New Course Available at Stanford@iTunesU

Unlike its cross-bay rival UC Berkeley, Stanford University has been slow to make its undergraduate courses available as audio podcasts. The Stanford course collection, available on Apple’s iTunesU, includes only 15 courses, most of them short courses from the Stanford Continuing Studies Program.

Now there is a new arrival to gladden the hearts of all podcast-listening do-it-yourself scholars. Stanford has started posting sessions from the 10-week winter quarter 2008 course taught by Professor James Sheehan, History of the International System. This overview of the history of the 20th century will focus on how the international system works (and fails to work), along with the influence of religions and ideologies and economics.

Sheehan’s introductory lecture lays out the main themes of the course. One interesting theme he urges his students to keep in mind is the ongoing tension between insider bias and outsider bias.

“The outsider bias, which is the bias that most of us share, tends to greatly overestimate what is possible. It is matched by the insider bias, the decision making bias, the beltway bias, which tends to think that nothing can be other than what it is, that what was done had to be done, that there were no real alternatives, that they did their best, and there was really nothing else that might be done. So we should be aware of both underestimating and overestimating the ranges of choice and the possibility of action, as we try desperately to put ourselves in the shoes of both the decision-makers and of course those who must carry out and suffer from their decisions.”

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