A great Western Civ course from UCLA

Ah, what a joy it is to discover a great teacher! Thanks to podcast reviewer Anne at Anne is a Man, I’ve discovered the truly gifted Lynn Hunt, teacher of UCLA’s History 1C – Western Civilization, 1715-Present (Youtube).

I’m an old hand at online European history courses, having listened my way through UC Berkeley’s History 5 – European Civilization from the Renaissance to the Present, ably taught by two other gifted teachers, Margaret Anderson (website) and Thomas Laqueur (website ).

But Hunt brings new insights to the subject and helps me think about history in new ways. She usually begins each lecture with a musical selection, and describes how the arts are bound up with the political and social histories of each era. A few tidbits from the lectures:

  • The idea that a modern scientific theory could be superior to an ancient model is a child of the 17th and 18th century Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinkers coined the term “middle ages” to refer to the time span between themselves (the moderns) and the ancient Greeks and Romans.


    Beccaria's famous 1764 treatise, On Crimes and Punishments. Image credit*

  • The idea that torture is a poor way to interrogate crime suspects comes from the Enlightenment thinker Cesare, Marquis of Beccaria, who wrote in his treatise Of Crimes and Punishments that torture doesn’t work. The strong deny their guilt; the weak confess to what they have not done.
  • Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche believed that Christianity helped destroy humanity’s capacity for joy. His critique of the urban society of fin de siecle Europe shared some elements with the ideas of Freud and Stravinsky, who, in their separate ways, saw the importance of the wild, uncivilized side of human nature.
Image credit: Wikipedia, Public Domain.
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