Syllabus Fall ’21


Instructor: Dr. D’Haeseleer

  • Contact me!
    • E-mail: (I respond to e-mails which warrant a response within 24hrs, usually after 12pm)
      •  I need quiet time in the mornings to do “deep work”.
    • Office phone: 484-664-3324 –> you can leave messages, they are forwarded to my email.
    • Office: Ettinger 300A (but I won’t be in much)
  • Writing Assistant (WA): Ms. Brianna Butchey
  • Course website (this site): Webpage
  • Canvas course page: Canvas homepage
    • We will not use Canvas very much. I have my reasons. Ask me if you’re curious.
  • Course announcements: (also on the home page of the Canvas course)
Table of Contents

Class meeting time

Tue-Thu 3.30PM-4.45PM, Ettinger 202

Get stuff done club/ Drop-in tutorial times/ “Lab” time/ Community Hours

Online (blame Covid… Or embrace the fact you can video/voice chat from the comfort of your chosen quiet space, in your jammies if you want!) –> Find the link at the top of the Canvas home page for the course.

  • What is this? Some people call this office hours. I used to call it drop-in tutorials, but since we went online, I see it more as a space where you can catch up with colleagues from class, find a quiet zoom room to do a group project (doesn’t even have to be related to this course!), or chat with other humans about what’s on your mind, whether it’s about tea or its history or not.
  • When?
    • Wed. 1PM-2PM
    • Thu. 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)), or use this handy video tutorial made by my TA last semester.
      • Note I am not available on Mondays.
    • Changes and cancellations to to the regular scheduled GSD Club times will be announced on the Course Announcements website, and that also appears at the Canvas start page.

About the course

Co-constructed syllabus

Do you have comments, questions, suggestions for the syllabus? Is something here not representing what we discussed in class in the first weeks of the semester? Do you see areas where we can make improvements? Use they group HST269 and share your ideas!

If you have a lot of ideas, add your thoughts to the shared Google Doc and leave a comment, because that will trigger an email notification.

There is a lot of stuff that the College requires me to add to the syllabus:

This includes grading guidelines, course attendance policy, course goals, info about Academic Integrity Code, the class’s Covid-19 Policy, course unit instruction, info about the Academic Resource Center, info for students with disabilities and special needs, info for students experiencing financial hardship, incomplete grades, and a course recording statement. For some of this there is official language, which I have indicated in italics.

A note about official language, and issues which I have already decided:

The college has given us official language to use in our syllabus (indicated in italics); for other items I have made an executive decision. Here is the list:

The class’s Covid-19 Policy, course unit instruction, Academic Resource Center, info for students with disabilities and special needs, info for students experiencing financial hardship, incomplete grades, and a course recording statement.

Course Contents

This course introduces you to China’s long history, and familiarizes you with the main cultural traditions and customs that still influence China to this day. The course takes you from the earliest beginnings in prehistory to the end of the eighteenth century, and explores society, politics, economy, culture, literature and arts to give you a good understanding of the main dynamics in Chinese history.

In this course you get a chance to explore in depth aspects of China’s history that interest you most, with small independent research projects. The goal is to get thinking like a historian, using primary sources where available in translation.

Course Goals

At the end of this course you will:

  • be more familiar with the geographic and temporal framework of China’s history before 1800
  • be more familiar with the major events and people of China’s history before 1800.
  • have developed an understanding of the main debates between historians
    • as they interpret the same events differently
    • as they identify the problems and limitations of the source materials
  • know how to use primary source materials for crafting a historical argument, including documents in translation, paintings, archaeological objects
  • have developed your analytical skills as a historian and will be able to identify major trends, continuities, sudden or gradual changes in premodern China’s history, and will be able to assess their impact on the Chinese people in the past.
  • have improved your oral and written communication skills by taking part in discussions in small and large group settings, short presentations, and by writing short pieces to generate discussion as well as longer reflection pieces and essays.

Course Unit Instruction:

This class is scheduled to meet for 3 hours per week. Additional instructional activities for the course include conferences with the instructor, Writing Center, Digital Learning assistants, and librarians, and appropriate College lectures and events. These activities will add an additional 14 hours of instruction across the semester.

All about grades

The students in this class believe grades do not accurately measure learning across the span of a semester, but rather capture a brief moment of one’s performance (during an assignment) at a specific point in time, or the (in)ability to impress a teacher and meet the standards set by the teacher. A bad grade can have many negative consequences, and take away the motivation to learn, and a grade does not tell the full story behind a student’s learning, nor does it accurately capture the effort a student has put in.

The students in this class have agreed to demonstrate their learning not through “disposable, single use” assignments. Instead, they will make use of a variety of writing techniques and tasks, including “Rewriting and resubmitting”, by developing assignments based on regular feedback from peers and instructors, and through periodic reflections allow students to demonstrate growth in their analytical thinking, reading and writing skills. In addition, by means of regular conferences with the instructor, they will reflect on their progress and identify their strengths and opportunities for growth. In these conferences, the student and instructor will agree on a grade to be submitted for the mid-term and for the end of the semester.

Course work

  • Everyone uses a Bergbuilds Domain, where you will create a WordPress site to run your own website and blog. Much of your writing for the course, and all of your portfolio work you will share with the class through the blog.
    • At the end of the semester you have a portfolio of materials. I encourage you to add many more pieces to your portfolio than the ones I invite you to contribute for this course.
    • You use the portfolio to reflect on and discuss your progress in becoming a better, more confident historian, by showing how you do research and shape and change your ideas in response to your findings, and how you learn new ways or hone your skills to present your findings (in written pieces or other formats), in the regular conferences with the instructor.
    • What goes into the Portfolio? –> A growing list of suggested writings will be co-created throughout the semester. (link to appear shortly!)
  • We use a small tool called for “social annotation”: this means we leave comments on each other’s websites (yes, you can comment on this site!) in our own private group (HST269), rather than open on the web.
  • We collect references to texts we read, books, articles etc. in a shared library in Zotero.
    • Your contributions help us to build a bigger, and better annotated network of knowledge related to premodern China’s history.

Busywork: “work that keeps a person busy but has little value in itself”

(Source: The dictionary on my computer)

There is no space in this course for busywork. If a task seems pointless or you cannot see the value of it, please speak with me. I can clarify what the value is from my point of view, and if you feel it is still of no use to your development as a historian, you can suggest an alternative way to demonstrate your engagement with the course material or your peers’ research. Life is too precious to spend it doing pointless things.


  • A= strong
  • B= satisfactory
  • C= weak
  • D= very weak
  • F= unsatisfactory

Best-Before Dates

Often called deadlines (*shudder*) or due dates, best-before dates indicate that you are invited to complete tasks before a specific time for a good reason, and to make your and my life a bit easier:

I space best-before dates so that you have enough time to complete the tasks and work with the feedback on earlier tasks. Best-before dates also help me to stay on top of the feedback throughout the semester, so it can be relatively prompt. Missing a best-before date means you are crowding your work closer together, and I may not be able to turn around feedback as fast as you would like, or in a timely manner for you to apply to the next task. Maximize your chances for good feedback and stick to the best-before dates if possible.

I understand that life and personal issues can get in the way of your learning, or producing your best work. In that case, I invite you to communicate with me, so I know what to expect, and (more importantly) when, and I will create space in my schedule. You can let me know in the following ways: see me in class, e-mail me, or drop by during Get Stuff Done Club and propose a new Best-Before Date which fits your schedule better. I will confirm this new date in writing within 24 hours.

If you fall ill suddenly, or are otherwise unable to complete tasks by the best-before date due to circumstances beyond your control you may not be able to arrange a new best-before date in advance. In that case, let me know ASAR (as soon as reasonable). If this is part of something bigger, get in touch with the Dean of Academic Affairs or the Dean of Student Affairs, or the Health Center. They can help you to coordinate care to see you through a rough patch.

If you habitually and routinely miss best-before dates, I will ask you in for a virtual cup of tea and a 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.

Incomplete Grade

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

Thoughtful participation in the Learning Commons

A “Learning Commons” is a virtual and 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, I request your thoughtful participation, inside the classroom, in online spaces connected to this course, and in your head. Thoughtful participation requires more than just being in the room. Here is how you can bring your best self to each class to make the Learning Commons come to life:

1. “Traditional” active participation:

As we learned over the past year, being together in the same physical space is special: it allows us to focus better on the work at hand, it’s easier to communicate, and to “read the room”. Let’s make sure we make the most of that precious time, by actually showing up, and showing up ready to learn!

Before class: Make the most of our physical time together by preparing for class: read the texts we will discuss, take notes, think of discussion questions, or make a summary or list of what you think are the most important points of the chapter(s) or text(s) for that day. You can mark passages that you don’t (quite) understand, and focus on explaining precisely what the question is (asking concise, pointed questions is a great life skill you can practice here!). Likely you are not alone with your question. Occasionally I may invite you to prepare specific tasks in advance of a class session, please prepare these.

In class: Take part in the discussions! When I ask you, “what did you think about the reading?”, you should move well beyond a simple answer such as “I like it” or “I did not like it”. After reviewing the materials, you will be able to say something meaningful about them, for instance about how you see a text fit in with the other materials. At the very least, your reading notes will give you a couple of ideas: what is interesting? What is revealing? What is strange?

I treat this course not as a lecture course, but as a seminar. This course is not about my ideas or knowledge, but about teaching you new skills, and figuring out how to unlock your potential and skills as a historian, and your verbal participation in class discussions helps tremendously. We want to avoid awkward silences (different from thoughtful silences, when we need time to process difficult things), or having the same two people always dominating the conversation. You can avoid this easily: Have two (or more) points prepared in advance, based on the readings, because that will make it very easy to direct or jump into the discussion. A good challenge for yourself is to make an active contribution at least once per two sessions (i.e once per week). When we shift discussion into new topics, you can jump in with for instance “This is something completely different, but I noticed [insert point here]”. I’ll even make sure to hold back the people who always jump in first, so you have plenty of space to formulate your ideas.

What is thoughtful? “Filling airtime” with contributions that wander aimlessly off-topic is not thoughtful. You may of course draw on your personal perspective and experiences, but our time in class will be more productive if your contribution remains connected to the topic of that session. If you are an extremely active contributor, I may ask you to hold back and give your fellow students a chance to join in. Please understand not everybody is as quick with their thinking, or as comfortable, speaking in a larger group.

If you feel uncomfortable speaking in front of a large group, please read the document This course is hard, for a few tips and quick-win strategies that work for most courses, not just this one.

During small group activities in class, formulate ideas, questions, and interact with your fellow students; in the plenary session we usually have afterwards, you can summarize the points of your group, and of course give credit to your fellow students where due, preferably by name! (This is why we use name tents.)

2. Other ways of actively contributing to the “Learning Commons”:

Here are other ways to contribute to our Learning Commons:

  • Sharing materials: e.g. link to a news report on a recent discovery, a great video you found that helps you to understand the course material better, a useful website or podcast.
    • You can share a link on the Padlet, or write a blog post (with link) and include that in category HST269. I will “signal boost” it. Another option is adding a book or article to the Zotero group library. In all those cases, it’s best to include a brief comment on why you think that material is interesting for our course and/or how we can discuss this in class.
  • Extra commenting: Use or add comments on your fellow students work on their websites: treat these as an extension of the classroom space for further discussion. Make thoughtful contributions: be specific, concrete and kind; you can also provide links to examples or further information.
    • We have regular feedback on posts, but you can go beyond the minimum amount of blogs you are invited to comment on.
  • Respect each other: There are many different ways you can show your respect for your fellow students, but one of the best is to help create an environment that’s conducive to learning, and that minimizes disruptions. Think of arriving in timely fashion for class, being prepared, and having your materials with you, treating micro-assignments with appropriate earnest (e.g. a closing exercise, peer reviews), but also helping others, not intentionally distracting others, not just being there for the instructor, but being there for and with your classmates.

What if class is canceled?

In the event I cannot make it to class, due to illness or other circumstances beyond my control, I will cancel class, and I may reschedule it for a later, mutually convenient date and time. I will send a message via e-mail, and in the Google Chat Room. If you commute to campus, please check your e-mail before setting off on a journey that may be wasted, or set up an alert system with your classmates to pass the message via your preferred medium (text, WhatsApp, Facebook,…).

In the event I am out of action for a few weeks: there will be a syllabus to let the course run for a couple of weeks as it currently stands (“gradeless and co-constructed”).

If I am out for the entire semester, I have a back-up syllabus along the more traditional format. This is so that a colleague who takes over can step in easily with pre-set course contents and assignments. You can, of course, discuss with that new instructor the option of running the course in our negotiated format, but I cannot guarantee what the outcome will be. (But as we say back home: You have a no, you may get a yes.)

Covid-19 policy and course attendance

  • Masks are required in class, at all times.
  • Make sure your mask
    • fully covers your nose and mouth
    • fits snugly
    • filters well (at least two layers of fabric or a KN95/N95 type respirator, no valve, or a surgical mask)
    • review Dr. Bachynski’s video if in doubt.
  • If you are Covid-positive and have symptoms, don’t come to class.
    • If you are vaccinated and test positive but don’t have symptoms (“asymptomatic”), you may choose not to attend class in person and join us via Zoom instead (This is above what the CDC and College recommend, but this is what I will do if it happens to me!)
  • If you’re ill with something else that’s infectious, please don’t come to class. Germs are best kept to yourself!
  • If you are well enough to attend class but contagious with something, I can Zoom you in.
  • If you are not well enough to attend class, we (as a learning community) will make sure you can catch up asynchronously

Useful information

Academic Integrity Code

My guess is that “cheating” is the result of students finding the need for a shortcut, or not understanding why academic integrity matters. I strive for prevention rather than a cure, so tell me what would stop you from trying to cheat (or push you to do it). Here’s what I used to tell students. What do we need to change about this?

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 assignment. 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.”1

(past syllabi)

[Info for] Students with Disabilities or 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 can tell me in private what specifically I can do to help your learning process, without disclosing your disability or condition. Past examples of changes I made include adding presenter notes to slides, creating handouts for lecture structures (when I still lectured), flexibility with due dates (with mutual agreement in advance of the due date) and seating arrangements. I hope to learn from you how to create a truly inclusive/less excluding 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. I look forward to learning how I can best meet your educational needs.

[Info for] Students experiencing Financial Hardship

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. The webpage is: You may also discuss your concerns with me if you are comfortable doing so.

Academic Resource Center

The Academic Resource Center (ARC) offers individual and small-group tutoring, course-specific workshops, peer mentoring, and professional academic coaching for all currently enrolled Muhlenberg students. Students may request to be assigned to work on a weekly basis with a tutor for the duration of the fall semester starting on Wednesday, September 8, 2021. A link to the online tutor request form is available on the ARC website: Questions regarding the ARC or any of their services may be directed to

Class Recording Statement

Please talk with me before recording a class session. This is usually not something instructors allow unless you have an accommodation through the Office of Disability Services. There are a lot of reasons for this, but one is that we like to keep the classroom a space where students and instructors feel safe exploring ideas as we’re learning, in the knowledge that there is no permanent record. Even if you have permission to record, you should never share your recording with others, post it online, or keep the recording after the course is finished.

Course schedule

For the weekly schedule, check this page and the tab “Course Schedule” with the drop-down menu at the top of the webpage.