Week 10: Pottery, Ceramics, and Porcelain

Oct. 26 - Nov. 1


Final project

This week, you'll submit an annotated bibliography with sources you are planning to use for your final project. More details in the list of assignments. You'll also engage in comments (via Google Sheets) on the exercise to help you differentiate good from not so helpful sources.

Table of Contents


Just like the Great Wall, porcelain is about as iconic as it gets for "Chinese" objects, to the point that the name "China" or "China ware" is synonymous with the fine translucent ceramic material created through a specific process that was for a long time exclusive to China. Quickly, the craftsmen in the Korean peninsula and Japan also learned the techniques, but areas further west remained dependent on trade for many centuries, just as they did for the tea they drank from these fine cups -cups often created specifically for export! The finest porcelain was created for the emperor (of course!), in a town called Jingdezhen, in the southeast province Jiangxi, which is still an important center for collectors of porcelain.

This week, first read the short blog post and look through the slides, then pick one of the options (each is a longer academic text connected to the history of porcelain). If you have time and are curious, browse through the extras. Pottery and porcelain are everywhere, and it can cost you a pretty penny, or it can cost you next to nothing to smash it (in video games). Keep your eyes peeled for this special type of "baked" goods!

Wednesday Zoom question

For those of you who need a question to be lured out of the shadows and onto Zoom (Wed. 11.30am): what difference does it make to you to eat or drink from a nice ceramic or porcelain plate or cup, if you've had the chance to try that? What image does that evoke? Do you ever stop and think about the plates and bowls you use to eat? Who made them? Do you have "special" or "Sunday best" plates in the family? Where do they come from? What would it feel like to use the objects in the slides? Let's take about plates, bowls, cups and the world behind them!


Basic set

Option 1: World trade

  • Finlay, Robert. "The Pilgrim Art: The Culture of Porcelain in World History." Journal of World History 9, no. 2 (1998): 141-87.
    • (PDF, appr. 60-90mins) Just read pp. 141-176 (you may of course continue to the end of the article)
    • The article may at first appear to be a bit harder to read, but you can use this worksheet to get through the most important aspects of the article. Also add your own observations on what is strange, remarkable or interesting to you. This will help you to organize your ideas to write your blog post.
    • This article focuses on how porcelain objects traveled all over the globe, as they were traded in communities ever further away from where they were first created (in China). That also meant their value and their meaning changed, sometimes very dramatically.

Option 2: Focus on artisans

  • Gerritsen, Anne. The City of Blue and White : Chinese Porcelain and the Early Modern World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.
    • (PDF, appr. 60-90mins) Chapter 9 focuses on the artisans and laborers involved in the production of the porcelain. The sub-headings of the text are useful questions to help you with the structure, but key questions to ponder are: How were the workers and craftsmen treated? How was the work process organized? What was the relationship between imperial and private kilns, and how did that affect the situation of craftsmen and laborers?

Fun optional extras:

Explore if you have time and are curious: How does the interplay between cultures and ceramic ware continue into the present day?

Porcelain hamburger by Song Wei (via Twitter)


All times are "Muhlenberg time" (US Eastern Time) Please note that clocks move back 1 hour on Sunday: an extra hour of sleep!

Feedback on the reflections about inkstones/books

2 points, due by Tuesday Oct 27, 11.59PM.

You know the drill 🙂 Read more and become a better reader and writer, as you learn from others' insights and feedback. Here are two students' Reflection posts on buildings, please comment on both:

  • Post 1:
  • Post 2:
  • Comment using Hypothes.is group HST137
  • Content: example: draw the writer's attention to something they missed, or point out how they highlight something you weren't aware of.
  • Style: do you have tips how the writer can make their reflection pack a tighter punch? Does the writer have great sentences or choice of words? What would you like to emulate? Share it!
    • Note: Spelling and phrasing are not the most important, but if you notice a pattern, it is helpful to point it out.

When you're ready, head over to Canvas and fill out the Declaration Quiz to claim your points.

- I commented on two fellow students' end of week reflections on readings about inkstones/books, using the Hypothes.is group HST137.
- I made sure to leave substantial comments that help the writer to improve the post, or to identify their strengths.
- I left comments that I would like to receive myself: thoughtful, helpful, kind, but also pointing out errors so they can be fixed.

Initial post on ceramics

3 points, due by Tuesday Oct. 27, 11:59PM, but start reading earlier so you have time to digest.

Read through the basic set and use the slides for illustration; pick 1 of the options and mix in the extras as you see fit.

In the slides I include a starting point for the post, but you can also begin from your own observations of what is strange, remarkable, or interesting.

This post is your "opening salvo" in a discussion of these course materials. This is also the place where you can ask questions about things you don't understand: perhaps there are contradictions in or between the texts you read, or you can't make head or tail of something?

  • Include the bibliographic references for the materials you choose, so we know which ones you picked.
    • Top tip: copy-paste from the list, they are (hopefully) correctly formatted in bibliography format for Chicago Notes and Bibliography style.
    • No need to copy the (PDF) or (ebook Trexler library) bit, that's just there to help you!
  • Add an image that illustrates the topic of your post, with a caption and credit for the image (e.g. a hyperlink to the source).
  • Include the word ceramics in the title
  • Add it to the category hst137 on your blog.

When you're done, read this declaration carefully, and then fill out the Canvas quiz to collect your points.

- I wrote a post of about 200 words in response to the readings about ceramics and porcelain.
- I included the bibliographic references for the materials I used for my post.
- I included an image, and provided a caption and credit (source) for the image.
- I use the word ceramics in the title, added the post to category hst137

Discussion and comments in Hypothes.is

2 points, due Thursday Oct. 29 by 11.59pm.

Below you find links to four blog posts from your fellow students. If one of the websites is your own, or it is twice the same person's, refresh the page, and you should get new sites. Please comment on all four:

  • Post 1:
  • Post 2:
  • Post 3:
  • Post 4:

Leave feedback, questions, thoughts, insights about the contents of the posts of your fellow students, using Hypothes.is group HST137. You can ask for clarifications, point out similarities and differences with the material you covered, or with your interpretation. This should encourage you to nose around a bit deeper in the materials you maybe gave less attention in the first round.

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”, and instead explain why you have that reaction, or if you disagree, you can try to persuade the original poster of your idea or interpretation.

Remember that Hypothes.is allows for hyperlinks, e.g. to materials that support your argument, or you can include pictures (memes! [yes, there she is again]), videos etc. that help the original poster to learn more.

When you've commented on four posts, read this declaration carefully, and then fill out the Canvas quiz to collect your points.

- I commented on four fellow students' initial posts on the readings about inkstones or books, using Hypothes.is group HST137.
- I made sure to leave substantial comments that move the discussion forward and help to create better insights, and go beyond a "nice" or "great".
- I left comments that I would like to receive myself: thoughtful, helpful, kind, but also pointing out errors so they can be fixed.

Assessing sources: Part 2

DUE: Thursday Oct. 29, 11.59PM.

If you have done part 1 (see email from Sunday or last week's schedule), you have received an email with an invitation to the spreadsheet where you'll find the answers from your fellow students. Compare the answers they gave, and let's create a list of shared characteristics to identify quickly good quality sources for your final project, and beyond. These are useful skills to have and hone (as even the WHO points out the significance of discerning information from dis- and mis-information in the age of Covid-19).

If you haven't done part 1 yet: get your skates on! Check out all the details on the dedicated webpage. This is a non-graded exercise to get you thinking and talking about the spectrum of sources at our disposal; this will help you to find good sources for the annotated bibliography, step 2 towards the final project.

Related: If you're curious to learn what your colleagues in the course are currently planning to write about, check out this page. It is also available from the drop down menu at the top, in the weekly schedule > Final Project > Student Topics. You should coordinate with others if you have closely related topics to make sure you're not covering the same ground!

Final project step 2: Annotated bibliography

Due on Friday, Oct. 30, 11.59PM.

Find out more on this dedicated webpage, including the link to submit assignment on Canvas.

End of week reflection (on ceramics)

3 points, due on Sunday, Nov. 1 by 11:59PM

If you really engaged with the topic of the ceramics and porcelain world in traditional China this week, your insights have changed, and you'll likely have encountered new information in your colleagues' posts that you did not cover in your readings. What have you learned about the production or trade of ceramics (and porcelain in particular), and the interactions with the world of the artisan, who created the objects they used?

Just like before, in your post you will also include three bullet points “Things I learned this week” – what do you know now about this topic in premodern China that you did not know at the start of this week?

  • Write a blog post of appr. 200 words (more is fine if you have Ideas), include the bibliographic details of the texts you refer to or engage with.
    • How have your ideas changed?
    • How do you think now about cups, plates, and ceramics/porcelain?
    • What new research questions can you ask, that you never thought about before?
  • Add your three bullet points with “Things I learned this week”.
  • Use the word Reflection in the title, and use the tag week10, and add to category hst137.

When you’ve commented on four posts, read this declaration carefully, and then fill out the Canvas quiz to collect your points.

- I wrote a blog post of appr. 200 words to demonstrate my changed/enhanced understanding of ceramics and porcelain in early Chinese history.
- I included a list with the bibliographic references of the texts I used to create my post.
- I added three bullet points under the heading “Three things I learned this week”.
- I use the word Reflection in the title, used the tag week10, and added the post to category hst137 .

Extra Credit

Sorry folks, not this week. Keep your eyes peeled for next week!

Where to ask questions?

Remember that it is highly likely that you are not the only one with that question. Save me time, and help your fellow students by asking questions where others can see them. If you know the answer to a question, jump in! I can’t be everywhere all the time.

Missing link? Wrong information? Typos? Email me!

"See something? Say something!"