Great Books: Defining the Human

Syllabus as of 2/18/2020. Syllabus may change throughout the semester; changes will be listed here.

2/18/2020: Changed reading schedule for week of 2/24-2/28 3/14/2020: Reworked syllabus for second half of the semester.

Dr. Andrew Strombeck

Course Location/Instructor information

  • MWF 11:15 am – 12:10 pm
  • Oelman 135
  • Office hours WF 10-11 and by appointment on MWF 48 hours in advance.
  • email: andrew.strombeck@wright.edu (best way to contact me; you may get replies from drewmstrombeck@gmail.com)

As part of Wright State University’s General Education program, this course seeks to

  • Sharpen critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills as a basis for lifelong learning
  • Cultivate an awareness of the moral and ethical insight needed for participation in the human community
  • Increase knowledge and understanding of the past, of the world in which we live, and of how both past and present have an impact on the future

More simply, in this course we will seek to sharpen our ability to be thoughtful, critical participants in conversations about literature. At its best, literature both confirms and challenges our assumptions about our lives, other people (including those with backgrounds different than our own), power, the natural world, and so on. I firmly believe that such critical conversations about literature teach us to think critically in other areas of life, from family, to politics, to employment, to other fields of study.

In this version of the course, we’ll focus especially on stories that concern the boundary between the human and non-human, asking questions such as the following: What is the line between human and machine? What is the line between human and monster? Who counts as human? Are some people more human than others? Under what circumstances does an individual become “inhuman”? What behaviors define the human? How are decisions about who counts as human made, and who gets to make these decisions? What do conversations about the human have to do with race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, or other forms of identity?

If, at first, these questions seem to have no “practical” connection to your professional goals, keep in mind that much of today’s workplace involves what is sometimes called knowledge work. For knowledge workers (those involved with distributing, processing, and producing information), evaluating, processing, and posing critical questions forms an integral part of their jobs, as does expressing oneself in a thoughtful, intelligent way. So even if no one will hire you to write essays about The Tempest, the skills you’ll work on here are ones you’ll hopefully use throughout your professional and personal life.

After completing this course, students will

  • Have some sense of what questions have been raised about the category "human"
  • Have a sense of how literary works have responded to these questions
  • Have improved their skills in writing about literature
  • Have some understanding of the authors and texts under study

INFORMAL GOALS FOR COURSE

  • Work on your writing.
  • Do some critical thinking.
  • Make something useful.
  • Read some literature

REQUIRED TEXTS

Available at bookstore:

  • Sophocles, Antigone (please buy assigned edition)
  • William Shakespeare, The Tempest (please buy assigned edition)
  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (please buy assigned edition)
  • Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood
  • Colson Whitehead, Zone One

Other readings are available as PDFs and linked below.

NOTE ON CLASS PARTICIPATION AND TEXTS

On the day material is assigned, you are responsible for bringing material to class in a usable form. Print is ideal, because you can write on the material, flip through it, point out passages to other students, and otherwise refer to it. It’s also acceptable to have material available on tablet or laptop. But please don’t rely on a smartphone to read this material. As an instructor, I find it distracting when students are looking at their phones, and I can’t tell if you’re looking at the material, texting, or looking at social media.

ATTENDANCE

This course meets three times a week, approximately 30 times across the term. Excessive absences will affect your grade. Please do not ask me to go over the material you missed; review missed material with a classmate.

In terms of all other class behavior (leaving the classroom, using electronic devices, and so on), I simply encourage you to be courteous toward everyone else here, including me. You’ll get more out of the course if you give it your full attention, and everyone here expects fifty minutes of focus on course material. If you’re not being courteous, I reserve the right to speak to you either during or after class and/or ask you to leave.

If you know, for whatever reason, that you’ll be unable to avoid leaving the classroom, using electronic devices in class, or so on, I do ask that you sit in the back or otherwise minimize your distraction to me and other students.

If you have a child or other family member that you care for, please feel free to bring these people to class at any time. I understand that students balance multiple responsibilities, and I encourage you to work with me on balancing your responsibilities here and elsewhere.

ASSIGNMENTS

Details on each of these appear below.

  • Class participation
  • In-class responses
  • Portfolio of revised responses.
  • Commonplace book

Reading Assessments 15% Defining the Human presentations 15%

** Grading for semester has been replaced by email entitled "Remaining Semester for Great Books." **

See Revised Course Completion Requirements below

CLASS PARTICIPATION

I expect you to read and think about the material before you come to class. In addition to attendance, your class participation grade measures both quantity and quality of contributions. You’ll get the most credit for class participation if you point out passages or draw connections between one work we’ve studied and another.

Also: I call on students during class, but only after I’ve given you a chance to write down your thoughts. Usually this works out fine—I’m calling on you because you have something smart to say, but you might not say it if I don’t ask you directly. If, for whatever reason, you are uncomfortable talking in class, please let me know, and we can work out another arrangement for your participation.

READING ASSESSMENTS

Five times throughout the semester, you will complete a reading assessment consisting of the following:

4-5 informational questions (designed to demonstrate that you have completed the day’s reading)

A short response to a passage from the day’s reading (designed to demonstrate that you are engaged with the course and work themes).

IN-CLASS RESPONSES

You will complete five of these throughout the semester. They will consist of you answering four questions in class.

If you miss class on the day one of these is assigned, you can come to my office and make it up, but only once. If you miss class on the day one of these is assigned a second time, you will receive a zero for that day’s response. You can think of these as something like mini-midterms.

PORTFOLIO OF REVISED RESPONSES

I will comment on your responses and return them to you. At the end of the course, you will choose one questions from each response, revise and expand this questions to 250 words of writing each, and submit these as part of a portfolio. (total of 1250 words)

Revising can include:

  • Fixing places that I marked as unclear in my comments.
  • Adding related examples from the text.
  • Expanding your ideas.

Revised responses will be evaluated using the same rubric as for the responses.

COMMONPLACE BOOK

Throughout the semester, in response to your reading, I will ask you to keep a commonplace book. Commonplace books are a collection of quotations, images, observations, and other information on a common theme. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commonplace_book for more about commonplace books and https://www.pinterest.com/inspire_lab/commonplace-books/ for examples of commonplace books old and new.

You can use any medium that supports text and images for your commonplace book.

Examples might include:

  • A notebook.
  • A web site (your own, created through WordPress, whatever works for you).
  • A Word document, PDF, a Google doc, or other desktop medium.

Each week, you will fill pages with the following:

  • One substantial quotation copied from the week’s reading.
  • One substantial paragraph of informal writing in response to the week’s reading.
  • An example from a television show, video game, novel, poem, short story, news story, or other text that engages some problem of the human.
  • Images, charts, other thoughts, other quotations–the rest is up to you.

You should date and title your entries. I will check your commonplace books 1) on days when we do in-class responses 2) at the end of the semester.

Commonplace books will be graded for

  1. Completion
  2. Creativity/innovation

Commonplace Books will not be graded for writing. This assignment is intended to get you doing informal writing throughout the semester.

In order to receive a B for this assignment, you’ll need to have one substantial entry (as defined above) for every week of the semester, beginning with week 2 and ending with week 14. You need to have a total of 13 substantial entries. From there, your grade can only go up; commonplace books that receive a grade of A are creative works of art and thinking that show concerted and consistent effort.

DEFINING THE HUMAN PRESENTATIONS

At the end of the semester, I will ask you to work in groups to develop some kind of project that uses four of the course texts to answer some question about the human. You will present these informally in class on the last two days of class session. These can be a slide presentation, a game, a short play (ok, a dialog staged among group members)–it’s up to you. Presentations should end by posing one or two questions that are designed to spark class discussion.

I will assign you to groups sometime during the first half of the semester. Once groups are formed, I will ask for regular updates on the project throughout the semester.

SCHEDULE OF WORK

Monday, January 13

Introductions

Wednesday, January 15

Read: "Greek Tragedy: An Overview" (67-71); Sophocles, Antigone 13-30

Look up any words you don’t understand in the glossary.

Reading questions for 13-30

  • What has happened before the play began?
  • How would you characterize Antigone’s viewpoint in her initial conversation with Ismene?
  • How would you describe Ismene’s viewpoint?
  • What decree has Creon issued? Do you think this decree is justified?

Slides Antigone Day 1 (may contain material not covered in class)

Friday, January 17

Sophocles, Antigone 30-50

  • Who is Haemon? Why does his opinion matter?
  • At this point in the play, who do you agree with, Antigone or Creon? Why?
  • Why do you think Creon issued his decree in the first place?

Slides Antigone Day 2 (may include material not covered in class)

Monday, January 20

Martin Luther King Day

Wednesday, January 22

Sophocles, Antigone 50-end

  • What does Tiresias tell Creon?
  • Why does he tell him this? What do you think of Antigone’s action? Why does she let herself be buried alive?

Slides Antigone Day 3 (may include material not covered in class)

Friday, January 24

Sophocles, Antigone continued

Slides Antigone Day 4 (may include material not covered in class)

Monday, January 27

Sophocles, Antigone continued

Response #1 in-class Link to grading rubric for responses.

Wednesday, January 29

William Shakespeare, The Tempest Act I

  • How would you describe the relationship between Prospero and Ariel?
  • How would you describe the relationship between Prospero and Caliban?

Slides The Tempest Day 1 (may include material not covered in class)

Friday, January 31

William Shakespeare, The Tempest Act II

Slides The Tempest Day 2 (may include material not covered in class)

Monday, February 3

William Shakespeare, The Tempest continued

Slides The Tempest Day 3 (may include material not covered in class)

Wednesday, February 5

William Shakespeare, The Tempest Act III

Friday, February 7

William Shakespeare, The Tempest Act IV

Monday, February 10 William Shakespeare, The Tempest Act V

Wednesday, February 12

Response #2 in-class Link to grading rubric for responses.

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein introduction (no reading assigned)

Friday, February 14

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein Preface, letters, chapters I-V

Class held online

Slides Frankenstein Day 1

Monday, February 17 Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Chapters VI-end of Volume I

Class held online

Slides Frankenstein Day 2

Wednesday, February 19

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein Volume II, Chapters I-VI

Friday, February 21

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein Volume II, Chapters VII-end

Monday, February 24

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein Volume III, Chapters I-III

Wednesday, February 26

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein Volume III, Chapters IV-end

Friday, February 28

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, continued.

Response #3 in-class

Link to grading rubric for responses.

Monday, March 2 – Friday, March 6

Spring Break

Monday, March 9

Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood Chapters 1-15

Wednesday, March 11

Classes suspended.

Friday, March 13

Classes suspended.

Monday, March 16

Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood Chapters 16-20

Slides for this week (pptx)

Slides for this week (identicical, ppsx)

If the files above are too large to download, use the links below:

Slides for this week (no audio, smaller file)

Audio 1

Audio 2

Audio 3

Audio 4

Audio 5

Wednesday, March 18

Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood Chapters 21-28

Friday, March 20

Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood Chapters 29-42

Monday, March 23 through Friday, March 27

Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood "The Feast of Serpent Wisdom"-Chapter 48 (reading for entire week)

Slides for this week (pptx; requires PowerPoint)

Slides for this week in video format (should play in most browsers

Slides for this week as Google slides (should work in most browsers; click Present in upper-right-hand corner to view)

Monday, March 30

Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood Chapter 61-end

Wednesday, April 1

Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood continued

Friday, April 3

Response #4 due in Pilot Dropbox

Link to grading rubric for responses.

Monday, April 6

Colson Whitehead, Zone One Friday

Wednesday, April 8

Colson Whitehead, Zone One continued

Friday, April 10

Colson Whitehead, Zone One continued

Monday, April 13

Colson Whitehead, Zone One Saturday

Wednesday, April 15

Colson Whitehead, Zone One continued

Friday, April 17

Colson Whitehead, Zone One continued

Monday, April 20

Colson Whitehead, Zone One Sunday

Wednesday, April 22

Response #5 due in Pilot Dropbox

Link to grading rubric for responses.

Friday, April 22

Online discussion, summarizing the human

Friday, April 29

Revised Responses due in Pilot Dropbox

Revised Course Completion Requirements

As you know, Wright State does not assign + or – grades. I have divided paths for completion below into A, B, C, D.

If something does not appear in the list below (such as group work or reading assessments) it has been eliminated as a requirement.

These are intense times. If you’d like, use the Commonplace Book entries to reflect on what’s happening around you. Stay well. If your circumstances change, let me know. We can work something out. You are not going to fail this course because of a pandemic.

In these situations, it is going to be tempting to plagiarize. Please don’t do so. If you feel like your back is up against a wall, and you are tempted to plagiarize, contact me immediately.

All requirements below incorporate work that you have already completed. For example, if you have completed 6 entries for the Commonplace Book, you only need to complete an additional 7 entries to meet the blog entry requirement for the A path.

All work can be submitted early. That is, you do not need to wait until the day anything is due to hand it in.

Passing with a C or D

Some of you may simply want to pass the class with a C or D, and are unconcerned with participating in ongoing discussions of the literature. Depending on your circumstances, that may be a completely rational decision. I will not judge you for taking this option. If you choose this option, please know that I am here to help you at any level at which you need help. We can exchange emails, talk on the phone, exchange messages, do FaceTime or the like—whatever you think will be helpful.

If your goal is to pass this course with a C or D, do the following:

  • Complete a total of 8 entries in your Commonplace Book by the end of the course. Commonplace Book entries can be submitted in any way that works for you. Photos of entries, Word documents, emails—just about anything
  • Complete the two responses for The Year of the Flood and Zone One. These will be distributed over email and/or the course site and submitted to a Pilot Dropbox.
  • Revise responses at the end of the course. Requirements for revision will be distributed over email and/or the course site. Revisions will be submitted to a Pilot Dropbox.

If you complete these tasks, you get a C. That’s it—simple completion. (I will still provide you feedback on your responses.)

If you complete some of these tasks (for example, 6 entries for CP book, 1 response, no revision), you get a D. (I will still provide you feedback on your responses.)

Passing with a B or A and/or Continuing to Engage with Class Discussions

Others of you may want to pass the class with an A or B and/or participate in ongoing discussions of the literature. For these students, I will be setting up message boards on Pilot and/or Google documents, and providing feedback on both. I will give you more information about these starting on Monday. These will be assigned over 24-hour windows; you will not be required to do anything in “real time”—that is, during regularly scheduled class time.

If your goal is to pass this course with an B and/or continue engaging with discussions about the literature, do the following:

  • Complete a total of 8 entries in your Commonplace Book by the end of the course. Commonplace Book entries can be submitted in any way that works for you. Photos of entries, Word documents, emails—just about anything

  • Complete the two responses for The Year of the Flood and Zone One. These will be distributed over email and/or the course site and submitted to a Pilot Dropbox.

  • Revise responses at the end of the course. Requirements for revision will be distributed over email and/or the course site. Revisions will be submitted to a Pilot Dropbox.

  • Do one of the following:

    • Participate in some (approximately 30-50%) of the ongoing class discussions through Pilot message boards and/or Google documents (and/or in person if things change) during the next 6 weeks.

    OR

    • Complete an additional 5 entries in your Commonplace book by the end of the course (for a total of 13).

    OR

    • Have maintained an A for the first half of the course. (I will be distributing first-semester grades sometime soon, but I wanted to send you this email first.)

If you complete these tasks, you get a B. That’s it—simple completion. (I will still provide you feedback on your responses.)

If your goal is to pass this course with an A and/or continue engaging with discussions about the literature, do the following:

  • Complete a total of 13 entries in your Commonplace book but the end of the course. Commonplace Book entries can be submitted in any way that works for you. Photos of entries, Word documents, emails—just about anything
  • Complete the two responses for The Year of the Flood and Zone One. These will be distributed over email and/or the course site and submitted to a Pilot Dropbox.
  • Revise responses at the end of the course. Requirements for revision will be distributed over email and/or the course site. Revisions will be submitted to a Pilot Dropbox.
  • Participate in most (70-100%) of the ongoing class discussions through Pilot message boards and/or Google documents (and or in person if things change) during the next 6 weeks. I will be providing instructions on these as we move forward.

If you complete these tasks, you get a A. That’s it—simple completion. (I will still provide you feedback on your responses.)

If you want to pass this course with an A or a B, but cannot contribute to message boards/Google documents on an ongoing basis, and are willing to do makeup work, contact me and we will work something out.

Remaining Material

Regardless of the option you take, we are going to work with a slimmed-down schedule of work. That means we will work with The Year of the Flood and Zone One, but nothing else. If you don’t finish reading either book, or the reading for a particular day, that’s OK. I’ll work with you. I will post revised pages on the syllabus shortly. If you have been relying on the library for access to books, or are otherwise unable to access the books, let me know immediately and we will figure something out.

I will be providing lectures on the material starting Monday for the benefit of all students. Because of the rapidity of this shift, I have not yet determined how these will be delivered.

I will also be commenting on contributions to message boards and/or Google documents; such comments may be in the message boards/documents themselves, or they may be folded into lectures.