(A lecture series listened to while I’ve been spinning yarn)

I’ve long been a fan of modern history (20th century) and at university, we studied history and culture from various angles – almost all post-Industrial Revolution though. It is only in the last couple of years that I’ve expanding my range and that has, for various reasons, been largely British in focus. This lecture series, which covered European history from the 1300s, has helped me fill in some of my knowledge gaps.

The course begins with Bucholz setting out two themes which come into play time and time again through the years – geography as destiny and the Great Chain of Being. Part of the former is perhaps obvious – it’s surely no great surprise that the western sea-faring countries were the ones to
seize the “New World” to the west – but there is also subtler elements concerning political alliances, marriages and buffer zones, which was stayed particularly relevant all the way up to the end of history(tm) in 1989. The Great Chain of Being is largely an archaic idea now but one that was vital for societal stability for centuries: in one of the early lectures, Bucholz discusses how the GCoB is the reason there weren’t constant peasant revolts and whatnot – if your whole concept of the world is built around the Chain, to question the Chain is basically to question God and that wasn’t generally advised.

Once the core themes were established, the lectures progressed in a vaguely chronological order as you would expect – and I found some bits more interesting than others (also as you would expect). The lectures lasted about 25 hours in total – which is nothing when trying to cover 600+ years of history for a continent. I got a little annoyed when he didn’t particularly mention the Berlin Wall (and thought in general that a lot of the post-WW2 stuff was skimpy) but I guess it is understandable with so much to cover. He mixed in quotes from eyewitnesses and contemporary commentators, as well as poetry and bits of drama (Shakespeare) – some were overly long but others, particularly the quotes, were valuable — unless he tried to do an accent. Oh God, the British accents were excruciating. Overall though, and accents aside, I liked his teaching style – there was little padding and I thought it went at a good speed (not too fast or too not too plodding). It was far from a simple recitation of facts – a lot of time was spent looking at the bigger picture, at context, causes and underlying factors, and at contemporary and later responses to events: ie, proper historical study, not just lists of dates and names.

One thing that really got my goat, aside from (*read in the worst cockney accent you’ve ever heard*) the bloody accents, was his constant need to toe the national line on certain issues – for example, it felt like there was some rose-tinting in discussion of America, and the concepts of democracy and capitalism, and it was outright embarrassing the amount of pussyfooting he had to do around Marx or any time he used the terms “socialist” or “liberal”. There is providing an explanation to stop people getting the wrong end of the stick and there is helping give people the wrong end of the stick in the first place…

Overall though, two thumbs up.