HUMS 028, Six Pretty Good Books

Meeting Time: 
MW 1–2:15pm
Fall 2019

​Course Description:

In this course, we will read six exceptional books that have had long cultural lives. By reading and discussing texts to which readers have returned for centuries, we will also be paying close attention to what humanistic study means at the university level.

Humanistic study has always been a tool for posing big questions. How do scholars in the humanities devise and answer these questions? And how have these modes changed (or not) in the last few decades? We will grapple with this through discussion of and engagement with the texts themselves. We will also consider ways in which reading and writing about books can help us understand—like nothing else can—ourselves and our place in the world.

Tina Lu (East Asian Languages and Literatures) and Shawkat Toorawa (Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations) lead the class, which will also include lectures by professors from other departments. The class will involve two mandatory off-site field trips (to the Metropolitan Museum in New York and to the Freer|Sackler Galleries in Washington DC), several short local field trips, and dinners.


Enrollment limited to first-year students. Preregistration required; see under First-Year Seminar Program:

Fulfills HU distribution requirement.

Led by:

Professor Shawkat Toorawa

Professor Toorawa’s scholarly interests include: classical and medieval Arabic literature, especially the literary and writerly culture of Abbasid Baghdad; the Qur’an, in particular hapaxes, rhyme-words, and translation; the literatures of Mauritius; modern poetry; and SF film and literature.

Professor Toorawa books include the study Ibn Abi Tahir Tayfur and Arabic Writerly Culture: a ninth-century bookman in Baghdad (RoutledgeCurzon 2004), an edition and collaborative translation of Ibn al-Sa’i’s 13th-century Consorts of the Caliph: Women and the Court of Baghdad (NYU 2015), and the edited anthology The City That Never Sleeps: Poems of New York (SUNY 2015).

He is preparing an edition and translation of Ibn al-Marzuban’s The Superiority of Dogs to People, a 10th-century work on friendship, and the co-edited collection Arabic Belles Lettres (Lockwood, 2019) is out this year.

Toorawa is active as a Director of the School of Abbasid Studies; as an executive editor of the Library of Arabic Literature (an initiative to edit and translate the premodern Arabic literary heritage); and as host of The dr T projecT.

Professor Tina Lu

Professor Lu’s research and teaching focus on the literature of late imperial China, from around 1550 to around 1750.

Major publications include Persons, Roles and Minds (Stanford, 2001), Accidental Incest, Filial Cannibalism, and Other Peculiar Encounters in Late Imperial Chinese Literature (Harvard East Asian Monographs, 2009), a book-length chapter on late Ming literary culture in The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, v.2, and a co-edited volume on Approaches to Teaching The Story of the Stone (MLA).

She is currently working on three projects: a book already drafted on how late imperial people conceived of objects and materiality, a collaborative project on the sixteenth-century playwright and painter Xu Wei, and a major digital initiative that will enable collaborative philological work. 


This course has never been previously offered. Testimonials are taken from student course evaluations if of previous courses taught by these instructors.

  • “Professor Toorawa is fantastic– he is knowledgeable about the material and is such a great personality. Class was fun every seminar, a great balance between academic discussion of the texts and interesting tangents.” - Medieval Travel (Freshman Seminar Fall 2018)
  • “I would recommend this course solely because of the instructor (Toorawa). Do not miss the opportunity to take one of his courses and know him. This course earns its due from his care in crafting it, and the knowledge (and wit) that pours of his mouth.” - The Arabian Nights, Then and Now (Spring 2017)
  • “Totally would recommend – Tina Lu is really the best. If you’re abstractly interested in China, this is a great launching pad for further understanding, since you get the basis of intellectual thought throughout the tradition.” - The Chinese Tradition (Fall 2018)
  • “Tina Lu is a fantastic professor and this should be a required class. ” - The Chinese Tradition (Fall 2018)