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Some Recommended Lectures for the Humanities-Minded: The Great Courses

Obviously, I'm a numbers nerd, but I love the humanities, too... especially now that I get to pick what I want to learn from that vast field of human achievement.

Back in 2012, I did a series of 12 posts on the 12 Days of Learning, but I'm not going to go that far right now. I'm copying over a bunch of facebook comments I made here and here.

I will break this up into a few posts, though, going by my first addition: The Teaching Company, now called The Great Courses. I started buying their lecture sets back in the 1990s, on cassette tape.

Lectures and Lecturers I Recommend: The Great Courses

I am currently halfway through a 24-lecture series on the Black Death, and other than the pronunciation quibble I had from yesterday, I very much recommend it. The Black Death had a huge effect on European history and played a part in clearing away the medieval social world for modernism. You may not be happy that the feudal society was swept away due to population devastation, but it is what it is. What I'm finding interesting is the disparities in mortality (most of the towns covered so far had >40% mortality over a couple years... but some were relatively untouched. I wonder why... the lecturer is fair in indicating where there is still uncertainty in current scholarly research. There are some interesting genetic results due to the Black Death, unsurprisingly.)

I do enjoy intensely focused histories, because by picking one major event, trend, or theme (like dictionaries) you can often fit the whole world, looking through a major prism.

But that's what I'm listening to now.

What have I listened to in the past, that I recommend?

Other Great Courses lecturers I've enjoyed are Robert Greenberg on Music - hell, he is the music department at Great Courses (yes, a few other peep in, but I see his count is 112 sets, some of which are repeats). If you want a taste, get one of the short musical biographies, like the 8 lectures on Mozart's life.

If you want to go whole hog, you can go with his major survey courses, like How to Listen To and Understand Great Music or How to Listen to and Understand Opera.

But forget those -- get one where he does a nice working through one composer's work. Bach and the High Baroque, Life and Operas of Verdi, and Chamber Music of Mozart -- these I have listened to multiple times, they're so enjoyable.

Other Great Courses lecturers I enjoy: John McWhorter on linguistics (I've listened to all his sets), Kenneth Harl on History, Elizabeth Vandiver on Classical Culture, and Rufus Fears on Great Men and Great Ideas. Alas, Dr. Fears has been dead since 2012, and he is a bit of an acquired taste, but I like his stuff. I don't agree with some of his interpretations, but I don't mind.

Recommendation for format and source

So if you follow those item pages, you'll often see some eye-popping prices.

I have never paid those prices. (Also, do you ever pay the tag price at Kohl's or Macy's? If so, you're a sucker. Those aren't the "real" prices.)

First off, I am a patient person, and can sit around and wait for when they discount 80% some titles. And I often scrounge in their "bargain bin" when they're phasing out a set. Separately, there are people selling their lecture sets on Amazon and ebay, used. Steeply discounted.

Finally, many libraries have these lecture sets. I just check them out. I have racked up late fees on some of them, but eh. It's not $250.

I understand you can get some of the lectures via audible.com memberships, but I have never used that.

As for format -- most of these I'm listening to on CD in my van, as I commute (I drive ~33K miles per year.) Pretty much all these lecture sets have audio-only versions - the lectures I've gotten that have video-only versions are fairly limited, and you can understand why they require video. None I linked to above require video to comprehend.

The next post, I will cover the lectures/lecturers I like from the Modern Scholar series.
Tags: education
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