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London: A Short History of the Greatest City in the Western World

London: A Short History of the Greatest City in the Western World

Professor Robert Bucholz D.Phil.
Loyola University Chicago
Course No.  8894
Course No.  8894
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

No city has had as powerful and as enduring an impact on Western civilization as London. Throughout its vast and riveting history, London played a critical role in shaping many of the most important political, social, cultural, and economic institutions and systems that you live with today. Consider that London

  • was the capital of a powerful empire that covered one-fifth of the world's landmass and one-quarter of its population;
  • was the headquarters of a constitutional monarchy with more elements of democracy and popular participation than any Western country before the United States;
  • was the economic center of Europe both during and after the Industrial Revolution, serving as its financial center, its banking center, and its largest port;
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No city has had as powerful and as enduring an impact on Western civilization as London. Throughout its vast and riveting history, London played a critical role in shaping many of the most important political, social, cultural, and economic institutions and systems that you live with today. Consider that London

  • was the capital of a powerful empire that covered one-fifth of the world's landmass and one-quarter of its population;
  • was the headquarters of a constitutional monarchy with more elements of democracy and popular participation than any Western country before the United States;
  • was the economic center of Europe both during and after the Industrial Revolution, serving as its financial center, its banking center, and its largest port;
  • spearheaded innovative modern solutions (including public institutions and municipal police forces) to universal human ills such as crime, disease, and poverty;
  • was the site of historical political movements that led to wider government reform, including the fight for women's suffrage;
  • was the home to some of history's greatest individuals, including William Shakespeare, Queen Victoria, and Winston Churchill; and
  • served as the last bastion of freedom in Europe against the onslaught of the Nazis in World War II.

London's greatness continues to this day. The city stands as a global metropolitan center and continues to be synonymous with important developments in international business, culture, and politics.

But why London? What made the city the perfect environment for all these great political, social, and cultural developments? How did this city endure sweeping historical revolutions and disasters without crumbling? And what about its citizens—what exactly defines a Londoner, both in the past and today?

London: A Short History of the Greatest City in the Western World is your opportunity to find the answers to these and other questions about this magnificent metropolis. In 24 fascinating lectures, Oxford-trained historian and award-winning Professor Robert Bucholz of Loyola University Chicago takes you through London's history, from its birth as a Roman outpost in the 1st century C.E. to its current status as a 21st-century global village. An encyclopedic view of a city like no other, this course will take you back to London as it was lived and felt throughout history.

If you've been to London before, prepare to discover a wealth of new insights into the city you thought you knew. And if you haven't—prepare to be captivated by a city whose sights, history, people, and spirit serve as an amazing window into Western history.

Explore London's Role in Epic Historical Moments

The cultural flowering of the English Renaissance; the horrors of the Great Plague; the turmoil of the English civil war; the epic conflict of World Wars I and II—by playing crucial roles in these and other historical events, London helped lay the foundation for the modern world.

London: A Short History examines these and other epic chapters in British and world history through the lens of this amazing capital. Every lecture explores how these definitive historical moments affected the evolution of the city and the lives of both iconic and everyday Londoners.

Your focus is always on the enduring themes of the city's story, including its steady growth, its cultural diversity, and its ability to survive even in the face of overwhelming hardships.

Walk through London's Streets

What makes London: A Short History unique from other historical studies of great cities is that it takes you deep into the streets of London during formative periods in its history. While broad cultural, political, and demographic trends are important parts of the city's story, Professor Bucholz also continuously emphasizes the importance of understanding and experiencing the sights and sounds of London as it was lived by its residents.

At important moments throughout the course, you zoom in on the streets of London in a series of "walking tour" lectures. In these imaginative lectures, you travel through various parts of the city, guided by a Londoner who is both an icon of Western civilization and a representative of the period's culture and customs. You experience

  • medieval London with poet Geoffrey Chaucer;
  • Elizabethan London with playwright William Shakespeare;
  • 17th-century London with diarist and socialite Samuel Pepys;
  • 18th-century London with writer Samuel Johnson; and
  • Victorian London with novelist Charles Dickens.

In addition, the course closes with Professor Bucholz's personalized tour of late 20th- and early 21st-century London.

In each of these tours, you follow your particular guide through daily life in historical London, noting important landmarks and learning the secret histories behind places such as Westminster Abbey, Fleet Street, Piccadilly Circus, and London Bridge. With each new tour, your understanding of London's evolution increases exponentially.

An Unforgettable Look at an Unforgettable City

London incorporates a wealth of eyewitness accounts from journals, poems, diaries, and newspaper articles to answer these questions and intimately connect you with daily life in this great city. These perceptive, affecting voices convey what happens when average individuals become willing (or unwilling) participants in larger historical moments.

A veteran Teaching Company lecturer and a renowned American scholar of British history, Professor Bucholz has crafted London: A Short History as a history of the city for an American audience. While the lectures are deeply infused with the rich details of British life and customs, they are always accessible to those who have never set foot in London's streets.

With its interdisciplinary approach to this great city—one that draws from court history, literature, sociology, urban planning, economics, and more—London: A Short History will undoubtedly delight and surprise you, regardless of your familiarity with this amazing city. By the final lecture, you'll come to realize just what Samuel Johnson meant when he famously declared, "there is in London, all that life can afford."

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24 Lectures
  • 1
    There's No Place like London
    This introductory lecture gives you a brief overview of London, introduces you to several overarching themes—including London's growth, diversity, and resilience—and shows you why this magnificent metropolis is the greatest city in the Western world. x
  • 2
    The Rise and Fall of Roman Londinium
    Explore the early centuries of London's history, from its foundation in 60 C.E. as Londinium—the largest Roman settlement in Britain—to its eventual decline and abandonment at the end of the 4th century C.E. after the collapse of the Roman Empire. x
  • 3
    Medieval London's Thousand-Year Climb
    How did London revive itself and come to play a prominent part in early British history? Discover the important roles played by the Christian church, Viking scourges, leaders such as Alfred the Great and William the Conqueror, and the Magna Carta. x
  • 4
    Economic Life in Chaucer's London
    Walk the streets of medieval London as it was lived and experienced by the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. This intimate historical tour includes looks at places such as the Tower of London, the London docks, the markets on East Cheap, and the shops and taverns of Cheapside. x
  • 5
    Politics and Religion in Chaucer's London
    Continue touring 14th-century London by heading west and exploring the importance of London's Guildhall (City Hall), the magnificence of old St. Paul's Cathedral (as well as its churchyard), the excitement of the Strand, and the splendor of Westminster Abbey. x
  • 6
    London Embraces the Early Tudors
    Investigate the impact of the Tudor dynasty on the lives of Londoners, with pointed looks at the reigns of Henry VII, Henry VIII, and Mary I. Also, study how London dealt with the religious turmoil brought about by the Protestant Reformation. x
  • 7
    Elizabeth I and London as a Stage
    Delve into the impact of Queen Elizabeth's reign on London between 1558 and 1603. Highly popular among Londoners, Queen Elizabeth used the city as a stage on which to display the rich pageantry of the Tudor monarchy. x
  • 8
    Life in Shakespeare's London—East
    Get an in-depth look at London through the eyes of William Shakespeare, who stands in for the typical late 16th-century immigrant to the city. Tour London's East End (the traditional arrival point for immigrants), the bustle of the Royal Exchange, Bridewell Prison, and London's four great law schools. x
  • 9
    Life in Shakespeare's London—West
    As your tour of Shakespearean London continues, gain insights into vibrant parts of the city, including St. James's Park, Westminster Hall, and London Bridge. Also, explore the experience of attending a play at the Rose Theatre—which reveals much about theatergoing habits during this period in London's history. x
  • 10
    London Rejects the Early Stuarts
    Explore London life between 1603 and 1660, focusing on the effects of the city's population growth on its economic system, the rise of crime in its streets, the fervent struggles between Protestants and Catholics, and the breakdown of royal authority that resulted in the English civil war. x
  • 11
    Life in Samuel Pepys's 17th-Century London
    The rise of two new watering holes in London (the coffee house and the club); the spectacle and excitement of the court scene at Whitehall; the amusements of the 17th-century pleasure garden—encounter these and other aspects of Restoration London through the detailed diary entries of Samuel Pepys. x
  • 12
    Plague and Fire
    Samuel Pepys's diary entries also provide you with an intimate window into the two great disasters that wracked London in the mid-1660s: the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666. Both of these events, you learn, had an unimaginable impact on the everyday lives of Londoners. x
  • 13
    London Rises Again—As an Imperial Capital
    In the last decades of the 17th century, London grew into the capital of a world empire. Follow London's reconstruction and discover how a series of nationwide political, commercial, and economic changes—including the Glorious Revolution—irrevocably transformed the city. x
  • 14
    Johnson's London—All That Life Can Afford
    What was life like in 18th-century London? Use author Samuel Johnson as a lens through which to view the city's growing newspaper business, its chophouses and ale-houses, the decline of court culture, and the rise of public patronage for the arts. x
  • 15
    The Underside of 18th-Century London
    Eighteenth-century London, you find, was also rampant with poverty and crime. Investigate the underbelly of Samuel Johnson's London: a world of prostitutes, abandoned children, and murderers. Then, see how the city combated these social ills through public institutions (including the Foundling Hospital) and popular public hangings. x
  • 16
    London Confronts Its Problems
    Focus on the many ways that London solved the problems that had overwhelmed it, including building bridges to alleviate increased horse-drawn traffic, developing an intricate sewage system to combat water pollution, and reforming the law enforcement system to better handle the city's wave of riots. x
  • 17
    Life in Dickens's London
    Track the city's transition into the Victorian era through the novels and personal impressions of Charles Dickens. See how previously covered territory—including Fleet Street, Westminster Palace, and Covent Garden—has evolved, and explore Bloomsbury, home to both Dickens and the extraordinary collections of the British Museum and the British Library. x
  • 18
    Two Windows into Victorian London
    Victorian London was a city of contrasts. See this reflected in two major events that defined the city: Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee of 1887, which revived the popularity of the monarchy, and the Jack the Ripper murders in 1888, which reveal much about the period's social and cultural atmosphere. x
  • 19
    Questions Postponed and the Great War
    Explore the women's suffrage movement and the global crisis of World War I as windows into London life in the early 20th century. Chart these two defining moments in British history through the eyewitness accounts of journalists, writers, and everyday Londoners. x
  • 20
    London's Interwar Expansion and Diversions
    Postwar London struggled with economic trauma, a national strike, and a sharp increase in unemployment. Yet this period, you discover, also saw the modernization of the city's transportation system and architecture, a shift in social norms, and new forms of popular entertainment. x
  • 21
    The Blitz—The Greatest Target in the World
    Between September 1940 and May 1941, London came under frequent air attack by Nazi Germany—an event known as "the Blitz." Experience this critical episode of World War II through the accounts of the Londoners who endured it and see how—as always—the city persevered through uncertain times. x
  • 22
    Postwar London Returns to Life
    Find out how postwar Londoners faced the bleakness of a troubled economy and the environmental disaster of 1952's Big Smoke. Then, see how the dire situation turned around with increased economic prosperity, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and an influx of immigrants who diversified London life and culture. x
  • 23
    The Varied Winds of Change
    Survey the waves of change that washed over London, from the "Swinging Sixties"—with its revolutions in theater, music, and fashion and its nuclear disarmament protests—to the 1980s and the election of a Conservative government under British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. x
  • 24
    Millennial London—How Do You Like It?
    Conclude the course with a journey through contemporary London and a look at some events that have defined the city in recent years and testify to its powerful and enduring spirit: Princess Diana's death, the unification of the city government under the Greater London Authority, and the 2005 terrorist bombings. x

Lecture Titles

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Robert Bucholz
D.Phil. Robert Bucholz
Loyola University Chicago

Dr. Robert Bucholz is Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago, where he has taught since 1988. He earned his B.A. in History from Cornell University and his D.Phil. in Modern History from Oxford University. Before joining the faculty at Loyola University, Professor Bucholz taught at numerous universities, including Cornell University; California State University, Long Beach; and Loyola, Marymount University. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. Among Professor Bucholz's numerous teaching awards are the Sujack Award for Teaching Excellence, the highest such award presented by the Loyola College of Arts and Sciences. On two occasions, he received the Honors Program Faculty Member of the Year Award. At Loyola University, Professor Bucholz teaches courses on Early Modern London, Early Modern England, and English Social History. He is the author or coauthor of books on English history, including Early Modern England: A Narrative History and The Augustan Court: Queen Anne and the Decline of Court Culture. Professor Bucholz is also the project director of the Database of Court Officers, which contains the career facts of every person who served in the British royal household from the Restoration to the death of Queen Victoria.

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Reviews

Rated 4.4 out of 5 by 63 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Absorbing, Colorful, Informative I had wanted to order this course before my trip to England (principally the London area) this summer after an absence of many years, but it was not on sale until after my return. Based on several reviewers’ complaints that there was a real dearth of visual material in the video version, I chose the audio download, confident that Dr. Bucholz’s excellent speaking style (I loved his outstanding course of the History of the Tudors and Stuarts) would compensate for the lack of pictures and would give me the flexibility to listen to it anywhere on a iPhone or iPad. I have done just that since my return home and have greatly enjoyed Dr. Bucholz’s colorful descriptions of London’s rise from its Roman roots first to a medieval town, then gradually to a major capital of empire, detailing both its glories and disasters throughout the two millennia of its existence. One effective technique used by Dr. Bucholz is the descriptive “walk through” of major parts of London, by Samuel Pepys in the 17th century, Samuel Johnson in the 18th, Charles Dickens in the 19th and himself as an Oxford student in the late 20th century. I imagined that to enhance the narrative, the video version might have featured numerous maps, drawings and from the mid-19th century forward, photographs, but found only one reviewer who pronounced as helpful the visuals offered in the course. Though clearly an admirer of London as a stellar city of the ages, Dr. Bucholz does not sugar-coat its shortcomings, offering dark descriptions of the crime, poverty, disease, prostitution, overcrowding, air and water pollution, frequent fires and other negative factors that have persisted throughout much of the city’s history. However, these are more than offset by its inhabitants’ grand cultural and literary achievements, great architecture, thriving economy through manufacture and trade and the city’s status and prestige as the heart of the British Empire. The last few lectures covering post-WWII London fall within the personal memories of the course’s senior audience, myself included. These feature changes in politics from Churchill to Wilson to Thatcher to Blair, London-based innovations in culture, fashion, music and films, as well as fluctuating fortunes in business and the economy. The dramatic end-of-an era description of the state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill brought to mind my own participation as a street spectator of the imposing procession and lying-in-state at Westminster Hall on that cold Saturday in late January of 1965. I am frequently surprised at the extent to which various reviewers can evaluate the same course so differently and why some are highly critical of courses that receive a top rating from most reviewers. Sometimes these differences reflect relative familiarity with the subject matter and focus on omissions or minor errors, or perceived political views that may differ from those of the reviewer, but in this case the issue seems to be style. I firmly agree with those who proclaim Dr. Bucholz to be among the most dynamic and substantive, yet also entertaining, of the Great Courses array of carefully chosen lecturers. That he combines reading from a prepared text with informal and sometimes humorous asides in my view makes for an attractive, fluid and coherent presentation, especially appreciated in the audio version. This course was prepared and released before the 2012 London Olympics (the award of the games to London in July 2005 is referred to in passing in the final lecture in the context of the notorious “7/7” terrorist attacks by British Muslims that occurred on the following day). Thus the course’s timing places the highly successful games, masterfully executed in crowded London, outside the scope of these lectures, which is rather a pity, as the games and their impact on today’s London would have provided a great closing bookend for this comprehensive history of London. Nevertheless, this course is a must for Anglophiles, but as it is so specifically targeted, some basic level of interest in and knowledge of England, its history and its capital city, is a requisite for full enjoyment. September 3, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by One of my favorite courses. A great history course Most history courses bore me but I wanted to get a feel for London before I traveled there. I decided to try this course and I am glad I did. The speaker brought the material to life and really made it interesting. I listened to the CDs on my drive to work and they kept me interested and engaged. My husband listened to several lectures with me while on a road trip and he enjoyed the course and the speaker as much as I did. I wish he taught other history courses beyond British history because I would be interested in listening to more courses from him. He focused whenever possible on accounts from people and gave a perspective of what life was like for the people living there instead focusing on dates and facts alone. Finishing the course just prior to my trip made it fun for me to go to London and take the boat ride on the Thames, visit the Tower of London and walk down the Strand. It made me feel much more connected to the history and the relevance of so many places I visited when I was there. It also gave me a better perspective of the spirit of the people of London throughout the ages and the evolution of the monarchy. I highly recommend this course if you have any interest in the subject matter and the CD course was perfect. I do not feel I missed anything by not having video. September 1, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Bravo! Both informative and entertaining - honestly, I wish it had been longer - I will likely re-watch this should I ever be lucky enough to visit London again. Highly recommended! April 26, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Excellent! I have now listened to this series three times, and each time I learn something new. I loved the professor's wit and corny jokes (only a few). I recommend this to anyone who loves London. March 23, 2014
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