Foundations of Western Civilization

Course No. 370
Professor Thomas F. X. Noble, Ph.D.
University of Notre Dame
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Course No. 370
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What Will You Learn?

  • Follow the evolution of Western civilization, from its humble beginnings to the dawn of the modern world.
  • Explore the political structures Western civilizations have used to organize themselves over the centuries.
  • Take into account geography, government, religion, and philosophy in exploring the grand scope of Western history.
  • Learn what distinguishes "the West" from other civilizations by traveling from ancient Mesopotamia to the modern world.

Course Overview

You can discover the essential nature, evolution, and perceptions of Western civilization from its humble beginnings in the great river valleys of Iraq and Egypt to the dawn of the modern world. With these 48 lectures on the people, places, ideas, and events that make up The Foundations of Western Civilization, award-winning scholar and teacher Thomas F. X. Noble of the University of Notre Dame invites you to explore the vast and rich territory of Western civilization.

Grasp History over Thousands of Years

From the late stages of the Agricultural Revolution to the doorstep of the Scientific Revolution, your learning in this course will cover roughly 3000 B.C. to A.D. 1600, when the "foundations" of the modern West come into view.

Professor Noble's goal is to offer a history of what has been fundamental across millennia in the West, that most unusual of world civilizations.

"Throughout the course, we will pause to reflect on where Western civilization finds its primary locus at any given moment," he says. "But Western civilization is much more than human and political geography.

"We will explore the myriad forms of political and institutional structures by means of which Western peoples have organized themselves and their societies. These include monarchies of several distinct types, as well as participatory republics.

"Looking at institutions will draw us to inquire about the Western tradition of political discourse. Who should participate in any given society? Why? How have societies resolved the tension between individual self-interest and the common good?"

Your learning will follow a timeline and order to cover vast amounts of territory and thousands of years:

  • Begin in the ancient Near East and move to Greece, then to Rome
  • Explore the shape and impact of large ancient empires, including those of Persia, Alexander the Great, and Rome
  • Consider Western Europe to watch Europe gradually expand physically and culturally
  • Examine the globalization of Western civilization with the Portuguese and Spanish voyages of exploration and discovery.
Discover a Treasure of Rich Historical Detail

This course rewards the desire for useful generalization and theory. But it also highlights the telling detail on which history can turn. Professor Noble's guidance allows you to comprehend the ongoing presence of the Roman Empire, the ceaseless influence of a 20-year golden age in Athens, the living struggle between Abraham's three great religions, and much more.

Professor Noble seeks to delight the mind with the "Aha!" experience: "That's why we do that!" "That's where that word came from!" "That's why those people won!" (In the last revelation, metals and horses figure more prominently than social virtues.)

And the course is a lavish treasure of rich detail. For example:

  • The Greek Dark Ages (c. 1100 to 700 B.C.) went "dark," at least in part, because the Greeks forgot how to write—the only people in human history known to have lost literacy after having once attained it.
  • The architects of the Parthenon, to achieve the optical illusion of perfect straightness, subtly angled the building's columns so that, if extended, they would meet a mile and a quarter above the temple's roof—over its exact center.
  • Although fewer than 200 books (including classical texts) survive from before the year 800, the 9th century—meaning the literate monastic establishment fostered by Charlemagne—has left us more than 6,000.
  • The city of Florence, at the height of the Renaissance, had no university, but this was compensated somewhat by Lorenzo de'Medici, who was spending 50 percent of the city's annual budget on books for his Medicean Academy's library.
  • Christopher Columbus, in what was perhaps a bit of "spin" from a practiced self-promoter, based his plan for reaching the East Indies by sailing west partly on suppositions about the Earth's size that had been known to be false since Hellenistic times.
A Learning Experience Built around Powerful Organizing Themes

This broad and panoramic series will help you pull an enormous sweep of history together into one coherent—though by no means closed—framework.

Professor Noble walks you through history as it develops, taking into account: ecology, geography, and climate; government and economics; religion; work and leisure; philosophy; literature; art and architecture; and even virtues, values, and aesthetics.

You will find everything from a thumbnail sketch of the Assyrians (cruel practitioners of state terror) to a detailed analysis of how the Roman constitution worked. For example, the word veto, which means "I forbid," was literally shouted into the Senate chamber by Roman tribunes listening from just outside the door.

In addition to such detailed, anecdotal information, another way you will gain a more vivid sense of the past from these lectures is from the number of memorable sketches of individuals and great works of Western culture. You will:

  • Ponder the view of life in the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh
  • Review the impressive amount of historical information preserved in the Iliad
  • Listen to selections from the great poets of ancient Rome, including not only Virgil and Ovid but Sallust, Juvenal, and Martial
  • Encounter amazing figures such as Charlemagne's lieutenant Theodulf, who was not only a bishop but an imperial diplomat and administrator, a theologian and scholar of the Hebrew Bible, a poet, and an architect who designed an exquisite chapel at Germigny.
The Importance of Material Factors

Professor Noble is careful never to neglect the environmental and technological factors that also shape history.

You will examine how a sustained period of favorable weather around the 10th and 11th centuries allowed western Europe to become more populous, found and rebuild cities, increase trade, and go from being a target of outside invasions by Vikings, Huns, Mongols, and Arabs to launching incursions of its own: The Crusades, which began in 1095.

And delving even deeper into the story, you will learn how a seemingly humble item, the horse collar, contributed so powerfully to this trend. If it were not for the invention of the horse collar, there may have been no Crusades at all.

Illuminating Questions about Familiar Categories

Professor Noble suggests that many conventional historical categories and concepts can obscure as much as they reveal. By setting aside these ideas, you can open your mind to a broader and perhaps more accurate picture of history.

Did the Roman Empire really "fall"? What did people at the time experience? What exactly was being reborn in the Renaissance? Is it historically accurate to speak of the "Protestant Reformation"? Why do we think of the Middle Ages as just that—i.e., a time somehow sandwiched between two other (and presumably superior) times? Did the brilliant intellectuals and writers who clustered around the court of Charlemagne see it that way?

No other civilization has achieved the global reach of the West. By surveying Mesopotamia to modernity and everything in between, you will pursue answers to the questions of what "the West" most essentially is or has been thought to be, and what distinguishes it from other world civilizations—not necessarily better in all ways but surely unique.

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48 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    “Western,” “Civilization,” and “Foundations”
    These three seemingly simple words demand reflection. Where is the West? Who is Western? If civilization means cities, where do those come from? And when we look at history, how do we tell what is truly foundational from what may be merely famous? What is the difference between celebrity and distinction? x
  • 2
    History Begins at Sumer
    Borrowing our title from a famous book by S. N. Kramer, we look at why this small slice of what is now southern Iraq became—along with Egypt—one of the two foundations of Western civilization. x
  • 3
    Egypt—The Gift of the Nile
    As Sumer was the gift of the Tigris and Euphrates, so Egypt—a ribbon of fertile floodplain 750 miles long but not much more than 15 miles wide—has been called "the gift of the Nile." But the differences between Egypt and Mesopotamia tell us as much as the similarities. x
  • 4
    The Hebrews—Small States and Big Ideas
    Israel, built by the descendants of Abraham, was one of the small states that arose after the Egyptian Empire fell (c. 700 B.C.). Unified and independent only from 1200–900 B.C., it bequeathed to the West crucial religious ideas. x
  • 5
    A Succession of Empires
    The peoples holding sway over the ancient Near East included the cruel Assyrians, the Medes, the Neo-Babylonians who overthrew the Assyrians around 600 B.C., and the Persians, who along with the Medes would build the largest empire the world had seen to that time. x
  • 6
    Wide-Ruling Agamemnon
    Why is it important for you to grasp the archaeological record of the period from 1500–1200 B.C. in order to understand The Iliad and The Odyssey—two poems composed 500 years later? x
  • 7
    Dark Age and Archaic Greece
    What unique circumstance—unknown before or since in human history—made the Greek Dark Ages so "dark"? And how do we "do" the history of a time and place that is so obscured from our view? Surprisingly, we know a good deal. x
  • 8
    The Greek Polis—Sparta
    Spartan society was harsh and peculiar, yet many observers at the time and since have found "the Spartan way" strangely compelling. After all, they won the war against Athens, and their victory moved Plato to re-imagine Athenian society in The Republic. What were the main features of this system, and why did the Spartans embrace it? x
  • 9
    The Greek Polis—Athens
    Lurching from crisis to crisis, the Athenians accidentally created one of the world's most freewheeling democracies—at least for adult male citizens—even as they were building an empire. How did the whole thing work, and what finally brought it down? x
  • 10
    Civic Culture—Architecture and Drama
    Can you list the key public buildings of an ancient Greek city? How did they combine beautiful and functional forms with deep ideological meanings? What made drama (including comedy) the public art par excellence? x
  • 11
    The Birth of History
    What does it mean to say that the Greeks, while certainly not the first people to reflect on the past, nonetheless "invented" history? How did Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon, each in his own unforgettable way, contribute to this basic turning of the Western mind? x
  • 12
    From Greek Religion to Socratic Philosophy
    How did the Greeks begin moving from religious to more philosophical views of the world, and why did these views first arise in a particular part of the Greek world called Ionia? Who were the Sophists, what did they teach, and why did Socrates oppose them? x
  • 13
    Plato and Aristotle
    The goal of this lecture is to explain why Raphael's famous painting, The School of Athens, has Plato pointing up and Aristotle pointing down, and why both are defending and extending the work of Socrates. x
  • 14
    The Failure of the Polis and the Rise of Alexander
    Why couldn't thinkers as brilliant as Plato and Aristotle conceive of a non-imaginary alternative to the polis, and why does the career of one of Aristotle's students mean that in the end, such a shortcoming may not have mattered anyway? x
  • 15
    The Hellenistic World
    The world after Alexander was cosmopolitan, prosperous, and dominated by Greeks and Macedonians all over the Mediterranean and far out into the old Persian Empire. Literature, science, and new philosophies flourished. x
  • 16
    The Rise of Rome
    This lecture is about the foundations on which Roman history rests, including the geography of Italy and the two centuries or so of monarchical rule—ending, tradition says, in 509 B.C.—that the republic overthrew. x
  • 17
    The Roman Republic—Government and Politics
    What does it mean to speak of the "constitution" of the Roman republic? What are the essential offices, procedures, and ideals involved, and how did the whole thing really work? x
  • 18
    Roman Imperialism
    By the time the republic found that it didn't merely possess but was an empire, Roman rule extended from the Atlantic to Mesopotamia, and from the North Sea to the Sahara Desert. How and why did this happen? x
  • 19
    The Culture of the Roman Republic
    The Romans "did" more than war and politics. They created a distinctive culture that flowered in magnificent lyric and epic poetry, assimilated profound Greek influences, and gave us Cicero as Rome's greatest booster and toughest critic. x
  • 20
    Rome—From Republic to Empire
    The 200 often-turbulent years between the murdered reformers Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus and the rise of Octavian saw the old Roman system drown amid overwhelming temptations and tensions brought on by Rome's very conquests. x
  • 21
    The Pax Romana
    When Octavian became Augustus princeps—"First Citizen"—in 31 B.C., he was inaugurating a 200-year period of security, prosperity, and wise rule that Tacitus would nonetheless wryly label "a desert [that we] called peace." Was Tacitus right? x
  • 22
    Rome's Golden and Silver Ages
    To understand how culturally creative and important the principate was, you need only reflect that what today strikes the popular imagination as quintessentially "Roman" is a product of this period (republican Rome was a city of wood). x
  • 23
    Jesus and the New Testament
    No well-informed observer in the time of Augustus and his successors would have predicted that a world-changing movement would arise in a small, poor, and insignificant region of Palestine. But that is what happened. x
  • 24
    The Emergence of a Christian Church
    The word "church" (ekklesia) occurs only twice in only one of the Gospels (Matthew). Yet Paul, whose letters predate the Gospels, uses the word routinely. This intriguing fact is your gateway to the fascinating history of early Christianity. x
  • 25
    Late Antiquity—Crisis and Response
    For 100 years after the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180, the Romans put up almost no great public structures—a sign of severe trouble. What lay behind this crisis, and how did Diocletian (who became emperor in 284) and his successor Constantine successfully respond? x
  • 26
    Barbarians and Emperors
    Although the notion that Rome somehow "fell" remains pervasive, scholars of late antiquity (c. 300 to 700) have no use for the idea. More intriguing still, there weren't any barbarian invasions as usually understood. x
  • 27
    The Emergence of the Catholic Church
    Once Rome stopped persecuting its adherents, the new Christian faith spread through the Roman world in the form of a large, hierarchical organization. Still, achieving a "catholic" (i.e., universal) definition of key beliefs proved difficult. x
  • 28
    Christian Culture in Late Antiquity
    How and why did it matter that Christianity triumphed in the Roman world? Church Fathers, the lives of monks and nuns, and the interaction of Christian faith with a host of day-to-day issues hold the answer. x
  • 29
    Muhammad and Islam
    As with ancient Israel or 1st-century Palestine, no one could have predicted that 7th-century Arabia would become the cradle of a world-changing new religion. Yet new as it was in many ways, Islam had important ties to Greece and Rome as well as the scriptural traditions of the West. x
  • 30
    The Birth of Byzantium
    When he rebuilt an old Greek town in about 330 and named it after himself, what did the Emperor Constantine think he was doing? (Hint: It wasn't "founding something called 'Byzantium.'") What was the result, over the centuries, of Constantine's vision? x
  • 31
    Barbarian Kingdoms in the West
    Within and without the old Roman frontiers, the world of the West became a world of small Germanic, Celtic, and Slavic kingdoms. What were they like, and how does understanding them prepare you to grasp the history of the West properly? x
  • 32
    The World of Charlemagne
    How could Charlemagne have achieved so much? He ruled more of Europe than anyone else between the times of the Romans and Napoleon. Yet his Carolingian empire survived him by barely more than a generation. x
  • 33
    The Carolingian Renaissance
    Since 1839, scholars have been associating the Carolingians with a "renaissance." Why? What is Carolingian culture's distinctive contribution to the West, and how does it set them apart from their Muslim and Byzantine contemporaries? x
  • 34
    The Expansion of Europe
    Despite being battered by centuries of Muslim, Magyar, and Viking attacks and invasions, Europe was able by 1095 to begin striking east and south in a series of Crusades that would span two centuries. It was one of history's great reversals. How did it happen? x
  • 35
    The Chivalrous Society
    The three-part medieval scheme of fighting men, praying men, and working men is worth pondering, but so are all those whom it omits. x
  • 36
    Medieval Political Traditions, I
    What are the two words that best sum up the national achievements of England and France during the Middle Ages? Why do medieval historians now avoid the term "feudalism"? x
  • 37
    Medieval Political Traditions, II
    European history as commonly taught centers tightly on England and France as the key nations of Europe at this time. This lecture will explain why you ought to challenge that view. x
  • 38
    Scholastic Culture
    The great Scholastics—Anselm, Abelard, and Aquinas—were brilliant, often eccentric thinkers who came out of the Latin-speaking clerical and academic world that gave the West one of its greatest intellectual and institutional patrimonies: the university. x
  • 39
    Vernacular Culture
    The years from 900 onward saw an explosion of vernacular (i.e. non-Latin) writings. Why did people begin creating formal written works in their native tongues? Does knowing this literature bring us closer to the people of medieval Europe? x
  • 40
    The Crisis of Renaissance Europe
    To understand the Renaissance, you must know the political, religious, and social context in which it took place. The age was one that Dickens might have called "the worst of times." The Renaissance was a response to grave challenges. x
  • 41
    The Renaissance Problem
    So, what's the problem? Actually, there are four—or at least one problem with four sides. Here are two clues: How did a movement that began in Italy wind up with a French name? And how can a "re-birth" be something new? x
  • 42
    Renaissance Portraits
    How to capture a sense of the Renaissance? With cultural biographies of Boccaccio, Petrarch, Lorenzo de' Medici, Pope Pius II, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and others. x
  • 43
    The Northern Renaissance
    What happened when the Renaissance and its "new learning" crossed the Alps? Humanists could be found on both sides of the mountains, but they turned to different sources north and south, with fateful results. x
  • 44
    The Protestant Reformation—Martin Luther
    "The" Reformation (if indeed there was only one) is not as obvious a historical phenomenon as you might think. To penetrate its meaning, you will find it helpful to begin with the first of its magisterial figures, Martin Luther. x
  • 45
    The Protestant Reformation—John Calvin
    Why is seeing the Reformation as "Protestants versus Catholics" such a serious mistake, and what view makes better sense? To answer those questions, you will consider other major Protestant figures besides Luther, especially John Calvin. x
  • 46
    Catholic Reforms and "Confessionalization"
    Beginning around 1550, the Catholic Church undertook a reformation of its own, founding new institutions and launching new religious orders. At the same time, "confessional" lines were hardening on the religious map of a permanently divided Europe. x
  • 47
    Exploration and Empire
    In purely material terms (population, natural resources, etc.) the peninsular appendage of Asia that is Europe should not have been the one among all world civilizations to span the globe. But starting in the latter decades of the 15th century, that is what happened. x
  • 48
    What Challenges Remain?
    You leave the West in 1600, on the cusp of the Age of Empire, the Scientific Revolution, and the Baroque Period. It's a long way from those mud-walled villages in Mesopotamia to the threshold of its modern era, but certain patterns, problems, and possibilities endure to make the West what it is. x

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Your professor

Thomas F. X. Noble

About Your Professor

Thomas F. X. Noble, Ph.D.
University of Notre Dame
Dr. Thomas F. X. Noble is Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. He earned his B.A. in History from Ohio University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval History from Michigan State University. Professor Noble has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and research grants from the American Philosophical Society. In 2008 he received the Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., Award for Excellence in...
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Foundations of Western Civilization is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 218.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Accurate title for content Very good presentation and content for lead through early history in the shaping of Western Civilization. Dr Noble obviously knows his history, and has a very good manner of lecturing. I appreciate the book as well as the DVD; and used the book to clarify dates, maps, and events.
Date published: 2018-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course. This course proved to be extremely worthwhile. Professor Noble is an authority on the subject, and is able to transmit this knowledge in a concise, articulate and animated fashion. The length of the course is limited, and some key subject had to be glossed over. But those topics could make perfect subjects for future courses from Professor Noble, to which I would very much look forward.
Date published: 2018-02-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Educational Very good thorough historical information. Great education on history.
Date published: 2018-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Zard review of Foundations of Western Civilization What a monumental job. From Sumer to the Reformation. No easy task but easily and smoothly done by Dr. Noble. This guy knows his stuff, knows how to do a concise meaningful recap of last chapter before going into current chapter, knows how to tell a good story, repeats important points and has a good and sometimes wicked sense of humor. I hit this course hard meaning I watched 2 to 3 lectures at a sitting and stayed at it each day until it was finished. You have to because of the huge depth of material over a VAST area of time. I do not regret a moment of the course AND know I will be going back and selectively reviewing certain lectures.Of course you will NOT get an in-depth lecture of any point of time BUT what you will get is how time has flowed for western civilization and how did we get from point A to point B then to point C and so on. It pulls things together regarding Western Civilization and you take away the affects of the flow of time on our particular space of geography on this planet.
Date published: 2018-02-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Boring lecturer This person does not make the subject matter come alive, he is probably so well read that he is that he can't explain in the very beginning in simple terms what the course is about. Doubtful if I will finish this course.
Date published: 2018-02-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Western civilization history lectures. I watched 3 lectures to give it a chance but found it got progressively worse. Devoid of scholarship. I just shipped course back and will not purchase another.
Date published: 2018-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love This Course! Really enjoyed this course! I got thru each lecture alot quicker than I thought I would. The professor has an excellent style and this made the course even better. I am considering getting another. The online app is great and allowed me to listen on my mobile phone.
Date published: 2018-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating story telling history I wanted to learn more about the history of Western Civilization and this is a hit! I have gone through 10 of 48 lectures and can't wait to begin the nest. Professor Thomas F. X. Noble is exceptional and tells the important history through stories and his voice is pleasant to which to listen. Happy with my first course.
Date published: 2018-02-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too Much and Too Catholic I found a lot to like in this course. The professor covers a lot, and I definitely learned from it. However, there are two major problems, which are noted in other reviews. First of all, he covers entirely too much. It's very superficial in many places, and more like a high school review course. The second is that there is one area where he goes into gory detail -- the Catholic Church. There are several points where he gives us a laundry list of Catholic thinkers, and sometimes it almost sounds like biblical "begats". To be sure, Catholicism has played a large part in western civilization. But there are lots of other areas which get short shrift because of the detail laid out about the Church. It's really too bad, as there's a lot to learn here. The bottom line, however, is that the course more accurately should be called "The Foundations of Western Civilization from a Catholic Prospective".
Date published: 2018-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course. Worth taking. Enjoying the content and presentation. Worth taking.
Date published: 2018-02-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive! I'm about 25 lessons into the course. Dr Noble has an extremely broad and deep wealth of information. He manages to put world history in an understandable and sensible format. Enjoying greatly and so is my wife.
Date published: 2018-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learning so much! This class is bringing together so many things I had heard about or that had been referenced in reading, but that I didn’t previously understand.
Date published: 2017-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Foundations of the West Began in the East Professor Nobel’s course naturally begins with a definition of the course title (Western, Civilization, etc.). He begins in by pointing out that the very definition of the West is a bit hard to pin down by strict geography, today and even more so over time. For the course purposes he begins with the rise of civilizations in Sumer and Egypt and quickly moves to lectures centering in and around the Mediterranean. Here I particularly enjoyed the early introduction of the Hebrews, not always covered in a survey course (Dr. Nobel devotes an entire lecture to this subject as much as he gives to Egypt). There is a lecture that covers the Assyrians, the Persians and other, smaller empires. Usually we get a bit of the various religious practices and references to the Old Testament (e.g. Zoroastrianism in ancient Persia) Perhaps this is not surprising as Dr. Nobel is a professor at Notre Dame, but I never felt that these inclusions were anything other than scholarly, not at all polemic. The first six lectures are rounded out with an examination of Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations in Crete and Greece. Before six lectures devoted to classic Greece, one lecture describes the Greek dark age (and Archaic Greece). As the course is largely laid out in a chronological fashion, Dr. Nobel moves us along through Alexander, and Rome, bringing up four lectures on Christianity and one on Islam surround a couple of lectures dealing with the barbarians and Rome Once again the inclusion of religion is well included due to the importance of these religions on the development of the West and Western thought. We move through the fall of Rome, the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance and Reformation, including the Counter-Reformation. Even with 48 lecturers, this is a lot of ground. Too much to cover in any depth, but Professor Nobel does a fine job of including an occasional detailed lecture that is devoted to a single topic (the two on scholastic and vernacular cultures during the Medieval Era, for example) or other short digressions. Professor Nobel also includes factors like climate and geography, cultural achievements such as poetry, art, architecture and many individual portraits of important personages (some of which, I was unaware—for example a right-hand man of Charlemagne, Theodulf: bishop, scholar, poet and architect). Some reviewers have been critical of Professor Nobel’s delivery, as being too fast or his voice dropping at times. While he may not be as smooth as some other instructors, I never found his delivery anything other than clear and understandable, although I did have to pause now and again (not uncommon for me in TTC courses). An excellent job on a wide-ranging topic.
Date published: 2017-09-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The best history course I've ever taken. Actually, I first borrowed this course from a friend who had purchased the DVD version. It was so interesting, and Noble was such an excellent instructor, I wanted it for my personal library. It's an excellent, and yes, entertaining journey through time.
Date published: 2017-07-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Coverage I thought this might be an interesting course to take. I'll agree with some of the others that Prof Noble is not the most dynamic of speakers, however, he obviously knows his stuff. While lively professors are always more fun than less lively ones, if your goal is to learn then you're best off learning from the knowledgable. The introductory lecture was dull as mud and I wondered what I was letting myself in for, but since then old Prof Noble has grown on me and I'm looking forward to each half hour session (though I've also come to the conclusion that half an hour at a time is plenty). Still, he has a lot of ground to cover in 45 lectures, so this must largely be an overview - anything in depth would have to come in more focused classwork or independent reading - but he's doing a good job of covering western history from, shall we say, 10,000 feet.
Date published: 2017-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great stories I bought this course to listen to in the car during our daily commute. Noble does a great job of really engaging the listener, making it a conversational account of Western history, roughly from Egypt through the Renaissance. But the topics were more sophisticated than just what happened, and follow cultural trends and philosophies. Very enjoyable audio for driving!
Date published: 2017-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from haven't always been a fan of history, but these courses have changed that. Really enjoying the ones we have.
Date published: 2017-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent course This is one of the best "Great Courses" I've had. The scope and clarity of Nobles' lectures is really impressive.
Date published: 2017-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A wonderful, rich survey of Western history! Towards the end of the last lecture, Prof. Noble discusses an underlying theme of the course - continuity. The history of Western Civilization stretches back in time, and can be expressed as a continuous story Thinking about this concept, I realized that my study of history over time has been disjointed, jumping from era to era, with little context to link events together. Enjoying this course has made all the difference in my perspective. The Renaissance world makes more sense now that I know more about the Medieval world. The Roman world makes more sense now that I know of the vital contributions of the Greek world, and so on. Prof. Noble is a phenomenal presenter. I've rarely seen a lecturer present as eloquently. History, and what it tells us about who we are, is clearly a passion of his. He has crafted a towering survey and it's now my favorite Great Course. My fifth review (DVD).
Date published: 2017-05-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Facinating history-Lecturer needs help The content was great, but Dr. Noble has some annoying delivery problems. He often starts each paragraph with an annoying high-pitched tone, talks very fast and finishes with a very low tone. I had to change volume constantly to hear him. I appreciate that he is a brilliant historian, but I was disappointed with his delivery. this was the first Great Course I have purchased - I watched the History of the Ancient World on Amazon Prime and loved it! I am disappointed with this course and hope it is eventually redone with a better lecturer.
Date published: 2017-05-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Poor Presentation I labored through this audio course, but listened to the entire course before making a judgment of it. The professor has a rather high pitched voice, and very often his voice dropped to an imperceptible level when he would present his most important point. This made it very difficult to understand him and to learn from him. Toward the end of the course, he tried to explain several important teachings of the Catholic Church. Instead of treating them with thoughtfulness and respect, he showed a flippant, superficial attitude toward them. This is insulting to anyone, especially a faithful Catholic, who wants to hear Catholic teachings presented clearly and intelligently. Moreover, it is disappointing, but not surprising, to hear a professor at Notre Dame University do this.
Date published: 2017-05-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very nice and informative review for a very comple Very pleased with the information I gained from the course.
Date published: 2017-05-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good introductory course In this series, Professor Noble competently and engagingly introduces Western Civilization, the roots for which begin with Mesopotamia. He seems most knowledgeable in medieval history, which I find to be the most memorable section of the course. He uses amusing contextualizations, such as his description of Alcuin as Charlemagne's Secretary of Education. My major criticism lies with the lack of detail given to the non-medieval periods. It would be helpful to hear about more primary sources and historical processes, rather than just the linear textbook-like narrative that characterizes the majority of content. Regardless, the series is an interesting and fairly well-curated treatment of a subject vast in scope.
Date published: 2017-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course I am really enjoying the Foundations of Western Civilization. I love Dr. Noble's style of teaching - very down-to-earth but extremely knowledgeable - it makes the lectures very easy to listen to.
Date published: 2017-04-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Pretty good I enjoyed this course overall, but my only qualm is some of the material is a little dated and the narrative is as well. The course would have been better named, at times, the religious foundations of the western world.
Date published: 2017-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from engaging: yes; foundational: yes; worthy: yes I have been listening to the audio (only) while pedaling away on my trainer(cycling). I like the 30 minute format because I like to pedal for an hour and can do two lectures per training session. I have had many professors in my eight years of university and I can say that He makes me feel like i'm back in a lecture hall. Yes, I like that. (I wasn't thrilled back then- but now....) I would recommend the audio (can't speak on the video) and I especially enjoyed the lectures dealing with philosopy. Overall, well done. Thank you Teaching Company.
Date published: 2017-03-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not Engaging or Very Interesting I really wanted to like this course. I am a big history buff and this course covers so much history both in relation to time and place. But I just could not get into it. The professor’s general style was just not a hit with me and the following became increasingly annoying: his voice would fluctuate from high to low, his humor just wasn’t effective, he would talk fast, and I didn’t get the sense he was teaching as much as he was having a discussion. It felt like the professor did not spend enough time “pulling it all together”. He only lightly touched on why certain civilizations like the ancient Sumerians, Egyptians, Persians, etc. are considered “western civilization”. A lot of times I was left wondering why certain peoples or topics were included in such a course or what defines the “western tradition”. While a huge expanse of history was covered there was almost no time spent on what the foundations were or how one would define "western civilization". Lectures 25-26 finally felt like he was hitting his stride and connecting with me so I went back and re-listened to the previous 24 lectures thinking maybe I should give him another chance with an open mind. Alas I had the same reaction to his lectures and just didn't find much that was interesting in them. Here are the lectures I did find enjoyable: 18 (Roman expansion) 25-26 (Roman crisis and the Barbarian "problem") 30 (Byzantium) 31 (Barbarian kingdoms of Europe) 36-37 (political formations of European countries in medieval times) However, your experience may be better. For those of you willing to give it a shot here are the basics: time period covered is generally between 3000 B.C. to A.D. 1600. Here are some of the general topics covered: • Civilization begins at Sumer • Ancient Egypt • Ancient Hebrews • Assyrians • Neo-Babylonians & the Medes • Persia • Ancient Geeks • Macedonia’s Hellenistic conquests • Roman Republic and Empire • Christianity and the church • Islam • Byzantine Empire • Barbarian (Germanic, Celtic, Slavic) kingdoms of Europe • The Franks under Carolingian rule • England and France • Germany and other European countries in the medieval period • The Renaissance • The Reformation I am going to listen to Professor Harl's "Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor" course hoping it engages me and succeeds where this course fails. I really wish The Great Courses would do a course on medieval Europe focusing on the formation of current states like France, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Poland, etc. I know there are some courses on 1600 Europe onward but I'd be interested in a course on political history of the major countries prior to that time period.
Date published: 2017-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I am doing this course one lecture per day and also reading some of the material referenced in the synopsis. Professor Noble keeps his presentation lively and I am enjoying the experience a great deal.
Date published: 2017-03-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Just Started I have completed five lectures. I am satisfied that I made a good purchase.
Date published: 2017-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from good overview of history, great presentation I really enjoyed this course. It brought together other courses I have listened to. I also really liked the presentation; the professor has an almost folksy way of speaking. This course covers over three thousand years. Some reviewers say it doesn't have enough depth. You can't have depth if you are covering 3,000 years in 24 hours of lectures. I thought the professor did a very good job. A reviewer said the course was too pro-Catholic. I did not hear that at all. I have bought dozens of Great Courses, and this was one of the best.
Date published: 2017-02-25
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