Thursday, February 26, 2009

Archaeology, Myth, and History: the Minoan and Mycenaean Worlds (2007)

[Image: Minoan Prince of the Lilies, Knossos, Photo by: Harrieta171, 28/01/06,
GNU Free Documentation License, Attribution Sharealike 2.5]

This podcast is part of a series of lectures from UC Berkeley's "History 4A: The Ancient Mediterranean World" course, made available online for free here. The podcasts were recorded in the fall of 2007, and this particular lecture is number 7 in the series. I'm starting here because the earlier lectures deal not with Greece, but with Ancient Egypt and the Near East.

The lectures are given by Dr. Isabelle Pafford, who has a lively, fun style of lecturing that is worlds away from the stereotypical stuffiness of academia. She begins, for example, by addresing "all of those students who are not in this room, and who are listening to this lecture by podcast... I'm lonely! I miss you! I look out at the sea and I wonder if everyone's dropping my course!"

The lecture begins with a little geography. Pafford argues that the effects of Greek geography (a dense networks of islands in the Agean; a mainland characterised by valleys, mountains, coastline and a relative absense of plains and rivers) fostered both "seperatism" and "connectivity" in the Ancient Greeks, ultimately giving rise to the city-states. We have "a large number of seperate communities," but with a common identity and ethnicity, binding them together and seperating them from the "barbarians."

Pafford then talks about the bronze age, which ran from about 3000 b.c. to 1050 b.c. At this point, early in the lecture, things become a little confusing. Pafford says that the "bronze age begins in the 3rd millenium with the development of metalurgy, with the development of the ability to make tools and bronze, to make weapons. Things are no longer made of stone, according to the archeological record, and this is why we call it also the iron age."

The iron age?!? I thought we were talking about the bronze age! The iron age was (according to Wikipedia - that bastion of rigourous scholarship) 1000 b.c. to 400 a.d. Things get even more confusing, however, as Pafford goes on: "The earliest human habitation of Greece is about 1000 years before the Bronze Age, and the evidence for this human habitation in Greece goes back to about 18'000 b.c."

So was the earliest human habitation within Greece in 4000 b.c. or 18'000 b.c.? This is all very confusing. I think, however, that this sort of thing is a problem with the medium of podcasting more than with Pafford's lecturing. In a live lecture I would be able to stick my hand up and ask for clarification. Furthermore, the fact that, in a podcast, I can rewind time and play a segment over and over means I can pick up on tiny little errors of speech made by Pafford which she may not even be aware of.

So, does a lecture like this work as a podcast? On the whole: yes. It's true that Pafford does use a lot of visuals that we, as listeners, don't have access to - but then she does try to describe everything properly and the slides aren't a large part of the lecture anyway [EDIT: Slides play a much bigger part in later lectures, and the fact we can't view them does become difficult]. Pafford does have to pause a couple of times to rearrange her slides (as a reviewer of one of Pafford's other lectures has pointed out) but this sort of thing is inevitable during lectures, and is only really noticable because it's a podcast and not a live lecture.

Pafford manages to fit an enormous amount of information into a one hour lecture - going from 18'000 b.c. to the end of the Greek Dark Ages. By doing this, however, she manages to keep things exciting by focusing on the most interesting points.

There is a nice question and answer session at the end of the lecture (and students ask questions throughout) all of which Pafford answers well and in an engaging way. Whenever a question comes up, Pafford makes sure she repeats it clearly into her mic for the benefit of the podcast.

Overall, then - this is a fun, interesting lecture. There are a couple of issues, but more to do with the medium of the podcast than with the quality of the lecture. I look forward to listening to more of these!

Rating: 7 out of 12
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