Simply Smart Two

How to Get Smart About Humanities

Simply Smart Two—How to Get Smart About Humanities

By Robert DiYanni, New York University




Chapter One                 Getting Smart About Philosophy

Chapter Two                 Getting Smart About Religion

Chapter Three              Getting Smart About History

Chapter Four                Getting Smart About Languages

Chapter Five                 Getting Smart About Literature & Theory

Chapter Six                   Getting Smart About Art

Chapter Seven             Getting Smart About Music

Chapter Eight               Getting Smart with Provocative Pairs





This volume takes up the challenge of getting smarter about different subjects and disciplines; it follows a companion book: Simply Smart—How to Get Smarter. That work explains how to develop smart skills—critical and creative thinking, critical reading and writing, effective listening and speaking. Simply Smart Two emphasizes knowledge—how to become smarter through understanding different broad subject areas. It explores fundamental ideas about a suite of disciplines across the humanities, including the arts.

Individual chapters explore basic questions and concerns of philosophy and religion; history and languages; literature and critical theory; music and art. My goal is to get you thinking productively, in a preliminary way, about each subject’s central issues and interests.

In his Analects, Confucius says: “Learning without thinking is useless; thinking without learning is dangerous.” For Confucius, thinking needs to be wedded to learning, and learning needs to be linked to thinking. Thinking and learning are inseparable. We can’t learn without thinking, and we don’t think without learning. Simply Smart Two—How to Get Smart About Humanities takes Confucius’ idea as a fundamental axiom–that learning develops best in context, in terms of specific fields of study. Considering the varied perspectives of different disciplines will make your smarter. (And it will also prepare you to converse intelligently on those social occasions when you are meeting new people with many different backgrounds and interests—the “cocktail party” scenario.)

Although I take a wide view of the disciplines included, I make no attempt to discuss every major topic. Nor do I try to go deeply into any single aspect of a particular discipline. I offer, instead, a taste of the disciplines included and an opportunity to get acquainted—or re-acquainted—with their fundamental facets and essential elements.

This book, thus, is not for experts, but rather for those with limited knowledge, perhaps a cursory knowledge of the fields and subjects included. For some readers (and for particular subjects and topics), it will serve as a primer; for others, perhaps you among them, it will offer an extension of what you know; for still others, it can serve, perhaps, as an opportunity for synthesis, consolidation, even provocation.

My consideration of disciplinary knowledge is both eclectic and synthetic. I consolidate and synthesize a wide range of sources, many of them recent books. Getting Smart Two—How to Get Smart About Humanities offers eight chapters to discover new ideas, exercise your thinking, and engage in thoughtful inquiry.

Throughout the book I take up the following questions: What approaches to knowledge do different humanities disciplines take? What matters most for each of those disciplines? What questions are central to each discipline? What makes each discipline what it is and not something else? What do influential practitioners do, and how have they become effective in conveying their craft and art? Considering these and related questions provides you with an opportunity to refresh and reconsider what you already know while broadening your knowledge base and deepening your understanding.

 I hope that you find in the following pages many intellectual pleasures and significant rewards.


Current Writing Projects

My current writing projects are linked below: (1) a book on reading literature (Improvisations); (2) two books on getting smarter (fast and across the board); (3) a pair of memoirs about my teaching life (50 years+) and my life with music (even more years!). Also included is information about my biggest work-in-progress: an encyclopedic summa pedagogica, with the current title: Provocative Pairs—Learning with the World’s Masters (152 chapters—and counting—each chapter a dozen double-spaced pages, with most chapters devoted to a pair of great masters past and present).

For each of these works in the making, I have provided a table of contents and preface. A couple of them also include a sample chapter. An additional book I have in the works is Poems to Live By, for which I’ve included about a third of what I’ve written so far—also with a brief TOC and prefatory note.

Provocative Pairs—Learning with the Masters

Volume I:
Major Influencers Past and Present

Provocative Pairs—Learning with the Masters

Volume II:
Humanities, Sciences, and More

Simply Smart One

How to Get Smarter Fast

Simply Smart Two

How to Get Smart About Humanities

Simply Smart Three

How to Get Smart About Science and Math

Reading Literature: Improvisations and Explorations

The Teaching Life: Why Teaching Matters

Living with Music: A Glorious Journey

Poems to Live By

Essays: Reflections and Ruminations

Robert DiYanni

Robert DiYanni

Author ⪢ | Professor ⪢ | Consultant ⪢

Robert DiYanni is a professor of humanities at New York University, having served as an  instructional consultant at the NYU Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Center for Faculty Advancement. For these centers he conducted workshops and seminars on all aspects of pedagogy, consulted with faculty about teaching concerns, visited and observed classes, and provided a wide range of pedagogical consultative services. Professor DiYanni serves on the faculties of the School of Professional Studies and the Stern School of Business at NYU. He earned his undergraduate degree in English from Rutgers University, attended a Master of Arts in Teaching program at Johns Hopkins University, and received a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the City University of New York Graduate Center.  

In addition to his work at NYU, Dr. DiYanni has taught at City University of New York, at Pace University, and as a Visiting Professor at Tsing Hua University in Taiwan and at Harvard University. As a high school teacher for four years and a college professor for more than four decades, Professor DiYanni has taught students from eighth grade through doctoral candidates. Most of his teaching, however, has been with college and university undergraduates. His numerous workshops, offered in more than twenty countries, have been attended by secondary school teachers and administrators, as well as by undergraduate college and university faculty and administrators.

Dr. DiYanni has written and edited numerous textbooks, among them, Literature: An Introduction; The Scribner Handbook for Writers (with Pat C. Hoy II); Arts and Culture: An Introduction to the Humanities, (with Janetta Rebold Benton), the basis for a series of lectures given at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Modern American Poets: Their Voices and Visions, which served as a companion text for the PBS television series Voices and Vision, which aired in the late 1980s.

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