Course Review – The Ancient Greeks – Coursera #History #Learning

The Ancient Greeks 

This is another interesting free course run via Coursera, created by The Wesleyan University and presented by Professor Andrew Szegedy-Maszak. It’s a good starting point with which to learn about some of the battles, significant persons, and events of Ancient Greece.

Over 7 weeks the course covers:

Prehistory to Homer

The Archaic Age (ca. 800-500 BCE)

Two City-States: Sparta and Athens

Democracy. The Persian Wars

“The Great 50 Years” (ca. 480-431 BCE)

The Peloponnesian War I

The End of the War, the End of the Century

We learn about Homer, Socrates, Thucydides, Critias, Herotodus, and the major players in the array of battles, laws, political systems and arrangements and shenanigans which went on during this important period in European history.   There is one video on women in Greek society but other than fairly brief mentions women and the lower classes aren’t discussed in detail (to be fair this IS a short course and there is not a lot of info remaining about the common man and woman in Greek society).

The course comprises of informative videos and reading. I have to confess I didn’t do much of the reading (partly as I’ve done some in the past and partly because I didn’t have a lot of time) and I would have got more out of this had I done so – my bad.

I’d recommend doing at least some of the readings, and watching all the videos. There are quizzes to be completed at the end of each section – and these count as the grading for the course so MUST be completed.

The tutor was very engaging, easy to listen to and obviously is very well informed on this historical era.  There were a couple of issues with sound quality – but I have found this an issue with Coursera before (but to be fair the course is free).

Coursera is a good way to pick up cheap or free ‘taster’ courses (One can pay for the course and gain a certificate – otherwise you can an acknowledgement of completion but no actual certificate. The cost of this is not much.)

Overall I enjoyed this and would certainly look out for more courses from this university and tutor.

4 stars.

 

 

 

Course Review – Mindfulness and Meditation

#Mindfulness #Fibromyalgia #meditation #courses

As some of you may know I suffer from anxiety and have recently been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. It sucks. But it could be worse.

Anyway one of the suggestions from my GP was to find a Mindfulness course, this helps to deal with anxiety and the suffering caused by chronic pain and chronic fatigue.

My partner and I have both used Udemy.com and thus that is where I went. Mindfulness and Meditation teaches a new way to look at life and the world. It focuses on the moment, the now.  The tutor, Libby Seery, is experienced in her field and presents the course well.

From the course homepage

What are the requirements?

  • Everything you need for a life changing experience is contained within the course
  • The only thing you will need to get the most from this course is somewhere quiet to practise the meditation
  • If you prefer, you may use a chair or yoga mat, but these are optional and certainly not essential
  • Suitable for every level

What am I going to get from this course?

  • Live in the here and now
  • Experience the joys of life and how it feels to live in the present moment
  • Master the art of meditation with guided audio and silent meditation
  • Learn to overcome physical and emotional pain with the use of mindfulness techniques
  • Discover how you can apply mindfulness to make profound positive changes to your life starting immediately
  • Learn to appreciate everyday events in a mindful way, bringing you a happier, healthier life
  • Develop a greater sense of self-awareness

What is the target audience?

  • This course is perfect for those people wishing to explore mindfulness for the right time as well as those people looking to further their experience of mindfulness
  • It is a great introduction to meditation, both silent and guided
  • It is a great tool for anyone wanting to manage emotional and physical pain
  • Take this course if you want to discover a more meaningful and joyful life
I have found the techniques useful. I try the breathing and meditation exercises when I need them. At first, it’s difficult to adapt one’s mindset – anxiety means one focuses on the future and the now and catastrophises. Mindfulness tries to teach you that today, now might be crap/painful but it’s not always like this. Focus on yourself – what your body is doing and how it feels and accept it. Focus on the good things – the birds in the trees, the sun on your face or whathaveyou.
It teaches to try and focus on the positive (which is really hard some days) and do what you can do. A small victory is still a victory even if that victory is getting through the day or a particular task.
The course composes of meditation exercises, videos and lectures and diaries. There is no timeline – it can be done in your own time.
Has it made a difference to me? Yes, I think so. I try the ‘now’ exercises, the breathing and some meditation. My anxiety is a lot better – but it tends to flare up then retreat anyway. I do think Mindfulness is a positive and healthy way of seeing the world. It’s very easy to get drawn into the ‘what if’ scenarios, and the negative, destructive thinking.  It is hard to change the way one thinks and I do find myself reverting sometimes. I believe you get out what you put in. If you give Mindfulness a chance, work at the meditations, the changing outlooks then you’ll get a lot more benefit that expecting it not to work.
This course is not free but Udemy often has sales – I think I paid $10 or similar and it’s worth it.  When I am stressed or really zonked I can’t write anything useful and so it’s helping this aspect.

Magic in the Middle Ages – Course Review

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#Coursera #Fantasy #Medieval

https://www.coursera.org/learn/magic-middle-ages/

3.5 stars out of 5.

I’d been looking at this particular Coursera Course for a while, as it looked pretty interesting and good research for the books.

Here’s the summary from the Cousera website About this course: Magical thought has always attracted human imagination. In this course we will introduce you to the Middle Ages through a wide conception of magic. Students will have an approach to medieval culture, beliefs and practices from the perspective of History and History of Science. Popular magic, as well as learned magic (alchemy, geomancy and necromancy) will be addressed. Moreover, we will also deal with how eastern practices and texts influenced western culture. In July 2016, the course will contain a brand-new module devoted to astrology. Magic in the Middle Ages offers a captivating overview of medieval society and promotes reflection about certain stereotypes associated with this period.’

So did it fulfil this? Yes and no.

Let’s start with the ‘yes’. There was a lot of information to be learned in only 5 weeks – personally I would have liked another week or so. That said I was actually doing another, totally unrelated course at the same time and probably didn’t do this justice. The lectures were taught via video (and I’ll cover that later), with transcripts available, plus some selected reading, tests and two short assignments.

Each week covered a slightly different topic:

Unit 1 – Introduction to Medieval Magic

Unit 2 – Magic and Heresy

Unit 3 – From Magic to Witchcraft

Unit 4 – Magic in Islam

Unit 5 – Astrology and Geomancy

Of these the first three were the most interesting, although it was also interesting to see how Islam viewed magic – as opposed to the far more negative view of the Western Christian views. This particular module was probably the trickiest (not least because of the more unfamiliar names and terms) and I think more time could have been spent comparing the different cultural and religious outlooks, had the course been longer.

Magic permeated the Middle Ages, be it ‘healing’ magic, natural magic, or the more sinister type. In many ways it ran alongside religion, although it goes without saying that the religions of the day weren’t happy about it.  To us, in the modern world, much of it seems really odd, and for many secular societies or individual the whole concept of magic and religion is very outdated. Yet it was important to those who dwelt in a world not ordered by science and technology, where seasonal changes, illness, and belief could literally be a matter of life and death.  Magic was a way of trying to control what was often uncontrollable, to even the odds in a dangerous world. Religion and magic shared many aspects and Christianity itself (and Islam) hold many magical elements – including miracles, foresight and much more.

The topics were certainly engaging and thought provoking – especially the fact that many suffered imprisonment, torture and death for ‘heresy’ simply because of malice, ignorance or wishing to maintain older beliefs.  If the ‘magic’ wasn’t of the right sort, then people suffered. It was interesting to see the differing types of magic, and practitioners – from the wealthy intellectual court astronomers and magicians to the simple ‘cunning folk’. This builds on past study, at least for me. I’d agree it’s a good foundation for further research.

Was it useful  for writing fantasy? Yes, I think so as it gave a broad outline of medieval magical ideas to build on, and the prejudice surrounding them.

So the ‘no’.

The sound quality was bloody awful. The mix of tutors were all heavily accented and the recordings were of poor quality, with echoes, background noises, random volume changes and at one point a random question about King Arthur popped up on screen and froze the vid until it was answered. I found it far easier to just read the transcripts, but even then they were a little choppy.

As you’ve probably guessed I feel that the course should have been a bit longer – everything was a bit rushed. To be fair I didn’t utilise the discussion forum much.

The second assignment was a bit confusing – the grading questions were different to the points asked for discussion.

Overall a 3.5 for this – mostly because of the awful technical issues. Clean up the sound quality and this would be an engaging course.

 

Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier – Course

Review – Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier

Online course from Future Learn.

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/hadrians-wall

#FLHadrian #Romans #History

I’ve been looking at some more online history courses for a while, but as with most things it is finding both the time and the appropriate course.  I was introduced to Future Learn last year but this is the first course I’ve managed to find time to complete.

So why this course? I’ve studied Roman History before but not specifically Roman Britain. Hadrian’s Wall is one of the most famous and most studied frontier Roman settlements, in fact it is a World Heritage site. It stretches 73 miles in the North of England, some arguing to keep out the Picts and other ‘barbarians’ in what is now Scotland. It was so much more than just a wall – complex and well-manned forts, accompanying settlements, whether the natives liked it or not, and perhaps most importantly the introduction of writing into Britain.  The Romans brought much – religion, trade, Roman culture and laws, politics and soldiers and citizens from all over the Empire. Yet it was not all smooth running, there were uprisings, revolts, and ultimately abandonment by Rome.  40 years after the Wall was built a bloody uprising occurred. This and the Jewish Diaspora which occurred in the reign of Hadrian should be remembered. Violence and terror were among the tools the Romans used to rule. There were even revolts, breakaway emperors ruling for over a decade and much intrigue.

This course covers the period of Roman occupation and beyond; archaeology – including a CSI type murder mystery and the trials of preserving remains so old, the sociological and religious aspects; the coming of Christianity and of course a good helping of history, including how the Roman army change in the . Roman influence is all over Europe, even now, and still hold a lot of fascination. From AD 122 to about AD410 the wall was occupied, initially commissioned by the builder, scholar and Emperor Hadrian, who ruled 117 to 138 AD.  Of course Hadrian was not the first Emperor to covet the misty and mysterious Isles of Britain – Claudius invaded in AD 43.

So enough background – what are my thoughts on this course:

Subject matter: Very interesting and well handled. This is an introduction presented by professors and scholars, many from the University of Newcastle, it gives a good overall view of the era, the history and the challenges. Questions prompt the learning to consider the evidence and interaction with other online students is encouraged.

Time spent: It is stated as 4 hours a week – I’d say for the basics that is about right, although with all the other ‘suggested reading’ it would be a lot more. It depends really on how much time one spends on the discussion forums.

Teaching tools: Videos – useful and varied – I especially liked the re-enactment of the Roman banquet, the videos of the students involved discussing clothing, jewellery and the thoughts of the characters. However – the sound quality of a few of the vids wasn’t great. There was a lot of background hum and noise. Aside from this the videos were a key part of the course.

Reading: The information in the reading sections was not overwhelming – it was informative and thought-invoking but not overly difficult (at least for me).

Quizzes: A useful tool to test what had been learned.

The course was free, although the Certificate of Completion had a cost – if one wanted to purchase.

Summary: Interesting, well taught by knowledgeable staff and students, varied in its subjects and overall very enjoyable.  I would recommend for those interested in Roman History, British History, Archaeology and online learning.

Plagues, Witches and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction – Course Review

I was introduced to Coursera by my partner who suggested the writing course – Crafting an Effective Writer – might be of use to me. These MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses are free and provide an insight into various subjects, from history and writing to science and philosophy.  The writing course was fairly basic but it never hurts to go over what one knows and fill in gaps. That course will be discussed elsewhere.  Below is my review of the Historical Fiction course run by the University of Virginia and Professor Holsinger.

Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction 

https://class.coursera.org/hisfiction-001/class/index

This course appealed to me as a reader of historical fiction and a writer of fantasy. There are elements shared by both genres and it is never bad to consider how someone else sees the world in their books.  The course begins with an overview of the origins of the historical novel, and what is expected within the genre. Historical fiction is diverse, from romance to tragedy and semi-biographical accounts.

Definition: “A genre of imaginative narratives set in the past whose authors make a deliberate effort to convey chronologically remote settings, cultures, and personages with accuracy, plausibility and depth,” Bruce Holsinger.

So what does this mean? Fiction set in a real scenario, for example ancient Rome, or Civil War America featuring fictional characters, or even real persons speaking with the author’s voice. One of the visiting authors discussed emotions – emotions rarely change and thus it is plausible to assume a character would feel a certain way in a certain situation. The characters, or scenarios are not real, but the background is, as it were.  Some well known Historical Fiction texts would be Gone with the Wind, The Other Boleyn Girl, or The Last of the Mohicans. As you can see these are a diverse mix of subjects by diverse authors.

Historical Fiction continues to be a popular genre but in many ways it is very complex. World building is necessary in any novel but in the worlds of Historical Fiction the world is often there, for the researcher to find. It needs to be convincing – the ‘accuracy’ factor of Professor Holsinger’s definition. The key is research – what did people of that era eat? How did they live? What transport did they use? What religion did they follow? Whilst this is the case in world building for other genres because this world is real the accuracy needs to be there. Unconvincing scenarios will throw a reader out of the story. Research is more important here than perhaps elsewhere.

Plausibility is an important factor for a writer, even one who writes fantasy, after all much can be explained with magic but not all. Even magic has to have a basis in the possible, to understand the impossible one has to understand the possible. Fantasy worlds are often based around Middle Ages Europe or ancient Eurasian cultures and so knowledge of these eras and cultures is helpful.  Depth of course is a necessity, both in the worlds we create, and read and the characters which inhabit them. Shallow characters are weak, and the reader may end up not caring about their fate. This is true of any fiction. Historical fiction, in its basis in fact, has to work doubly hard to attain this, especially with popular or well-known personages.

There was a conversation on the forums about the ethical side of interpreting real events from the point of view of someone who did not exist, or claiming a person who did exist dealt with situations in such a way which was unreal, or possibly unreal. The key here is FICTION, the writer is not saying it was so, only that is MIGHT have been so. There is, of course, the risk that adherents of the personage may disagree.

One prototype historical story was Xenophone’s Cyropaedia  (4th Century BCE) – a fictionalised account of Cyrus the Great of Persia, although this was not a novel but a fictional political treatise. (George Saintsbury). Saintsbury later assess the Greek and Roman myths, Icelandic myths, the literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance and culminates in the works of Sir Walter Scott. Although Saintsbury’s work is now little outdated the basis is there for what we now regard as vital for the historical fiction novel (The Historical Novel).  There is some assumption that there is a fictional element within established history and this can be distinguished from historical non-fiction.

The latter parts of the course discuss specific works and feature online interviews with authors who discuss their books.The authors are very frank in their discussions and it is a good insight into the writing process, the importance of research and the motivations of a writer.  As a reader the course offers some excerpts and full novels which, otherwise, I may not have considered.  There is a lot of reading required, in a fairly short timescale, and I admit I fell behind with this. I am not convinced all the reading is necessary. The seminars with the visiting authors are not great quality and at least one I ended up watching with the subtitles on as the video kept dipping out.

Readings include:

The Love Artist by Jane Allison (see review linked below); The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe (dealing with witchcraft); The Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (dealing with the plague in an English Village); Fever by Mary Bethe Keane (dealing with Mary Mallon – typhoid Mary) and The Ghost Bride by Yangsee Choo (dealing with the Chinese traditions of the afterlife).

Plus supplementary readings from Dickens, Faulkner, Walter Scott, William Wells Brown and several more.

I feel the course could benefit from running for longer, enabling students to keep up with the reading, however this Coursera course is free and a good insight into the genre, writing and research.  I will continue to post the reviews of the reading as I complete it. If you have the time I would recommend this course – I found books I would not otherwise have read and the discussion forums were lively.  As the final assignment was dealing with archival sources and encouraged students to think of a story around the one they sourced who knows, perhaps something will come from that.

So what next? I am signed up for Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World which starts in February. As I am also taking a history course at the same time I expect to be kept very busy! https://www.coursera.org/course/fantasysf

https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2013/11/16/review-the-love-artist-jane-alison/