Monday, February 26, 2007

Back to School!

For several years I've been receiving literature from The Teaching Company. It sells packaged college courses on DVD, CD, or audiotape - courses taught by, purportedly, some of the best teaching professors in the country. Although some courses seemed interesting, I never gave them my credit card until last week. "The Foundations of Western Civilization", 48 30-minute lectures by Thomas F.X. Noble of Notre Dame University, arrived three days later.

My wife and I are viewing the lectures on DVD several nights each week, after dinner. Professor Noble is an interesting speaker who talks rapidly, which is great because he's covering giant swaths of history every 30 minutes. Can you imagine doing ancient Mesopotamia including Sargon, Hammurabi, Gilgamesh, the decimal system, and much more in 30 minutes? And ancient Egypt in 30 more? This is clearly a survey course in the first degree.

Yet there seems to be a lot of value in compressing history down to its bare fundamentals. Noble is interested in what, from each of these times and cultures, actually was "foundational" to western civilization. So, at this point in the course we understand that the formation of cities was necessary for civilization to begin, and that Sumer (Mesopotamia) contributed quite a lot more to our modern world than did Egypt. Next time we learn about the Hebrews.

Needless to say, this is not my first foray into "Western Civ". A few feet away, on my bookshelf, is "The Story of Civilization" by Will (and Ariel) Durant, "The Study of History" by Arnold Toynbee, and (my favorite) "Ideas and Men - The Story of Western Thought" by Crane Brinton. But it's possible to get lost in the trees and forget the forest. Noble is concerned about the forest. Maybe I'll go back and look at some of the more interesting trees after finishing Noble's quick tour through the forest.

Several great courses are on sale at all times, just to hook us curious people, I suppose. This course was only $109, for example. With the DVD's came a new catalog with many more tantalizing potential forays into knowledge of many sorts. It will be hard to resist going on to something new...maybe "My Favorite Universe", by Professor Tyson of Princeton University -twelve 30-minute lectures for $40.

Seem interesting? Try out this url: Bet you see something that tickles your fancy!

1 comment:

ThomasLB said...

I've gotten advertising from that company in the past, but I've always been afraid to try it- $109 is a lot of money to spend on something that might suck. Now that I've read your review, I'll give them another look.