The Ancient History Learning Guide

For life­long learn­ers, cours­es on Ancient Greece and Rome always remain in steady demand. While these cours­es are poor­ly rep­re­sent­ed in under­grad­u­ate pro­grams (at least in the States), they’re pop­u­lar in con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion pro­grams designed for old­er stu­dents. Even­tu­al­ly, it seems, many stu­dents come to the con­clu­sion that you can’t skip over the foun­da­tions and still make sense of it all. And so they go back to basics.

The Teach­ing Com­pa­ny, a com­mer­cial provider of cours­es for life­long learn­ers, has rec­og­nized this demand and built a very rich col­lec­tion of lec­tures ded­i­cat­ed to the Ancients. (NOTE: Our read­ers can get $10 off of their cours­es, by click­ing here and using the code word “CULTURE”. Be sure to check out the cours­es in mp3 for­mat, par­tic­u­lar­ly the ones on sale. They’re very afford­able.) These cours­es are pol­ished and well thought out. I rec­om­mend them high­ly.

Then you should know about some of the free alter­na­tives. Thanks to the “open course” move­ment, you can now find a series of free cours­es online, includ­ing some from top-ranked uni­ver­si­ties. Let me give you a quick overview of your options:

Last fall, Yale Uni­ver­si­ty intro­duced a new round of open cours­es that includ­ed Don­ald Kagan’s Intro­duc­tion to Ancient Greek His­to­ry. A lead­ing fig­ure in the field, Kagan takes stu­dents from the Greek Dark Ages, through the rise of Spar­ta and Athens, The Pelo­pon­nesian War, and beyond. You’ll cov­er more than a mil­len­ni­um in 24 lec­tures. As I’ve not­ed else­where, Yale’s cours­es are high touch. And what’s par­tic­u­lar­ly nice is that the course can be down­loaded in one of five for­mats (text, audio, flash video, low band­width quick­time video, and high band­width quick­time video). Sim­ply choose the for­mat that works for you, and you’re good to go.

When you’ve com­plet­ed the arc of Greek his­to­ry, you can move next to the UC Berke­ley course, The Roman Empire. The course taught by Isabelle Paf­ford moves from Julius Cae­sar to Con­stan­tine (rough­ly 40 BC to 300 AD) in 42 lec­tures. And the audio comes straight from the class­room, which means that you’ll get sol­id infor­ma­tion but you’ll also have to endure some extra­ne­ous talk about home­work assign­ments and exams. (It’s free, so don’t com­plain.) You can down­load this course in one of three ways: iTunes or  streamed audio. Last­ly, I should note that Paf­ford has taught anoth­er relat­ed course at Berke­ley — The Ancient Mediter­ranean World (iTunes — Feed - MP3s).

Once you have the big sur­vey cours­es under your belt, you can switch to some more focused cours­es com­ing out of Stan­ford. Let’s start with Patrick Hunt’s course Han­ni­bal (iTunes). As I’ve not­ed in a pre­vi­ous post, this pod­cast­ed course takes you inside the life and adven­tures of Han­ni­bal, the great Carthagin­ian mil­i­tary tac­ti­cian who maneu­vered his way across the Alps and stunned Roman armies in 218 BC. The course also gives you glimpses into cut­ting-edge trends in mod­ern archae­ol­o­gy. Because Han­ni­bal still remains a fig­ure of intense his­tor­i­cal inter­est, it’s not sur­pris­ing that this course has ranked as one of the more pop­u­lar cours­es on iTune­sU.

Anoth­er short course worth your time is Virgil’s Aeneid: Anato­my of a Clas­sic. Pre­sent­ed by Susan­na Braund (a Stan­ford clas­sics pro­fes­sor at the time), the course teas­es apart the epic poem that was an instant when it was writ­ten 29–19 BC), and still endures today. Divid­ed into 5 install­ments, each run­ning about two hours, this pod­cast offers a good intro­duc­tion to one of the cen­tral texts in the Latin tra­di­tion.

Final­ly, let me throw in a quick bonus course. The His­tor­i­cal Jesus, anoth­er Stan­ford course taught by Thomas Shee­han, looks inside the historical/Roman world of Jesus of Nazareth. This is a his­to­ry course, not a reli­gion course, and it uses the best lit­er­ary and his­tor­i­cal evi­dence to answer the ques­tions: “Who was the his­tor­i­cal Jesus of Nazareth? What did he actu­al­ly say and do…? What did the man Jesus actu­al­ly think of him­self and of his mis­sion…? In short, what are the dif­fer­ences — and con­ti­nu­ities — between the Jesus who lived and died in his­to­ry and the Christ who lives on in believ­ers’ faith?

UPDATE: Thanks to a read­er, I was remind­ed of anoth­er relat­ed course: 12 Byzan­tine Rulers: The His­to­ry of the Byzan­tine Empire (iTunes  — Site). These pod­casts cov­er the lega­cy of the Roman Empire that emerged in the East (after it had col­lapsed in the West). You can read more about this course in one of my ear­ly blog posts.

All of these cours­es can be found in our larg­er col­lec­tion of Free Online Cours­es. There you will find 200 high qual­i­ty cours­es that you can lis­ten to any­time, any­where.

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David Lynch Favorite Movies and FilmMakers

In a quick 59 sec­onds, David Lynch tells you the films and film­mak­ers that he likes best (see below). In equal­ly suc­cinct videos, though with a bit more salty lan­guage (read: lan­guage that’s not ide­al for work), Lynch also gives you his thoughts on prod­uct place­ment and the whole con­cept of watch­ing a movie on an iPhone.

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The Free Music Archive


A quick fyi: The Free Music Archive now offers up over 10,000 free, high qual­i­ty (and legal) mp3s. The archive is run by WFMU, the renowned freeform radio sta­tion that also runs the excel­lent “Beware of the Blog.” All of the audio has been hand-picked by music cura­tors, and you can use the audio pret­ty much how­ev­er you want. That’s because the archive hous­es songs that are either in the pub­lic domain, or released with a Cre­ative Com­mons license. Nice­ly, WFMU has also devel­oped a Twit­ter stream where they announce new addi­tions to the archive. You can learn more about the archive here.

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Bill Gates Puts Richard Feynman Lectures Online

From The New York Times:

Microsoft Chair­man Bill Gates believes that if he had been able to watch physi­cist Richard Feyn­man lec­ture on physics in 1964 his life might have played out dif­fer­ent­ly…

How­ev­er, Mr. Gates, who is also well known for his sharp and var­ied intel­lec­tu­al inter­ests and his phil­an­thropic com­mit­ment to edu­ca­tion, said this week that he had pur­chased the rights to videos of sev­en lec­tures that Dr. Feyn­man gave at Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty called “The Char­ac­ter of Phys­i­cal Law,” in an effort to make them broad­ly avail­able via the Inter­net.

Microsoft Research announced on Wednes­day that Mr. Gates, who pur­chased the rights to the videos pri­vate­ly from the Feyn­man estate, BBC and from Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty, in coop­er­a­tion with Cur­tis Wong, a Microsoft researcher, has cre­at­ed a Web site that is intend­ed to enhance the videos by anno­tat­ing them with relat­ed dig­i­tal con­tent.

Note you will need to down­load Microsoft­’s Sil­verlight to get around the site. When you access the site, you will get prompt­ed to down­load it auto­mat­i­cal­ly.

via @courosa

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The Open Culture iPhone App

A quick heads up. We’ve now start­ed rolling out our new iPhone app. It will let you lis­ten to audio­books, uni­ver­si­ty cours­es, for­eign lan­guage lessons, and oth­er intel­li­gent con­tent on the iPhone. The app is free. And so is the con­tent. So there’s noth­ing to lose by check­ing it out.

We’ve designed it so that all media files open in native iPhone soft­ware — iTunes, Safari, the YouTube play­er, etc. You will need wi-fi (Apple says so) to down­load the con­tent. This app, which was very gen­er­ous­ly devel­oped by Fred Hsu, is a work in progress. Don’t hes­i­tate to give us feed­back. And, if you don’t mind, please leave a nice review/rating in the App Store and spread the word. Get it here.

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The Beatles Look Back

From The New York­er’s Goings On Blog:

The Bea­t­les’ “offi­cial Web site is fea­tur­ing short doc­u­men­taries, host­ed by George Mar­tin, on the mak­ing of the band’s orig­i­nal albums. The first one, about “Revolver,” is up now, though the site seems to be hob­bling along, pos­si­bly due to high serv­er load.”

Also, a lit­tle some­thing for U2 fans… Get MP3s of the Achtung Baby record­ing ses­sions. Find them here.

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Download The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Here’s an Amer­i­can clas­sic. The Cru­cible, the great play by Arthur Miller, pre­miered in 1953, and it famous­ly used the 1690s Salem Witch Tri­als to offer a com­men­tary on McCarthyite Amer­i­ca. Thanks to LA The­atre Works, you can now lis­ten to the play online. The pro­duc­tion stars Sta­cy Keach, Richard Drey­fuss, Ed Beg­ley, Jr., Joe Spano, and Michael York, among oth­ers. And it’s direct­ed by Mar­tin Jenk­ins. You can access it in two mp3s: Hour 1 here and Hour 2 here.

Update: It appears that this pro­gram is no longer avail­able online. If you real­ly want a free copy, you do have one good alter­na­tive. You can down­load the per­for­mance of The Cru­cible, as an audio book, if you reg­is­ter for a 30-day free tri­al of Once the tri­al is over, you can con­tin­ue your Audi­ble sub­scrip­tion (as I did), or can­cel it, and still keep the audio book. The choice is entire­ly yours.

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Philosophy for Beginners: A Free Course from Oxford University

Phi­los­o­phy does­n’t have to be daunt­ing. Thanks to the Con­tin­u­ing Edu­ca­tion pro­gram at Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty, you can ease into philo­soph­i­cal think­ing by lis­ten­ing to five lec­tures col­lec­tive­ly called Phi­los­o­phy for Begin­ners. (Find them above. They’re also on iTune­sU in audio and video, plus on YouTube.). Taught by Mar­i­anne Tal­bot, Lec­ture 1 starts with a “Romp Through the His­to­ry of Phi­los­o­phy” and moves in a brief hour from Ancient Greece to the present. Sub­se­quent lec­tures (usu­al­ly run­ning about 90 min­utes) cov­er the fol­low­ing top­ics: log­ic, ethics, pol­i­tics, meta­physics, epis­te­mol­o­gy, and lan­guage. For those han­ker­ing for more phi­los­o­phy, see our col­lec­tion of Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es, a sub­set of our col­lec­tion, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.