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Cultures & Contexts: New World Encounters (NYU)
prof. Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, Ph.D.

'Course MAP-UA 541' falls into one of the categories of classes mandated be taken by the NYU College of Arts and Science 'Morse Academic Plan'. My main impression of the course is that it is designed to encourage the student think about exploration in new ways. The different perspectives regarding 'exploration' over the ages are considered and compared to the drive behind exploration and the journey into the unknown. The differences between the 'known', 'known unknown', and 'unknown unknown's are discussed along with the concepts of the oikouménē (also ecumene) and frontiers. Different accounts written by a variety of explorers, pilgrims, etc. are read with the intent of providing the student with first-hand accounts of the voyages of 'exploration'.

From the syllabus: 'We will discover the ways in which people "discovered" the world during the 15th and 16th centuries and ask what gave that period the title: "The Age of Discovery."'

Making up 50% of the grade of the class are what have been termed 'Response Papers'—responses to some point(s) in the reading. Reportedly, they can be about anything from connections between different readings to specific parts/passages of individual readings. Over the course of the semester, there are six due (as of the fall of 2011).

Response Papers
Elephants: Societal Ideologies – Response Paper #1, inspired by the account of elephantine encounters in 'Narrative of a Journey to Hindustan' by al-Samarqandi.
Columbus: Trans-Atlantic Navigation – Response Paper #2, investigating the naval navigational techniques used by Columbus and others like him during the late 15th and early 16th centuries.
Gold: A "Global" Standard – Response Paper #3, considering the impetus for the use of gold as the monetary worth/value standard.
Natural Law: Its Effect on European Mindsets – Response Paper #4, questioning the effect that moral customs practiced in European countries had during the first European/American-native peoples.
Evolutio Descriptio – Response Paper #5, discussing the changing roles and forms of maps from the dawn of exploration to the 18th century.
Impetus for Exploration - Response Paper #6, examining the various reasons and motivations (and the changes due to time period and region) for travel and exploration over the centuries.

On Atlantis – In class, we were considering the origin of the name of the Atlantic Ocean. It was roughly determined to have been named after the hypothetical lost city of Atlantis. I questioned this and prof. suggested that I look into it. The linked is the product of my toils. edit: It turns out this disinformation is relatively prevalent. Each time I text ChaCha asking the etymology of the Atlantic Ocean, someone tells me it was named after the lost city of Atlantis.

  • Benite, Zvi Ben-dor. The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History. New York, NY: New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2009. Print.
  • Fernández-Armesto, Felipe. Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2007. Print.
  • Mancall, Peter. Travel Narratives from the Age of Discovery: An Anthology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2006. Print.

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