The Best of Open Culture 2011

Before we rush head­long into a new year, it’s worth paus­ing, ever so briefly, to con­sid­er the ground we cov­ered in 2011. What top­ics res­onat­ed with you … and jazzed us? Today, we’re high­light­ing 10 the­mat­ic areas (and 46 posts) that cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion. Chances are you missed a few gems here. So please join us on our brief jour­ney back into time. Tomor­row, we start look­ing for­ward again.

1) Uni­ver­si­ties Offer More Free Cours­es, Then Start Push­ing Toward Cer­tifi­cates: The year start­ed well enough. Yale released anoth­er 10 stel­lar open cours­es. (Find them on our list of 400 Free Cours­es). Then oth­er uni­ver­si­ties start­ed push­ing the enve­lope on the open course for­mat. This fall, Stan­ford launched a series of free cours­es that com­bined video lec­tures with more dynam­ic resources — short quizzes; the abil­i­ty to pose ques­tions to Stan­ford instruc­tors; feed­back on your over­all per­for­mance; a state­ment of accom­plish­ment from the instruc­tor, etc. A new round of free cours­es will start in Jan­u­ary and Feb­ru­ary. (Get the full list and enroll here.) Final­ly, keep your eyes peeled for this: In 2012, MIT will offer sim­i­lar cours­es, but with one big dif­fer­ence. Stu­dents will get an offi­cial cer­tifi­cate at the end of the course, all at a very min­i­mal charge. More details here.

2) Cul­tur­al Icons at Occu­py Wall Street: OWS was a big nation­al sto­ry, and we were always intrigued by its cul­tur­al dimen­sion — by the cul­tur­al fig­ures who cham­pi­oned the move­ment. You can revis­it performances/speeches by: Philip Glass & Lou ReedWillie Nel­son, Pete Seeger, and Arlo GuthrieDavid Cros­by and Gra­ham NashJoseph Stiglitz and Lawrence LessigNoam Chom­sky; and Slavoj Zizek. Also check out: 8 Lec­tures from Occu­py Har­vard and Artis­tic Posters From Occu­py Wall Street.

3) Books Intel­li­gent Peo­ple Should Read: Neil deGrasse Tyson’s list “8 (Free) Books Every Intel­li­gent Per­son Should Read” end­ed up gen­er­at­ing far more con­ver­sa­tion and con­tro­ver­sy than we would have expect­ed. (Users have left 83 com­ments at last count.) No mat­ter what you think of his ratio­nale for choos­ing these texts, the books make for essen­tial read­ing, and they’re freely avail­able online.

Tyson’s list dove­tails fair­ly nice­ly with anoth­er list of essen­tial texts — The Har­vard Clas­sics, a 51 vol­ume set that’s avail­able online. Accord­ing to Charles W. Eliot, the leg­endary Har­vard pres­i­dent, if you were to spend just 15 min­utes a day read­ing these books, you could give your­self a prop­er lib­er­al edu­ca­tion. And that could part­ly apply to anoth­er list we pulled togeth­er: 20 Pop­u­lar High School Books Avail­able as Free eBooks & Audio Books — the great lit­er­ary clas­sics taught in class­rooms all across Amer­i­ca, all free…

4) Christo­pher Hitchens and Stephen Fry: Christo­pher Hitchens left us this past month. And, until his last day, Hitchens was the same old Hitch — pro­lif­ic, inci­sive, surly and defi­ant, espe­cial­ly when asked about whether he’d change his posi­tion on reli­gion, spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and the after­life. All of this was on dis­play when he spoke at the Amer­i­can Jew­ish Uni­ver­si­ty in Los Ange­les last Feb­ru­ary. We cov­ered his com­ments in a post called, No Deathbed Con­ver­sion for Me, Thanks, But it was Good of You to Ask. And even from the grave, Hitchens did more of the same, forc­ing us to ques­tion the whole mod­ern mean­ing of Christ­mas.

Dur­ing Hitch’s final days, Stephen Fry emceed a large trib­ute to his friend in Lon­don, an event that brought togeth­er Richard Dawkins, Christo­pher Buck­ley, Salman Rushdie, Lewis Lapham, Mar­tin Amis, poet James Fen­ton and actor Sean Penn. It’s well worth a watch. But you also should­n’t miss some oth­er great videos fea­tur­ing the wis­dom of Mr. Fry — his intro­duc­tion to the strange world of nanoscience, his ani­mat­ed debate on the virtues (or lack there­of) of the Catholic Church, and his thought­ful reflec­tion, What I Wish I Had Known When I Was 18.

5) Four for the Fab Four: John, Paul, Ringo and George. We sneak them in when­ev­er we can. A sprin­kling here and there. This year, we served up an ever-pop­u­lar post, Gui­tarist Randy Bach­man Demys­ti­fies the Open­ing Chord of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, and a no less pop­u­lar free­bie: Down­load The Bea­t­les’ Yel­low Sub­ma­rine as a Free, Inter­ac­tive eBook. Trail­ing right behind are two oth­er good Bea­t­les picks: All Togeth­er Now: Every Bea­t­les Song Played at Once and The Bea­t­les’ Rooftop Con­cert: The Last Gig.

6) Wis­dom from Great Philoso­phers: Want the chance to take cours­es from great philoso­phers? Here’s your oppor­tu­ni­ty. Our meta post brought togeth­er courses/lectures from Bertrand Rus­sell, Michel Fou­cault, John Sear­le, Wal­ter Kauf­mann, Leo Strauss, Hubert Drey­fus, and Michael Sandel. You could get lost in this for days. Also while you’re at it, you should check out The His­to­ry of Phi­los­o­phy … With­out Any Gaps, an ongo­ing pod­cast cre­at­ed by Peter Adam­son (King’s Col­lege Lon­don) that moves from the Ancients to the Mod­erns. Plus we’d encour­age you to revis­it: Noam Chom­sky & Michel Fou­cault Debate Human Nature & Pow­er in 1971.

7) Vin­tage Film Col­lec­tions: Scour­ing the web for vin­tage films. It’s some­thing we love to do. In 2011, we brought you 22 films by Alfred Hitch­cock, 25 West­erns with John Wayne, 32 Film Noir clas­sics, and a series of films by the great Russ­ian direc­tor Andrei Tarkovsky. All are list­ed in our big col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online.

8) Back to the Future: We had fun going back — way back — and see­ing how past gen­er­a­tions imag­ined the future. Arthur C. Clarke Pre­dict­ed the Future in 1964 … And Pret­ty Much Nailed It. Before that, Amer­i­can fash­ion design­ers looked rough­ly 70 years into the future and guessed how women might dress in Year 2000. Turns out fash­ion design­ers aren’t the best futur­ists. And, even before that (cir­ca 1922), we get to see the world’s first mobile phone in action. Seri­ous­ly!

9) Ani­mat­ed Films: 2011 start­ed off on exact­ly the right note. On Jan­u­ary 1, we fea­tured Shel Sil­ver­stein’s ani­mat­ed ver­sion of The Giv­ing Tree. Then some oth­er gems fol­lowed: Des­ti­no, the Sal­vador Dalí – Dis­ney col­lab­o­ra­tion that start­ed in 1946 and fin­ished in 1999; Spike Jonze’s Auprès de Toi (To Die By Your Side), a short stop motion film set inside the famous Parisian book­store, Shake­speare and Com­pa­ny; John Tur­tur­ro nar­rat­ing an ani­mat­ed ver­sion of Ita­lo Calvino’s fairy tale, “The False Grand­moth­er;” and a series of ani­mat­ed films fea­tur­ing the voice of Orson Welles. Also let’s not for­get these splen­did ani­ma­tion con­cepts for The Amaz­ing Adven­tures of Kava­lier and Clay and, just for good mea­sure, Ter­ry Gilliam’s vin­tage primer on mak­ing your own cut-out ani­ma­tion.

10) New Archives & Art on the Web: Last but not least — 2011’s new archival projects that brought great cul­ture to the web.

And now onward into 2012.…

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