Spring 2015 Seminars

Spring 2015 Seminars

This spring, MALS features two seminars.


MALS is proud to present “A Natural and Cultural History of Chocolate,” taught by Dr. Elvira Vilches. In its countries of origin chocolate was more than a mere confection. Chocolate existed in a universe of plants, animals, insects, and nutrients. This ecological order was at the heart of the pre-Columbian cosmic view in which human destiny depended on the predictability of the natural seasons and the celestial movements of the sun, the moon, and the stars. When Spanish explorers and missionaries encountered these notions of nature, food, body, and mind they strove to understand them by producing an impressive amount of writing, codifying the information they learned about the people, places, plants, animals, atmospheric conditions, and elements. This was the goal of Jesuit José de Acosta, the author of Natural and Moral History of the Indies (Seville 1590). Although he studied the nature of central and south America, the environment, and people, he left out the native knowledge of the American peoples and their cosmic view. The course traces these parallel understandings that cluster around chocolate by learning first about Acosta’s inquiry methods and the knowledge he produced for his European readers. Using Acosta’s overview as a point of departure, the course then explores the process through which Europeans began to assimilate chocolate as panacea for all ailments and as an indulgent beverage. As this process developed some of the indigenous meanings of chocolate remained while others related to myth and religion disappeared. Primary sources include 16th and 17th century natural histories, medical texts, Maya and Aztec art. Secondary sources explore early modern notions of nature, the environment, the body, archeology, and anthropology


The second seminar is “Global Sustainable Human Development” with Dr. Bob Patterson. The course will explore and discuss questions such as how do individuals, communities, and nations partner to achieve increased freedom of choice – the freedom to choose one’s preferred path to achieving one’s hopes and dreams? What is required for sustainable human development to occur, both in more – and less – industrialized societies? How can we know when we are “partnering-in-development” in a sufficiently healthy way so that increased freedom of choice is happening for all partners? Our premise is that poverty and hunger are not inevitable, but can be overcome only through a process of sensible, local, community-centered, and transparent development. We propose that ownership of the development strategies being planned, funded, implemented, and evaluated at the most local level is the only viable approach to sustainable human development. Our time will be invested in identifying the strategies most likely to lead to elevated freedom of choice for all partners seeking to break the poverty-hunger cycle so endemic in much of our world. Readings from:  Dead Aid, The Aid Trap, Where Our Food Comes From, One Billion Hungry:  Can we feed the world?, and Feeding a World of Ten Billion People.