Literature in the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon.

The Saturday Seminars are inspired by the legacy of the UO Insight Seminars program, created and led by Dr. Jim Earl for 20 years. These four-week college-level courses are for people eager to engage in college-level study for the sake of personal fulfillment. Seminars are noncredit and ungraded. However, there is a good deal of challenging homework, which typically includes reading of both primary and secondary materials.