OLLI @Berkeley members enjoy exclusive access to courses taught by UC Berkeley faculty and other scholars. Click on the course titles or “learn more” at the end of course descriptions to review syllabi, faculty bios, video presentations, interviews from our archive, and more.
Over the last 75 years, the U.S. military has been used as a foreign policy cudgel in an often inexplicable fashion, making our country appear imperialistic, hypocritical, and erratic. The results are embarrassing—the world’s most powerful military has not won a war since 1945, has destroyed numerous societies, created millions of refugees, spawned disdain for our policies, and created many enemies who will seek payback for U.S. hubris. We will look at case studies of American foreign policy fiascos that have eroded the reputation of America around the world. Learn more.
The purpose of this course is exploring why Shakespeare’s masterpieces continue to remain relevant centuries after they were written. Tackling these works from the perspective of a director and actor – the class aims to reveal what has fascinated and inspired artists for centuries and the timeless paradoxes, inherent in these classics, that lie at the core of the human condition. This course will focus on how Hamlet, Coriolanus and King Lear speak to our current unprecedented moment of an impending Presidential election, global warming and a pandemic. We will explore how the themes of apocalypse, revelation and plague deeply inform Shakespeare’s masterpieces and how theatre artists use these masterpieces to create meaning from moments such as the one we are living in today. Learn more.
This course will be comprised of lectures by and interviews with SCOTUS watchers including the author of Supreme Inequality Adam Cohen, Berkeley School of Law dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Berkeley Journalism professor Cynthia Gorney, journalist Emily Bazelon, Berkeley Law professor Catherine Fisk, civil rights and immigration lawyer Ira Kurzban, and Berkeley Chancellor’s Professor of Law Bertrall Ross. We will explore the Court’s potential impact on key areas such as religious freedom and reproductive, workers’, and immigrants’ rights. We will listen to some of this term’s oral arguments, read a few briefs, and discuss the most important cases currently on the docket. Learn more.
From the time of early science fiction writers such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, science fiction has explored the notion of scientific progress and its implications for human society. This course will bring the perspective of current physics and computer science to books and movies from the past few decades. Topics may include starships, time travel, alien contact, cosmic disasters, general artificial intelligence, and the physics of Star Trek. We’ll have fun trashing a few movies as implausible and discover what is actually possible according to current scientific understanding. Learn more.
This course will examine the weirdly specific genre of American suburban fiction made notorious in the 1970s by writers such Updike and Cheever. What is it about this aspirational niche of the American dream that so often leads those who have “achieved” it into despair or alienation? Through novels and short stories epitomizing this genre, we’ll explore themes of technology, sexuality, marriage, whiteness, class, NIMBYism, parenting, and the yearning for home that even home itself can’t satisfy. Authors will include some, but unfortunately not all, of the following: Oates, Updike, Cheever, DeLillo, Eugenides, Senna, Boyle, Atwood, Levin, Moody, Moore, Saunders, Carver, and Homes. Learn more.
In this survey course about issues affecting Native peoples, we will discuss historical events such as the assimilation era and its devastating policies of allotment and Indian education; the shift toward the Indian New Deal and its decriminalization of Native identity and strengthening of Native government; the backsliding into the destructive federal policies of termination and relocation, which utterly transformed Native communities; the response to termination by Red Power activists, and, beginning in the 1970s and continuing into the present, the era of Native sovereignty and self-determination. Learn more.
Design is critical when money is tight and spaces are small. The history of California housing, starting with the Victorian era’s small upright redwood boxes, yields lessons for habitable and affordable housing today. Bungalow builders responded to population growth with pattern-book housing in streetcar suburbs linked to job centers. Automobiles allowed the ranch house to spread across suburban landscapes. With increasing land cost, designers put more housing on less land. California brought space-saving designs and the integration of interior and outdoor spaces to America with lessons for sheltering people of all income levels. Learn more.
In this time of isolation, when we are not seeing those we love — children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, old and good friends — we have all thought about what each of these significant people mean to us. The last third of our lives is the perfect time to conceive of letters, poems, artwork, and even lists that evoke the meaning of these relationships. Legacy letters tell the story of our important relationships so that long after we’re gone, our beloved relatives and friends will have something from us. Create your own legacy letter, portrait, poem, or notes to initiate a keepsake for others that will be your gift to them and to yourself. Learn more.
The public’s awareness of the consequences of scientific advances often first arises from movies. This course discusses the scientific basis and accuracy of several movies in terms of the messages they convey and their impact on popular culture and science itself. Topics discussed include the search for forbidden knowledge, the creation of life, artificial intelligence, pandemics, genetic engineering, space exploration, ecological issues, and dystopian scenarios caused by population and resource pressures. Depictions of current issues that scientists face are discussed in terms of how they are presented in movies. Learn more.
During this period in America, great cities sprung up in the east, vast lands in the west were opened to millions of pioneers, and many came to see “the good life” as theirs for the taking. All this came at a price: Native Americans were pushed out of their traditional lands, a brutal slave empire grew in the south, and the forests east of the Mississippi were largely destroyed. In this lecture course, we will trace the impact of several key players: Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, John Q. Adams, and slave-rebels Nat Turner and Cinque. Learn more.
This course will examine the entirety of Vladimir Putin’s leadership. The course will begin by examining the inheritance bequeathed to Putin by Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Ensuing lectures will consider and evaluate his foreign and domestic policies over the past twenty years. Learn more.
This course continues the journey into the string quartet repertory begun in the “The Classical String Quartet.” We will explore works by early, middle, and late Beethoven, as well as quartets by Brahms, Dvořák, Debussy, and Ravel. We will discuss the influence of romanticism on the genre’s style and the changes that came about when the pieces were intended for public performance rather than private enjoyment. Note: Registrants need not have taken “The Classical String Quartet” to fully engage with this course. Learn more.
In this course, students will learn a step-by-step methodology to develop their work. Good foundational skills are offered. Each week students will study a new local native plant and complete a sketch. This course brings art to science while inviting students to have fun developing fine art skills. Topics include the art of seeing / drawing, laying out accurate plant structure, watercolor pencil and gouache tips, the art of taking field notes and researching general ethnobotany, creating dimension and depth, and dry brush painting with layering. A materials list will be provided. Learn more.
Now in his ninth decade, Stephen Sondheim remains the most revolutionary composer/lyricist of our time. In this course, we’ll take a comprehensive look at the “Shakespeare of the Broadway musical.” Both familiar and rare video and audio clips of his work will be used to demonstrate his achievements and profound insights into the human condition. We’ll watch interviews with Sondheim, some filmed within the past two years, and your instructor will share the insights she’s gained from her own interviews and correspondence with him. Learn more.
What role, if any, should religion play in politics? From the French system of the separation of church and state to the Vatican City’s complete synthesis of the (Catholic) church and state, or from Indonesia’s Muslim-majority secular democracy to the Islamic Republic of Iran, there are a seemingly endless array of ideas and examples of how to relate religion and politics. Where does the relationship work best? Where does it fall apart and even lead to violent conflict? Using examples from around the world and a broad selection of world religions, this course will try to answer the eternally vexing question of when, if ever, politics and religion can fit together. Learn more.
Art has never been created for “The Ages.” Paintings we think of as timeless masterpieces were created for viewers from the artist’s own era; consequently, much of the embedded meaning is lost on today’s audiences. This course will provide cultural context for classic paintings, putting modern viewers in the mindset of each artist’s contemporary audience. Course sessions will be structured around three elemental themes that have inspired some of the most magnificent, yet most enigmatic, masterpieces: Creation, Transformation, and Mythology. Each class session will train the spotlight on four great paintings devoted to one of these themes. Learn more.
In this course we will explore how two genres of music — country and rock and roll — merged to create a timeless, uniquely American style and how the country-rock movement changed the landscape of popular music. We will look at several artists and their key albums, including: Everly Brothers, Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Gram Parsons, Flying Burrito Brothers, Neil Young, Poco, Rick Nelson, The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris. We will also examine trends in instruments and lyrics. Learn more.
What is the relationship between form and content? How do novelists create suspense with syntax? How can an effective sentence become a brilliant one? In this class for writers, we’ll study the techniques of some great stylists. We’ll examine literary passages to see how they work, then apply what we learn to in-class writing exercises. Lectures will cover topics such as diction, rhythm, imagery, and cadence. Together we’ll heighten our attention to language and expand our repertoire as writers of imaginative prose. Learn more.
We often speak of conspiracy theory as an ominous, metastasizing force in modern history, but what exactly does this term mean? This class defines the phenomenon, sets it apart from mere theorizing, and follows it through four distinct historical eras — from the Crusades to the present — showing how particular conspiracy theories reflect the history of their times. We’ll explore the social and psychological roots of this idea system, the sources of its power, and the underlying mythic structure common to all conspiracy theory. Learn more.
The material of your life is a vast trove of stories. But, as Hilary Mantel said, in order for anyone to find that life interesting, "art must intervene." This class will introduce you to the art of memoir writing: it will show you how to approach your life the way a writer does, as raw material to be shaped, and how to make the essential editorial decisions along the way. In our eight sessions, we will consider the craft of memoir in terms of its building blocks, from scene to setting to characterization to symbol to the tricky position of our own speaking "I." We will read excerpts of published memoirs and freestanding essays, and will discuss the ways they succeed (or fail) and what we can borrow from their examples. Each week students will be invited to share a short writing exercise with the group, which may be discussed as class time permits. You will come away from this class with many scenes drafted and the tools to commit to a longer work.
Between 1966 and 1970, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin rose from unlikely origins to superstardom after years of hardship and struggle. They created remarkable, explosive bodies of work before dying only weeks apart. Combining a wealth of film and audio clips with expert commentary, this course celebrates the music and lives of these icons. Learn more.