Thursday, December 05, 2013

What a wonderful course

I have blogged about this course before. It is called "A Brief History of Humankind" and is taught by Dr. Yuval Noah Harari of the University of Jerusalem. I am yet to sit the final exam but the taught phase is now complete and I can honestly say that it was the most interesting, enlightening, and inquisitive course that I have ever taken. The course runs for 17 weeks long, with each week taking a couple of hours to work through. I highly recommend signing up for the course on the off chance that it reappears in future (I read that it may return around the middle of next year).

I may post some rough notes from the course in future, but if you want the details I can do no better than point to the blog of Louise Taylor, whose note taking and presentation skills are scarily good.

At the end of the course, Harari reminds students that if ten different historians taught the course, we would have ten different versions of events. The aim of the course was not to land on a definitive truth but to raise questions and prompt students to ask questions about our past, present and future. In the final e-mail to students, Harari explains why he thinks history is important:
People often ask, what is the purpose of studying history? They sometimes imagine that we study history in order to predict the future, or in order to learn from past mistakes. In my view, we should study history not in order to learn from the past, but in order to be free of it.
Each of us is born into a particular world, governed by a particular system of norms and values, and a particular economic and political order. Since we are born into it, we take the surrounding reality to be natural and inevitable, and we tend to think that the way people today live their lives is the only possible way. We seldom realize that the world we know is the accidental outcome of chance historical events, which condition not only our technology, politics and economics but even the way we think and dream. This is how the past grips us by the back of the head, and turn our eyes towards a single possible future. We have felt the grip of the past from the moment we were born, so we don’t even notice it. The study of history aims to loosen this grip, and to enable us to turn our head around more freely, to think in new ways, and to see many more possible futures.
I hope that by introducing you to the history of humankind, this course has helped loosen the grip of the past.

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