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title date instructor office contact section number time location
Literature Humanities
Spring 2018
Dennis Yi Tenen
Philosophy Hall 408e
MW 4:10pm-6:00pm
613 Hamilton Hall

Piazza link here.

Lit Hum, as it is commonly known, is designed to enhance students’ understanding of main lines of literary and philosophical development that have shaped western thought for nearly three millennia. Much more than a survey of great books, Lit Hum encourages students to become critical readers of the literary past we have inherited. Although most of our Lit Hum works (and the cultures they represent) are remote from us, we nonetheless learn something about ourselves in struggling to appreciate and understand them. Why did these works cause previous generations to value them so highly? In what ways are our authors in conversation with each other? How are these books relevant to our lives? In the end, what do we gain from them? These questions offer just a sample of the kinds of provocation that Lit Hum is meant to arouse. Students should not expect Lit Hum to teach them what these texts are about. Rather, it asks students to join a small group of classmates to raise questions and debate answers. Lit Hum seminars should fascinate, delight, and confound. Our hope is that students will return to these books, their beauty, and the profound questions they raise over the course of their lives.


The class depends on an engaged readership. To this end, students are expected read regularly, discuss the texts in class and online, complete a single "core context" assignment along with a final exam.

Core Context

Every class, one student will deliver a short-presentation (~10 mins) on the Text/Author we are reading. The presentation will highlight their biography, their intellectual concerns and contributions, and some recent assessment of their thought in scholarly literature (JSTOR searches limited to past 5 years). This presentation will be posted on Piazza before the class begins.

Another student will deliver a short-presentation (~10 mins) on the context for the Text/Author we are reading. This context will comprise of at least ten (10) headlines selected from newspapers contemporary to the Text/Author. To assemble these headlines, you will visit the Subject Specialists at Butler Library http://library.columbia.edu/about/policies/collection-development/liaisons.html, who can assist you in identifying the appropriate digitized archives of contemporary newspapers. This presentation will be posted on Piazza before the class begins.

Class Participation

To get the full points, you will attend every single class, and be an active listener to your colleagues, and sometimes, a commenter and facilitator for their ideas and sometimes, a speaker of your own thoughts.

We expect our discussions--online and in-person--to answer to the ideals embodied in our texts. We aim for a critical discussion, one that at the same time preserves the multiplicity of voices present in the classroom. Listen as much as you speak, be respectful of dissenting voices, enter into a dialogue rather than a soliloquy, show empathy, respond, and encourage others to speak.

Final Exam

The final exam will consist of ~30 passage IDs. It is designed as an objective metric that rewards regular engagement with the material.


Attendance and participation is required. Class participation requires your active participation. Some basic rules: come to class on time, do not disrupt the class, put your phones on silent, turn off all computing devices. As a discussion seminar, this course survives only if you come to every class, and participate by doing the readings, listening and commenting in class, turning in the assignment and seeing me during my office hours. Discussion means attentive and respectful listening, short and timely speaking, and creating a cordial and warm atmosphere wherein all are invited to test their ideas and impressions. Please read everything before class. Take notes in the margins of the text; underline key sentences and paragraphs, annotate; write out what feels extraordinary, questionable, pleasant, or remarkable (and remark it out loud in class).

Student Attendance

Students are expected to attend every session of their Core classes. Students who miss class without instructor permission should expect to have their grade lowered. Repeated unexcused absences will result in a failing grade or a withdrawal from the class. In the event that a student must miss a class due to religious observance, illness, or family emergency, instructors may strongly encourage (though not require) that students complete additional assignments to help make up for lost class participation. Whenever possible (in the case of religious holidays, for example), students should provide advance notification of absence.

Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty

Columbia College is dedicated to the highest ideals of integrity in academia. Therefore, in Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization, any instance of academic dishonesty, attempted or actual, will be reported to the faculty chair of the course and to the dean of the Core Curriculum, who will review the case with the expectation that a student guilty of academic dishonesty will receive the grade of “F” in the course and be referred to dean’s discipline for further institutional action.

Class Schedule / Reading List

Week 0


Week 1

  • Gospel of Luke (~100 CE)
  • Gospel of John (~100 CE)

Week 2

  • Augustine's Confessions, Books I-III, VI-VII, X-XI (400 CE)

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

  • Assigned selections from The Decameron (~1350 CE) by Giovanni Boccaccio.

Philologists' Walk on Wednesday.

Week 6

  • Book I in The Horrible and Terrifying Deeds and Words of the Very Renowned Pantagruel King of the Dipsodes, Son of the Great Giant Gargantua (1532) by François Rabelais.
  • Part I in Don Quixote (1605) by Miguel de Cervantes.

Week 7

  • William Shakespeare, Macbeth (~1606 CE)

Film screening of Kurosawa's Throne of Blood on Wednesday, 03/21

Week 8

  • Voltaire, Candide (~1759)
  • Volume I from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Lawrence Sterne (1759)

Midterm assignment due by midnight on March 30th. Follow the instructions here.

Week 9

Week 10

Week 11

  • Nikolai Gogol, "The Mantle" (Overcoat), "The Nose" (~1830s) found in this volume.
  • “The Huntsman,” “A Boring Story,” “The Lady with the Little Dog” (~1900) by Anton Chekhov. Please procure this translation.

Week 12

  • "The Dream of an Hour" by Kate Chopin, in Vogue Vol. 4, Issue 23, (Dec 6, 1894). Read the context as well.
  • The Metamorphosis (1915) by Franz Kafka

Week 13

Final assignment due by midnight on May 13th. Follow the instructions here.