Perhaps the foremost cliché about history—from a 1905 quote by George Santayana—says that those who fail to learn the lessons of the past are doomed to make the same mistakes. Philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, sounded a much more pessimistic note in the 19th century: “We learn from history that we never learn anything from history.” Whether history teaches us to make better choices or simply shows us how much modern humans resemble the ancients, the study of the past can enthrall, enrage, inspire, and captivate us all. And one demonstrable mode of progress—technology—now allows us to formally study all sorts of historical periods without the need for lengthy application processes or increasingly high tuition costs (not to mention all those pesky deadlines and exams).
Thanks to the Internet and several top-flight universities, one can, for example, take a free online course on “Medicine and Public Health in American History” from Notre Dame (Free Online Audio), “The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877” from Yale (Free Online Video – Free iTunes Audio – Free iTunes Video – Course Materials), or “The Rise and Fall of the Second Reich” from UC Berkeley (Free iTunes Audio). Too specialized? Why not take an intro course? You might start with Yale’s “Intro to Ancient Greek History” (Free Online Video – Free iTunes Video – Free iTunes Audio – Course Materials) then perhaps move on to Columbia University’s survey “History of the World to 1500 CE” (Free Online Video – Free iTunes Video) or UVA’s “The Modern World: Global History Since 1760” (Free iTunesU iOS Course).
Tired of old dominant narratives of dead white Europeans? Check out MIT’s “Asia in the Modern World: Images & Representations” (Free Online Video & Course Info), La Trobe University’s “Australian Aboriginal History” (Free iTunes Audio), Columbia’s “History of Iran to the Safavid Period” (Free iTunes Audio), or the University of Illinois’ “Rethinking the Black Liberation Movement” (Free Online Video). Granted, many of these classes have more in the way of instructional material than others, but all of them offer more or less rigorous attempts to grapple with major historical questions. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, making some sense of the past actually can help us create a better future.
All of the classes above, and over 70 more, can be found in our list of Free Online History Courses. And don’t miss the tremendous number of other offerings on our master list of 1000 Free Online Courses from Top Universities, which includes other subjects like philosophy, computer science, psychology, physics, r