(Update: Jan. 15, 2010. Because Tara Carter’s great anthropology class has returned to the UCSD website, I gave her class a tie for first place. So it’s really 11 classes….)
Drumroll… the envelope please… I now present my first annual top 10 free online courses. The 2009 winners are:
10. Colonial and Revolutionary America (iTunes) Jack Rakove, Stanford University.
Rakove is a genial, conversational speaker who sprinkles jokes and asides about his favorite baseball team (the Chicago Cubs) into the lectures. You feel like you’re listening to a conversation, and not someone droning through a prepared text. He gives a good overview of the social history (how ordinary people lived) as well as the more familiar political history.
9. Western Movies: Myth, Ideology, and Genre (iTunes), Richard Slotkin, Wesleyan University.
The myth of the American frontier and what it meant to Americans in the twentieth century is the subject of this course. Slotkin, a well known author and culture critic, gave this course in early 2008 just before his retirement. Check it out — this is a master teacher at the top of his form, weaving themes from history, cultural theory and literature into the discussion of Western movies made during their heyday from 1939 to 1974.
8. Citizenship and Public Service (feed) Brian Walker, UCLA.
This course surveys political philosophy of public service, from the ancient Greeks and Chinese to the present. Walker has a gift for explaining sometimes dense and difficult philosophic ideas with concrete and often entertaining examples. While some of this material is tough slogging, it’s worth the effort for the ample food for thought it provides.
7. Human Happiness (website, feed), Dacher Keltner, UC Berkeley.
This interdisciplinary course taught by psychologist and emotion researcher Dacher Keltner covers the philosophy and psychology of happiness. Keltner brings his signature humor and conversational style to this offering. The booklist is here.
6. Justice: An Introduction to Moral and Political Philosophy (website), Michael Sandel, Harvard University.
Are starving men in a lifeboat morally justified if they murder and eat one of the crew? Can you put a dollar value on human life? Sandel challenges his students with these and other questions and brings to bear readings from Kant, Mill, Aristotle and others. The syllabus is here. Links to many of the readings are here.
5. The Economic History of the Twentieth Century (website, audio files), Brad DeLong, UC Berkeley.
DeLong surveys the “long 20th century,” beginning about 1870, and talks about the revolutions (in productivity and otherwise) that made our world. For more, and how to download the audio files, see: When the modern world began.
4. Introduction to Biological Anthropology (iTunes), Terrence Deacon, UC Berkeley.
Deacon’s class is a fascinating mix of biology, genetics, animal ethology and anthropology, as he works his way from single-celled organisms up to human physiology and the evolution of culture. He emphasizes how humans are related to all of the other lifeforms on our planet, and how Darwin’s theories help explain our place in the world.
3. Western Civilization, 1715-Present (Youtube), Lynn Hunt, UCLA.
Hunt brings new insights to this 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. See post: A great Western Civ course from UCLA.
2. The Bible in Western Culture (feed), Ronald Hendel, UC Berkeley.
This course uses the Bible as a lens to view the development of Western culture. It follows how people read and acted out their interpretations of the Bible from the ancient world on through the middle ages and to modern times.
1. Nationalism in Eastern Europe (iTunes), T. Mills Kelly, George Mason University.
Kelly has an engaging teaching style and his interaction with students adds verve and energy to the podcasts of 7 lectures from this 2007 course. Kelly covers the history of Eastern Europe in the 20th century, from World War II to the fall of Communism in 1989. (See Nationalism in Eastern Europe.)
1. MMW1 Prehistory and the Birth of Civilization (audio), Tara Carter, UC San Diego.
Carter relates the story of hominid evolution and the birth of social organization with infectious enthusiasm. Along the way you’ll learn about how we know Lucy walked upright, and why we think humans stopped foraging and started farming. The syllabus is here.