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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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, 1,500 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.