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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

2010 Freshman Voltaire's Coffees

Fall 2010 Voltaire's Coffees, Books, Profs & Dates:

All Fall 2010 VCs begin at 7:00 pm

1. Any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels, led by Dr. Michael Starbird, Professor of Mathematics

Thursday, August 26, 2010  7:00 pm @ Professor Starbird's home; map provided to those registered in this VC

About the book:

Sherlock Holmes is the most famous detective in fiction. The 56 short stories and four novels present us with a wealth of delight as we follow Holmes' amazing deductions. Some moments in the stories are truly classics such as the exchange in 'Silver Blaze':

Inspector Gregory: "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."

"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

Please read as many of the stories as you wish.

About the professor:

Michael Starbird is Professor of Mathematics and a University Distinguished Teaching Professor at The University of Texas at Austin. He received his B.A. degree from Pomona College in 1970 and his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1974. That same year, he joined the faculty of the Department of Mathematics of The University of Texas at Austin, where he has stayed except for leaves as a Visiting Member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey; a Visiting Associate Professor at the University of California, San Diego; and a member of the technical staff at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.  He also teaches a Plan II mathematics course and regularly serves on the faculty panel for the Plan II Perspectives class in the Spring.  Within the Plan II community he is most beloved for his sense of humor, his colorful sweaters, and his infamous Jabberwocky poem. 

2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, led by Dr. Alexandra Wettlaufer, Associate Director of Plan II Honors Program and Associate Professor of French and Comparative Literature

Monday, August 30, 2010   7:00 pm  @ Professor Wettlaufers's home; map provided to those registered in this VC

About the book:

Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi's memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.  In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, this graphic novel tells the story of Satrapi's life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah's regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of the war with Iraq.  The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran's last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.  Intensely personal, profoundly political, at once funny and heart-breaking, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression.

About the professor:

Alexandra Wettlaufer is an Associate Professor of French and Comparative Literature and Associate Director of the Plan II Honors Program. She specializes in the relationship between painting and literature in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. She received her BA from Princeton and a PhD from Columbia University. Her publications include Pen vs Paintbrush: Girodet, Balzac and the Myth of Pygmalion (St Martins Press, 2001), In the Minds Eye: The Visual Impulse in Prose (Rodopi, 2003) and articles on Baudelaire, Ruskin, Turner, George Sand, and Flora Tristan. She was awarded the Presidents Fellows Teaching Award in 2000 and the Blunk Professorship in Teaching and Advising in 2007.

3.The Goat or Who is Sylvia? (Notes toward a definition of tragedy) by Edward Albee, led by Dr. Paul Woodruff, Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Undergraduate Studies

Wednesday, August 25, 2010   7:00 pm @ Professor Woodruff's home; map provided to those registered in this VC

About the book:

The Goat or Who is Sylvia (Notes toward a definition of tragedy).  New York:  Overlook Press, 2005.  A disturbing play by America's greatest living playwright, The Goat shows a prize-winning architect who is having an extra-marital affair, to the horror of his wife and teen-aged son.  He is madly in love with Sylvia, whom he met on a trip to the country.  No one seems to understand how a brilliant middle-aged man could give up his family for Sylvia.   But that is not the worst thing happening in this family.  Oh, in case you have not yet guessed, Sylvia is a goat.  Is that a problem?  (Look up the etymology of "tragedy.")

 About the professor:

A former Plan II director, Paul Woodruff has written on ancient Greek philosophy, ethics, and on the philosophy of theater.  His hobbies include rowing, furniture-making, and music.  He is currently Dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies.

 4. Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream, led by Dr. Alan Friedman, Professor of English

Tuesday, August 31, 2010   7:00 pm @ Joynes Room, Carothers (CRD)  007, 2501 Whitis Ave.  Enter through the east doors of the honors quad.

About the book:


A Midsummer Night's Dream is perhaps the best loved of Shakepeare's plays.  It brings together aristocrats, workers, and fairies in a wood outside Athens, and from there the enchantment begins.  Simple and engaging on the surface, it is none the less a highly original and sophisticated work, remarkable for both its literary and its theatrical mastery.

About the professor:

A professor of English and one of Plan II's professors for the first-year World Literature class, Dr. Friedman's areas of interest include British and American modernism, the novel, drama (especially Shakespeare), international programs, faculty governance, and academic freedom.  He has authored and edited numerous books and articles, and he has won many distinguished teaching awards both from Plan II and the University of Texas as a whole, including the Outstanding UT Professor Award (2003), the Chad Oliver Teaching Award for Plan II (2003), the Thomas Mabry Cranfill Teaching Fellowship in support of Actors from the London Stage (2004), and the titles of Humanities Institute Faculty Fellow (2003) and Parlin Fellow.

5. The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement by Mark Lytle, led by Dr. Michael Stoff, Director of Plan II Honors and Associate Professor of History

Monday, August 23, 2010   7:00 pm  @ Professor Stoff's home; map provided to those registered in this VC

About the book:

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring antagonized some of the most powerful interests in the nation—including the farm bloc and the agricultural chemical industry—and helped to launch the modern environmental movement.  In Gentle Subversive, Mark Hamilton Lytle offers a compact biography of Carson, illuminating the road that led to this vastly influential book by examining her ideas about nature, her love for the sea, her career as a biologist, and above all her emergence as a writer of extraordinary moral and ecological vision.

About the professor:

On May 17, 2008, at the Plan II Honors Commencement Convocation, President Bill Powers announced the appointment of Professor Stoff as the director of Plan II Honors through 2012. Michael Stoff served as the director ad interim from September 2006 until May 2008. Dr. Stoff is a University Distinguished Teaching Professor and Associate Professor in the Department of History. He received his doctorate from Yale University and serves as co-editor of the Oxford New Narratives in American History. Since 1998, Dr. Stoff has been involved with the Normandy Scholars program in which students study the Second World War in class and in Europe.

6. In Praise of Doubt: How to have Convictions without becoming a Fanatic by Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld, led by Dr. Wendy Domjan, Distinguished Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology

Monday, August 23, 2010   7:00 pm @ Joynes Room, Carothers (CRD)  007, 2501 Whitis Ave.  Enter through the east doors of the honors quad.

About the book:

Modernity was supposed to usher in a rational secular world where religion was marginalized or might even disappear. But not only has religion survived, it is growing and thriving, producing a world in which diverse groups with highly disparate beliefs and agendas must find a way to co-exist. In our society, we have been fortunate that this has largely occurred under conditions of relative civic peace and social interaction. However, major issues exist, which cannot be easily resolved and pose potential questions for us with potentially grave consequences. How do we handle moral issues, such as abortion or homosexuality, when different groups have strongly held but opposing viewpoints? How does our culture maintain its emphasis on individual freedom  when confronted with the challenge of an aggressive fundamentalism? Sociologists Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld argue that the answer is constructive doubt. By this, they don’t mean the disabling doubt of relativism, where all options are valid and choices are grounded only in individual preferences. Rather, they argue for a virtuous use of doubt that allows us to maintain strong moral convictions without castin everyone who disagrees with us as obviously and inherently wrong.

About the professor:

Wendy Domjan has a Ph.D. in psychology from The University of Wisconsin, with specialties in perception and cognition, and currently has a major focus on psychology of religion and psychology of religious fundamentalism.

7. The Bird Artist by Howard Norman, led by Matt Valentine, Program Coordinator of the Joynes Reading Room and Professor for Plan II Honors

Monday, August 30, 2010   7:00 pm  @ Joynes Room, Carothers (CRD)  007, 2501 Whitis Ave.  Enter through the east doors of the honors quad.

About the book:

"My name is Fabian Vas. I live in Witless Bay, Newfoundland. You will not have heard of me. Obscurity is not necessarily failure, though; I am a bird artist, and have more or less made a living at it. Yet I murdered the lighthouse keeper, Botho August, and that is an equal part of how I think of myself." This book, Howard Norman's second novel, was a finalist for the National Book Award. In unadorned prose, Norman renders the landscape and citizenry of a tiny fishing community, and the extraordinary dramas of life there.

About the professor:

Matt lives in Austin, where he teaches courses in photography and in creative writing for the Plan II Honors Program at the University of Texas. He received an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) from New York University, where he was also a full-time staff member of the Department of Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School for the Arts. His fiction has recently appeared in The Greensboro Review and The Madison Review. His interviews with notable writers appeared in Washington Square, where he was fiction editor in 2001 and managing editor in 2002. In 2003, he contributed several music reviews and feature stories to the Pittsburgh alternative newsweekly Pulp. Matt’s awards include 3rd Place in Playboy’s college fiction contest, honorable mention in the Greensboro Review’s Literary Awards, and two nominations for the Pushcart Prize.

8. Cambridge by Caryl Phillips, led by Dr. Carol MacKay, Professor of English

Thursday, August 26, 2010   7:00 pm @ Professor MacKay's home; map provided to those registered in this VC

About the book:

Set in the West Indies in the early nineteenth century, Cambridge tells a compelling tale about a young Englishwoman sent to her father's absentee-landlord estate, where she encounters a mysterious overseer, a practitioner of black magic obeah, and the novel's eponymous male protagonist--the well-spoken Christian slave named Cambridge.  Some critics have placed this text in the company of contemporary historical novels like Toni Morrison's Beloved and William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner, but it also engages the post-colonial conversation recently inspired by comparisons between Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, as well as further illuminated by a 2010 documentary entitled A Regular Black about the original source material for Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights.  It is not necessary for participants in this Voltaire's Coffee to have read any of these other works, however; in fact, a pivotal point for our discussion will be to consider how well Cambridge stands on its own and how it complicates our future and past readings of the Brontë novels.

About the professor:

With degrees from Stanford University and UCLA, Carol MacKay specializes in Victorian fiction, auto/biography, and women's and gender studies.  Her most recent book is entitled Creative Negativity: Four Victorian Exemplars of the Female Quest (2001), and she has just published a critical edition of Annie Besant's Autobiographical Sketches (out of print since 1885) for Broadview Press.  She is the recipient of numerous teaching awards and is a member of the Distinguished Teaching Academy.  She regularly teaches in Plan II, alternating between freshmen seminars on the autobiographical impulse in women's writing and junior tutorials on melodrama in nineteenth-century literature.

9. A Primate's Memoir by Robert Sapolski, led by Dr. Moon Draper, Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences

Wednesday, September 1, 2010    7:00 pm  @ Joynes Room, Carothers (CRD)  007, 2501 Whitis Ave.  Enter through the east doors of the honors quad.

About the book:

A Primate’s Memoir documents Sapolsky's years in Kenya studying baboons as a graduate student. The chapters alternate between describing observations of a troop of baboons and the wildly different culture in Africa that he is increasingly cognizant of. The book portrays an unconventional way of studying neurophysiology to determine the effects of stress on life expectancy.

The book was nominated for the The Aventis Prizes for Science Books in 2002.

About the professor:

Professor Draper teaches Plan II Biology and a TC357 course during the summer in Costa Rica.  The first course explores biology by looking at some of the everyday issues that we encounter from a scientific perspective.  Some of these issues include the use of antibiotics, human cloning and eugenics, disease states in humans, and capital punishment.  The material of the course spans the spectrum from molecular and cellular biology to physiological systems and ecology.  There are several field trips including those to Enchanted Rock and the Marine Science Institute on the coast.

The second course involves both science and public policy, requiring that students consider many aspects of the issue of rain forest conservation including economics, sociology, ecotourism, and agriculture.  It is be both a seminar course in the Spring and a 5-week Maymester in the field in Costa Rica.  Students travel throughout Costa Rica exploring the diverse habitats that the country hosts, from rain forests along the coats to the cloud forests of the continental divide in the mountains to dry tropical forests of the interior.  At the end of the course, the students work in groups and individually to approach a current problem that a specific area faces in managing these rare tropical forests.

For the School of Biological Sciences, Professor Draper teaches Advanced Genetics for the Dean's  Scholars honours students, Molecular Biology and Molecular Genetics.  For the Section of Neurobiology he teaches the gateway course: Vertebrate Neurophysiology.  This is an overview of the nervous system and the entry point for neurobiology majors.  His background is from many disciplines and he is a strong advocate of the Plan II program.  He promotes research and study abroad as often as he can.

10. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, led by Dr. Jerome Bump, Professor of English

Wednesday, August 25, 2010    7:00 pm  @ Joynes Room, Carothers (CRD)  007, 2501 Whitis Ave.  Enter through the east doors of the honors quad.

About the books:

While teaching in the English Oxford Summer Program Professor Bump became aware of intense student interest in the Alice books and has been teaching them ever since, as a guide to the college experience, ethics, diversity, etc. His students act out “Jabberwocky” and “The Mouse’s Tale” in many languages at the Harry Ransom Center and stage twenty performances of “The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party” for “Explore U.T.” every year.  Suggestions for discussion.

About the professor:

Jerome Bump,  a Professor of English here for forty years and regular World Lit. professor for Plan II, is the author of Gerard Manley Hopkins and over sixty articles.  He has been honored with multiple fellowships and awards.  He was also an editor of Texas Studies in Language and Literature.

11. The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurt, led by Dr. Mia Carter, Associate Professor of English

Sunday, August 29, 2010    7:00 pm  @ Professor Carter's home; map provided to those registered in this VC

About the book:

Among its other wonders, this almost perfectly written novel, recently longlisted for the Man Booker, delineates what's arguably the most coruscating portrait of a plutocracy since Goya painted the Spanish Bourbons. To shade in the nuances of class, Hollingsworth uses plot the way it was meant to be used—not as a line of utility, but as a thematically connected sequence of events that creates its own mini-value system and symbols.The book is divided into three sections, dated 1983, 1986 and 1987. The protagonist, Nick Guest, is a James scholar in the making and a tripper in the fast gay culture of the time. The first section shows Nick moving into the Notting Hill mansion of Gerald Fedden, one of Thatcher's Tory MPs, at the request of the minister's son, Toby, Nick's all-too-straight Oxford crush. Nick becomes Toby's sister Catherine's confidante, securing his place in the house, and loses his virginity spectacularly to Leo, a black council worker...  Disaster comes in 1987, with a media scandal that engulfs Gerald and then entangles Nick. While Hollinghurst's story has the true feel of Jamesian drama, it is the authorial intelligence illuminating otherwise trivial pieces of story business so as to make them seem alive and mysteriously significant that gives the most pleasure... This novel has the air of a classic."

About the professor:

Mia Carter is an Associate Professor of English.  Her fields of specialization are British and Modern Literature, Imperial Studies, Cultural Studies, and European and World Cinema.  Dr. Carter is a member of The Academy of Distinguished Teachers and a 2010 recipient of the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award.  She is a past recipient of the Chancellor’s Teaching Award, Plan II’s Chad Oliver Teaching Award, and the Jean Holloway Award for Excellence in Teaching.  Her hobbies include swimming, sculling, yoga, travel, and watching movies.

Additional Recommended Reading

The university will host several exciting authors and writers in the next year for lectures, classroom visits, readings, and workshops. Also, check the Plan II website's calendar of upcoming events regularly for monthly Voltaire's Cinema and Voltaire's Tea events.

PLEASE NOTE: All Voltaire’s Coffees will be completely handicapped-accessible. Although the majority of the Coffees will be held in the Texas Union or at professors’ homes, some coffees will be held in one of the seminar rooms of the Joynes Reading Room.

If you have any concerns or would like to let us know ahead of time about any special needs or issues in order to minimize the possibility of difficulties, please feel free to contact us (Richard Griffin and Sam Liebl), the Academic Co-chairs.

Class of 2014  (Fall 2010 First-Years)

Plan II freshmen are initiated into their first semesters with small, informal, professor-guided book talks called Voltaire's Coffees. The professors we ask to sponsor these discussions select an eclectic and broad combination of texts, from history to philosophy, classics to pop culture, that you will read over the summer to discuss in the fall. At the beginning of the semester you will join the professor and a small group of your classmates in one or more Coffees, providing a wonderful opportunity for both a compelling discussion as well as a chance to meet your Plan II peers and some of the University’s best professors.

You should read the book for at least one Voltaire’s Coffee during the summer; however, you are allowed to read several books and to attend multiple coffees that interest you, as long as space remains available. You can register for your top choices beginning in mid-July (see registration information below).

We schedule Voltaire’s Coffees during the first few weeks of classes (August 23rd - September 3rd); a few VC’s will meet in the first few days before classes begin (August 25th). The dates and locations of all the Coffees will be posted on the Plan II Honors web site calendar as soon as they are available, and you will be e-mailed the information for your specific VC(s). Each Coffee typically lasts about 1.5 hours, and light refreshments will be provided.

For the VC’s that will be held in faculty members’ homes, maps will be available in the Plan II office and carpools will be formed.

If you have any questions or concerns or would like to let us know ahead of time about any special needs or issues in order to minimize the possibility of difficulties, please feel free to contact us (Richard Griffin and Sam Liebl), the Academic Co-chairs.

Back to First-Year's Page

VC REGISTRATION will begin Friday, July 16.

To register:

Registration will take place via a Google Form. A few days before registration, you will get an e-mail from Jennifer Scalora with the link to the Form, which will be opened to responses on the date of registration, and you will sign up for at least your top 3 choices that way. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis, so it's in your interest to do so promptly! All students should try to register by August 4, but we will accommodate as many people as possible as long as there is still space.  Coffee dates and locations will be posted on the Plan II website as that information becomes available.

Registration for the Fall Freshman Voltaire's Coffees begins Friday, June 16 and ends August 4.  

Here is the VC Registration Google Form

We expect some coffees to fill up quickly. The earlier you register, the better your chances of securing a spot. 

Titles of the VC books and names of the professors leading them follow. The full description of the book and a brief biography of the professor are listed below.  The information will be updated as additional faculty and books are added to the list and as Coffees are scheduled and meeting places are confirmed.

Welcome to Plan II! We will see you in August!

Back to First-Year's Page

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