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A History of India

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A History of India

Course No. 8350
Professor Michael H. Fisher, Ph.D.
Oberlin College
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4 out of 5
46 Reviews
78% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 8350
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  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, diagrams, illustrations, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. While the video version can be considered lightly illustrated, it does feature photographs, illustrations, graphics, and more than 250 maps, as well as on-screen text to highlight non-English terms and help reinforce material for visual learners.
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What Will You Learn?

  • Explore the ancient foundations of Hinduism with sacred poems and hymns.
  • Find out about the ancient Vedic social order (or Varna) and how it structured society.
  • Witness the rise of the British East India Company and find out how it coincided with the rise of British imperialism.
  • Learn about the life of Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi and trace his life from his young manhood in India to his activism in South Africa and India.
  • Consider the role geography and ethnicity played in the distribution of power and border tensions.

Course Overview

India is home to some of the world’s oldest, greatest, and most successful civilizations. Today the South Asian subcontinent contains 20 percent of the world’s population and is a thriving center for global business. Over the next decade, India alone is expected to surpass China in population, making this region one of most significant economic powerhouses in the world.

Beyond the globalization of the 21st century, the region has always played a critical role on the world stage. Over the past 5,000 years, the subcontinent has been home to a rich tapestry of peoples and cultures. Two of the world’s great religions—Hinduism and Buddhism—as well as some of humanity’s most significant wisdom literature all have their origins in South Asia. And with its strategic location and unique geography, the lands east of the Indus River have long been a central hub for trade, migration, and cultural exchange.

Go inside this thrilling story with A History of India, a breathtaking survey of South Asia from its earliest societies along the Indus and Ganges rivers through the modern challenges of the 21st century. Taught by Professor Michael H. Fisher of Oberlin College, these 36 sweeping lectures enable you to understand the epic scope of the subcontinent’s history. Perhaps the most important facet of this history is how diverse the region truly is. Roughly the size of continental Europe, India—along with its neighbors Pakistan and Bangladesh—contains a myriad of ethnic groups, socioeconomic classes, religions, and cultural mores.

What’s more, the subcontinent has seldom been unified under a single empire or government, making its history complicated and difficult to navigate. With the expert guidance of Professor Fisher, you will:

  • See how geography and climate shaped the development of its civilizations—sometimes facilitating contact between groups, but often isolating them, which entrenched local cultural and governance systems.
  • Trace the migration of varied peoples over the mountains from Asia and Europe, as well as in through the coasts, creating areas of dynamic cultural exchange.
  • Delve into the legacies of the Mauryan Empire, the Mughal Empire, and British colonialism, three of the few governments that ever unified the subcontinent.
  • Witness the fight for independence from European powers and the partition of the region into the countries of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh in the 20th century.
  • Review some of the largest challenges and opportunities faced by this area today, from expanding urbanization to the vast need for energy sources to the ongoing, heated political and ideological debates about national identity.

Professor Fisher reveals this complex narrative with skill and compelling insights. By the end of A History of India, you will understand the full scope of the region, its people, and its cultures, across time and today.

Discover Diverse Cultures with Complex Origins

Professor Fisher takes you back to reflect on the very beginning of human history, shedding light on the earliest societies on the subcontinent:

  • the Adivasi forest dwellers
  • the urban civilizations in the Indus Valley
  • the Vedic cultures that were the ancient cultural forebears of today’s Hindus

Few artifacts have survived to tell us about these societies, so scholars have relied on DNA evidence and linguistic analysis to provide clues about their mysterious origins. Much of our cultural understanding of ancient India has been passed down in two national epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. While not strictly fact-based histories as Westerners understand the term, these texts give us remarkable insight into the origins and development of India’s history, particularly the Vedic tradition.

One of the most fascinating topics of this course is its overview of the subcontinent’s religions, starting with the Vedic cultures. Hinduism is the religion of those who revere the Vedas as sacred truth, and this tradition had and continues to have a profoundly deep influence on South Asian societies, governments, and even economies. The rise, expansion, and influence of Jainism, Buddhism, and Islam occurred in dialogue with the Hindu ethos, and you’ll come to understand how these religions served the needs of many who felt disenfranchised by the dominant milieu. You’ll also uncover the lives of Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians (Parsis) who created thriving communities that endured for centuries, mostly in trading ports. Professor Fisher skillfully offers both an “etic” and an “emic” perspective—that is, history as it is understood from our perspective as outsiders and history as it is known within the culture—which ultimately yields a comprehensive, nuanced, and multi-voiced account of South Asia’s story.

Professor Fisher unpacks these nuances and offers profound insight into some of the great religions found on the subcontinent:

  • Learn about the Vedas and how the idea of the “cosmic man” gives division and order to social classes (“castes”).
  • Gain wisdom from the Bhagavad Gita and see why it is one of the world’s best-known texts.
  • Find out why the economic and political situation in the year 500 B.C.E. led to the rise of new religions such as Jainism and Buddhism.
  • Meet Siddhartha Gautama and follow the growth of Buddhism across Asia.
  • Consider why Islam spread so mightily throughout the subcontinent—and what the current status of Muslims is throughout the region.

Navigate a Bustling Political and Economic Hub

Because of its size and diversity, South Asia traditionally has been divided into numerous kingdoms. Nonetheless, its strategic location has also made the subcontinent an important trading center and economic hub. For instance, the Silk Road connecting China with Europe had a branch that ran through northern India. And in the 15th century, when Vasco da Gama sailed around the horn of Africa, he landed on India’s coasts, ushering in a new era of global commerce.

Professor Fisher takes you through a series of developments as people from around the world migrate in and out of the subcontinent, leading to great political upheavals as well as economic and cultural exchange.

  • Watch as myriad invaders travel through the Khyber Pass from Afghanistan to set up—or conquer—kingdoms in India.
  • Investigate how Islam spread so quickly throughout South Asia, leading to many years of sultanate rule, and examine how this new paradigm changed social relations and patterns of governance across the region.
  • Peer into the reign of the Mauryans, starting with Chandragupta, who consolidated the subcontinent’s first major empire, and continuing with the rule of his grandson, the renowned Buddhist Emperor Ashoka.
  • Witness the beginnings of the Mughal empire, as a Central Asian warrior named Babur conquered the Delhi sultanate, and follow the rise and fall of this dynasty, tracing the lives of the emperors Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan (who created the gorgeous Peacock Throne and the Taj Mahal), and Alamgir.
  • Reflect on the religious, social, and economic differences between northern India, the Deccan Plateau, and the many southern kingdoms.
  • Follow the development of European trade and colonialism, including multiple East India companies, and consider how their practices affected the local economy and politics.
  • Explore the circumstances that led to the British crown claiming rule over India, and consider the lasting consequences of the Raj for the subcontinent.

Over the past 100 years, the region has seen some astonishing developments. British rule may have unified the subcontinent, but racist policies and economic siphoning of resources did much damage to the spirit and economy of India. From the 1857 sepoy uprising through the chaotic events that led to independence and partition in 1947, Professor Fisher takes you inside the Indian and Pakistani nationalist movements.

You’ll explore the legacies of key nationalist leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Subhas Chandra Bose, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and you’ll see how the quest for independence was not only a political movement—but also a question of ethnic and religious identity. Finally, you’ll also travel the world to consider the lives of Indians in Europe, Africa, and elsewhere—and how Indians in Britain often fared better than Indians under British rule on the subcontinent.

Explore India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh Today

Following the independence and partition of India and Pakistan (which was divided into East and West Pakistan) in 1947, you’ll witness great turbulence as each nation struggled to develop its own system of government in the wake of British colonialism.

In India, you’ll trace the recent history of what is now the world’s largest democracy, from Prime Minister Nehru’s five-year economic plans to boost food production through the rule of Indira Gandhi and her sons. You’ll gain new perspective on the State of Emergency in the 1970s, the three wars with Pakistan and insurrections in tribal regions, and the outlook of India’s government today.

Meanwhile, in modern-day Pakistan and Bangladesh, you’ll explore the development of their Islamic governments, witness numerous coups and shifts of power, and reflect on some of the key crisis points in recent years, from the 1971 split of East Pakistan into Bangladesh to Pakistan’s nuclear arms race with India to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

In the end, Professor Fisher projects what might be on the horizon for each of these nations. It is clear that South Asia is on the verge of another great boom in terms of economic and sociopolitical power. True to its history, it remains one of the world’s most important clusters of civilizations, and it will continue to play an integral role in humanity’s ongoing story. A History of India is a must-have course for understanding this powerful region and its profound influence on the rest of the globe.

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36 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    Earliest History of the Indian Subcontinent
    Begin your study millions of years ago, when plate tectonics shaped the subcontinent's mountains, plateaus, and river systems, which in turn have affected the region's weather, agriculture, and cultural diversity. Review South Asia's four macro-regions and see how geography has guided the course of life. x
  • 2
    Migration and the Adivasi
    Three main cultures inhabited the ancient Indian subcontinent. In this lecture, you'll study the first group, the Adivasi, aboriginal forest dwellers who once comprised the entirety of South Asia's population. See how genetic and linguistic analysis informs us about the Adivasi of 30,000 years ago-and learn about their status in India today. x
  • 3
    Indus Valley Civilization
    Turn to the second group of ancient Indian communities: the urban people of the Indus Valley. Many mysteries abound regarding this long-lost Bronze Age civilization, but Professor Fisher takes you through excavated cities, examines art and artifacts, and reveals what we know about this intriguing society-and what may have happened to them. x
  • 4
    Indo-European Vedic Culture
    Explore the ancient foundations of Hinduism, which emerged from a diverse community of people who identified themselves with the Vedas. By studying these sacred poems and hymns, you'll discover much about this civilization's culture and cosmology. You'll also trace the origins and development of the Indo-European language in this fascinating lecture. x
  • 5
    Caste: Varna and Jati
    The Vedic caste system is one of the most well-known aspects of Hindu society-and also one of the most misunderstood. Find out about the ancient Vedic social order (or Varnas), how it structured society, and how numerous inherited social groups (or Jatis) relate to occupation, creating a diverse and complex society. x
  • 6
    Epic Literature: Ramayana
    Delve into the first Indian epic: the Ramayana, which is a poem, a love story, a morality tale, and much more. Discover the story of Prince Rama, his faithful wife, Sita, and the gods that control their lives. It is also an important source for many of the historical details we have about the era. x
  • 7
    Epic History: Mahabharata
    Shift your attention to India's other major epic, the Mahabharata, which is the longest major text in human history (clocking in at a whopping 1.8 million words). After examining the sources and style of this epic, Professor Fisher surveys its plot and shows what it means from the emic" perspective of Indians as well as the "etic" perspective of outsiders." x
  • 8
    Dharma in the Bhagavad Gita
    The Bhagavad Gita is arguably one of the most famous texts in world history. Explore the origins and context for the story, delve into the complexities of philosophy and religion that the narrative contains, and understand why it has resonated throughout Indian history and around the world. See how its wisdom is still the basis for Hinduism today. x
  • 9
    The Origins and Rise of Jainism
    In 500 B.C.E., the old Vedic social order was changing as the merchant classes began to achieve upward mobility. Along with these radical cultural and economic changes, alternative religious models emerged to compete with the Vedic cosmology. Here, you'll survey Jainism's origins and philosophy, which require a life of total nonviolence. x
  • 10
    The Origins and Rise of Buddhism
    Along with the rise of Jainism, 500 B.C.E. also saw the adoption of Buddhism as an alternative to the Vedic tradition. Delve into the life of Siddhartha Gautama and the tenets of his philosophy, including the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path to enlightenment. Then find out how these ideas developed and spread across Asia. x
  • 11
    The Mauryan Empire
    Because South Asia is such a large and diverse region, it has seldom been unified under one ruler. But around the time Jainism and Buddhism began challenging the old social order, Chandragupta was able to consolidate and form the subcontinent's first major empire. Uncover the trajectory of his life and the conditions that allowed him to build the Mauryan Empire. x
  • 12
    Ashoka's Imperial Buddhism
    Continue your study of the Mauryan Empire with Chandragupta's grandson, Emperor Ashoka, who even today is likely the most famous individual from ancient India. After consolidating his territory in a vicious war, Ashoka became a Buddhist and a model benevolent ruler. x
  • 13
    Deccani and Southern States
    Brahmin culture was never as strong in southern India as it was in the north, which meant a diverse range of societies were able to flourish on the Deccan plateau. After explaining some of the region's historical trends, Professor Fisher highlights the distinctive features and interactions of a few prominent southern kingdoms. x
  • 14
    Northwest and North India
    In the wake of the Mauryan Empire's collapse, many regional dynasties emerged across the north and northwest. Unpack the fascinating history of these two macro-regions. Learn about several of the major ethnic groups and the Silk Road trade routes, and then round out the lecture with a study of the famous Gupta dynasty. x
  • 15
    Brahmanic Synthesis
    While the regional governments remained fragmented at the turn of the Common Era, the Brahmins worked to rebuild their cultural prominence. They formally developed what is today Hinduism, thanks to a series of written manuals, or shastras, which lay out the principles of an ideal life-including notions of dharma, kama, artha, and moksha. x
  • 16
    Indian Parsis, Jews, and Christians
    South Asia has always been a distinctly diverse region, incorporating numerous communities of outsiders who came to the subcontinent via the coasts or across the mountains. Explore the worlds of Parsis, Jews, and Christians in India, and see how they interacted with Hindu society. x
  • 17
    Islam Comes to India
    Islam has had a profound impact on South Asia, and today the region has the largest Muslim population in the world. After surveying the history and pillars of Islam and its origins in the Middle East, Professor Fisher examines how many people of South Asia became Muslim via trade, invasion, devotion, or personal motivation. x
  • 18
    Indian Sultans
    The binary opposition between Hindus and Muslims oversimplifies what has always been a complex relationship. Here, you'll study that relationship as you meet some of the most prominent Muslim rulers, or Sultans, from the 9th to the 16th centuries. Explore their kingdoms throughout India and their legacies. x
  • 19
    The Early Mughal Empire
    In this first of several lectures on the great Mughal Empire, you'll meet a Central Asian adventurer named Babur, who rode into South Asia from Kabul and conquered the Delhi sultanate. Then witness the checkered career of his son, who almost lost the empire before it could really get started. x
  • 20
    The Reign of Emperor Akbar
    Continue your study of the Mughal Empire by tracing the rule of Emperor Akbar. During his dramatic five-decade reign, he truly established the empire for the long term thanks to several key initiatives: drawing regional rulers into his army, encouraging interreligious marriage, transforming the administrative system, and creating an imperial ideology based on various mystical ideas and practices. x
  • 21
    Later Mughal Emperors
    Succession is a key challenge for any empire. As Emperor Akbar aged, follow the rise of his son, Jahangir, who, once emperor, ruled with aplomb and introduced many new innovations to the subcontinent. His own son, Shah Jahan, then constructed the Peacock Throne, the Taj Mahal, and other glorious architectural triumphs. x
  • 22
    The Mughals and the Marathas
    The 17th century saw the slow decline of the Mughal Empire during the reign of Emperor Alamgir (also called Aurangzeb). As he aged, he drew the empire into war with the Deccan-based Marathas, who were led by the skillful warrior Shivaji. Watch as the Marathas humiliate the Mughals and establish their own powerful regional identity. x
  • 23
    Competing European Empires
    Now turn from the subcontinent inlands to the sea, where European traders began arriving on the Indian coast to establish global companies, including several East India companies. After surveying Portugal's 200-year dominance of trade, Professor Fisher shows how the English eventually established their own foothold in the market. x
  • 24
    The British East India Company
    Witness the rise of the British East India Company and find out how it coincided with the rise of British imperialism. Company leaders often sought glory and expansion, which led to greater British influence and control of South Asia via joint-stock corporations. Take an inside look at these radical developments in the 18th and 19th centuries. x
  • 25
    The Issues and Events of 1857
    Tension between the British and the South Asians came to a boil in 1857, when a group of Indian soldiers rose up against the British army-to disastrous consequences. Consider the context and historical impact of this pivotal year, which forever changed the nature of British rule in India. x
  • 26
    The British Raj and Early Nationalism
    Continue your study of Indian and British relations with a detailed look at the British Raj, a 90-year period of colonialism that stretched from the 1857 uprising to the region's independence in 1947. Gain insight into Britain's racist policies, and view the beginnings of the subcontinent's struggle for political autonomy. x
  • 27
    India and Indians in the World
    Whether as students, soldiers, or servants, South Asians who left the subcontinent contributed significantly to the cultural exchange among China, continental Europe, and Great Britain. And whereas the British Raj relied on segregation for political control, Indian immigrants in Britain found greater freedom. Reflect on the impact of South Asians throughout the world. x
  • 28
    Mahatma Gandhi
    Learn about the life of Mohandas Mahatma" Gandhi, who is perhaps the 20th century's most well-regarded political activist. You'll trace his life from his young manhood in India to his education in Britain to his activism in South Africa and India. In this lecture, an admirable-but complex-figure emerges." x
  • 29
    Nationalists Ambedkar, Bose, and Jinnah
    While Gandhi advocated one path for reform, many of his contemporaries offered other ways to promote the rights of lower classes and Muslims. Meet Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Subhas Chandra Bose, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, three influential social and political leaders, and review their approaches toward national independence and people's rights. x
  • 30
    The Partition of 1947
    After World War II, a tense series of events led the subcontinent's brutal partition into India and Pakistan-majority Hindu and Muslim nations, respectively. Find out how the British, battered by the war, ceded their empire and hastily created two nation-states whose borders and contested identities left a troubled legacy felt even today. x
  • 31
    West and East Pakistan
    Between 1947 and 1971, Pakistan was a divided state: separated into East and West, and strained along ethnic lines. The early years of the nation saw numerous coups and uprisings, as well as border wars with India, particularly in Kashmir. Consider the role geography and ethnicity played in the distribution of power. x
  • 32
    The New Pakistan
    Review the story of Pakistan from 1971 to the present. As you survey one shift of power after another, you will meet leaders such as General Zia, Benazir Bhutto, General Musharraf, and Nawaz Sharif. At the end of this lecture, you will have a complete sense of Pakistani history through today. x
  • 33
    Independent Bangladesh
    Bangladesh-formerly East Pakistan and the Bengal region of India-was partitioned three times in the 20th century: first by the British in 1905, and then during independence in 1947, and finally from Pakistan in 1971. Professor Fisher reveals this relatively young nation's turbulent history and explores some of its contemporary challenges. x
  • 34
    India under Nehru
    Unlike Pakistan and Bangladesh, India became a secular state after its 1947 independence, and it is now the world's largest democracy. This examination of the nation's early years examines Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's vision to transform the nation and some of his successful economic programs. x
  • 35
    Modernizing India
    Follow the careers of Indira Gandhi and her children, who led India through many changes in the late 20th century, including the State of Emergency, the rise of ethnic political organizations such as the Sikhs and the Tamils, the nuclear arms race with Pakistan, and numerous transitions of leadership. x
  • 36
    South Asia into the 21st Century
    Today, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh make up 20 percent of the world's population, and the subcontinent is a rising global economic powerhouse. Professor Fisher concludes this course by recapping some of the major themes and looking at the condition of the region in the 21st century-and some of the developments on the horizon. x

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  • 816-page printed course guidebook
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  • Suggested Reading
  • Photos, portraits, illustrations, maps, and artwork
  • Bibliography

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Your professor

Michael H. Fisher

About Your Professor

Michael H. Fisher, Ph.D.
Oberlin College
Dr. Michael H. Fisher is the Robert S. Danforth Professor of History at Oberlin College, where he offers a range of courses on the history of South Asia, the environmental history of the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan, Mahatma Gandhi, and early travel narratives about India. He earned his M.A. and his Ph.D. in History with a concentration on South Asia from the University of Chicago. He also holds a B.A. in English from...
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Reviews

A History of India is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 46.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from From Pre-history to the Raj and Beyond My knowledge of India came mostly from a social studies unit in junior high, and from reading (and watching) British stories of the Raj. Professor Fisher exploded my narrow boundaries in a course that covers millennia of social, religious, and political developments in the huge South Asian sub-continent. I took the video version of the course, which is extremely useful with its maps, illustrations, and portraits of key individuals. Prof. Fisher’s style is a little on the choppy side, but his content is excellent and the course guidebook is thorough. I’m grateful that TGC is now supplying closed captioning, but a proofreader would be more than welcome in that department. This is a fine overview that will dispel many stereotypes and preconceived notions about India and its people. I would recommend taking this course before taking the course on the British Raj, which focuses on a narrower slice of Indian history.
Date published: 2017-06-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I haven't finished yet..but I have gotten through about a third of the classes. So far its really boring. I am now in my 50's and doing this for pleasure. I want the lectures to be interesting..and so far its really really boring. As well, there are very few slides and all I'm watching is the professor pacing back and forth.
Date published: 2017-05-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very informative Although I purchased it some time ago, I just got around to listening to it. I am about 1/2 way done. It is very informative and very interesting, but, especially in the early parts, somewhat repetitive. I suspect it was a regular course and the beginning of each lecture reviewed the past few.
Date published: 2017-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting! I really enjoyed listening to this in my car. It will certainly be one that I will listen to again.
Date published: 2017-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A History of India is a General overview of south Asia for India did not become a country until 1947. It covers the major events that shaped this area of the world. Some of the major topics are Vedic and Muslim Cultures, and European influence. The course covers spiritual beliefs with whole chapters devoted to Jainism, and Buddhism, with Hinduism and Islam covered over the whole of the course. There are chapters on Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Bhagavad Gita and the Caste system has it's own chapter. Lastly the leadership is covered through out the whole course, and the different influences this leadership had on the people of this area of the world. This course covers the modern countries of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, for these areas were part of one country before 1947. Note I have purchased the DVD version of this history course, and the visuals help with understanding of the topic. As a foundational history or if one travels to India this course is very good and the reason for the five stars. That being said some persons may have to do research on different topics of the course to gain a better understanding of the topic for South Asia has huge diversity, and can be confusing.
Date published: 2017-03-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A thorough history This is clearly a five star course. Prof. Fisher delivers a comprehensive, coherent history, well balanced between the ancient and contemporary with a good concise treatment of the Islamic period and the Mughals in between. I did Indian history as a graduate student and have read much since. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that Prof. Fisher's course is as informative and 'readable' as any general history of India I have read. Only quibble. In a couple of lectures there is a strange, rather gratuitous rant against the British which I found unbalanced and rather more aggressive than anything I used to hear from my many Indian friends, most of whom were actually born in colonial times.
Date published: 2017-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative I knew a little about the history of India but this expansive course really showed me the enormity of what I did not know. The lectures could be accused of being a little dry- but still very engaging and informative.
Date published: 2017-03-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from so far so good. one thing that I don't like, however about the new(ish) production is the bookending of theme music before and after each lecture. it's like the lecturer is effectively being shooed offstage when the time runs out. And some of this music is downright ridiculous!
Date published: 2017-03-08
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