November 21, 2009

Ancient History Podcasts

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As long-time readers may have realised from my various holiday photos, I have an interest in ancient history. Discovering iTunesU, I was in history podcast heaven. There are numerous history lectures from many different institutions. In the ancient history area they mostly focus on Greek and Roman history. There is a paucity of lectures on other civilisations. I thought I’d start writing reviews of these podcasts. First up are three short series.

Great Sites Of The Ancient World – Podcasts from a lecture series at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. There have been at least 8 of these lectures over the past year, but unfortunately only three have made it online (I’m not sure if more will become available later). Each is about an hour long. The first, on Ur of the Chaldees, is audio only, but makes constant reference to missing slides. Thankfully, the other two on Troy and Abydos include the slideshow video. The lectures are given by archaeologists talking about their recent field research. As such they can sometimes become quite dry and focussed on the technical aspects of archaeology (livened with occasional stories and holiday snaps from the dig). However, you can still get a feel for the excitement of discovering or unearthing something unseen for millennia. Fans of the UK TV series Time Team should enjoy them – although they lack an equivalent of Tony Robinson’s translation for the layman.

World Archaeology – Part of an Open University course, these 12 podcasts ranging from 6 to 19 minutes in length, form an introduction to archaeology as a subject of study. The course has a website, as does the series of podcasts, where transcripts are available. The podcasts are audio only and have been produced with this in mind – there is no mention of accompanying images and the delivery is very clear. However, the series is very repetitive. Many of the podcasts contain parts exactly the same as other podcasts in the series. I suspect that the series actually contains lectures from two versions of the same course. In general, if the names of two podcasts in the series look similar, the shorter one can be largely skipped without missing anything. In these podcasts history takes a backseat to archaeological definitions and theories like what is a city, how did agriculture start or empires form. Also, I found them quite introductory (which is probably intentional) and light on information. They quickly jump across so many times and civilisations there is not time to dig deeper. Still there are some interesting nuggets, but I won’t be keeping a copy of this series on my computer.

Culture, identity and power in the Roman empire – Another Open University series, the 6 video podcasts are presented like short films (all under 9 minutes). Again the course and podcasts have their own websites. One is a short introduction to the geographical and cultural extent of the empire. Two are examinations of particular mosaics, and the remaining three look at the emperor as a force for unity in the empire. I have to admit to a soft spot for these podcasts as they make special mention of the Roman remains at Thugga (also know as Dougga) in Tunisia. I visited this site in 2008, you can see my photos here. This series is worth a look. The podcasts are too short to go into much detail but they have interesting visuals of current Roman sites and art.

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