My favorite courses for 2010:
10. History of the Byzantine Empire (feed), Matthew Herbst, UCSD
Historian Matthew Herbst is a masterful lecturer who combines vast knowledge of his subject with dramatic delivery. He answers questions like these: How did the Byzantine Empire managed to last 1000 years? What were the challenges it faced and surmounted? How does its legacy still affect us today? The syllabus is here. See The rise of monasticism.
9. Shakespeare After All: The Later Plays (website) Marjorie Garber, Harvard University
Garber’s style is conversational and analytic, and she pays attention to subjects like Shakespeare’s imagery, how gender is constructed in Shakespeare’s plays, and Shakespeare’s use of irony. Plays covered include Troilus and Cressida, Othello, Macbeth and King Lear. The fall 2008 syllabus is here.
8. The United States in the 20th Century (feed), Michael Parrish, UCSD
Parrish gives a fascinating overview of US history in the 20th century. He gives the biographies of key figures and touches on important legal and political changes. Even if you’re up to speed on US history, you’ll encounter some surprises. Did you know that Teddy Roosevelt was an avid amateur ornithologist and could imitate the songs of about 50 birds?
7. Introduction to Economics (feed) J. Bradford DeLong, UC Berkeley
If you’ve been thinking of brushing up on your freshman economics, or if you have never had the chance to learn the basic principles of the dismal science, here’s your chance. DeLong is making his lecture notes, slides and problem sets available to the general public on his course website. This is especially useful when DeLong begins to use mathematical models, as you can go back and review his equations. Also, his dry sense of humor sets just the right tone for an introduction to the fundamentals of economics.
6. Formations of Modern Art (feed) William Norman Bryson, UCSD
Art historian William Norman Bryson gives a lively and entertaining introduction to the French Impressionists and other moderns. Sadly, the podcasts are not available in video. However, you can see the images he discusses at the course website. (See A different take on the Impressionists.)
This podcast is a loving look at all things Tolkien, and includes the audio recordings of his spring 2010 Tolkien Course (website). If you’re a Tolkien lover, don’t miss it.
Cyrus Patell is a delight to listen to as he challenges, exhorts and explains his way through early American literature. His explanations of the historical background, combined with close reading of selected texts, gives added insight to anyone who wants to understand American history and culture.
3. China: Traditions and Transformations (website) Peter Bol, William Kirby, Harvard University
This course is team-taught by two China scholars, Peter Bol, who focuses on China’s pre-modern history and culture, and William Kirby, who explains how the history and traditions play out in modern China. Their interaction makes the classroom lively and often playful, and they make good use of the Extension School’s video interface, which displays visual slides alongside the lecture video. Their maps, photos and illustrations greatly enhance the lectures. The 2009 syllabus is here.
John Zaller tackles some of the enduring puzzles of American political life. For example, why is American politics growing more and more polarized? How well do politicians represent their constituents? How much influence does the mass media have? Are political parties good or bad for democracy?
1. Close Relationships (website), Thomas Bradbury, UCLA
Bradbury shows what recent psychological research can teach us about how intimate relationships develop and change over time. He moves from initial attraction, to formation of intimate bonds, and then on to how relationships grow or deteriorate. He uses a lot of video clips from his lab and from Hollywood movies to illustrate his points. (The audio on the video is hard to hear, but watching the video feed makes it easier to follow.)