Syllabus blogging for Fall 2020 HIST 206 History of East Asia

There is a tradition here of blogging about our syllabi and asking for advice.

Fall semester will be a bit different. We will be doing hybrid (well, actually Hawk-bryd)  classes. This means that the classes are not fully on-line, but students will rotate in and out of class in 3 teams, (I teach MWF) with the other two teams watching via Zoom. This is supposedly going to encourage innovative teaching methods.1 This is problematic, since it makes it difficult to do some of the things that seem to work well in an on-line class (asynchronicity, recorded mini lectures, etc. ) without really taking advantage of being face to face.

Parts of the structure of the class will remain the same.

-I usually do not use a textbook, and have the students read 4 books (all primary sources) and write short (5-7+ page) papers on two of them. This will remain the same.

-There are primary source readings each week, and they have to write short (2+ page)  analysis papers on four of them in the course of the semester. This is not changing.

-There is no-mid term. Usually I do a sort of distributed mid-term, where I have them do some short essay and ID assignments around mid-term and fold this into the quiz grade (the catch-all for all the short writing assignments they do). This will remain the same, with an essay on Classical Chinese philosophy and a bunch of ID questions (with terms the students come up with themselves) making up the bulk of it.

-There is currently supposed to be a final exam. This is usually at least partially take-home, IDs, source analysis and maybe an essay. Now it will be all take-home

-The one really new thing in terms of assignments is Perusall discussions. This is a site that lets students discuss documents and comment directly on them. This worked really well in the Spring, at least for a while. I am hoping to get them to discuss both the longer readings and the short primary source stuff. I have tried doing reading discussions on D2L, our course management system, but they generally don’t work that well, in part because the mechanics of discussion threads are lousy on that platform, but also because students have often not done the reading before they start discussing on D2L, or if they have done it their points are vague general statements not tied to anything in the text. Perusall seemed to help with this. It lets you know how many pages of the reading the student has done, lets them post questions about the reading. It also give them a score of 1-3 based on how much they contribute to the discussion. That final point should be really helpful, since I always struggle with getting them to talk to each other beyond I agree”. With luck, having discussed the readings on Perusall the papers will also be better.

Most parts of this are “extra credit” (students love that word), meaning that they can do as many Perusall discussions, primary source papers and outside book papers as they want (well, up to 4 on the book papers) and keep the high grades.

You will note that pretty much I am just talking about readings and assignments. How will the actually classroom experience be different? From what I can tell, not much. It will still be lecture/discussion, only with 2/3 of the class not in the room. I am hoping the Perusall discussions (the only real asynchronous part) will help keep people engaged. Given that they can do as many of most of the assignments as they want, it should be possible for students who vanish for a couple weeks (either for Covid reasons or others) to still do well in the class.

I rotate the outside readings a lot. For this term the four books are.

-Ditter, Alexei, Jessey Choo, and Sarah Allen, eds. Tales from Tang Dynasty China: Selections from the Taiping Guangji. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2017.

I have, for the time being, given up on Zhuangzi, a book they usually hate. (This book is weird!) Not sure how much better this will work, given that they always have trouble with any sort of pre-modern literature. This should work well for commercial society, religion and family, so I have high hopes for it.

-Izumo, Takeda. Chushingura (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers): A Puppet Play. Translated by Donald Keene. New York: Columbia University Press, 1971.

A lot of them came for samurai. Here they are, and it is a good book for lots of other things too.

-Yuasa, Katsuei. Kannani and Document of Flames: Two Japanese Colonial Novels. Translated by Mark Driscoll. Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2005.

I am using this instead of Black Umbrella in part because I am using some of the Black Umbrella stuff as short primary source readings and in part because Back Umbrella seems to segmented for them to get papers out of. We will see how this works, but there is a lot of good colonialism and imperialism in here.

-Liang Heng and Judith Shapiro Son of the Revolution. New York: Knopf, 1984

The old reliable.

Here is the draft HIST206syl.f20

  1. I realize that we don’t have any choice on this. Students want to be on campus. The University wants their room and board money. Nobody is a big fan of on-line classes. Still, I am pretty sure that if President Trump and Steven Miller were to develop a vaccine tomorrow we would dump the Hawk-bryd thing in a flash, rather than holding on to it to reap the benefits of innovation. I always hate the phrase “this will encourage innovative teaching methods” since it usually seems to be connected with something like teaching class on the back of a moving truck.  


  1. Thanks so much for posting this Alan. I like your approach of book essays and primary source engagements. I have never heard of Perusall before and have been taking a look at the website. Look forward to learning how this worked out for you! I agree with your assessment of Black Umbrella: great material but often too short to sink your teeth into. I wasn’t aware those two novels trans. by Mark Driscoll, which is great to know.

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