Dr. Jim Ford                                                                                Humanities Seminar

jford@rsu.edu                                                                             HUM-4993

Office: Baird Hall 101A                                                             Fall 2010     [ZAP 1439]

Office Phone: (918) 343-7749                                                    R 2:00-4:45 pm

Office Hours: 12:30-2:30 T; 11-2:30 W;                                     Classroom: Baird Hall 228

9-11, 12:30-2 R; 11-12 F.                                                            Prerequisite: Senior status.








“[F]or it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified...”
-Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, 5





“A reading, research, and/or lecture seminar on a particular topic, period, or genre. Seminars will require extensive reading of, and reports on, primary and secondary works and/or research project(s). Student discussion will be paramount” (RSU Bulletin).




The official description is obviously a little vague. This course is an advanced seminar in the Humanities. It is designed to be the culmination of your academic experience at Rogers State University in the Bachelor's of Arts, Liberal Arts program. In the above description, this seminar falls somewhere between a Reading Seminar and a Research Seminar. The crucial fact to note is that student discussion- your contribution- is paramount.


The specific topic for this year's Humanities Seminar is “Tragedy, Ancient and Modern.” We will read a number of literary and scholarly works that deal with the nature of tragedy, and its significance to a good human life. Each week we examine a different work (or selections from various works), and we will spend the vast majority of our time reading, discussing, and writing about the meaning and significance of those works. That means that the course will require a great deal of work on your part, but it will be worth it.






Catcher in the Rye

Little, Brown&Co




Complete Pelican Shakespeare





Civilization and its Discontents

WW Norton




The Plague










The End of the Affair

Penguin Classics




For Whom the Bell Tolls






Random House




Three Tragedies



All books are available at the RSU Bookstore in Claremore. Please have all of the books before the semester begins.



You have six main responsibilities during this course. First, of course, you must read all of the assigned readings; second, you must participate fully in all of our class discussions; third, you must create five projects (for lack of a better word) during the course; fourth, you will lead our discussions once during the semester; fifth, you will present the proposal for your capstone portfolio/project (which you will complete in the Capstone course next spring—see the memo from the Capstone Committee below); and sixth, you will submit a draft of your reflective paper (which you will revise and complete in the Capstone course next spring). Your grade will be the result of your performance on these projects, the discussions, the two presentations, the proposal, and the reflective paper.

What's a unit project? Basically, most weeks several students will respond to that week’s materials. In most cases that material is a text, the reading assignment for the unit, but in a few cases it is something else (an art show, a web-site, etc.). Whatever the material in question, you the student will respond to the work—that may involve criticizing, evaluating, or interpreting the work in question. If that sounds vague, that’s for a reason. You are free to decide what form your response takes. It may be a traditional academic essay; it may be a creative work of fiction or poetry related to the material at hand; or it may be a work of art, a piece of music, a painting—whatever you decide works best for that particular unit. The only limitation is that every student will write at least one traditional academic essay. We will discuss further (during the first unit) what is involved in these projects, and what I expect from you. Primarily, I want to see that you have done some critical and creative thinking about the work in question, but we will discuss more what that involves.

I will be grading these projects according to the criteria listed under “Grading Policies” (below), but evidence of creative and critical thinking will be particularly important. Understand also that we are doing one of these projects every few weeks, so I do not expect your masterpiece, your magnum opus. I do expect that you will do some creative and critical thinking about the material in question, and that's mainly what I want to see in your projects. You will present your work in class so that everyone can witness (and discuss) each other’s creations.

At least once in the semester every student will write a more traditional academic essay for their presentation. All essays must be typed and double-spaced, four to five pages long, with 1 inch margins.

Given the time-sensitive nature of this course, no credit will be given for work not submitted on time. All projects are due at the beginning of the class period. Further details on the nature of these assignments will be given in class. There will also be a final exam, the nature of which will be discussed in class later in the semester. Failure to complete any presentation or assignment will be grounds for failure of the course as a whole.

Finally, this course will emphasize discussion. I will regularly suggest questions pertaining to the material we will be discussing in the following class. Students should come to class prepared to address these questions. On certain days, our discussions will be student-led. Every student will be responsible for leading the discussion once during the semester. On that occasion, that student will present questions for discussion, summarize some of the basic issues, and defend their conclusions about the material in question. Regardless of whether you are leading the discussion or not, you will have to participate every day to pass this class. You will see from the schedule below that there is a tremendous amount of reading involved. If you are not a quick reader, you will have to plan ahead to keep up with the class. Always bring to class the book we are discussing.





GRADING SCALE                 90-100 A              

                                                   80-89 B 

                                                   70-79 C 

                                                   60-69 D

STANDARDS OF ACHIEVEMENT                     

              Every student’s final grade will be earned via the following:

·                     Unit Projects                           50%

·                     Participation                            25%

·                     Capstone Proposal                  10%

·                     Capstone Proposal Presentation          5%

·                     Class Presentation (leading class)       5%

·                     Draft of Reflective Paper                   5%


            All student work will be judged according to the following academic criteria:

·                     Evidence of creative or innovative thinking.

·                     Depth of critical thinking and observation.

·                     Accuracy of information.

·                     Organization and clarity of thoughts.

·                     Fidelity of work (no plagiarism, cheating, etc.).

·                     Basic writing mechanics.



As participation is a major portion of your grade (25%) as well as the heart of this class, your attendance is required. Since this course only meets once per week, missing a single class represents a significant loss (1/16th of the semester). A single unexcused absence will adversely affect your grade; two or more unexcused absences are grounds for failure of the course as a whole. Only the most serious of illnesses and family crises will count as excusable absences. The final decision on what counts as excusable is, of course, mine.



Students are expected to follow university policies as put forth in the institution’s Student Code of Responsibilities and Conduct. In accordance with Title 12 of The Student Code, instances of alleged academic misconduct will follow the policies and procedures as described in Title 12. As a general rule, faculty at Rogers State University have the responsibility of enforcing the academic code. Therefore, if academic misconduct is suspected I will submit a letter of alleged academic misconduct to the Office of Student Affairs.


            Note especially RSU’s official plagiarism statement: “Plagiarism is representing someone else’s ideas or work as your own ideas or work. To avoid plagiarism when using someone else’s data, arguments, designs, words, ideas, projects, etc., you must make it clear that the work originated with someone else by citing the source.” Deliberate plagiarism and/or other forms of cheating are grounds for failure in the course as a whole.



In order to maintain an effective learning environment, students are expected to fully comply with The Student Code. Disruptive behavior will not be tolerated. It is the responsibility of each student to read and become familiar with the policies of The Student Code.



Rogers State University is committed to providing students with disabilities equal access to educational programs and services.  Any student who has a disability that he or she believes will require some form of academic accommodation must inform the professor of such need during or immediately following the first class attended.  Before any educational accommodation can be provided, it is the responsibility of each student to prove eligibility for assistance by registering for services through Student Affairs.



My office hours are listed above. Please feel free to come by, call, etc., during those hours. If that doesn’t work, I would be happy to schedule an appointment at another time. Communication by email is especially welcome (moderation in this, as in all things...).


Note: This syllabus is subject to revision throughout the semester.

Course Schedule


Unit I: The Nature of Tragedy

Aug 12 R         Introduction


Aug 19 R         The Nature of Tragedy: Homer’s Iliad (selections), Aristotle’s Poetics (selections)


Aug 26 R         Philosophy and Tragedy: Plato, Symposium


Sep 2   R         Athenian Tragedy: Sophocles, Oedipus Rex *


Sep 9   R         Christian Tragedy?: The Gospel According to Mark *


Sep 16 R         Shakespearean Tragedy I: Hamlet *

                        Student-Mentor Capstone Contracts Due


Sep 23 R         Shakespearean Tragedy II: King Lear*


Sep 30 R         Philosophy and Tragedy II: Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy (selections);

                        The Tragic Artist: Van Gogh, Kafka (selections) *

                     Sam, Rebecca, Cassandra

UNIT II: The Twentieth Century: Eight Great Tragic Works


Oct 7   R         Freud, Civilization and its Discontents*

                          Rebecca, Sam, Rob

Oct 14 R         In-class film                                       

                        CAPSTONE PROPOSAL DUE


Oct 21 R         FALL BREAK—NO CLASS


Oct 28 R         Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls *

                        CAPSTONE PRESENTATION (FRIDAY, OCT. 29th 1-4 p.m.)

                            Cassandra, Cheryl, Rob

Nov 4  R         Camus, The Plague *

                            Cassandra, Bekah, Rob

Nov 11            R         Greene, The End of the Affair *

                            Cheryl, Rebecca, Holly

Nov 18            R         In-class film

                                DRAFT OF REFLECTIVE PAPER DUE


Nov 25            R         THANKSGIVING BREAK—NO CLASS


Dec 2   R         Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye *

                             Rob, Bekah, Cheryl

Dec 9   R         Morrison, Beloved **


This schedule may be revised as necessary during the course of the semester.


* Indicates project days- some students will present a project.

** Final project day- every student will present a project.



Dear Student,


            Congratulations on reaching your senior year. This year each of you will compile a capstone portfolio (which will include one significant original work) as the culmination of your undergraduate studies in the liberal arts at Rogers State University. You will compile this portfolio during two separate courses, the Humanities Seminar in the fall and the Capstone course in the spring.

            During the Humanities Seminar, you will create a proposal (a 12-15 page paper) that will accomplish the following:

·         describe your portfolio,

·         identify what new, original work you will include in the portfolio,

·         present a timeline for completion,

·         and discuss how the portfolio (including the new work) reflects your educational experience.

You will also submit a rough draft of your reflective paper during the Humanities Seminar, a paper which you will revise and complete during the Capstone course.

            During the Capstone course, you will compile and present a portfolio that includes the following:

·         collected body of work (approximately 10-12 works) from your undergraduate studies,

·         one new, significant, original work (approximately 25-35 pages of written material),

·         a reflective paper (10-12 pages) that discusses the relevance the new work has to the portfolio and how the portfolio reflects your educational experience.

Further information on all of these tasks will be provided in-class.

            Your first task is to select a mentor, one faculty member whom you believe is appropriate to guide you through the capstone process. All mentors should be faculty members of the Department of English and Humanities.

            Fall classes begin August 12th. Your proposal will be due Thursday, Oct. 14th in the Humanities Seminar; the Capstone Committee will meet with the students Friday, Oct. 29th to discuss and evaluate those proposals. Due dates for the portfolio and the reflective paper will be announced in the Capstone course next spring.

            Thank you, and congratulations.

Dr. Ford

(On behalf of the Capstone Committee)



Philosophy and Tragedy II: The Tragic Artist (Nietzsche and Van Gogh)


Nietzsche Readings for the 2010 Humanities Seminar

Part One: The Birth of Tragedy

A.      First, a few passages to start your thinking; these are all comments Nietzsche made about his first book, The Birth of Tragedy:

“Precisely their tragedies prove that the Greeks were not pessimists…” (Ecce Homo, BT 1)


“An “idea”—the antithesis of the Dionysian and the Apollinian—translated into the realm of metaphysics; history itself as the development of this “idea”; in tragedy this antithesis is sublimated into a unity; and in this perspective things that had never before faced each other are suddenly juxtaposed, used to illuminate each other, and comprehended—opera, for example, and the revolution” (Ecce Homo, BT 1)


“ “Saying Yes to life even in its strangest and hardest problems; the will to life rejoicing over its own inexhaustibility even in the very sacrifice of its highest types—that is what I called Dionysian, that is what I understood as the bridge to the psychology of the tragic poet. Not in order to get rid of terror and pity, not in order to purge oneself of a dangerous affect by its vehement discharge—Aristotle misunderstood it in that way—but in order to be oneself the eternal joy of becoming, beyond all terror and pity—that joy which includes even joy in destroying.”

In that sense I have the right to understand myself as the first tragic philosopher—that is, the most extreme opposite and antipode of a pessimistic philosopher.” (Ecce Homo, BT 3)

B.      Online text of The Birth of Tragedy: read the first five sections of the book (not of the preface, but the book itself—scroll down until you see the heading “The Birth of Tragedy” just under “Basel, End of the Year 1871). You may read the preface, if you like, but I think it might just confuse things.


Part Two: Beyond Good and Evil

A.      Here is an excellent introductory lecture on Nietzsche. It’s for Nietzsche’s book Beyond Good and Evil, of which we are going to read a few sections:


B.      Now read the Prologue, plus the first few paragraphs of Section One (read as much as you like):



C.      Finally, Nietzsche is best-known for his aphorisms—short, clever sayings that have some philosophical message. Section Four of Beyond Good and Evil is all aphorisms. Read and think about these. Choose three that particularly interest you. Write out what’s significant about those three aphorisms, and why you chose them.



Van Gogh

Go to the website for the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It has a number of excellent resources, from biography to images of the paintings in their collection. Explore.


A second great collection is at the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Hoge Veluwe national park in the Netherlands. Here is a link to a search of the Van Gogh paintings in their collection, and to the museum home page (Click English if the page comes up in Dutch):



Read about Van Gogh at both museums. Choose three paintings (from either museum) to discuss further in class. Write a short description of each painting, and why you chose it. What about the painting is significant to you?