female hand holding cup of tea

First Year Seminar (FYS-106): How Tea Conquered the World

Instructor: Dr. D’Haeseleer

  • Contact me!
    • E-mail: (I respond to e-mails which warrant a response within 24hrs, usually after 12pm. If you need something from me more urgently, drop by at my office or phone)
    • Office phone: 484-664-3324
    • Office: Ettinger 300A (Open door policy: if the door is open: knock and come in! If the door is closed, I’m not in, or I cannot be disturbed. Please respect the closed door.)

Writing Assistant (WA): Emily Hamme

Course website: Webpage

Canvas website: Canvas homepage

Class meeting time

Tue-Thu 12.30-13.45 (Ettinger 205)

Drop-in tutorial times

Ettinger 300A. (Note: hot tea available on request)

  • What actually are drop-in tutorials? Some people call them office hours. I prefer drop-in tutorial, because it describes better what it is.
  • When?
    • Wed. 11AM-12PM
    • Thu. 2-3PM
    • Fri: 10-11AM
    • 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))
    • For quick questions or to make an appointment for a longer consultation, I have an open door policy: drop in when the door is open!
    • Changes and cancellations to to the regular scheduled drop-in tutorial times will be announced on the course website announcements, and will also appear on the home page of the site

The syllabus is long. There are certain things I need to include by college policy. Take your time reading through it, and annotate with with your questions, or suggestions for improvement.

Table of Contents (subject to change, in particular course schedule)

stylized utensils for Japanese tea ceremony (cha no yu)

About the course

Course contents:

Tea is drunk all over the world, and each cup of tea is a part of a much larger historical network of economic, political, social and cultural connections. In this seminar we follow the story of tea through two millennia of history in different locations across the globe. We look at its impact on medicine, religion, aesthetics, global trade and economics, through such topics as the role of Buddhist monks in the popularization of tea in medieval China, the origins of the Japanese tea ceremony, and why the Opium Wars could also be named the Tea Wars.

We will read primary sources (translated into English) to understand how people thought about tea, and what tea meant to them; we will read secondary studies in which scholars talk about how we can interpret the history of tea- as a social event, as a cultural symbol, as a commodity.

Course goals:

My promise to you: at the end of this course you will:

  • have read a variety of materials to help you understand different genres of writing about tea.
  • have a better understanding the many different facets you can use to study a commodity, in this instance: tea.
  • be familiar with the major events and locations connected to the global history of tea, including the wider economic, political and cultural impact on societies across the globe.
  • have sharpened your analytical reading and writing skills.
  • have developed critical thinking skills which you can apply to any other course, and outside College life.

Course unit instruction:

This class is schedule to meet for 3 hours per week [2x 1hr15′]. Additional instructional activities for the course include attendance at specified College lectures and events, working hours in the Community Garden, and required conferences with the Writing Assistant and instructor distributed across the semester. These activities will add an additional 14 hours of instruction.

List of events and instructional activities: check this page.

cup of coffee with notebook, pen and stack of books

All about grades

Course requirements:

Note: I will not give extra assignments for extra credit. The written assignments all contain the option or requirement to rewrite them, based on the feedback the WA and I provide, as well as comments received from your peers (“peer- review”).

You may rewrite all your work until the end of the semester; the more time and effort you put in, the better it will be, which results in a better grade. If you want feedback on a rewritten piece (e.g. blog post), let me know via e-mail.

Due dates:

  • Analytical essay 1: Oct. 4 (rewrite due Oct. 11)
  • Analytical essay 2: Nov. 26 (rewrite due Dec. 6)
  • Portfolio: Dec. 9, 5pm, + individual appointment during finals week to discuss course work.
  • Event responses (part of Portfolio): first one by Oct. 11, second by Dec. 6
  • Garden work reflections (part of Portfolio): note that the garden runs out of work before the end of the semester. Strive to get your garden hours in early!

In addition, there will be many smaller assignments that fit into your Portfolio or contribute to the Learning Commons, throughout the semester. These include weekly writing tasks, regular peer reviews, and other forms of engaging with the course material and your colleagues in this class.

Late work and extensions:

Due dates are important for you, and for me: I space due dates so that you have enough time to complete the assignments and work with the feedback on earlier assignments. Due dates also help me to stay on top of the grading throughout the semester, so my feedback can be prompt. Missing due dates means you are crowding your submissions closer together, and I may not be able to turn around work as soon as you would like, or in a timely manner for you to apply to the next assignment. Due to circumstances beyond my control, this is a very busy semester, and I do not have a lot of wiggle room, so maximize your chances for good feedback and stick to the due dates.

I understand that life and personal issues can get in the way of your learning, or producing your best work. I am open to extending due dates, but I need you to communicate with me, so I know what to expect, and (more importantly) when. If you notice that you will be unable to finish a particular assignment by the due dates, you can request an extension in advance of the due date. See me in class, drop by at my office, or e-mail, and give me a new due date which fits your schedule better. I will confirm this new due date in writing within 24 hours.

If you fall ill suddenly, or are otherwise unable to submit your work by the due date due to circumstances beyond your control you may not be able to ask for an extension in advance. In that case, let me know 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 due dates, I will ask you in for a 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 (and a cup of tea usually helps to get the dialogue started.)

“Incomplete” Grade:

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

Grading guidelines:

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

bullhorn and the word important

Useful information

Required texts:

You do not need to buy any books. All materials will be provided through Canvas, the course website, or Trexler Library course reserves.

Top tip: Gather the materials (texts, and your own notes) in a binder. We will refer back to earlier classes and texts throughout the semester, so you should always bring earlier materials to class, too.

Look carefully at the Electronic devices policy

Language of instruction:

The entire course is conducted in English, all materials are provided in English and all work will be submitted in English.

Attendance and participation:

The success of this course depends on your active presence and participation in this “Learning Commons”. You cannot participate if you are not present, therefore I expect you to be present in class. Being absent excessively or habitually not being prepared for class will have an impact on all components of your final grade: directly on the Thoughtful Participation in the “Learning Commons”, and indirectly on your portfolio work and essays.

If you must miss class due to circumstances beyond your control: send in as soon as reasonable (ideally before the next session you attend) appr. 300 words on the materials we covered that day in class. This is not a summary, but a short piece of writing that reflects your insights and ideas, and how you see the materials fit in with what we covered so far in the course. You will get feedback. This only replaces your class attendance and participation, no other assignments.

If something in your life prevents you from being physically present in class on a regular basis, we will discuss accommodations to try and approximate your presence and participation with other means.

See also Thoughtful Participation

Electronic devices policy:

  • Electronic devices such as laptops and tablets may be used in class, for instance to consult course materials, or to take notes. As a responsible member of this Learning Commons you should be respectful of your fellow students, and not distract them by surfing to off-topic sites. (Facebook is very off-topic!)
  • Cell phones can be very distracting to the others in the room, including your instructors, if you are constantly staring at your lap. Therefore, use cell phones only if you have no access to another e-device (e.g. for a dictionary not installed on your laptop), and laid flat on the table.
    • Switch to “do not disturb” to avoid distractions from incoming messages and calls during class time, if you must use your phone at all.
    • If you expect an important call, for instance due to a family emergency, please let me know at the start of class that you need to have your phone ready for incoming calls. You may leave the room to take such an important call.
    • Bear in mind that cell phone users in a learning environment are more prone to becoming distracted than laptop or tablet users; if possible, leave your cellphone in your bag/in your room during our class.
  • Each student has the authority to request that a fellow student moderates their use of an electronic device if it impedes the learning of other students. If you feel uncomfortable doing so yourself, I’m happy to do it on your behalf (without disclosing the identity of the complainant).
  • Occasionally, I may ask you to put away all devices so we can focus on a particular issue without any distractions.
  • This policy is open for further debate. Changes will be made after a class discussion and with unanimous consent from all students.

Top tip: Did you know that many studies suggest that taking notes by hand, rather than on an electronic device, increase your retention of the course material and result in a higher grade? (one example) I encourage you to try going back to pen and paper, and I can tell you more about fountain pens and good quality paper, which make note-taking fun.

What if class is cancelled?

In the event I cannot make it to class, due to illness or other circumstances beyond my control, class will be cancelled, and may be rescheduled at a mutually convenient date and time. I will send a message via e-mail, post an announcement on the course website, and on Canvas. If you commute to campus, please check your e-mail before setting off on a long 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,…).

Accommodations for disabilities and 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 Powerpoints, creating handouts for lecture structures, 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 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.

Financial hardship and basic needs:

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. Their website is You may also
discuss your concerns with me if you are comfortable doing so.

Academic Integrity Code (AIC) and academic (dis)honesty:

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

  1. Emphasis in original. Source: College website(last visited August 03, 2019).] 

Course schedule

class-by-class information (under construction)

fountain pen writing on lined paper

Detailed information about the assignments and grade components

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, your thoughtful participation is required, 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:

Before class: Prepare for class by doing the assigned readings and taking notes. Make a summary or list of what you think are the most important points of the chapter(s) or text(s) for that day. Mark passages that you don’t (quite) understand, and be ready to explain precisely what the question is. Likely you are not alone! Prepare any assignments that are requested to be completed.

In class: Take part in the discussions! When I ask you, “what did you think about the reading?”, this is not a question you can simply answer by “I like it” or “I did not like it”. If you have read the materials, you will be able to say something meaningful about the text, about how you see it 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 as a seminar course, not a lecture series, and this only works if you verbally participate in class discussions. Having two (or more) points prepared in advance, based on the readings, will make it very easy to direct or jump into the discussion. You should strive to make an active contribution AT LEAST once per two sessions (i.e once per week). I will provide opportunities to shift discussion into new topics, when 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.

“Filling airtime” with contributions that wander aimlessly off-topic is not thoughtful. You may of course draw on your personal perspective and experiences, but it needs to remain 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.

Take part in the small group activities in class: I want to hear you formulate ideas, questions, and see you interact with your fellow students during those moments.

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

  • Sharing materials: e.g. link to a news report on a recent archaeological discovery, a great video you found that helps you to understand the course material better, a useful website or podcast.
    • You can e-mail me a link, or alert me to a blog post you created. Include a brief comment on why you think that material is interesting for our course and/or how we can discuss this in class.
  • 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.
  • Be professional: this includes arriving in timely fashion for class, being prepared for class, and having your materials with you, treating micro-assignments with appropriate earnest (e.g. a closing exercise, peer reviews). It also includes helping to create an environment conducive to learning, and a respectful atmosphere in class, for instance not being disruptive to the group by eating a full three-course meal at your desk or getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of a fellow student’s presentation (medical emergencies excepted). I expect you to respond promptly (=within 24hrs, Mon-Fr.) to e-mails or other messages, and keep me and if necessary your classmates up to date if you encounter problems in keeping up with your obligations for the course.

Objectives: developing your analytical reading skills; developing your ability to formulate research questions; becoming a better team mate; improving your oral and written communication; improving your time management skills; becoming a better student and a better human.

Portfolio: your personal website:

(with thanks to Prof. Sharon Albert for the idea)

The Digital Learning Team will help you set up your own website with blog, in the ‘bergbuilds’ project from Domain of one’s own.

This is where your writing portfolio will live for this semester, and this part of the web is yours for your entire time at Muhlenberg (and it can easily migrate to your own website when you graduate). Writing is a core component of the First-Year Seminar, and we will be doing lots of it: in class, at home, short assignments,… You will receive lots of feedback from the WA, me, and your fellow students on much (but not all) of your writing, but there will be no individual grade for these items. At the end of the semester, you get some time to organize your work to show how your writing has grown and changed throughout the semester.

In addition to posting your writings for your First-Year Seminar here, I encourage you to explore the many opportunities to curate your own digital presence with your website. Creative writing, guests posts from others, posting images, links, uploading videos from performances you took part in etc, are just some of the possibilities. You can focus all your creative energy just on the course writing, or create a stunning website, or an opening page with links to the different categories, and organize your work in any way you like. It is a great space to experiment, and the Digital Learning Assistants are here to help you make the most of it, or fix your site if you think you broke it.

You can have your posts open to the public (everyone on the www), or choose to make them private, but they must under all circumstances be accessible to your classmates, and it should be structured so that your fellow students can find the posts related to the First-Year Seminar easily, and interact with it easily.

Reading each others work, providing feedback, and asking for feedback from your fellow students counts towards “Thoughtful participation in the Learning Commons” of the final grade.

Objectives: Learning to write without fear and with ease; honing your analytical writing skills; engaging with others through comments or, creating a community of writers; creating and controlling your online digital presence; having fun exploring the opportunities offered by the digital world.

Garden work reflections:

You will work at least 3x 1 hour in the Community Garden, under the direction of the community garden club. (Your labor is paid with garden produce.) You will write a brief report on each work visit to the garden. Check the description in section A of the “additional instruction activities” for more details.

Objectives: understanding how plants and humans interact; understanding the demands of food production; taking part in the “Commons” of the Community Garden

Event responses:

Event responses are brief written pieces in which you respond to an event you attended on campus. (see list of “additional course instruction” activities, part B)

Objectives: becoming an active member of the campus community; improving reporting skills; improving reflection skills

Portfolio Review: “Reading back, looking forward”:

At the end of the semester, you will read back through the posts you have created on your website for this course.

Write a short piece of 500-750 words, reflecting on your own writing during the course of the semester. How have you grown as a writer?How has your writing changed in the past few months? What is good about it? What would you like to improve? If you had the time, what would your plan of action be to implement those improvements? Which pieces would you like to rewrite?…

Be specific in your reflection, and point to particular assignments or even particular passages. This reflection will inform our joint end-of-semester evaluation of your writing portfolio. You will make an appointment to meet with me in Finals week for that final evaluation.

Objectives: exploring and expanding metacognitive skills (i.e. learning about what and how you learned); improving reflection skills; assessing your progress and learning this semester

Analytical Essays:

The analytical essays do not require you to do research and find new materials. Instead, you will be given the materials, and a question to write on, or you can develop your own questions from your earlier writing, in collaboration with the WA or me.

The analytical essays are a longer form of writing, which allows you to show the development of more complex ideas, and how you bring in dialogue the materials we covered in the course and the new materials for the assignments.

More details will be posted nearer the time.

You must rewrite both analytical essays, based on the feedback provided by the WA and/or instructor. The essays will be graded on the rewritten version.

Objectives: improving your analytical reading skills; learning how to formulate analytical questions; becoming a better analytical writer; becoming a better editor of your own writing; engaging with feedback from other writers.

Legal stuff