Syllabus (Fall 20)

HST137: People and their Stuff in Chinese History

(Prefer a Word file? Sure! Link to file)

Instructor: Dr. D’Haeseleer

Class meeting time

This is an online course, and can be taken fully “asynchronously”, which means you never have to be online at a specific time. I offer regular video meetings as a check-in, but these are fully optional.

  • Wednesday: 11.30am-12.15PM EDT/EST
  • Find the link to the session on the SECRETS PAGE on Canvas.
    • (Don’t share the link beyond our class: let’s avoid “Zoom bombing” and other unpleasant behavior)

Drop-in tutorial times

(What actually are drop-in tutorials?)

You can reserve a 15 min. slot on this Google appointments page, or try your luck and just show up (you may have to wait a bit): Use the “Green Link” on the SECRETS PAGE on Canvas to join the drop-in tutorial on Zoom.

  • Tuesday 2-3 PM
  • Wednesday 1-2 PM
  • Thursday 11AM–12PM
  • Or by appointment. Check my Google Calendar to see my availability and make an appointment. Add someone else’s calendar (using an e-mail address)
  • Changes and cancellations to to the regular scheduled drop-in tutorial times will be announced on the course website and in the Daily Course Announcements, and the Canvas Home page.


The syllabus is long. There are certain things I need to include by college policy. Take your time reading through it, and annotate with (in the group HST137) with your questions, requests for clarification, or suggestions for improvement.

Table of Contents

About the course

Course description

From fine paintings and calligraphy in imperial collections to everyday household items like bowls, from palaces to humble houses, and from the Great Wall to the small needle of the magnetic compass, objects and the way people interacted with them tell us much about China’s past.

This course explores the historical context of some of the most iconic objects of Chinese history, and traces the link between China’s traditional material culture and the present. We also look at how attitudes towards objects and their historical significance have changed through the centuries.

Finally, we investigate how Chinese objects ended up in Western (and in particular American) museums.

Course goals

At the end of this course you will:

  • be familiar with the history of various iconic material objects official Chinese history
  • understand the different ways of thinking about material culture,
  • have developed research skills to contextualize objects within their historical context in China,
  • have developed a vocabulary to talk about the connections between material culture, conspicuous consumption, wealth and status in the Chinese context,
  • understand how this cultural heritage still plays a role in cultural practices for many Chinese people today, in China and in the wider diaspora,
  • have made a contribution to an online exhibition catalogue on Chinese objects.

Course unit instruction

This class is scheduled as an asynchronous online course, and the workload is calculated to be approximately 6-8 hours per week, making it equivalent to a course that meets for 3 hours per week. Instructional activities for the course include discussions through student websites, conferences with librarians, DLAs and the Writing Center and instructor, distributed across the semester. This will add up to the equivalent of the “fourth hour of instruction” of a face-to-face class.

All about the grades

Course Requirements

More specifics for the assignments below. All assignments must be attempted to pass the course.

  • “Feeding the Sourdough Starter”: small, recurring tasks, mostly on a weekly basis: 50%
    • Initial response post, end-of-week reflection post, discussion and peer feedback on posts, reflections.
    • This is where you learn content, and show what you learned.
    • This counts as “Thoughtful participation in the Learning Community”, in other courses often called “Active Participation”
    • You will declare in Canvas that you have completed a list of tasks, with a simple “true/false” quiz, and accrue points. The Academic Integrity Code applies: do not try to declare you finished a task when you did not, that is “supplying false information”!
  • “Proofing the bread”: medium-sized tasks, multiple times per semester 20%
    • Every three to four weeks: Reflections about your learning, or longer posts exploring connections between materials.
    • This develops your meta-cognitive skills: knowing what you know, and how you learn. Such insights help you to make deeper, meaningful connections.
  • “Baking the bread”: 30%
    • A larger project to showcase focused research on a particular topic.
    • Smaller “bites” will help you build towards the final project by spacing out the research and writing process in distinct steps.
  • Extra Credit tasks: to supplement "Sourdough Starter" tasks to the full (i.e. 50% of final grade), after that, 3% of final grade (i.e. 53% of grade)
    • Available on a weekly basis to boost your points in the Feeding the Sourdough Starter component.
    • These will be calculated separately from the Canvas Gradebook, you can always check in with me to see how you're doing on extra credit!

Due dates

  • “Feeding the Sourdough Starter” (starting in week 2)
    • Initial response post: every Tuesday by 11.59PM EDT/EST
    • Discussion comments in on other students’ initial response posts: every Thursday by 11.59PM EDT/EST
    • End of week reflection: before Sunday, 11.59PM EDT/EST
    • feedback on end of week reflections: by Monday of the following week 11:59PM
  • “Proofing the bread” reflection assignments:
    • September 18 [Rosh Hashanah starts at sunset, extension available by request via email]
    • October 9
    • November 6
    • December 7
  • Baking bread “bites”:
    • Pitching the idea: October 16
    • Annotated bibliography: October 30
    • Outline and a paragraph: November 13
    • Full rough draft: November 30
    • Full finished version: December 8

Late work and extensions

Due dates are important for you, and for me: I space them so that you have enough time to complete the assignments and work with the feedback on earlier assignments. Due dates also help me to stay (more or less) on top of the grading throughout the semester, so my feedback can be prompt. Missing due dates means you are crowding your submissions closer together, and I may not be able to turn around work as soon as you would like, or in a timely manner for you to apply to the next assignment.

I understand that life and personal issues can get in the way. Therefore, all assignments have built into them a 12hr extension. After the extension expires, you can make up some of the lost points in the “Sourdough Starter” tasks with that week’s extra-credit tasks. For the “Proofing the Bread” and “Baking the Bread” assignments, I am open to extending due dates, but I need you to communicate with me, so I know what to expect, and (more importantly) when. If you notice that you will be unable to finish a particular assignment by the due date, you can request an extension in advance, by email. Make sure to give me a new deadline which fits your schedule better. I will confirm this new deadline in writing within 24 hours.

If you fall ill suddenly, or are otherwise unable to submit your work by the due date due to circumstances beyond your control, you may not be able to ask for an extension in advance. In that case, let me know as soon as reasonable. If this is part of something bigger in your life, get in touch with the Dean of Academic Affairs or the Dean of Student Affairs, and if appropriate, the Health Center. They can help you to coordinate care to see you through a rough patch. I do NOT need to see documentation: I trust you’re not making things up.

If you habitually and routinely miss due dates (small tasks and large assignments alike), I will check in with you in a private chat (video, email or text chat), so we can address what the underlying problem is and how I/the College can help you. This does not mean you fail. It only means that I really care about your performance as a student and your wellbeing as a human. To help you find the right balance, we need to communicate. Under other circumstances I’d make you a cup of tea in my office, but unfortunately you’ll have to supply your own beverage of choice this semester for these meetings.

Remember that drop-in tutorials are available for you to chat with me about anything that connects you to the course: from questions about assignments, to interests, intriguing finds to share and geek out about, to needing a sound-board for ideas and a pep-talk to get you back on track.

Incomplete Grade

Please check the College policy. Note that YOU must request an incomplete grade for the course, I cannot initiate this process.

An Incomplete will only appear for a brief while on your transcript. Once you get your final grade, a small asterisk will appear after your grade, but otherwise it will be as if nothing happened.

Grading guidelines

Instead of focusing on grades, please focus on learning. Good grades will follow when real learning happens If you are learning new things, and communicating in clear and concise language what you are learning, you’ll do well in this course.

  • A = strong, exceeds expectations, the result of independent work beyond consistent engagement with course materials and the Learning Community
  • B = good, meets expectations, the result of consistent engagement with course materials and the Learning Community
  • C = weak, does not meet expectations in several areas, and is the result of inconsistent engagement with course materials and the Learning Community
  • D = very weak, does not meet expectations in many areas, the result of limited engagement with course materials and the Learning Community
  • F = unsatisfactory, does not meet expectations, the result of almost no or no engagement with course materials and the Learning Community

Your work is open for revision and rewriting, based on feedback, new insights, comments and general growth, until Dec. 8 (11.59PM). You can rewrite and revise until you get an A if you choose to do so. (If you put in the extra time and effort, it will show in the final product!)

Useful information

Required texts

You do not need to buy any books. All materials will be provided through the course website, or Trexler Library e-reserves. For students on campus in Fall 20, some optional materials may also be on reserve in the Trexler library as physical.

Language of instruction

The entire course is conducted in English, all materials are provided in English and all your work will be submitted in English.

You may consult materials in other languages, and use those in your work, with proper referencing to these sources. We can work together on how to put references in an English language paper to Chinese primary and secondary sources, for instance.

Professionalism and participation

The success of this course depends on your professionalism and thoughtful participation in this Learning Community.

Count on 6-8 hours of engagement with course materials, peers, and the instructor as well as library assistants, Writing Center and DLAs. Plan your week so this course gets the attention it deserves, bearing in mind the rhythm of the course as laid out in the third video in the Orientation module

Face-to-face time through video chat will be limited, and optional. You can pass this course and do extremely well without even a single time appearing on a Zoom or Google video conference. But that does not mean you’re working alone. You will engage in building a community of learners through tasks and assignments, and through helpful interactions, for instance:

  • Asking/answering questions in the Cloud Lounge group, or the anonymous Typepad
    • If you have a question, there is a high chance another student has the same question!
    • If you know the answer, jump in! You may get there faster than I do.
  • Sharing what you learn beyond insights in the course materials, for instance by sharing concrete tips and tricks about your blog or digital project, either in the Cloud Lounge or as a blog post.
  • Acknowledging others’ work, for instance by leaving a little thank you note if an insight or use of a digital tool inspired you, even if you’re not doing it as an extra credit task.

Electronic devices best practices

“Wait, you gotta be kidding. This is an asynchronous online course!”

Hm, true, but here are the basics:

  • Use a large screen device like a laptop or desktop. Why?
    • Don’t ruin your eyesight, old age will eventually do that for you anyway!
    • Some software doesn’t work well with tablets or phones, because they work on different operating systems (e.g. Android vs. Windows, or iOS vs. Mac OS)
    • Remember “Professionalism”: a small handheld device may be useful to take notes, but you won’t be able to work comfortably on it.
    • If you have financial constraints preventing you from acquiring a suitable large screen device, please contact the Dean of Students or Dean of Academic Affairs. We have resources to help you!
  • Tips for successful engagement with an online course:
    • Designate specific time for your work, and turn on “Do not disturb” (or turn off Notifications)
    • Bear in mind that the 6-8hrs you budget for this course per week refers to focused, concentrated work. Don’t sprinkle Instagram and Tiktok scrolling through it, unless you’re looking specifically for course-related materials. (And set a timer when you go in there, chances are you get distracted otherwise!)
  • Be focused during video conference sessions:
    • Focus on the conversation. Remember you don’t have to show up if you don’t feel these are useful for you.

What if class is canceled?

I designed the course so it can for a brief amount of time run on its own, or be taken over by a colleague. In case I get seriously ill and am out of action for more than 2 weeks, we’ll have to figure out a plan B, I’m afraid. That’s the unfortunate reality of the pandemic. I’ll do my best to not get ill by minimizing physical proximity with other humans, washing my hands, wearing a face mask, and getting my flu shot, until a safe vaccine is available.

Accommodations for disabilities and special needs

To ensure that you get the most out of this course, I welcome accommodations if you have a disability or special needs. The College strongly encourages you to make arrangements with the Office of Disability Services, which then legally entitles you to certain accommodations and levels of support. The process to get fully tested and an accommodation plan set up is lengthy, so please get in touch with the office as soon as you arrive on campus, or even earlier. You do not have to disclose your disability or special needs to your instructors (including me). You can help me be a better and more inclusive/less excluding teacher by telling me specifically what I can change to support your learning. Past examples of changes I made include adding presenter notes to images on slide decks, creating handouts for lecture structures, flexibility with deadlines (with mutual agreement in advance of the deadline) and specific seating arrangements, if we were to find ourselves in a classroom. I hope to learn from you how to create a truly inclusive classroom.

(The college’s official language:)

Students with disabilities requesting classroom or course accommodations must complete a multi-faceted determination process through the Office of Disability Services prior to the development and implementation of accommodations, auxiliary aids, and services. Each Accommodation Plan is individually and collaboratively developed between the student and the Office of Disability Services. If you have not already done so, please contact the Office of Disability Services to have a dialogue regarding your academic needs and the recommended accommodations, auxiliary aides, and services.

Financial hardship and basic needs

If you are experiencing financial hardship, have difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day or do not have a safe and stable place to live, and believe this may affect your performance in this course, I would urge you to contact our CARE Team through the Dean of Students Office for support. Their website is You may also discuss your concerns with me if you are comfortable doing so.

Academic Integrity Code (AIC) and academic (dis)honesty

I consider it my duty to uphold academic integrity and to teach my students how to do this. I will not hesitate to forward a case to the Dean’s office if I suspect dishonesty. In this course, this will mainly concern references (“citations”) to sources. I will always give you feedback on your work and a chance to correct any issues before doing so. If, however, you do not make the required changes, or in later assignments still do not heed the warnings, I interpret your behaviour as disrespecting the Academic Integrity Code, and will report the case to the Dean of Academic Affairs. The penalty varies on the seriousness of the offence, but you will at the least receive a 0 for that particular grade component.

Muhlenberg College takes academic integrity very seriously, so please read in detail and with great attention through the College’s policy. May I in particular draw your attention to this sentence: “The College puts the burden of responsibility on students for knowing what plagiarism is, and then making the effort necessary to avoid it.” (Emphasis in original. Source: Muhlenberg College “Defining Plagiarism”)

Course schedule

Check this webpage

Details of the assignments

Feeding the Sourdough Starter

Initial response post:
  • Due every Tuesday by 11.59PM EDT/EST, starting in week 2
    • Free Pass: You can skip 2 of these posts during the semester, no questions asked.
  • Read through the assigned texts, view the videos and/or listen to the podcasts.
  • Write a first response post of approximately 200 words. (More is fine if you have a lot of ideas, but remember substance > quantity.)
    • You can use the guiding questions or points of interest I include in the description of that week’s material, either in the “Introduction to the Week” or in the notes for the material itself.
    • Read the instructions carefully: sometimes, you only need to engage with one source; other weeks, I request that you pick two or more.
  • At the end of the post, include the bibliographic reference to the materials you respond to.
  • Use the Bibliography format of the Chicago “Notes and Bibliography” style.
    • TOP TIP: You can just copy-paste the formatted reference I provide on the website. And if you spot a mistake in my formatting, let me know so I can correct it!

In the post itself, if you use a quote, or engage with a direct point made in the material, mention the author or text (e.g. “Di Cosmo also mentions that…”), and include between parentheses the page number of the printed page (e.g. p. 5 of a PDF I provide, but actually p. 743 in the anthology: “Source of Chinese Tradition, p. 743”)

I encourage you to include images (relevant memes are very welcome!) with captions, and links to other materials (e.g. online sites, newspaper articles that connect) if they are relevant to the topic of that week. The internet provides us with a wealth of information, and you can easily make connections and provide commentary in your blog posts.

If you prefer, you can upload an audio or video recording in lieu of a written blog post. Video/audio recording content should be about the same length as you’d have for a written submission, and I suggest you work from an outline, or a script, to make sure you have a succinct yet substantive contribution.

Ideally, you include a transcript or provide captions, for accessibility, but I realize that takes extra time. If you are interested in creating captions, please check out this how-to video tutorial. Note that machine-made captions are prone to errors. You can edit captions, and while it takes a bit of time, it makes a video look much more professional.

What’s the point? To help you get started thinking beyond the surface reactions, to help you spark ideas for later assignments, to create links between course materials from week to week, to demonstrate engagement with course materials

Discussion comments with
  • Due every Thursday by 11.59pm EDT/EST, starting in week 2
  • Leave feedback, questions, thoughts, insights about the contents of the posts of your fellow students.
    • These will be assigned through the power of the randomizer on the course website.
  • Use the “Architect’s Model” of giving feedback, and engage with concrete issues. Go beyond “Yeah, I agree,” “I like” or “I think the same”. Explain why you have that reaction. Or if you disagree, you can try to persuade the original poster of your idea.
    • Remember that allows for hyperlinks, e.g. to materials that support your argument, or you can include pictures (memes!), videos etc. that help the original poster to learn more.

This is where the discussion happens, and is similar to small and large group discussions in class, as well as group work. If the author of the post chose other materials than you did, you can talk about the similarities and differences you observe between these materials. You can point out where an author maybe did not go deep enough into the subject matter, or where your interpretations of the same piece differ. Let the author know if their post made you reconsider one of your ideas or gave you a better insight in the course materials.

Remember you can link to other posts (including your own!), include images, and you can reply to comments. Check your post for comments before writing the end of week/weekly reflection post, there will be valuable feedback on how you can develop your ideas, or present them even better.

What’s the point? written communication, collaboration, teamwork

End of week reflection
  • Due every Sunday by 11.59pm EDT/EST, starting in week 2
    • Free Pass: You can skip 2 of these posts during the semester, no questions asked. (Can be in different weeks than an Initial Post Free Pass)
  • Write a post of approximately 200 words (more is fine if you have Ideas with a capital I, of course!)

At the end of the week, and after reading through others’ interpretations, you’ll have developed your ideas compared to the start of the week. You may now have answers to questions, deeper insights in the course materials compared to your first impressions. This is why you write a second post, which is a reflection on how your understanding across the week has evolved.

Questions you can use to gather ideas for a reflection are: What new perspective do I have about the topic? What new questions arose? What connections can I now begin to see?

At the end of the post, you’ll add three bullet points, under the header “Things I learned this week”, all about the content. You will use these “Three Things” in the larger “Proofing the bread” reflections, when you make connections across the weeks.

Also add the list of sources consulted, in the Chicago Notes and Bibliography style. (TIP: you can just copy-paste them from the weekly schedule on the course website!)

What’s the point? Developing your skills in problem solving, critical thinking, and written communication.

Feedback on “End of week reflections”
  • Use to provide constructive feedback on fellow students’ “end of week reflections”, assigned by the power of the randomizer on the website.
  • Again, use the “Architect’s Model” to help your fellow students to see how they can take their reflection to the next level, for instance:
    • Content: draw their attention to something they missed
    • Style: do you have tips how they can make their reflection pack a tighter punch?
      • Spelling and phrasing are not the most important, but if you notice a pattern, it is helpful to point it out.

Proofing the Bread:

  • Developing meta-cognitive skills through reflecting on your learning, and making connections in course materials across the weeks.
  • More details to follow!

What’s the point? Identify where your strengths are, eliminate strategies that don’t help you; actively seek connections between course materials to engage the creative part of your brain to become a better problem solver.

Baking the Bread:

  • Currently based on last year’s work, but subject to change: Final project Fall 20 and “Bites”
  • The final project is an online exhibition. You will make a significant contribution to this project, for instance by writing a background essay, a set of captions and clarifications for objects. This is your chance to showcase what you learned about Chinese material culture in historical context, and how far you have come in developing your research and communication skills.
  • You will also provide feedback on your fellow students’ projects, and where necessary coordinate your project and collaborate, to prevent unnecessary overlap.
  • There will be writing and research exercises specifically geared towards developing contents and skills for this project.

What’s the point? Become a better team member, master the complexities of a larger, multi-phase research project, improve digital presentation skills, become familiar with new digital tools.

Extra credit

Every week, there are a few small tasks to help you catch up if you missed a few of the Exploration tasks, or to get ahead if points motivate you. If curiosity motivates you, these tasks will also be of interest to you! Some tasks you can do every week, others you can do only once. Keep your eyes peeled in the weekly schedule, and the reminders in the Daily Course Announcements.

Q: How many points can I earn?

A: You can do as many extra credit tasks as are available, they’re all healthy for your development as a budding historian and college student.

You can collect points to make up for missed assignments in the “Feeding the Sourdough Starter Tasks” category, which constitutes 50% of your final grade. When your extra credit takes you beyond that 50%, additional extra credit points are capped at 3% of the final grade (i.e. 53% of the final grade maximum for “Sourdough Starter” component). That’s enough to tip you into a higher letter-grade bracket (e.g. from B+ to A-) for the final grade.

I will add the Extra Credit points manually at the end of the semester, since I don’t trust Canvas Gradebook and I to come to an agreement on this, but you can at any time ask me for a check-up on how your extra credit points are helping you.

Q: Do I have to do extra credit tasks?

A: No. If you do all your assignments in the “Feeding the Sourdough Starter” component, there is no points-based need to do them. But consider the following scenarios:

  • This is a strange semester and we don’t know what November and December hold. Last minute panic and punctuated hysteria may not work to pull something fabulous out of thin air or do a massive amount of rewriting in those final weeks. Instead: bank small amounts of points now, at regular intervals, and be prepared for a potential rough time ahead.
  • All of the Extra Credit tasks are based on sound educational principles: using feedback to revise, engaging with other’s work, and fostering curiosity. Why not get rewarded for doing what the instructor hopes you’ll do anyway? I’m all about intrinsic motivation (versus points-based incentives), but by turning this into a game, maybe you will get you into good habits, and in future revise your work, engage with others, and just follow your curiosity every now and then even when there is no reward to get, other than personal satisfaction.

Thoughtful participation in the “Learning Community”

(not graded)

A “Learning Community” is a virtual and (sometimes, but not this semester) physical space that aims to optimize learning, exploring, discovering, and fosters curiosity through collaborative effort. Only if all of us do our bit, will the learning happen.

To create such a space, your thoughtful participation is required, in the online spaces connected to this course, and in your head. Thoughtful participation requires more than just showing up to a video chat. Here is how you can bring your best self to each week, to make the Learning Community come to life even in an asynchronous course:

Prepare the assigned readings by taking notes. Make a summary or list of what you think are the most important points of materials for that week. Mark passages that you don’t (quite) understand, and be ready to explain precisely what the question is. Likely you are not alone! You can ask questions in the Cloud Lounge, on the Typepad, or in the synchronous video conference.

Throw yourself into the discussion! You cannot simply state “I like it” or “I did not like it”. If you have read the materials, you will be able to say something meaningful about your fellow student’s post, and about how you see your ideas fit in with the other materials and their interpretations. At the very least, your reading notes will give you a couple of ideas.

If you come to the video conference chat: I treat these not as a lecture, but more like an open tutorial, and this only works if you participate, either verbally, or in the text chat. Come prepared with some talking points or questions, based on the course materials. “Filling airtime” with contributions that wander aimlessly off-topic is not thoughtful: we have only a limited amount of time together, let’s use it wisely. Remember that the sessions are optional, you’re not there to “score points”, but to seek clarification and increase your understanding.

If video conferences scare you, because just like a regular face-to-face class you feel uncomfortable speaking in front of a large group, please read the document This course is hard (Gdrive link), for a few tips and quick-win strategies that work for most courses. There are also tips for other problems, such as how to deal with difficult assignments, and where to get started if you are “organizationally challenged”. (Been there, done, that, got the T-shirt and burned it!)

Other ways to participate in the Learning Community:
  1. Sharing materials: e.g. link to a news report on a recent archaeological discovery, a great video you found that helps you to understand the course material better, a useful website or podcast.
    • You can e-mail me a link, or alert me to a blog post you created. Include a brief comment on why you think that material is interesting for our course.
    • TIP: very often there will be an option for you to enter these as a blog post for extra credit!
  2. Use to comment on your fellow students’ work on their websites, and continue the discussion beyond the basic requirements as you find yourself engaged in topics. Make thoughtful contributions: be specific, concrete and kind; you can also provide links to examples or further information.
    • TIP: very often there will be an option for you to declare these for extra credit!
    • TIP: you may find that these discussions spark an idea for a later project. Keep track, and let me know!
  3. Be professional: keep track of the course materials, assignments, and due dates; treat all assignments with the appropriate earnest. Help to create an environment conducive to learning, and a respectful atmosphere in our shared online space (your blog, the Cloud Lounge, Typepad,, etc). I expect you to respond promptly (=within 24hrs, Mon-Fr.) to e-mails or other messages, and keep me and where necessary your classmates up to date if you encounter problems in keeping up with your obligations for the course.

What’s the point? Improving time management skills, developing ability to assess information, becoming a better team mate, a better student, and a better human.

What if these assignments seem meaningless?

I have developed these assignments with specific pedagogical goals in mind, to help you grasp the basics of Chinese history, and the craft of the historian as a skilled interpreter of the past who can share their work with a wider audience. They give you a chance to explore, ask questions, and learn from your peers as well as from me, through repeated contact with course materials and through peer review and feedback. Should you find these assignments meaningless busywork, please let me know what alternative suggestions you have to demonstrate your learning to our Learning Community.

NOTE: Don’t ask for tests. I don’t like giving them or grading them (and an unhappy grader is a harsh grader!), and in any case tests do no measure learning. They measure memorization skills, and performance under pressure, but not learning. That may be useful in other courses and disciplines, but I see no space for that in this course.