Thanks to the internet!

Open Culture is one of the great doorways to courses and information! For example:


When you dive into our collection of 1,300 Free Online Courses, you can begin an intellectual journey that can last for many months, if not years. The collection lets you drop into the classrooms of leading universities (like Stanford, Harvard, MIT and Oxford) and essentially audit their courses for free. You get to be a fly on the wall and soak up whatever knowledge you want. All you need is an internet connection and some free time on your hands.

Today, we’re featuring two courses taught by Professor Richard Bulliet at Columbia University, which will teach you the history of the world in 46 lectures. The first course, History of the World to 1500 CE (available on YouTube and iTunes Video, or fully streamable below) takes you from prehistoric times to 1500, the cusp of early modernity. The origins of agriculture; the Greek, Roman and Persian empires; the rise of Islam and Christian medieval kingdoms; transformations in Asia; and the Maritime revolution — they’re all covered here.

In the second course, History of the World Since 1500 CE (find it on YouTube, iTunes or embedded below), Bulliet focuses on the rise of colonialism in the Americas and India; historical developments in China, Japan and Korea; the Industrial Revolution; the Ottoman Empire; the emergence of Social Darwinism; and various key moments in 20th century history.

Bulliet helped write the popular textbook The Earth and its Peoples: A Global History, and it serves as the main textbook for the course. Above, we’re starting you off with Lecture 2, which moves from the Origins of Agriculture to the First River – Valley Civilizations, circa 8000-1500 B.C.E. The first lecture deals with methodological issues that underpin the course. All of the remaining lectures are available below.

Once you get the big picture with Professor Bulliet, don’t forget to visit our collection of Free Online History Courses, a subset of our big collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.


Anonymity and Art


“What is good art?” is a standard philosophical quandary that never really goes very far as long as there’s a relativist in the room (and there usually is). With art more than most things it’s harder to argue that its goodness isn’t in the eye of the beholder. A better question is “What is required to make good art?” And that, I argue, is at least two things: authenticity and anonymity.

A good artist is authentic. We need not argue exactly what “authentic” means to proceed; just to agree what it’s not. It’s not pandering to the masses. It’s not for increasing social status. It’s not from desiring praise. If it happens to be for anybody at all, it’s incidental to the artist’s need to express.  And if it’s to be judged, an artist should prefer it be on its own merit. And that’s where anonymity comes in.

Artists should be anonymous not simply because it doesn’t matter who the artist is (with some exceptions), but because it enables authenticity in both the artist and the audience. The anonymous artist is free to express without their identity being tied to success or failure, and they cannot doubt their own intentions.

Let’s take for granted that good art, beyond mere technical skill, is an expression of the artist’s soul. It relates to some part heretofore unknown to ourselves, or gets us thinking about something familiar in a new way. Whether or not it is understood depends on the experiences the artist/audience has had in their lives (in this way they are equals – an artist is not to be revered). It’ll either be gotten or not – and not everyone will get it because not everyone will get the artist, and that’s ok. But for the artist who has made themselves one with their art for public consumption and judgement, the failure of the art to connect is internalized and externalized as a failure of the artist. This giving-of-fucks is like poison and will lead the artist down a path of angst and dissatisfaction, not to mention bad art.

Another reason artists should remain anonymous is to reduce the amount of career artists who are making art for the wrong reasons. Artists need to have an existence that is not primarily about making art for the sake of it. If someone is locked in a contract or becomes too focused on maintaining their brand or income stream, then they cease to be authentic, and if they are creating at the expense of living, then they cease to be relatable. Art should be the byproduct of experience; an experience of life as we know it – through the artist’s eyes. Their gift to us.

But anonymity is really more for the benefit of the audience than the artist. The general audience is so impressionable that if they see, hear, or read something unfamiliar, they naturally look to other markers for how to react. The artists preexisting works, reputation, or other such subconscious biases might influence their perception of the art. When J.K. Rowling released her adult crime/fiction novel under the pseudonym “Robert Galbraith”, she was hoping to bring the focus back to the work; to, as she says, “work without hype or expectation and receive totally unvarnished feedback.” As a result, the book was read and reviewed, came and went, entirely on its own merit.

We must not conflate the art with the artist. We must focus our attention on the art itself and judge it according to our own aesthetic sensibilities – which we must continually develop by seeking art out where it’s hiding or being overshadowed; choosing what to be exposed to rather than passively letting ourselves be exposed to whatever is front and center. As many of us know,  that’s not where the best art is.

Popularity is the enemy of our and society’s aesthetic development. The more popular an artist becomes the more their name is spread around and passed down without people actually coming into direct contact with the work but feeling like they know its quality already, the more automatic exposure they will get before even producing, and the more people will be tricked into thinking that good art necessarily comes from popular artists.

With artists as anonymous, each work of art will be judged with no other reference point but itself, and the art that survives will be the art that deserves to.

On Power

Elemental power?


What is Power?

by Gregory Kyle Klug

What is Power?A Reuters headline of 18 April 2014 reads ‘Powerful earthquake rattles Mexico, shakes buildings.’ The earthquake is powerful in that it overcomes the resistance of land and buildings. Isaac Asimov writes of inventor Johann Gutenberg: ‘he introduced printing as a powerful force in human affairs.’ Printing enables ideas to be widely disseminated, thereby initiating thoughts in people’s minds that would otherwise not have been initiated. The passive resistance offered by whatever else people were thinking is overcome by new ideas – ideas that originated in the mind of a writer. Even the active resistance of other people’s ideas may be overcome with different ideas. John Locke’s sub-title to his Two Treatises on Government reads, ‘The false principles and foundation of Sir Robert Filmer and his followers are detected and overthrown.’ Locke overthrows someone else’s principles, and replaces them with his own. The change takes place in readers’ minds as he convinces and persuades them using the power of intellect and imagination.

Read the paper here.

On the arts: Theatre


Several years ago now I was in Ashland, Oregon at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to see Richard III. That is where I met a blind man who was sitting on an aisle seat with his seeing eye dog curled up next to him.

The man said that he came to Ashland every year to “see” the Shakespeare plays in the outdoor theatre. He said that he had not always been blind, and that he had always been interested in theatre.

Shakespeare, he said, had not been a favourite of his until after he lost his sight.Once he could no longer see, he said, he began to understand what Shakespeare’s plays were about. He had to listen to the language now, and he found it rich and fascinating. He recreated his own sets and costumes in his mind while his ears were tuned to the nuance of pitch and emotion that performers shared when delivering their lines.

He did not feel cheated, but said that his experience of the plays had deepened since his loss of sight. This puzzled me. Was he over-compensating? Being brave? Or was he onto something that has to do with the nature of a Shakespeare script?

I watched Julius Caesar again – the BBC production with the financial assistance of Time-Warner – one of the 37 plays produced for television. A solid production with good actors, the sort of professionalism expected from the BBC, and intelligent direction. Antony stirred me with his funeral speech, Cassius looks properly lean and hungry, and Caesar arrogant and worthy of his death.

And yet something was wrong. The crowd scenes did not work. Some scenes were destroyed by the camera angle which disrupted the spacing of the actors.  The camera itself which its particular set of technical possibilities – close-ups, pans, and angles shots effects the play. While the camera is doing what it does so well what do you do with that Shakespearean language?

His language was his camera. When you add a second camera you lose focus.


The BBC Television Shakespeare is a series of British television adaptations of the plays of William Shakespeare, created by Cedric Messina and broadcast by BBC Television. Transmitted in the UK from 3 December 1978 to 27 April 1985, the series spanned seven seasons and thirty-seven episodes.

Also known as The Shakespeare Collection (UK)
The Complete Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare (US)

At the movies – review

For the Love of Movies: The Story of American ...

For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Paul W. Kahn

Finding Ourselves at the Movies: Philosophy for a New Generation

Paul W. Kahn, Finding Ourselves at the Movies: Philosophy for a New Generation, Columbia University Press, 2013, 239pp., $35.00 (hbk), ISBN: 9780231164382.

Reviewed by Sarah Cooper, King’s College London

In film scholarship, there is a long-standing history of interest in that crucial yet enigmatic point of intersection between the cinema and the world beyond its walls, as well as between the movies and their spectators. From interrogation of cinematic realism, through audience studies, to painstakingly detailed psychoanalytic theoretical study of spectatorship, and in research into the political, moral, and ethical effects of the moving image, the relationship between our world, ourselves, and the movies we view has received a great deal of scrutiny and continues to be a key area of concern within film studies today. Paul W. Kahn’s elegant book is a fascinating intervention in this area of interest, which addresses from a philosophical perspective the question of how we might find ourselves at the movies. [Read the review.]