Syllabus Joel Tannenbaum HIST 121

Syllabus Joel Tannenbaum HIST 121

Welcome to History 121 online! For the next seven weeks we will be reading about, writing about and discussing human history from its very beginnings until approximately 500 years ago. As you will see, this is a class in which we will look to the past in an attempt to understand what it means to be human.


This is a history class, but it is by necessity a very multidisciplinary history class. We will seek help from disciplines anthropology, archaeology and even biology and chemistry to answer many of our questions. And to fully appreciate the context of the question of what it means to be human, we will begin quite literally at the “beginning” – roughly 13 billion years ago, the time at which astronomers and physicists currently, broadly agree that our universe in its current form originated.


There is one required textbook for the course, Big History: Between Nothing and Everything, by David Christian, Cynthia Stokes Brown and Craig Benjamin. It is published by McGraw Hill Education. It is available in the Community College of Philadelphia bookstore, but you may also feel free to purchase it online. Because it is the first edition however, don’t expect a huge number of used copies to be available and don’t expect a very large price difference. Most importantly, however, be careful not to purchase another book by David Christian (such as Maps of Time) or another book with “Big History” in the title.


All other readings for the course will be made available for free via email and/or CANVAS.






The portal for everything we do in this course will be the college’s online learning portal, CANVAS. To succeed in this course, you must have regular internet access. You can access CANVAS by going to, logging in and selecting HISTORY 121. You will see that the course is divided into seven “modules,” one for each week of the seven-week semester. Each module will contain a written “lecture” from me, an assigned reading from the textbook (and on several weeks, additional material) and a quiz. The quiz will contain a mixture of multiple choice and short-answer questions and will be designed to test your knowledge of the week’s assigned readings. At the end of the semester you will have a longer written essay. Each week’s module will go “live” on Monday morning at 9 am and the quiz associated with it will be due the following Monday at 9 am. Late quizzes will not be accepted under any circumstances.


Each week will also contain “discussion” in which everyone is encouraged to participate. The topic will be related to the week’s readings. I will moderate, but I do encourage everyone to introduce topics that they feel are complementary to the readings, even if they are not directly connected.



As mentioned above, your grade is determined by your performance on the weekly quizzes, and by your final essay. They are equally weighted, which is to say that your cumulative score for all seven quizzes is worth 70 percent of your grade and the final is worth 30 percent. Each quiz will be worth up to 10 points, for a total of 70. The essay will be worth up to 30 points. Your grade for the course will be determined by the total number of points you accrue through the quizzes and essay.

A: 90-100

B: 80-89

C: 70-79

D: 60-69

F: 0-59


Based on several years of online teaching, I can say with quite a bit of confidence that it is very important not to leave the quizzes until the last minute. Once Monday morning at 9:01 rolls around you will no longer be able to submit your quiz and you will receive a zero for the week. If this happens to you twice, you’ve already lost a letter grade.



Classroom conduct in an online setting basically comes down to two things: don’t cheat on quizzes or assignments, and don’t be rude to your classmates in online forums. If you cheat I will almost certainly catch you and you will receive an F for the course. If you are rude or abusive in an online forum I will tell you to stop. If the behavior is repeated, you will be removed from the course. I’m sure none of the above is necessary you are all very nice, very ethical people. But in my experience it is best to make these expectations clear, so there you go. With regard to the specifics of what constitutes cheating, I have included the college’s policies on academic honesty at the end of this document. Another excellent resource for avoiding academic dishonesty is




Week 1


Read Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of Big History


Week 2


Read Chapters 3 and 4 of Big History


Week 3


Read Chapter 5 of Big History


Week 4


Read Chapters 5 and 6 of Big History


Week 5


Read Chapters 7 and 8 of Big History


Week 6


Read Chapter 9 of Big History


Week 7


Read Chapter 10 of Big History



Here are the skills you are meant to develop from this taking this course:


1. Demonstrate understanding of the main events, topics and themes inherent in the cultural, socio-

economic, political and ideological patterns globally prior to the 16th century.


2. Define what is historically factual and to distinguish inference from opinion.


3. Recognize the range of interpretation in the discipline and comprehend the varying arguments, voices, inferences, etc. within primary and secondary historical texts.


4. Recognize the “clues” in primary texts and materials for a more informed analysis: authorship; the purpose of authorship; intended audiences; the rhetorical devices employed; the “story line;” possible

interpretations of a piece unintended by the author; connections with other texts; credibility, consistency and/or accuracy and to realize that varied interpretations of such texts is probable.


5. Recognize the ethical commitment of the historian to alter an historical a priori or hypothesis in light of research and evidence.


6. Recognize value in history for a greater understanding of the present and its importance for making choices for the future.


7. Demonstrate ability and confidence in voicing curiosity, responding to questions of instructors or other students, being able to defend taken positions, and to apply the protocols of intellectual discussion and debate.


8. Demonstrate an ability to write coherently and analytically; to think and write like historians.


9. Recognize the role of long term global diversity in shaping the modern world.




I maintain a zero-tolerance policy regarding any form of academic dishonesty. If I determine that you are

guilty of plagiarism, cheating, or any other form of academic dishonesty, you will automatically receive a

grade of F for the course. Please don’t do it. It’s not worth it. In my experience, plagiarism is depressingly easy to detect.


According to Community College of Philadelphia, here is a non-exhaustive list of things that count as

plagiarism or academic dishonesty:


  • copying original ideas, images, words, or design elements and using them without proper citation or permission of the author


  • creating a bibliography with fabricated sources or citing sources as references that were not used in the preparation of the report or essay


  • deceiving the instructor to get more time for an assignment or examination hiring someone to write an essay or complete other assignments


  • collaborating with classmates or others on an assignment when the class rules explain that only individual work is permitted


  • using unauthorized electronic devices or software during an examination


  • allowing other students to copy exam responses or homework assignment answers so that they can pass it off as their own work

Course Summary:

Date Details Due