Reflecting on a semester

We’ve been talking about our syllabi for a while here at the Frogs, but we haven’t done a lot of post-semester commentary. I had two Asia courses this semester: Early Japan and Problems and Issues of Contemporary China.

The China course went like gangbusters, and the books worked surprisingly well as a set. The Hessler was a solid starter, and I think I’m going to use it as my closer next time I teach the 20c China course. I followed it up with Cohen’s historiography, which was risky: only one of the five students in the class had anything like a serious historical background. Still, the theoretical perspectives he was describing are still very much alive, and it gave us a structure to talk about a lot of what came after. Qian Qichen’s diplomatic memoir was a nice corrective — focusing on strengths, and the Chinese perspective on the world — and the pre/post-9/11 talks transcribed in the appendices are great texts in themselves: I highly recommend them for anyone teaching a world politics or recent China course. My only concern is that it felt a little light. But if there had been more students, then the student-led reading/discussion section would have been denser. Anyway, aside from one supplemental reference which got underused, if I get to teach this course again, I’m keeping everything. I think it would work pretty well for undergrads, too.

The Early Japan course was a bit more mixed. I’m still trying to do too much, it seems: I need to spend more time on skills in the surveys, especially when I don’t have a core text. Berry’s Culture of Civil War in Kyoto was a great “slice of life” text, and actually sparked some discussion at a point in the semester when interest has often flagged. I can’t in good conscience give up the Genji and Heike readings, but I think I’m going to have to be more selective about the rest of the readings. I really want to add at least one good monograph on an earlier period, to parallel Berry. I’m thinking about Farris or Friday, and about adding student research and presentations to the document-based analysis assignments.

I need to look ahead now. I’ll be teaching my Qing course in the Fall, and so far it’s looking like a small crowd: perfect for the kind of scholarship I’m assigning. I want to work in a stronger research component than I had last time, though, to give students more of a chance to stretch their legs, so to speak.

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