MAP-The College Core Curriculum
MAP-UA 400 Fall 2013
Texts and Ideas


Professors: Lisa Gitelman and Erica Robles-Anderson

Lectures: Mondays and Wednesdays 9:30-10:45

Location: CANT 101

Recitations: Fridays according to section registration

Recitation Leaders: Jonathan Franklin, Ben Mendelsohn, and Angie Segler



Course Description

Bias. Spin. Propaganda. Hype. These pejoratives are familiar to citizens of the twenty-first century, and by implication they privilege the same alternative: objectivity. Objectivity is a concept—or an ideal—that frames our understanding of pursuits as diverse as politics, journalism, and science, realms in which we hope to be able to discern the right, the true, and the real.  But what is objectivity? Whose discernment counts as objective? How can we tell? Questions like these ask us to consider not only what we know but also how we know it.

The conditions of producing, possessing, and assessing knowledge turn out to be remarkably available to cultural change. In other words, objectivity has a history. This course considers objectivity within and against the Western intellectual tradition. By considering selected episodes in its emergence, both ancient and modern, we will ask how thinkers have thought about knowing: What routes have been available to the pursuit of certainty? What standards exist or have existed for knowledge about the past, about the self or about others, and about the world around us? Is it possible that the twenty-first century will involve new forms of objectivity? We will explore these questions by drawing on works of philosophy, history, criticism and the arts.

Like other Texts and Ideas courses, this one is conceived as a class in intellectual history or the history of ideas. Its foundational role in the curriculum mandates detailed attention in lecture and recitation to the written expression of ideas. It has a more sophisticated intellectual purpose than the chronological Great Books surveys to which it invites comparison. One way to think about Texts and Ideas courses like this one is as an opportunity to read important books, as young people in the company of others and with the support that the college classroom provides. The course is therefore defined by its objects of study—assigned readings in common—and its concern is to hone your skills as a reader, thinker, and writer. Ultimately we seek to cultivate the habits of mind, those habits of critique, prudential judgment, and self-reflection that are particularly important for citizens of a rapidly changing and increasingly global world.


Lisa Gitelman

Office: 239 Greene St., 812

Office Hours: M 11:30-12:30 and always by appointment (please email to schedule an appointment)


Erica Robles-Anderson

Office: 239 Greene St, 717

Office Hours: W 3:30-4:30




Required Texts


Six books have been ordered for you at the university bookstore. All are also available through online booksellers should you wish, but please obtain the specified editions. A significant number of additional readings will be available on Blackboard. Most of the books are also available for consultation in Bobst Library's Course Reserves area, Lower Level 2. Please bring the assigned reading to class with you as indicated on the schedule below.


  • Plato, Protagoras and Meno, trans. Adam Beresford (Penguin Classics)
  • Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, trans. Hammond (Oxford World Classics)
  • Descartes, A Discourse on the Method, trans. Maclean (Oxford World Classics)
  • Montaigne, The Essays, A Selection, trans. Screech (Penguin Classics)
  • Bird, Sheppard Lee, Written by Himself (NYRB)
  • Agee and Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (Mariner; Houghton Mifflin)

We have not ordered Genesis and the Gospel According to St. Matthew (for Week 4) because they are so readily available online and in print. Please obtain a copy of the King James or “Authorized” Version of the Christian Bible, originally published in 1611.


Expectations and Assessment


(1)         Readings are to be completed before class.  Lectures provide context for better understanding key concepts from the texts.  Weekly recitations are an opportunity to work through these texts and concepts as a community.  The prerequisite for high-quality discussion is that everyone reads material ahead of time. Come to class prepared to engage. Remember, “skimming” is never enough.


(2)         Engaged participation.  We will be looking for knowledge-building contributions that show not only that you are trying to understand the readings but also that you can contribute to the intellectual life of the class. A pre-requisite for active and intelligent participation in discussions is prompt and regular attendance. Plan on attending every class meeting this semester.

As a matter of common courtesy, please refrain from walking in and out of the room while class is in session, and please silence your phones. Don't be a distraction.

(3)         Essay Writing: You will be asked to craft three essays as part of this class (details to follow).  These essays are opportunities to demonstrate close engagement with the texts and a synthetic understanding of their themes. This kind of analytical essay writing is a critical skill for thriving in college and beyond. This class represents an ideal practice environment for honing precisely this kind of expertise, and we’ll discuss the assignments in detail.


Any plagiarism no matter how accidental will result in failure for the course. Remember, it is plagiarism if you use someone else's ideas without attribution or someone else's words without quotation. The university’s Writing Center is an invaluable resource should you wish to take advantage of it. You are entitled to one-on-one writing tutorials if you plan ahead and make appointments.


Please email an electronic copy of each essay to your recitation leader. Then print a hard copy and bring it to class with you on the day it is due. Attendance on those days is manditory. Late papers will be penalized.


(4)         Resources: Henry and Lucy Moses Center for Students with Disabilities If you are entitled to accommodations in light of a documented disability, please be in touch at the beginning of the semester.


(5)         Grading policy:


a.                     Participation  (includes homework assignments, details to follow) 25%

b.                     Essays                                         50%

Essay 1 10%

Essay 2 20%

Essay 3 20%


c.                      Examinations                              25 %

i.       Midterm 10 %

ii.   Final  15 %


Course Schedule
(Any necessary changes will be announced in class. You may also receive emails via NYU Classes.)


                        I: THE ANCIENT WORLD

Week 1

  • Wednesday, September 4 – Introduction
  • Friday, September 6, no recitations this week


Week 2

  • Monday, September 9: lecture #1, Plato’s Meno
  • Wednesday, September 11: lecture #2, Plato’s Meno
  • Friday, September 13, recitation #1


Week 3

  • Monday, September 16: lecture #3, Thucydides, Peloponnesian War Book 1
    Annotation homework due in class
  • Wednesday, September 18: lecture #4, Thucydides, Peloponnesian War Book 2
  • Friday, September 20, recitation #2


Week 4

  • Monday, September 23: lecture #5, Genesis
  • Wednesday, September 25: lecture #6, Gospel According to Matthew
  • Friday, September 27, recitation #3




Week 5

  • Monday, September 30: lecture #7, Genesis and the Gospel (continued)
    Essay One due in class.
  • Wednesday, October 2 lecture #8, Alberti, On Painting, Book One
  • Friday, October 4, recitation #4


Week 6

  • Monday, October 7: lecture #9 Montaigne, “On Idleness,” "That It Is Madness to Judge," and “On the Cannibals”
  • Wednesday, October 9: lecture #10, Montaigne "On Coaches," "On the Inconstancy," and The Philosophical Transactions, Vol. 1 (please browse Number 1)
  • Friday, October 11, recitation #5



Week 7 Midterm week

  • Monday, October 14: NO CLASS, University holiday
  • Wednesday, October 16: lecture #11, Descartes, A Discourse on the Method
  • Friday, October 18 recitation #6


Week 8

  • Monday, October 21: lecture #12, Descartes, A Discourse on the Method (continued)
  • Wednesday, October 23, a day for catch up and review
  • Friday, October 25 recitation #7




Week 9

  • Monday, October 28: MIDTERM EXAM in class
  • Wednesday, October 30: lecture #13, Bird, Sheppard Lee, Books I -III
  • Friday, November 1, recitation #8


Week 10

  • Monday, November 4: lecture #14, Bird, Sheppard Lee, Books IV-V
  • Wednesday, November 6: lecture #15, Bird, Sheppard Lee, VI-VIII
    Homework due in class
  • Friday, November 8, recitation #9


Week 11

  • Monday, November 11: lecture #16, Freud, “A Note Upon the Mystic Writing Pad” and Borges, “Funes, His Memory” and in-class, Bill Morrison’s film, The Mesmerist (15:48)
  •  Wednesday, November 13: lecture #17, Loos, "Ornament and Crime."
    Essay Two due in class
  • Friday, November 15, recitation #10


Week 12

  • Monday, November 18: lecture #18, Agee and Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, pp., i-98
  • Wednesday, November 20, Lecture #19, Agee and Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, pp., 99-224
  • Friday, November 22, recitation #11


Week 13

  • Monday, November 25: lecture #20, Agee and Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, pp., 279-380
  • Wednesday, November 27, Thanksgiving Break
  • Friday, November 29, Thanksgiving Break


Week 14


Week 15

  • Monday, December 9: lecture #23, On the Question, "Is Google Objective?"
  • Wednesday, December 11, Conclusion
    Essay Three due in class
  • Friday, December 13, recitation #13

FINAL EXAM (scheduled by Registrar) Monday, December 16th, 8 AM