The Civil War and Reconstruction Era – 1845-1877, Lectures by David W. Blight

I just finished watching the final lecture in Professor Blight’s course on Academic Earth. I’ve been talking about it rather haphazardly because I have been watching them rather haphazardly this semester, so to pull it all together:

Academic Earth is a website that offers “full video courses and lectures from the world’s leading scholars” free of charge to anyone with a decent Internet connection. When I first got onboard, back in June, I noted there were five courses that I wanted to take. By “take” I actually meant following along with the reading, if not actually working the written assignments. I meant to follow the syllabus in something close to real semester time. Of course, I didn’t have the time to do that while in school “for real” and I didn’t really feel like waiting until I had the time to do all of the reading. So I just played the lectures and watched them like you would watch TV.  Which is good because they have added material like crazy in the last six months and I don’t even know what to start next.

When Professor Blight is speaking, he reminds me of Indiana Jones in the classroom.  If Dr. Jones were older, nerdier and a straight-up academic historian.  (OK, so not, but Harrison Ford could totally play this guy.)  He tells great stories and points to plenty of sources – assigned and otherwise – in his lectures.  He regularly referenced books that are in my house. A few that I have even read already. In fact in the last one, he quoted from Confederates in the Attic, by Tony Horowitz. My mother read that last year and thought it was great. He once had me running to the other room in the middle of the night to see if I had the same edition of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass because it had an appendix with a really great speech in it.  I was very disappointed to find it wasn’t the same.  He assigned The March, by E.L. Doctorow, the book that arguably started me on this Civil War kick in the first place. When he said that he used to assign The Killer Angels as the fiction piece for the course…well, I am a hundred pages into that one right now.

Note to Mom:  Besides being a big Bruce Catton fan, Dude’s from Michigan.  He compared a little-known Catton essay that had stabbed him in the heart with seeing his childhood hero – some Detroit Tiger that played right field – smoking a cigarette in the airport.  I thought that would amuse you.

So. The classes are the big lecture hall type things where the guy is talking and there are no questions or other student interactions. Apparently, in the actual course, there are two lectures per week and section discussions on some regular basis. This is fine with me, because the students would likely have ticked me off. The technical stuff is fine in that there aren’t a whole lot of issues with microphones or problems with the camera or anything. My only complaint, and Academic Earth warns you ahead of time, is that we can’t see the material on the classroom overhead projector. Copyright issues. I can live with it.

I love this guy. I loved his course. I love the very concept of Academic Earth. I’m going to go read that book now.

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