Understanding the Human Factor: Life and Its Impact

Course No. 1557
Professor Gary A. Sojka, Ph.D.
Bucknell University
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Course No. 1557
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Course Overview

The year is 8000 B.C. A man wanders across a field of prairie grasses in search of edible berries and roots and wild game to feed his family. As he walks, the tips of the grasses brush against him, releasing seeds. He collects a few of these seeds and brings them back to his camp. Later, he notices that when they fall on earth, they begin to sprout, and a new plant grows.

In small moments like these, the path of Homo sapiens sapiens is changed forever. The process of domesticating plants and animals reflects the greatest transition in the history of humankind—one that served to make us the humans we are today. This momentous innovation, which allowed human beings to become the dominant species on earth, sparked a chain reaction that laid the foundation for human civilization:

  • By mastering the complexities of herding and farming, human beings secured their food supply indefinitely.
  • These secure food sources led to settled communities and higher population densities around the world.
  • With more highly concentrated and populated societies, humans developed complex systems in order to divide labor among individuals and groups.
  • This division of labor eventually led to the creation of more specialized and essential human systems, such as government, law, and religion.

Today, we still feel the impact of this early innovation. Inasmuch as humankind has changed the species it domesticates, so have the plants and animals we cultivate and tend changed the shape of our history and lives. These interactions are the key not only to our rise but also our continued success on this planet. In fact, it's been suggested that if contributions from our domesticates suddenly stopped, civilization would almost certainly and instantly collapse.

In Understanding the Human Factor: Life and Its Impact, award-winning educator Professor Gary A. Sojka takes you on a journey through this fascinating story, surveying the remarkable innovations that transformed humankind into the sole agriculturists on our planet.

Over the course of 24 thought-provoking lectures, Professor Sojka draws on the latest science to offer a unique, multidisciplinary perspective on human life seldom available in a single course.

Bringing together insights from a wide variety of fields—including microbiology, genetics, archaeology, and sociology—Professor Sojka weaves a complex and remarkable tale, a fascinating synthesis of science and history that spans from the ancient roots of human culture to some of the most significant issues facing the modern world.

10,000 Years of Change

The course begins with the conversion of human beings from hunter-gatherers into farmers and keepers of livestock. As you explore more than 10,000 years of human history, you'll uncover the remarkable innovations, adaptations, and evolutions that have affected people and their plant and animal domesticates.

You'll view this grand story from a variety of perspectives. Through the lens of science, you'll explore the biological implications of cultivation and see how breeding practices have altered the genetic makeup of our domesticates. Focusing on history and anthropology, you'll examine how these changes, in turn, affected humankind and formed the foundation for the development of human civilization and culture. Your understanding of this rich story is enhanced with evidence drawn from many areas of study, including genetic research, archaeological excavation, carbon dating, mitochondrial DNA, and comparative linguistics.

As you explore this history, you'll trace a number of foundational ideas that lie at the heart of this field of study:

  • Domestication is a mutually beneficial partnership between humans and the plants and animals they cultivate.
  • Not any wild species can be domesticated. In each human-domesticate relationship, the plant or animal has "met us partway," exhibiting characteristics and behaviors that make domestication possible.
  • Domestication is a two-way street. Just as we have changed the animals, plants, and microbes we have domesticated, so have we been changed through our relationship with them.

Unexpected Insights

Along the way, you'll encounter fascinating facts and unexpected insights that bring this topic to life. Some of these intriguing details include these:

  • The story of the domestication of dogs: Modern-day dogs originally arose from outcast members of wolf packs. Those animals that exhibited a weaker "flight response" could tolerate human communities and soon learned how to benefit from this interaction.
  • Unexpected domesticates: Domesticates don't live only in the barnyard. Some important domesticates include the yeast used to brew beer and bake bread, the microbes that produce antibiotics, and mice that are bred to be used in the laboratory.
  • The "expatriation" of species: While we may think of tomatoes as quintessentially Italian, potatoes as typically Irish, and horses as icons of the American West, all these species—and many others that we associate with particular regions—are actually foreign transplants whose identification with these regions is shaped by human intervention.
  • The impact of domesticates on humans: Without sled dogs, Inuit peoples could not have moved into Arctic climates, just as desert peoples needed camels to thrive in their environment.

Glimpse the Future of Humankind

In addition to illuminating the distant past of humanity, Understanding the Human Factor also sheds light on current and future developments in the human experience. As you trace modern developments, you'll see how some of humankind's most advanced innovations—including such new technologies as artificial insemination, cloning, and interspecies gene transfer—are part of the ongoing relationship the human species has formed with its domesticates.

You'll also explore the repercussions and implications of humankind's "grand experiment" in domestication. As you'll see, the story of domestication serves as the foundation for some of the most hotly debated issues in the modern world, including sustainability, animal rights, agribusiness, pollution, and world hunger. Through his balanced and scientifically based discussion of humankind's history of food production, Professor Sojka provides you with the context to understand both these debates themselves and our species' capacity for contending with these issues.

An Unprecedented Perspective on Life on Earth

In Understanding the Human Factor, you'll gain a unique and valuable opportunity to grasp the full story of humankind's relationship to domestication. Through this single course, you'll encounter a synthesis of insights drawn from a wide range of disciplines.

As an award-winning educator and a practitioner of agriculture and animal husbandry, Professor Sojka is the perfect guide for this grand saga. Weaving together material from a wide range of scholarly viewpoints, he presents a one-of-a-kind vision of humankind's unique role on Earth.

Join Professor Sojka for this enlightening view of the human story, and discover valuable truths about one of the most important developments in the history of the human species—one that has laid the foundation for all of human culture and that will continue to have implications for our future.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Man the Domesticator
    About 10,000 years ago, fundamental changes occurred in the lives of Homo sapiens sapiens as groups of people began to produce their own food. Gain an overview of this critical point in history and begin to ask key questions about the impact of domestication on Earth's dominant species, humankind. x
  • 2
    The Beginnings of Domestication
    While Neolithic humans eventually learned to domesticate plants and animals, these organisms had to meet human beings partway on the road to domestication. Explore the characteristics and the evolutionary processes that predisposed certain organisms for domestication, as well as the human behaviors that helped the process along. x
  • 3
    The Basis for Settled Communities
    Domestication transformed more than just the plants and animals involved; human beings also experienced enormous changes as a result of the agricultural revolution they initiated. Learn about the lifestyle of early agriculturalists and see how these patterns differed from those of their hunter-gatherer ancestors. x
  • 4
    The Dispersal and Spread of Agriculture
    How did the practice of agriculture spread all over the world? Examine the various approaches scientists use—including archaeology, biology, molecular biology, physics, and linguistics—to answer this question, and investigate some of the patterns of development these approaches have uncovered. x
  • 5
    Agriculture Impacts Ecology and Geology
    Agriculture gives humanity the ability to feed itself, but it can also pose a threat to the environment that sustains us. Learn about the delicate balance between our population size and food production, and explore particular examples of how domestication changes—and often damages—our environment. x
  • 6
    You Are What You Eat, Raise, and Build
    Just as plants and animals are adapted to the process of domestication, so human beings have been changed by their domesticates. Explore the many ways human cultivation has helped shape cultures all over the world. x
  • 7
    The Domestication of Cereal Grains
    Begin to focus on some of the most successful domesticates, starting with the cereal grains. Investigate how grains such as wheat, corn, rice, and oats were originally cultivated from wild grasses, and learn why these grains have been so crucial to human survival for millennia. x
  • 8
    The Oligarchy of the Garden Patch
    Continue your consideration of successful domesticates as you take a closer look at examples from a few families that dominate the backyard garden and the dinner table. These examples include familiar plants such as legumes, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and cabbages. x
  • 9
    The Importance of Storage Crops
    Since vegetables and fruits mainly grow during the warm season, much attention has been given to the cultivation of "storage crops." Learn about these crops—including potatoes, root vegetables, and apples—as well as the techniques for preserving these important foods to ensure survival through cold, barren winters. x
  • 10
    Three of Man's Best Friends
    Shift your attention to the animal world as you explore three of man's oldest, most cherished, and important domestic animal partners: the dog, the cat, and the chicken. Examine the impact of domestication on these species as well as the benefits of their partnership with humankind. x
  • 11
    The Common Barnyard Domesticates
    Step back into prehistory to discuss some important "barnyard" animals that played an important role in the establishment of food production as a way of life. Consider the domestication of sheep, goats, pigs, horses, and cattle, and look at how their descendants are used today. x
  • 12
    Landraces, Breeds, and Strains
    Nature supplies an abundance of variety in its organisms. Learn how plant and animal breeders, stockmen, and horticulturists take advantage of this variation to group organisms, culling and selecting traits that make them more beneficial and preferable to human beings. x
  • 13
    The Columbian Exchange
    When Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492, he initiated a new path of trade that forever changed the ecology of both the x
  • 14
    Plants That Influenced Global Culture
    Focus on four plant species that have flourished as domesticates despite having little or no nutritive value: coffee, tea, tobacco, and cocoa. Examine the history of each of these important plants and explore how these products have gained importance because of their role in generating and enhancing social interaction. x
  • 15
    Agriculture in the Age of Reason
    From the middle of the 17th century through the end of the 18th century, notable figures in the Age of Reason turned their attention to the issue of agriculture. Learn how these prominent individuals applied a more systematic approach to the domestication and cultivation of crops and livestock. x
  • 16
    Darwin, Galton, and Mendel
    Through their scientific breakthroughs, Charles Darwin, Francis Galton, and Gregor Mendel shed light on the processes that help drive the domestication of organisms. Explore how their work in the discovery of natural selection and the laws of heredity offered a new, more complete understanding of domestication. x
  • 17
    Some Notable Scientific Plant Breeders
    From the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries, the world of agriculture saw great advances in systematic, scientific plant breeding. Study the work of four of the great contributors to this field: Hugo de Vries, Luther Burbank, George Washington Carver, and Nicolai Vavilov. x
  • 18
    Farming the Waters
    While humankind has long derived nutrition from aquatic environments, one recent development is an expanding set of practices known as "farming the waters." Learn about the benefits and problems associated with this burgeoning practice and explore the implications of the cultivation of domesticated fish, shellfish, and aquatic plants. x
  • 19
    Domesticated Mice, Molds, and Microbes
    Not all domesticates grow in the garden or the barnyard. Consider some unexpected domesticates that play a key role in the bakery, the brewery, and the laboratory: mice, brewer's and baker's yeast, and microbes that help produce antibiotics. x
  • 20
    Our Technology-Based Global Food System
    As technology has advanced, humankind has developed new tools for supporting more efficient and productive agricultural output to feed people all over the world. Explore the impact of these various technologies, from artificial insemination to robotic milking machines. x
  • 21
    Engineering Our Domesticates
    Since the days when Mendel first uncovered the secrets of genetics, human beings have made steady progress in hereditary science. Explore the implications of such new methods as cloning and transgenic crosses. x
  • 22
    Novel Delivery Systems and Spare Parts
    As technology advances, what new uses will human beings develop for our domesticated partners? Will they serve as sources for transplanted body parts for human beings? Consider these questions and other ways that new transgenic techniques may be used in surgery, drug production, and the administration of pharmaceuticals. x
  • 23
    The Age of Industrial Farming
    Is Old MacDonald's farm a thing of the past? Over the last century, there has been a trend away from independent family farms to large, technologically advanced agricultural conglomerates. Consider how this trend has affected the lives of farmers, consumers, and livestock, and explore the many repercussions of this shift in agricultural practice. x
  • 24
    The Path Forward
    Take a glimpse into the future as you consider the implications and potential outcome of our current agriculture needs and practices. Can humankind continue to feed its ever-growing population? How does understanding our past contribute to wise decisions about food production and resource use in the future? x

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Your professor

Gary A. Sojka

About Your Professor

Gary A. Sojka, Ph.D.
Bucknell University
Dr. Gary A. Sojka is Professor Emeritus of Biology at Bucknell University, where he also served as president. He previously taught at Indiana University, Bloomington, where he was also dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He earned his master's degree and Ph.D. in Biochemical Genetics at Purdue University. In addition to teaching courses in microbiology, cell biology, and the general studies curriculum at Bucknell,...
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Understanding the Human Factor: Life and Its Impact is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 33.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Uneven but excellent? This course has left me scratching my head. I enjoyed it, and felt as though I learned a great deal, but the process was nevertheless quite painful. Other reviewers have noted Prof. Sojka's presentation problems. I listened to the audio version, and while I found his presentation style to be less than exciting, it was tolerable once I got past the first couple of lectures. I did have the sense that he was reading his lectures rather than speaking from working notes, but this was only mildly distracting in the audio. A much more difficult issue I had with his presentation was imprecision (or even error). In lecture 5 he introduces the concepts of carrying capacity and positive and negative feedback loops. And he says that he mentioned this previously and explained the concept of positive feedback using the example of childbirth. Now that should have been an example that stuck in my head, but I didn't remember it. So, nutcase that I am, I went back and listened to the first four lectures over - looking for that example. I don't believe he ever used it. In fact, as far as I could tell, he never previously mentioned the words positive feedback. More substantively, I disagree with his explanation of human population growth being an example of positive feedback. Prof. Sojka argues that when mankind moved from being food PROCURERS to food PRODUCERS, they somehow changed the food equation from being a negative feedback. That is: population rises lead to greater food consumption, which leads to food shortages, which lead to die-offs, which lead to less food consumption. Elementary. Prof. Sojka argues that because we became food producers, population increases lead to greater food production, which lead to greater food availability, which leads to population growth, which leads to greater food production. Two things are wrong with that equation, though. It depends on food production being a function of population. This might have been true for a very short period when every human was engaged in food production, but almost as soon as civilization arose, that ceased to be true with the rise of specialization. (Food production is more of a function of technology, and I suppose one could argue that more humans means more brains that have the potential to create useful technology, but that seems too highly attenuated to call a positive feedback loop. A positive feedback loop requires that the output of a given function be an input to that same function or a secondary function of the first. A relationship that's not causal necessarily breaks that "loop") The other problem with his argument is that it depends on increasing food resulting in greater fertility, which is again, not remotely clear (and seems extremely unlikely). I think he's confusing raising a limiting factor (i.e., food availability serves as a cap on human population) with it being an input to the function of human fertility, which it is not. Confusingly, he introduces these concepts (positive and negative feedback loops) with carrying capacity, which is a related, but different, concept. He doesn't do an adequate job distinguishing these two (or three) and in fact, I hear him as getting them conflated. Since this positive feedback loop is a recurring theme, needless to say, it drove me to distraction each time he brought it up, since I just wasn't buying it. However, it needn't have been a central theme. His message is just as powerful without this nonsense about positive feedback loops. I would have described what's happened historically as our technological gains have consistently raised the earth's carrying capacity for humans. Prof. Sojka's message is that we are currently on the brink of exceeding that carrying capacity, with a real danger of further rises in the carrying capacity being limited. Or a better way of saying that might be that the technological changes that we've been relying on to raise the carrying capacity are having negative side-effects that have the consequence of potentially offsetting gains to the carrying capacity elsewhere. That is technological gains in the amount of food we produce may be having negative environmental effects. these may net each other out in terms of overall carrying capacity, while our population continues to skyrocket. If the carrying capacity doesn't rise, then we're all in for a major catastrophe. Prof. Sojka warns us that exceeding the carrying capacity is a potentially catastrophic event. He does give a couple of very powerful examples of isolated events of exceeding a local carrying capacity, and those examples should be sobering. I thought he failed to really drive them home, though, which was unfortunate. Overall, Prof. Sojka's message is a powerful one, and one that every consumer of food should be aware of. This is a story that speaks to all of us (at least all of us that eat). And we would all be well served to learn it. So in short, this is a course I recommend, because the content is so powerful. It's a shame Prof. Sojka's not a better presenter, but he does seem to be the right person to deliver the material. In particular, as a couple of other reviewers have noted, he really hits his stride in the last eight or nine lectures (the farming the seas lecture being the notable disappointment is that group). It's a shame he wasn't as animated through the whole course. One other disappointment I will note. I expected he would also include a lecture on our gut bacteria. I think they're fascinating (I know: I'm sick). They would seem to me to meet his definition of domesticates. However the don't even get a mention. (OK, in truth, I do think he gave them a passing mention, but he doesn't give us a whole lecture, or even part of one, that gives us any history, biology, or anything else about them. A shame, really. So a recommended three-star course. It could have been much better, but I certainly don't feel that I've wasted my time or that I'm not a much more informed consumer of food than before I started.
Date published: 2014-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Among the best I've taken; fascinating course If you've recently visited a supermarket, used an antibiotic, marveled at the beauty and smell of a modern garden, or had days when you haven't given a thought to where your next meal was coming from, you may do well to complete this course. I found it a superb course about something often taken for granted. The Instructor introduces the discipline of Agriculture -- the largest business in the world, one of the most poorly understood, and one we depend on nearly every day (not only for food but for things like antibiotics and aesthetics). Prof Sojka is not only a student of agriculture, he is a "gentleman farmer" and conservator of unique breeds, so he brings practical knowledge to the issues he discusses. Prof Sojka gives such a great summary in his last lecture (#24) that I suggest you listen to it first. As with many TLC courses, the progress seems a bit uneven and repetitious at times. The first eight lectures occasionally seemed a little wander-y, but I'm glad I persisted because he lays the foundation for a superb course. I listened to the audio course and felt no need for the video. Prof Sojka explains the progress of agriculture (the symbiotic domestication of plants, animals, and microbes) from prehistoric times, illustrates how agricultural efficiency and food security were important precursors and conditioners of civilization's many stages (including social and personal values), describes how it has been revolutionized by modern knowledge, and discusses many issues affecting something we take for granted. Prof Sojka says agriculture may be solidly rooted in our distant past, but is no longer some idyllically pastoral endeavor removed from modern busy-ness. Like computers and genomics, agriculture now stands in a realm of technological change, economic interdependence, and distinct vulnerabilities. However, it remains uniquely connected to the natural world, and when we manipulate nature, we do so with an unknowable risk. These connections and risks are shared by billions of people, so he also encourages rational, non-romanticized discussions about modern agriculture, and believes this inter-communication gives us a chance to elevate our own humanity and help improve the world.
Date published: 2013-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A surprising course I bought this course thinking it would fall into the "special interest" section on my video library. After viewing it, I think it should be seen by any person on the planet. It is not about history, which is actually painted in very broad strokes. It is about seeing how yesterday's successes became today's challenges. It is about making informed choices in our daily lives and about the impacts these choices will have on the future of mankind. It is true that the presentation is somewhat redundant and uneven (some lectures are very pleasant others a little dull). However, the value of this course is in the unusually evenhanded perspective of the professor on the subject.
Date published: 2012-07-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from I'm sending it back I made it through the first lecture, with difficulty, and sampled one more. Now I'm sending it back. Both presentation and content are problems. Content: I am already familiar with most of this material. Everyone's background will be different, of course, but I've taken courses/read books on human evolution, genetics, etc. I'm very interested in these issues (Guns, Germs and Steel was a favorite book), but the modest additional knowledge I might get from this course is not worth the time, or the pain. Presentation was the bigger problem. The prof. speaks s l o w l y, redundantly, pedantically, redundantly. "Scientists revise their theories when new evidence is discovered." Saying this takes approximately 30 words, and is repeated every few minutes. Here's a flavor (certainly not a direct quote but you'll get the style): "As I have mentioned before, the nature of science makes it incumbent on the scientific community to frequently revise views of prehistoric sequence and timing of events, as new evidence is uncovered through investigations in many parts of the world which sheds different light on old theory...." Now imagine listening to versions of that sentence MANY TIMES in one lecture. Add to that frequent pauses, slow diction, and it becomes painful.
Date published: 2012-07-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from insightful This is a first rate and insightful course with wonderful content. If the professor reads his material, it is merely an indication of the care and diligence with which he has prepared this course. I look forward to more courses from this Professor and I hope he presents it in whatever way he thinks best!
Date published: 2012-07-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Professor reads I have done about 6 or 7 Great Courses before this, and found myself surprised and almost annoyed that this professor does something I've never seen in the GC before: he reads the entire course from a teleprompter. I'm used to professors like John McWhorter (Language), Dr. Anthony Goodman (Human Anatomy) and others, who actually look like they're engaging YOU (or at least a group of students in the rooms with them) by speaking mostly extemporaneously from some basic notes. I have no doubt that this prof wrote the teleprompter notes, but it's disarming and kind of bland to watch him stand there and read something behind the camera. It prevents him from ever joking or telling a tangential story, which anyone who has watched the profs I mentioned above knows can be great. I don't know why the TC hired a guy who said I"m going to read from cards" or some such. He also sways a lot, which I've seen other GC profs do in their first lecture, but they usually seem to stop after someone probably mentions it at that point. As far as the content, I found it interesting, and useful, particularly with my background in anthropology (not to mention just having watched the GCs on Trends in Evolution and Geology before this).
Date published: 2011-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Best This course was lent to me by a friend - so really wasn't sure of the content for this course (the title is misleading) but he recommended it highly. I was really pleasantly surprised - like when you receive an unexpected present and it turns out to be something you really wanted but never told anyone about. Of the dozen or so course I have listened to, this is the one I couldn't wait to get to the next lecture and wanted more when it was over. Prof Sojka covers the topic of how the human domestication of plants and animals not only changed us from hunter gathers to food producers, it changed the course of history. He masterfully blends in the societal, political, and cultural changes that occurred as a result. He also includes the right amount of science so the listener gets an appreciation how these activities occur but also provides the historical perspective of practices before the science was known. While Prof Sojka has a definite point of view on modern farming practices and their impact, he doesn't get too preachy and acknowledges there are benefits and costs associated with differing approaches and encourages listeners to come to their own conclusions. The bottom line is we are more dependent on domesticates than ever and they on us - we need to determine how best foster this relationship in the future to our mutual benefit. After growing up on a farm and now a city dweller, I never had an appreciation of the significance of the animals we raised. This course definitely provided a new perspective.
Date published: 2011-04-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wonderful material, haltingly delivered The teacher speaks too slowly for me, although this may have something to do with the fact that I live in New Jersey. However, his material is very interesting. I'll never think I'm just a "human being" again, without all of the other organisms that live in, with and around me.
Date published: 2011-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Positivie Feedback... Loop Professor Sojka's course is very well constructed and expertly delivered. I truly enjoyed his history and pre-history of domestication. The course does start out slowly but I prefer to think of it as "pastoral" or "bucolic"; it's easy listening with plenty of new information. Sojka sprinkled the course with surprising and unforgettable nuggets that I will never forget. Of course this is just the set-up for the final four lectures in the course where he describes the current state of domestication and, more importantly, our enhanced abilities to manipulate nature. Professor Sojka makes clear why Jefferson wanted the "pursuit of property" to be an inalienable right but other founding fathers, who were more circumspect and forward-looking, Washington among them, probably tipped the balance toward happiness. It seems that many historical events had food production at their roots. His description of the development of the frozen-food infrastructure could be a blueprint for all those pursuing the hydrogen economy or any other radical advancement requiring all-new infrastructure. The theme of humanity having a positive feedback loop with respect to population growth and food production is the constant drumbeat of the later lectures: More people-more ideas-better food production-more food- more people etc. This year was a particularly significant year to listen to this theme as the world's population exceeded 7 billion. The final lectures describe in detail how our modern society increasingly relies on monoculture, how our capability to breed (now "construct") organisms has outpaced our ability to evaluate their safety, how we breed plants and animals that no longer live in anything resembling a natural state and how some of those animals cannot reproduce without extreme intervention by man. We're increasingly creating a worldwide food production system that continues to produce the food we need but may be violating some of the basic tenets of our original bargain with our domesticated symbiotes. My one complaint about the course is that some of the "backgrounder" material in his lectures sounded as if he were reading. I had the audio-only version and so could not gauge his presence or animation. Thankfully, these sections were few and far between and appeared to be in areas where he had less expertise.
Date published: 2011-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly fascinating course! This was a fascinating course; Prof. Sojka's wide breadth of knowledge on both theoretical and practical bases and across several disciplines, made the material come alive. I would highly recommend it.
Date published: 2010-11-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A unique course that starts slow, & picks up steam This course took awhile to get my attention and interest me, but once it did, then it really turned interesting and was full of valuable information, typical of true lifelong learning course. The first six lectures of introductory material seemed a bit dry and even worrisome. If the entire course was going to be like this, then I might not be able to finish it! Then suddenly in lecture seven, my worries were put to rest, when some absolutely fascinating real-world examples were described, instead of theory and memorization. Gary Sojka is reading the entire course from a teleprompter, so it's a bit difficult to remain captivated, along with his slow and relaxed delivery. It's also a bit hard to follow him sometimes, as he runs into long and convoluted sentences. Yet overall I find him a quite pleasant lecturer, especially since he tries to present objective perspectives, while at the same time confessing to be a farmer in my home state of Iowa no less! So after lecture seven, the course went pretty quickly, and I am motivated to review the first six lectures again, in order to see if they make more sense to me now, and keep my attention. I like the length of the course at 24 lectures, and can imagine that 36 would be far too much. It could probably be done on 12, but Gary is not too quick in his delivery. Yet don't let that fool you, as he will present some complex notions, especially if they are new to you, and before you know it, the rewind button is pressed to try and understand the point.
Date published: 2010-05-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from An Average Course, Badly Named As noted by other reviewers, the title of this series of lectures is badly misnamed. Understanding the Human Factor of what? The history of plant and animal domestication followed by techniques on plant and animal husbandry. This is a niche course whose only saving grace is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic instructor. Some lectures were interesting, others merely informative. It would be useful to 4-H clubs and farmers, but no one else.
Date published: 2010-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good (for my needs) This is a very good course. I couldn't wait for the sale (or pay retail) so I found through another channel. I had a need to get this type of understanding of the human species. This did it for me. It differentiates mankind from other species by, among other things, a desire to control through domestication. I was able to relate it to other work - including resource dependency theory (RDP). I found it excellent.
Date published: 2010-04-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from This Course Needs To Be Renamed I understand the intellectual's desire to believe he can be a marketer, and in particular his ego's need to aggrandize, but whomever entitled this course simply serves to obscure the content, and creates dissatisfaction among its consumers. As someone who runs a large marketing agency, I try to remind both our staff and our clients that "Good advertising is the truth spoken elegantly and succinctly." This course should be entitled something more accurate. It is a survey of the art and science of domestication and how it enabled humanity's great transformation from hunter gatherer to control over his future, and how this process of domestication continues to progress and from which we reap rewards. Because otherwise it does the consumer and the content and it's author an injustice. And this is a story worth telling.
Date published: 2010-04-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting but Elementary Having a background both in science and agriculture I looked forward to viewing Professor Sojka's course with high anticipation. However, although I was overall satisfied with the course I was disappointed in a couple of areas. First, I perceived that Dr Sljka was not that comfortable in presenting the history of agriculture and the rise of civilizations and second, I found the science presented in the course to be rather elementary. As far as the history was concerned he spent a lot of time on this subject but presented very little information that was not already available from other sources. Also, although various scientific discoveries were noted he brushed over the underlying science and only presented minimal background information. It was not until the last six lectures of the course, when Dr Sojka talked about his own breeding experience and current and future advances in animal and plant domestication techniques, that his passion for the subject matter shown through. I only wished he would have started this portion much sooner. All in all it was a good survey course but suited primarily for students without a background in either science or agriculture.
Date published: 2010-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from tasty, satisfying, and filling The title of this course is not totally descriptive but the catalog and web site describes it quite well -- it is an integrated and far-reaching look at how and when humans domesticated the plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi we rely on today. Prof. Sojka is a very good lecturer, with an obvious passion for the material and a style that is very easy to listen to. The theme is fascinating. Prof. Brian Fagan's course on the origin of human civlization, which I have also reviewed very favorably, briefly discussed how Neolithic people developed agriculture. I found his treatment very interesting and wanted to know more. Prof. Sojka's course delivers. It combines science, history, and culture and covers a vast range of plants and animals in ways that I found to be very interesting. There are many wonderful nuggets and thought-provoking themes in this course; I mention just two of them here: - Prof. Sojka discussed what it took for frozen foods to become so widely and reliably available after Clarence Birdseye invented the concept. He had the process and factory but there were not yet refrigerated trucks or trains, few stores had freezer space, and homes did not yet have freezers. It's an interesting economic development problem analogous to how the infrastructure for automobiles spread across the US and around the world. - George Washington was ahead of his time with respect to almost everything, including his farming practices. He really practiced sustainable agriculture, including composting. Sojka contrasts this with the cotton-focused (and soil-depleting) approach of Thomas Jefferson. All in all, this is a very interesting and satisfying course.
Date published: 2010-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Humans always have an impact I enjoyed this cource. Professor Sojka does a good job of showing that humans have a huge impact on our life and environment. It is good for us to realize that everything we do has tradeoffs. Very thought provoking couse.
Date published: 2010-03-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Very important but obscure The first thing which puzzled me about this course was the title, because it didn't tell me anything about the course content. I would have chosen, for example, "A Perspective on the History of Agriculture". I've told friends that I almost sent the course back after the first five or six lectures, because I was so frustrated in hoping Dr. Sojka would get to the point, instead of repeating himself so much. I see this as a humanties course presented by a pure science man who needs to polish his style. I agree entirely with another reviewer who asked for more pictures because I think relevant illustrations, charts, and maps would help clarify what Dr. Sojka's trying to teach us, and I would ask for more specific examples of general points. In my opinion it doesn't matter at all whether the viewer has grown up in a city or on a farm, because the information offered is mostly easy to understand. All that being said, and thinking of other Teaching Company courses I have and enjoy, I must say, and do say to those who will listen, that this course is the most important I have to date. It will take patience and determination, I tell my friends, to "stay the course" and play the complete course. While I can't say that I enjoyed all the lectures, I'm convinced that Dr. Sojka's message is very important.
Date published: 2010-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Gentleman Farmer... As a City Boy I had a lot to learn. If you live somewhere near Omaha, Neb, you might not get as much from this course as I. This sort of material is best imparted by someone who knows the land and the animals, and doesn't reside in an Ivory Tower. And this Gentleman Farmer does indeed know the land and the animals, and we benefit from his ability to tell it as it really is. I have two minor gripes. The first, which applies to nearly all the DVD courses of the Teaching Company, is give us more pictures. This might seem childish, but in my humble opinion photos add some ineffable extra to the lectures. Secondly, I might be wrong, but I think this course could have been aimed a tad higher, without losing too many folks. If you're a city-slicker, buy this course.
Date published: 2010-02-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Stress on science of domestication Even tho the titleof this course is "The Human Factor" it is much more a science course than a humanities or sociology course. I might re-title it "Everything You Wanted to Know About Farming." This is of course not to detract from the course, but as an "urban dweller" for NYC, this course was a reach for me. If you are interested in or live in a rural area, the course would be more engaging. I did think the professor's style could be improved. He too often refers to his own experience in raising sheep, his own "discovery" of his "unique" point of view, and his seeing his dicussion as "interdisciplinary." It may be "interdisciplnary" for a science course, but it focuses more on genetics, breeding, ecological influences on agriculture, etc. I did enjoy the course, and did learn something, but it was not as broad reaching as I had hope. Again, think "historical development of farming" not "human."
Date published: 2010-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Domestication: An Amazing Story of Transformation At first I was taken aback by the seemingly simple obviousness of Dr. Sojka's thesis: humans' domestication of plants, animals, and microbes has had a profound effect on humans, plants and animals, and the planet itself. Well, I already knew that. Or I thought I knew that. Listening to the audio version of the course, I soon learned that this domestication was likely the single most momentous activity in all human history-- and in the earth’s history, too. And I learned that the animals benefit from this. Comments about Colonel Sanders aside, the reality is that the chicken population is the largest of all bird species on the planet. Domestication affects politics, sociology, nationalism, and just about every aspect of human (and animal) life, from man’s first settlements to our modern world and the global economy. With just the right amount of scientific detail, Professor Sojka held my interest during every lecture. If you look over the lecture titles, you will see he has covered nearly every aspect ‘life and its impact.’ I was astonished to learn that in our modern world of high-tech farming, we actually only have several days’ supply of food in the event of a catastrophe. I’m not going to run out and become a farmer, but I will look into ways to store some extra food. The professor is a good speaker, but perhaps a tad slow-paced at times. I also had some trouble with the professor’s emphasis on how animals benefit with their ‘partnership’ with humans. Chickens may have the biggest population, but I can’t help thinking about their short lives and how most of them end up .... On a stylistic note, I was disappointed by Dr. Sojka’s often using phrases like “it is interesting to note” or “it is worth noting.” I believe if something is interesting or notable, it does not need a prefacing comment. Just show me, get on with it, and I will decide if it’s ‘interesting.’ (This is the old ‘show vs. tell’ issue that professional speakers and writers should try to avoid.) The professor’s handling of animal rights issues seemed mostly fair and balanced to me. George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm,’ one of my favorite books, was not mentioned. Perhaps just as well. I can recommend this course. It’s clear, and, in many instances, inventive, wise, and intense. And it might even make you become a vegetarian.
Date published: 2010-01-11
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