Around the World in One Semester

AGS 4760/4860: Senior Seminar I/II

You can have all the virtues--that's to say, all except the two that really matter, understanding and compassion--you can have all the others, I say, and be a thoroughly bad man.— Aldous Huxley

Time & Place: Monday, 6:00-10:00 p.m., 126 Cohn, WSU Campus

My main goal in this class is to share with you my love for all the wonderful places and things I have seen and still hope to see. We can’t possibly explore everything, nor delve in depth into any one region of the world, time period, or culture. We can only open, here and there, an occasional window (often a short story), and peek through it in a hurry. At the same time, this course meets Wayne State University’s General Education Requirements in intensive writing, so please expect to read, and write on your own, a great deal!


Grading: Attendance counts towards 25% of your grade.  Attendance is graded as follows: 0 hours missed, A+; 4, B+; 8, C+; 12, D+; 16, D-; 20 or more, E. Attendance grade is a performance grade, and it does not take into consideration the causes of being absent, arriving late, or leaving early, and there is no need to tell me, call me, or advise me in advance of prospective absences and their causes, nor to explain why you arrived an hour late to class and left two hours early.  So if your house caught on fire, your car broke down, and all three of your children got married on that particular day of class, I shall be both sad and happy for you if you tell me—and will nonetheless record your absence as an absence. The reason for this is simple: most of the learning takes place in class, so, the less you attend (for whatever reason), the less you get out of this class!   Absences can only be made up by undertaking substantial extra assignments—see below.

Written assignments count towards 50% of your grade and must comprise at the end at least 20 pages. A final exam counts towards 25% of your grade (and is considered equivalent to 5 pages of writing).

At least one Show & Tell (counts as one page). Here, you can supplement the scheduled program with stories of your own trip to a region we explored in class, show a film, play music, share food—anything goes.

In addition, students who wish to be considered for a B+ grade or higher will be asked to prepare and conduct, in consultation with class instructor, a 1-2 hour workshop on one aspect of a country/region of their choice. Presenters may rely on a brief outline and audiovisuals, but they may not recite their lecture.

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Late Assignments and Re-Writes:  All papers submitted on time may be re-submitted anytime throughout the term (but no later than July 15, 2002) for a higher grade (1.5 maximum, e.g., a C can be moved up to a B+). Please attach the first draft I edited to the final, clean draft.

Assignments must be submitted as computer-printed, double-spaced, hard copies on the due date.


No assignment will be accepted after the due date (that is, after it had been discussed in class). If you fail to submit an assignment on time, you may submit an alternative, longer, assignment. Consult instructor for details.

You can make up for missed classes (and thus improve your attendance grade) by submitting make-up assignments, giving a class lecture, or making some other equivalent contribution to the class.  Please consult instructor for details.

TextsCoursepack sold in class ($10--some of the material is also available online).

General Education Requirements: Wayne State is committed to imparting well-rounded education to all its undergraduates. To achieve this goal, the university created a set of requirements (e.g., mathematical proficiency, a minimum of one course in the life sciences) that must be met by each undergraduate. AGS 4860 satisfies the writing intensive requirement.

AGS 4760/4860: Tentative, Partial, Schedule

WEEK 1 (Monday, May 6, 2002, 6:00-10:00 p.m.): Xenophobia; Interacting with Texts

Introduction; technicalities; Book Sale, Class Roster (registration on Moti’s laptop).

I. Class reading and discussion: In Praise of Literacy (Sagan; 7-8). Interaction with texts: Setting, Summary, Interpretation, Critical Evaluation, Assimilation. (Note: Listen carefully and take copious notes in class today when this subject is discussed—this is next week’s first class assignment!)

Getting Ready for our Trip Abroad: Two related roadblocks to a genuine enjoyment of foreign travel are xenophobia and ethnocentrism. So, this week, that’s our focus.

II. The Fight (Wright; 9-13)

Discussion Questions:

III. Taped Reading. Mr. Know-All (Maugham; 14-17)

Class Discussion of story.

A Rashomon Effect Exercise: Class divides into small groups, with one group retelling the story, not from Mr. Maugham's viewpoint but from Mr. Kelada's. In retelling this story, assume that, although he was perfectly aware of his fellow passengers' prejudices, Mr. Kelada chose to ignore them. Other groups tell the story from the wife’s, husband’s, passenger’s perspective.

Now, if we still have time, let’s read Conversations with a Critical Thinker (18-19), and answer questions a-e. (Listen carefully and take copious notes in class today when this subject is discussed—this is next week’s second class assignment!)

Follow-up Reading for Pleasure: Other celebrated Somerset Maugham's stories include "Rain," "The Kite," and "The Verger." His best novel is perhaps The Razor's Edge.

 Tuition Advisory: Last chance for a penalty-free withdrawal from this class is Friday, May 10, 2002. In general, if you are interested in empowering yourself and improving your mind, and if you are willing to work hard to achieve these goals, this class is for you. If your only goal is a piece of paper, then you may wish to drop this class and take an easier alternative.  

WEEK 2 (location: Computer Lab C, Undergraduate Library; Monday, May 13): One Travel Adventure

Bring to class: IBM computer Disk.

Read by this week: The Man who Would be King (Kipling; 20-39)

Submit in Writing (typewritten, double space):

  1. Two pages or more: Setting, Summary, Interpretation, Critical Evaluation, Assimilation of In Praise of Literacy.
  2. Answers to questions a-e, Conversations with a Critical Thinker (18-19).

Two cardinal rules for all writing assignments in this class:

Closed Book Rule. Each and every assignment in this class must follow the closed book rule. For example, by summary of a short story I mean: Read the story as many times as you need to remember it well. Then, close the book and retell that story in your own words, the way you remember it. When done, and only when done, compare your version to the book’s for accuracy. Or, to take another example, by interpretation of a film I mean: watch the film, and explain in writing the point that the screenwriter and director are trying to make. If I’m under the impression that you summarized a story while the book was open, or that you consulted the internet for somebody else’s opinion about the film, the assignment will be returned to you unread and recorded in my little red book as a missing assignment.

Fourth-Grader Rule. Your main task, in each and every assignment, is to convince the reader that you know what you are talking about. To accomplish this goal, paradoxically, you must imagine that you are writing that assignment for a fourth grader who knows and understands nothing about the subject. So, use words that come naturally to you. Don’t try to impress anyone, but to communicate and explain.

Let’s watch first "The Man who Would be King."

On your computer, activate WORD only. DO NOT ACCESS THE INTERNET!

In-Class Assignment (2-100 pages). Together, we shall write the first draft of your essay:

    1. Summarize the film.
    2. What’s the moral(s) of the film?
    3. Critical Evaluation of the film.
    4. Compare the film to the story:
        1. Which one do you like more? Why?
        2. Typically, a great deal is lost when a literary piece is transcribed into film.   Was that the case here?  Please explain your answer.

Note: At the end of the workshop, print out and submit your writing. If it’s a complete assignment, say so on top. If it’s a preliminary draft, say so as well and make sure to submit the final draft next week.

Advisory: Under no circumstances should you consult reviews on the internet or elsewhere while writing this and similar assignments.  You can only learn by doing such assignments on your own.  It's your voice, your thinking, your worldview, your reading and writing skills, that we are trying to enrich and improve, not someone else's.  If these skills need work, that is one reason why you are going to school; if you work hard, these deficiencies will not stop you from comfortably passing the class and improving your skills. But if you take someone else’s words and present them as your own, you will learn and earn nothing.  

WEEK 3 (May 20, 2002): Travelers of Bygone Days; Cultural Anthropology and its Lessons; Nepal (film)

Submit (if you haven’t done so already): Kipling’s Assignment.


Class Activities: We travel, in part, in an effort to understand ourselves. It’s easy enough to see other people’s shortcomings and strengths, and this in turn helps us see our own. That is what we plan to do today.

Herodotus reading: Class presentation: Each class participant summarizes one paragraph for us, remembering the closed book rule, and then leads a class discussion: How do we Americans compare on that score? Do we have similar customs to those of the Scythians (or Persians)? Which?

This will be followed by class discussion: Who scores higher for overall decency, the Scythians of yore or Americans of today?

Stefansson Reading: What are the lessons in living from the stone age? Do you share the view that these lessons are valid? Why have we largely forgotten these simple lessons? Would this article change anything about your life?


Formal Class Assignment: At the end of class, submit notes you have taken during the four hours of class—to receive full credit for this assignment, you must submit at least 3 pages.

WEEK 4 (May 27, 2002): Nepal’s Hills Region

Read: The Telegram on the Table (Pradhan; 49-50).

Write about just one of the three topics below (1-100 pages), and be prepared to give a class presentation:

    1. Summary and interpretation of The Telegram on the Table
    2. A short story of your own, on a similar subject to The Telegram on the Table
    3. An actual episode from your own life which is reminiscent of The Telegram on the Table

Hiking in the Himalayan Foothills (a slide show)

Film: Caravan.

Week 5: (June 10, 2002): Adventures with Elephants


    1. Elephants: Preface (Carrington; 51)
    2. The Blind Men and the Elephant (Saxe; 52)
    3. The Four-Tusked elephant (Denis; 53-59)
    4. Elephant’s Ear (Aiken; 60-64)


Discussion topics and take-home assignments for next week:

    1. What’s the key point of the first two readings?
    2. What does the third reading tell us about the nature of science?
    3. What’s the meaning of Aiken’s story to you?

Week 6: (June 3, 2002): Tibetan Buddhism

Answer in writing the three questions above.

Read: Excerpts from An Open Heart (Vreeland, Dalai Lama; 65-79).

Write (1-100 pages): A comparison of Tibetan Buddhism, as it emerges from your readings, to similar aspects of any other religion of your choice.

Introduction: Geography and politics of Tibet.

Selection from Books on Tape: An Open Heart.

Guest Speaker.

Week 7: Side Trip to the Moon

Read: The Moon (80-85)

While strictly following the CLOSED BOOK RULE, please answer in writing the following questions:

  1. Why is the moon silent?
  2. Why doesn’t the moon have an atmosphere?
  3. Why would Neil Armstrong’s footprints remain on the moon for thousands of years?
  4. Where did the ice in the moon come from? Why was the discovery of ice an exciting news item?

Week 8: (June 17, 2002): Peru’s Indigenous Cultures: Music, Art, Literature (forthcoming)

Week 9-13: Student Choices.

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