FALL 2003

“[F]or it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified...”

 –Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, 5

Vincent  van Gogh (1853-1890)
The Sower, 1888
Oil on Canvas,
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
(Vincent van Gogh Foundation)









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            “A reading, research, and/or lecture seminar on a particular topic, period, or genre, as specified each semester. 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, 2003-04, p. 179).


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.


Van Gogh  

Link to the Van Gogh Museum:



You have five 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 six projects (for lack of a better word) during the course; fourth, you will lead our discussions once during the semester; and 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). Your grade will be the result of your performance on these projects, the discussions, the two presentations, and the proposal.


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 do at least one visual project, and at least one written project. 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 show your work in class so that everyone can see (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 margins of 1.25 inches.

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.



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.

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

  • Unit Projects                                  60%
  • Participation                                   25%
  • Presentation (i.e., leading class)         5%
  • Capstone Proposal                         10%


Course Schedule

Unit I: The Nature of Tragedy

Aug 19 T          Introduction

Aug 26 T          The Nature of Tragedy: Homer’s Iliad (selections), Aristotle’s Poetics (selections)

Sep 2   T          Philosophy and Tragedy: Plato, Symposium

Sep 9   T          Athenian Tragedy: Sophocles, Oedipus Rex *

Sep 16 T          Christian Tragedy?: The Gospel According to Mark *

                        Student-Mentor Capstone Contracts Due

Sep 23 T          Shakespearean Tragedy: Hamlet *

Sep 30 T          Philosophy and Tragedy II: Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy (selections) *

Oct 7   T          The Tragic Artist: Van Gogh, Kafka (selections) *

Oct 14 T          CAPSTONE PROPOSAL PRESENTATION                                                    


UNIT II: The Twentieth Century: Eight Great Tragic Works

Oct 21 T          Freud, Civilization and its Discontents

Oct 28 T          Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises *

Nov 4  T          Greene, The Heart of the Matter *

Nov 11 T          Chinatown (in-class film)

Nov 18 T          Camus, The Plague *

Nov 25  T         Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye *

Dec 2   T          Fargo (in-class film) *

Dec 9             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.

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                        John Everett Millais. Ophelia, 1852. Oil on canvas, the Tate Gallery, London. 



 VAN GOGH, Vincent
Branches with Almond Blossom
February 1890
Oil on canvas
73.5 x 92 cm
F671 JH1891
Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam

Scan by http:// Mark Harden