Introduction to Ancient Greece: A Free Online Course from Yale

Last fall, Yale University introduced a second round of open courses that included Donald Kagan’s Introduction to Ancient Greek History. A major 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. Above, we start with the first lecture, which talks about why the Ancient Greeks should still matter to us today. As I’ve noted elsewhere, Yale’s courses are well produced. And what’s particularly nice is that the course can be downloaded in one of many formats (text, audio, flash video, low bandwidth quicktime video, and high bandwidth quicktime video). Or you can grab it on YouTube (as above) and iTunes too.  Simply choose the format that works for you, and you’re good to go. For more free courses on the Ancients, please see our page called: Learning Ancient History for Free.

The Open Culture Archive

Want to see every post that we have written since 2006? Then look back through our Archive. We just created it and added it to the site, partly in response to a reader request. You can permanently find the Archive in the second column, between “Essentials” and “Categories.” Enjoy.

Should You Give to Harvard?

That’s the question that The Ethicist asks in The New York Times. Below, I present the issue and part of the answer. Read through it all and tell us where you stand on the issue.

The Issue

The fiscal year for major university endowments ended June 30, and schools have been reporting their results: not good. In the Harvard-Yale portfolio game, the latter was down 24.6 percent, while its rival lost even more, 27.3 percent. If you are an Ivy alum, this might seem a good moment to donate to your alma mater, to help rebuild its battered portfolio. But should you, given the power of education to improve people’s lives?

The Argument

Do not donate to Harvard. To do so is to offer more pie to a portly fellow while the gaunt and hungry press their faces to the window (at some sort of metaphoric college cafeteria, anyway). Even after last year’s losses, Harvard’s endowment exceeds $26 billion, the largest of any American university, greater than the G.D.P. of EstoniaBy contrast, among historically black colleges and universities, Howard has the largest endowment, about $420 million, a mere 1.6 percent the size of Harvard’s. (Donors gave Harvard more than $600 million just this fiscal year.) The best-endowed community college,Valencia, in Orlando, Fla., has around $67 million, or 0.26 percent of Harvard’s wealth. This is not to deny that Harvard does fine work or could find ways to spend the money but to assert that other schools have a greater need and a greater moral claim to your benevolence…  More here.

The Book That Changed Your Life

This week, This American Life aired an episode that tells “stories of people who believe a book changed their life.” (Click here, scroll down the page a little, and then click on “Full Episode.”) It’s a good program for book lovers, but don’t expect to hear about Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, or Salinger. This American Life doesn’t quite do things that way. They have their own unique take on things. But if you want a more traditional list of life-altering books, then check out this collection created by our readers and feel free to add your own books to the comments. The more, the merrier.

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Stanford Students Set Record with Model Plane

Put a bunch of Stanford graduate students together. Give them 10 weeks to build a model airplaine, and what do you get? A world record at 7,000 feet — something it might cost NASA millions to do.

When The Wall Comes Tumbling Down: History on YouTube

The Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain collapsed a little more than 20 years ago (August 1989). And even though I watched the events on TV, my memory of it all has already started to fade. But that’s where YouTube comes in. Above, a quick refresher that makes my day. This clip comes from a larger collection called 101 Historical Moments You Can Relive on YouTube. Thanks for the heads up on this one.

Justice: Putting a Price Tag on Life & How to Measure Pleasure

Harvard has rolled out Week 2 of Michael Sandel’s course on Justice. Courtesy of the course web site, here’s a synopsis of what you can expect from Episode 2. New lectures are getting rolled out weekly. Check the Harvard web site for new additions.

Part 1 – PUTTING A PRICE TAG ON LIFE: Sandel presents some contemporary cases in which cost-benefit analysis was used to put a dollar value on human life. The cases give rise to several objections to the utilitarian logic of seeking “the greatest good for the greatest number.” Is it possible to sum up and compare all values using a common measure like money?

Part 2 – HOW TO MEASURE PLEASURE: Sandel introduces J. S. Mill, a utilitarian philosopher who argues that seeking “the greatest good for the greatest number” is compatible with protecting individual rights, and that utilitarianism can make room for a distinction between higher and lower pleasures. Sandel tests this theory by playing video clips from three very different forms of entertainment: Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the reality show Fear Factor, and The Simpsons.

Princeton Students Pan the Kindle DX

Earlier this year, Amazon rolled out the Kindle DX. This new, supersized e-book reader had one basic goal: to give readers digital access to textbooks, newspapers and other larger format publications. This fall, the rubber has started to hit the road, and the Kindle DX has been getting tepid reviews, at least at Princeton University. There, students in three classes (Civil Society and Public Policy, U.S. Policy and Diplomacy in the Middle East, and Religion and Magic in Ancient Rome) were given free Kindles, and then started working with them. According to the Daily Princetonian, many of the 50 students participating in the pilot program said that “they were dissatisfied and uncomfortable with the devices.” One student had this to say:

I hate to sound like a Luddite, but this technology is a poor excuse of an academic tool. It’s clunky, slow and a real pain to operate. … Much of my learning comes from a physical interaction with the text: bookmarks, highlights, page-tearing, sticky notes and other marks representing the importance of certain passages — not to mention margin notes, where most of my paper ideas come from and interaction with the material occurs… All these things have been lost, and if not lost they’re too slow to keep up with my thinking, and the ‘features’ have been rendered useless.

These feelings were shared not just by students, but by professors as well. For more, I’d encourage you to give the Daily Princetonian piece a read.

Thanks to Bob for the tip, which comes via a mention in Engadget. We love tips. Keep them coming.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.