The Illuminated Manuscripts of Medieval Europe: A Free Online Course from the University of Colorado

Dr. Roger Louis Martínez-Dávila and Ana B. Sanchez-Prieto–two academics working out of the University of Colorado and Universidad Complutense Madrid (Spain)–have teamed up to present Deciphering Secrets: The Illuminated Manuscripts of Medieval Europe. The free course covers the following ground:

Perhaps no other relic of the European Middle Ages captures our imagination more than illuminated medieval manuscripts, or those documents decorated with images and colored pigments. Serving as windows unto a lost world of kings, ladies, faith, war, and culture, they communicate complex visual and textual narratives of Europe’s collective cultural heritage and patrimony. In this fashion, illuminated manuscripts are dynamic messages from our communal past that are still relevant today in fields like graphic design and typography.

In this seven-week course, students will explore the material creation, content, and historical context of illuminated medieval European manuscripts. Students will acquire an introductory knowledge of their distinguishing characteristics, their cataloguing and periodization (when they were created), the methods utilized to produce them, and their historical context and value.

You can take The Illuminated Manuscripts of Medieval Europe for free by selecting the audit option upon enrolling. If you want to take the course for a certificate, you will need to pay a fee.

The Illuminated Manuscripts of Medieval Europe has been added to our list of Free History Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Free Courses to Maintain Mental & Physical Health During a Pandemic

As I write this, the smoke from the numerous forest fires across California are making the air quality terrible, so we are being told to stay inside. However, the heatwave is making it insufferable to *be* inside. And we also have to be wary of COVID-19 and wear a mask. You could say this is a slightly stressful situation. And a lot of us are dealing with even more than that–job stability, rent, and on and on. Just typing this made me anxious!

During this time we should try not to neglect our mental health. Fortunately Coursera offers free online courses about Mental Health and Well-Being.


The Coursera video above comes from a Facebook live event that features Yale University’s Laurie Santos, who teaches Coursera’s Science of Well-Being course. This 30 minute Q&A dives right in to our current situation, with Santos outlining a protocol for mental health that should be as much a part of your regimen as wearing a mask and washing your hands with soap (while singing Happy Birthday to yourself, don’t forget.)

Here’s a top ten of Coursera’s most popular health & well-being courses to check out:

  1. Mind Control: Managing Your Mental Health During COVID-19 from University of Toronto
  2. The Science of Well-Being from Yale University
  3. Finding Purpose and Meaning In Life: Living for What Matters Most from University of Michigan
  4. Stanford Introduction to Food and Health from Stanford University
  5. A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment from Indian School of Business
  6. Positive Psychiatry and Mental Health from The University of Sydney
  7. Hacking Exercise For Health. The surprising new science of fitness. from McMaster University
  8. Introduction to Self-Determination Theory: An approach to motivation, development and wellness from University of Rochester
  9. Biohacking Your Brain’s Health from Emory University
  10. Managing Your Health: The Role of Physical Therapy and Exercise from University of Toronto

Santos answers questions from viewers, covering topics like avoiding tension and arguments with our loved ones, staying informed on the world without creating more anxiety, how can frontline/healthcare workers combat anxiety, how to keep yourself positive when living alone without family or friends, how to keep productive and healthy at work with the threat of layoffs, how to look for a new job after being laid off because of COVID, how to help your child who is missing their school friends, how do we create good experiences to create good memories, what we can do about sleep problems, how to care for family members with COVID while also working a job, and how to show random acts of kindness during this time (which is what Santos covers often in her Happiness Lab podcast).

Overall, focus on self-compassion, Santos says, which has to be the starting point for all of this. When you enroll in these courses, Coursera gives you two options. You can enroll as a paid student and get a certificate at the end. Or choose to “audit” the course (as shown here) and the course is free. Just like in college! All the learning, none of the blue book essays!

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

The Science of Beer: A New Free Online Course Promises to Enhance Your Appreciation of the Timeless Beverage

The brewing of beer is as old as agriculture, which is to say as old as settled civilization. The oldest recipe we know of dates to 1800 B.C. Over centuries, beer moved up and down the class ladder depending on its primary consumers. Medieval monks brewed many fine varieties and were renowned for their technique. Beer descended into pubs and rowdy beer halls, whetting the whistles not only of farmers, soldiers, sailors, and pilgrims, but also of burghers and a budding industrial workforce. During the age of modern empire, beer became, on both sides of the Atlantic, the beverage of working-class sports fans in bleachers and La-Z-Boys.

A craft beer Renaissance at the end of last century brought back a monkish mystique to this most ancient beverage, turning beer into wine, so to speak, with comparable levels of connoisseurship. Beer bars became galleries of fine polished brass, pungent, fruity aromas, dark and serious wood appointments. Craft beer is fun—with its quirky names and labels—it is also intimidating, in the breadth of complicated concoctions on offer. (Hipsters and penurious revelers revolted, made a fetish of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Milwaukee’s Best, and ye olde malt liquor.)


“Has craft beer peaked?” wonders The Washington Post’s Rachel Siegel. You can probably guess from the question that most trends point to “yes.” But as long as there is wheat, barley, and hops, we will have beer, no matter who is drinking it and where. One lasting effect of beer’s highbrow few decades remains: a popular scholarly appreciation for its culture and composition. You can study the typography of beer, for example, as Print magazine has done in recent years. A new online course applies the tools of empirical and sociological research to beer drinking.

“The Science of Beer,” taught by a cadre of student teachers from Wageningen University in Holland, explores “how [beer is] made, the raw materials used, its supply chain, how it’s marketed and the effect of beer consumption on your body.” (This last point—in a world turned against sugar, carbs, and gluten—being partly the reason for craft beer’s decline.) Should your voice quaver when you approach the upscale reclaimed walnut bar and survey unfamiliar lagers, ales, stouts, bocks, porters, and hefeweizens… should you hesitate at Whole Foods when faced with a wall of beverages with names like incantations, this free class may set you at ease.

Not only will you learn about the different types of beer, but “after this course, tasting a beer will be an entirely new sensation: you will enjoy it even more since you will better understand what’s inside your drink.” Enrollment for the 5-week course began this past Monday and the class is currently open and free. (Make sure you select the “Audit” option for the free version of the course.) You should expect to devote 2 to 4 hours per week to “The Science of Beer.” Please, study responsibly.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Take Seven Free Courses From the Museum of Modern Art (aka MoMA)

If you would like to know more about modern art, but have difficulty wrapping your head around the Futurists, Neo-Impressionists, Abstract Expressionists, and the myriad other -ists and -isms  of this vast subject, perhaps you should untether yourself from timelines.

Modern Art & Ideas, a free online course from the Museum of Modern Art (aka MoMA), shifts the focus away from period and movement, instead grouping works according to four themes: Places & Spaces, Art & Identity, Transforming Everyday Objects, and Art & Society.


It’s an approach that’s worked well for MoMA’s Education Department. (Another upcoming online class, Art & Ideas: Teaching with Themes, is recommended for professional educators looking to develop the pedagogical skills the department employs to get visitors to engage with the art.)

The course, which begins today, is taught by Lisa Mazzola, Assistant Director of the museum’s School and Teacher Programs and a veteran of their previous forays into Massive Open Online Courses.

An early lesson on how artists capture environments considers three works: Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889), Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-43), and Gordon Matta-Clark’s Bingo. Vintage photos and footage conspire with period music to whisk students to the settings that inspired these works—a bucolic French mental hospital, New York City’s bustling, WWII-era Times Square, and a derelict house in down on its luck Niagara Falls.

Regular readers of Open Culture are likely to have a handle on some of the ways art stars Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol explored identity, the course’s third week theme, but what about Glenn Ligon, a living African American conceptual artist?

Ligon may not have the renown or tote bag appeal of his lessonmates, but his 1993 series, Runaways, is powerful enough to hold its own against Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair and Warhol’s Gold Marilyn Monroe.

In fact, teachers looking to expand their Black History Month curriculum could spark some lively discussions by showing students the extremely accurate facsimiles of 19th-century runaway slave ads featuring physical descriptions of Ligon, solicited from friends who’d been told they were supplying details for a hypothetical Missing Person poster.

Ligon’s series is also a good starting place for discussing conceptual art with a friend who thinks  conceptual art is best defined as White Cow in a Snowstorm.

Offered on Coursera, the 5-week course requires approximately 2 hours of study and one quiz per week. Enroll here, or browse MoMAs other current offerings also on Coursera.

Note: To take the courses for free, selection the Audit (as opposed to paid) option during the enrollment process.

Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses, it helps support Open Culture.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The MoMA Teaches You How to Paint Like Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning & Other Abstract Painters

Some may find her insufferable, but most readers adore her: the insouciant little pig Olivia—New Yorker, art lover, and Caldecott Medal winner—has forever embedded herself in children’s literary culture as an archetype of childhood curiosity and self-confidence, especially in scenes like that of the first book of the series, in which the fearless piglet produces her own drip painting on the wall of the family’s Upper East Side apartment after puzzling over Jackson Pollock’s work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Olivia also admires Degas, aspires to the ballet, and dreams of being Maria Callas.)

Olivia’s headstrong challenge to Pollock is infectious, and enacts a notion common among amateur viewers of Abstract Expressionism—“I could do that.” Her “Jackson Piglet Wall Painting” features in a book that gives children their own set of instructions for making a pseudo-Pollock (on paper, of course). As you will see, however, in the video above—a guide for grown-ups who may wish to do the same—Pollock’s process is not so easily duplicated, and cannot be done on the wall. As the Ed Harris-starring biopic dramatized, Pollock made his huge canvasses on the floor—drawing the lines and gestural figures in the air rather than on the canvas.


In these videos from the Museum of Modern Art’s upcoming free online course on Postwar painting, educator and independent conservator Corey D’Augustine demonstrates that, we can, with some degree of stamina and athleticism, approximate Pollock’s technique. We cannot, however, recreate his temperament and emotional state. And, as viewers of the film based on his life will know, we would not want to. Pollock was a violently abusive, depressive alcoholic, and while there may be no necessary relation to creativity and suffering, New York Abstract Expressionists seemed to wrest the intensity of their work from wells of personal pain.

It is no wonder that the longest video in D’Augustine’s series covers the methods of Agnes Martin. The enigmatic Martin used her work as a discipline that took her beyond despair and defeat. Like Gertrude Stein or Samuel Beckett, she insisted that art, though a form of self-expression, must emerge impersonally, such that the artist “can take no credit for its sudden appearance.” On the other side of failure—she told her audience in a poignant and powerful 1973 speech called “On the Perfection Underlying Life”—“we still go on without hope or desire or dreams or anything. Just going on with almost no memory of having done anything.”

The attitude, Martin said, is a discipline, the discipline of art—one that saw her through a lifelong struggle with schizophrenia. Inspired by Taoism and Zen Buddhism, Martin’s “luminous, silent” paintings are studies in patience and deliberation. We see a very different technique in the gestural painting of Willem de Kooning—another Abstract Expressionist with a serious drinking problem. Do these biographical issues matter? While it may do Martin’s work a disservice to reduce it to “the products of a person compelled by mental illness,” as Zoe Pilger writes at The Independent, de Kooning’s eventual sobriety led to a “dramatic shift,” Susan Cheever notes, “in the way he saw and painted the world in his last decade or so.”

We need not psychologize the work of any of these artists, including that of the bipolar Mark Rothko, above, to learn from their techniques. And yet it remains the case that—even were we to duplicate Pollock, Martin, de Kooning, or Rothko on canvas, we would never be able to imbue it with their peculiar personalities, pains, and movements, with the depth and intensity each artist brought to their work. Great art does not require suffering, but many artists have poured their suffering into art that only they could make.

But mimicry is not the goal of MoMA’s class. Instead “In the Studio: Postwar Abstract Painting” intends to give students “a deeper understanding of what a studio practice means and how ideas develop from close looking. They’ll also “gain a sensitivity to the physical qualities of paint,” a key feature of this material and texture-obsessed group, and the course will examine the “broader cultural, intellectual, and historical context about the decades after World War II, when these artists were active.”

The eight-week course covers seven artists, including those above and Ad Reinhardt, Yayoi Kusama, and Barnett Newman. Students are free to do quizzes and written assignments only, or to participate in the optional studio exercises, provided they have the space and the materials. (For those studio practitioners, D’Augustine offers brief tutorials on tools like the palette knife and materials like stains.) Watch the trailer for D’Augustine’s course above. Like the irrepressible Olivia, students will be encouraged “to experiment quite wildly” with what they might learn.

“In the Studio: Postwar Abstract Painting” has been added to our list, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

 

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Launches Free Course on Looking at Photographs as Art

Not content with banning selfie sticks, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is bringing visual literacy to the masses via its first foray into the world of MOOCs (aka “massive open online courses”).

Curator Sarah Meister will be drawing on MoMA’s expansive photography collection for the free 6-session, self-paced Seeing Through Photographs class on Coursera.


You won’t learn how to make duck lips in a mirror, but by the course’s end, you should be able to cast a critical eye, with a new appreciation for the “diverse ideas, approaches, and technologies” that inform a photograph’s making.

The first week’s assignments include a video interview with Marvin Heiferman, author of Photography Changes Everything, below. Yes, there will be a quiz.

Expect assigned readings from John Szarkowski’s Introduction to The Photographer’s Eye, and MoMA’s Chief Curator of Photography, Quentin Bajac.

There’s a lot of ground to cover, obviously. Meister has lined up quite a hit parade: Ansel Adams, NASA’s moon photography, Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother,” Susan Meiselas’ “Carnival Strippers” project, Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills,” and Nicholas Nixon’s 40-year documentation of the Brown sisters.

Prove your knowledge at the end of the six weeks with a final 30-minute project in which you’ll select an image that would be a good addition to one of the course’s themes, below:

Seeing Through Photographs

One Subject, Many Perspectives

Documentary Photography

Pictures of People

Constructing Narratives and Challenging Histories

Ocean of Images: Photography and Contemporary Culture

Enroll in this fascinating free course here.

via Petapixel

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Take a Free Online Course on Making Comic Books, Compliments of the California College of the Arts

Gather round, children and listen to Grandma reminiscin’ ‘bout the days when studying comics meant changing out of your pajamas and showing up at the bursar’s office, check in hand.

Actually, Grandma’s full of it. Graphic novels are enjoying unprecedented popularity and educators are turning to comics to reach reluctant readers, but as of this writing, there still aren’t that many programs for those interested in making a career of this art form.


The California College of the Arts is a notable exception. You can get your MFA in Comics there.

Even better, you need not enroll to sample the 5 week course, Comics: Art in Relationship, led by Comics MFA chair and Eisner Award-nominated author of The Homeless Channel, Matt Silady.

You might write the next Scott Pilgrim.

Or ink the next Fun Home.

At the very least, you’ll learn a thing or two about layout, the relationship of art to text, and using compression to denote the passage of time.

It’s the sort of nitty gritty training that would benefit both veterans and newbies alike.

Ready to sign up? The free course, which starts in February, will require approximately 10 hours per week. The syllabus is below.

Session 1: Defining Comics

Identify key relationships in sample texts & demonstrate the use of various camera angles on a comics page

Session 2: Comics Relationships

Create Text-Image and Image-Image Panels

Session 3: Time And Space

One Second, One Hour, One Day Comics Challenge

Session 4: Layout And Grid Design

Apply multiple panel grids to provided script

Session 5: Thumbnails

Create thumbnail sketches of a multipage scene

Enroll here.

via io9

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday

The Keys to Happiness: The Emerging Science and the Upcoming MOOC by Raj Raghunathan

Psychology has made many advances in the past few decades, notably in cognitive science, neuroscience, and behavioral psychology. A major new focus area in psychology that draws upon these disciplines started in 1998 when Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, called on his colleagues to start studying happiness, rather than illnesses, the traditional focus of psychology. The result was an explosion of research, academic departments, and popular books and the creation of a new field of ‘positive psychology’. It is this field that Dr. Raj Raghunathan studies, and he passionately teaches his students about the science of happiness at the McCombs School of Business  at the University of Texas at Austin. He also writes a blog column for Psychology Today. This summer, Raghunathan, who is currently visiting professor at the Indian School of Business, will be offering his MOOC, A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment, to the public on the Coursera platform.

It may be surprising that a course on happiness is being offered in business school, the supposed factory of budding ruthless capitalists. However, times are changing, and enlightened business schools can be a good setting to think about the social and economic means and ends in our current society. In fact, it was a business context which steered Raghunathan towards studying happiness in the first place:

When I visited India in 2007 I met up with my classmates from 15 years ago and I discovered two things. One, there’s very little correlation between academic success and career success. The people who were at the top weren’t necessarily the ones who were doing well in their careers, which is, of course, quite well known in the research. But second, there was an even smaller correlation between career success and life success. The guys who were really successful weren’t able to maintain a conversation with me and weren’t able to be present, they were constantly distracted. They had bags under their eyes, had put on weight, and it was clear that they weren’t very happy.

Fast forward and you find Raghunathan, after obtaining a PhD at New York University, a tenured faculty member at the McCombs School of Business, a top-20 U.S. business school, teaching students about happiness. There are only a few tenure-track professors in the country teaching a whole course on happiness in U.S. business schools, so Raghunathan has been a trailblazer. It is also a great testament to the Indian School of Business, a premier business program in a rapidly industrializing country, that this subject was chosen to be their first MOOC offering in its new partnership with Coursera.

Happiness Science vs. the Wisdom Literature

As people have been concerned with happiness from before the dawn of civilization, we’ve had many sources to turn to with regard to happiness: intuition, tradition, reason, but mostly, religious and spiritual wisdom. Now science has recently added a new dimension to our understanding. We can see, for example, which parts of the brain are active during different emotional states, and understand better the role of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine. One very convenient, practical result for psychology is that these changes in brain states are largely correlated with self-reported answers of how happy people feel—so happiness is fairly straightforward to measure (you can take a 20-minute happiness test here if you are interested). So what have we found out about happiness? It turns out that many of the findings support the religious/spiritual viewpoints. For example:

  • Money cannot buy you happiness, unless you’re poor. Robust surveys among a broad array of people across countries indicate that beyond a certain threshold, people do not report being happier. Specifically, in the U.S., Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton found through a robust survey of 450,000 Americans that once people reach an income threshold of around $75,000 per year, they tend not to be any happier.
  •  Caring for others is one of the most important things you can do. Another specific finding that the science brings us is the value of altruism. Studies have shown, for example, that when given a small sum of money, the people who give it to others, rather than spending it on themselves, actually report being happier. Raghunathan also adds that being altruistic doesn’t have to mean being boring, and he has his classes experiment with fun ways to be altruistic.

These findings are similar to the teachings of many wisdom traditions, but they also give more specifics and provide insight into the underlying mechanisms involved. These can result in practical suggestions and tips for managing ourselves better through setting up helpful habits, mindsets, and triggers. But a puzzling question has emerged: why do we often not pursue what we supposedly want?

The Fundamental Happiness Paradox

There is a phenomenon that most of us will probably recognize, which Raghunathan calls the Fundamental Happiness Paradox: we want to achieve happiness, but often pursue things that clearly don’t lead to it. Raghunathan elaborates:

On the one hand people think happiness is very, very important to them, so therefore you would think that they ought to be making decisions are consistent with that, but when we observe their decisions, a good 50-60 percent of the time they are sacrificing happiness for the sake of other things as they go about their daily lives, in little small ways, and even in big ways.

The problem is that we pursue happiness through various means, such as money, status, esteem, or health, but we sometimes overly fixate on these means rather than the ends. As a society we do recognize this on some level—think of all the movies and television shows that end with the protagonists realizing what’s really important to them. Yet, it tells you something if we keep having to remind ourselves about this constantly and repetitively in our cultural stories. Psychology has already explained why we eat the last few Cheetos in a bowl, and in the future may help explain this mystery of why we don’t pursue our happiness as directly as we could.

Happiness Comes in Threes

The Three Pillars of Happiness

So what should we do to pursue happiness? Raghunathan groups the research findings into three main pillars:

  1. Pursue meaningful work – Try to spend your energy in ways that are meaningful to you, at work or at home. Mihaly Csikszentmihaly has popularized the notion of “flow”, those times when we are doing something that so fully absorbs our attention that we lose track of time (I guess I must be in “flow” whenever I’m watching Grey’s Anatomy…). From a career standpoint, Raghunathan recommends making passion a criterion for choosing your work: “you spend so much time at work you might as well make that a meaningful thing that you are doing in your life”. Perhaps this is not feasible for everyone at every point in their career, but it is surely a sound guiding principle, as it has been echoed by Steve Jobs, Thoreau, Gloria Estefan, and others.
  2. Maintain close relationships – Most people, upon reflection, consider the relationships they’ve developed with family, friends, colleagues, and others to be the most meaningful part of their lives. However, we often don’t place a high priority on building or maintaining these. Relationships are like investments that require time and attention, and they are bonds that represent commitments and expectations, yet we are quick to downplay or dismiss them. Social science offers tips and practical suggestions for improving relationships, such as: giving your brain a cooling off period when you are angry, seeing forgiveness as an integral part of freeing up your own mind, and cultivating face-to-face time in our mobile connected world.
  3. Have a spiritual attitude – A strong sense of spirituality, whether religiously or otherwise sourced, has been associated with reduced stress levels, and we know we can’t be happy when we are over-stressed. There is also growing evidence that meditation practices have beneficial effects. In fact, in the MOOC, Raghunathan will have a couple of experts leading participants through the steps of the meditation process.

Do these three pillars reveal any shocking surprises? No, and thankfully not–otherwise it would be a declaration that previous generations had missed the boat on understanding happiness (though Raghunathan points out that few spiritual traditions emphasize the first pillar –pursuing meaningful work). Rather, the contribution of science is in the details. We start to see what cognitive drivers and barriers to happiness are. From this understanding comes evidence-based techniques and frameworks we can use to help ourselves construct happier lives.

There is some serious research on happiness, and it has the potential to directly impact our lives. Whether you are in business school or high school, on the farm or in city hall, in a cubicle or at a retirement home—why wouldn’t you want to know more about what makes us happy? And you have the opportunity to be guided by Dr. Raghunathan by signing up for his free MOOC: A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment, which starts this summer.

Charlie Chung is passionate about the intersection of learning and technology. He is Chief Editor at Class Central, a MOOC search engine and reviews site. Special thanks to Raj Raghunathan, who agreed to be interviewed for this article, the Indian School of Business, and Coursera.

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