December 14, 2009

History 4A: The Ancient Mediterranean World

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Available on iTunesU or at its website.

This is a recording of a University of California at Berkeley history course on the ancient Mediterranean given by Professor Isabelle Pafford during Fall 2007. There are 25 podcasts (each around one hour, and 15 MB) starting with a couple on Ancient Egypt and then passing through Ancient Greece, the Hellenistic Period, the Roman Republic before ending with the Roman Empire’s collapse in the west around the 5th century AD. Most attention is paid to Greek and Roman history. A following course on Byzantine history is mentioned, but I couldn’t find it online.

As should be expected for a series covering so much, the lectures often quickly pass over topics. Some parts of lectures were lists of important events. Despite this, there were more than enough digressions onto engaging side-topics to maintain interest (for instance, there was a passage on the nude in Greek sculpture and another on the formal political structure/progression in the Roman Republic). Thus the podcasts serve as a good introduction to the breadth of ancient Mediterranean civilisations and highlights areas you may want to explore further (after this I was looking forward to learning more on the mid and late Roman republic). I can’t find much fault with the content of the course considering its scope.

I can find fault with the production standards, which overall are frustratingly poor. The sound quality is often annoyingly bad. For one lecture I had the volume turned up to max and pushed the earplugs deeper into my ears and I still could barely hear the lecturer, who sounded like she was mumbling next to a static noise generator. Course administration comments are sometimes made during a lecture – including asking unintentionally rhetorical questions to what seem to be largely apathetic students. Considering these are lecture recordings I can understand this, but usually the first few minutes of each lecture are taken up with course administration too (these could have easily been cut). Also, Professor Pafford regularly refers to visual aides that are no longer available online (the bspace website mentioned in the podcasts has been shutdown). Also the first two lectures are missing.

A good introduction to classical history, made slightly less pleasurable by poor production.

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