Introduction The period from the mid-15th century to the end of the 20th century is one of momentous change in politics, economy, culture, and society. Within five centuries, the face of the world was radically altered. Europe in particular was a fascinating arena of change.
This online course, available as a YouTube playlist, looks at the changes that happened in Europe in this period. It covers the entire period from the Renaissance up to the 21st-century globalized world.
The course is presented by John Green, the author of the bestseller 'The Fault in our Stars'. John isn't exactly a professional historian, but he has been assisted by various consultants in preparing this course. Also, the course has been prepared using some very reliable books as sources, notably 'The Making of the West' by Lynn Hunt et al. from which most of the course material is drawn.
Course Structure The course consists of a playlist of 51 videos, including an introductory video and a concluding one. Each video is about 12-15 minutes long. The course structure is based on the AP European History course description (AP or Advanced Placement is a program for students in the US, offering courses equal to college courses) and the US college-level Introduction to Western Civilisation curriculum.
The course videos are arranged in chronological order as far as possible. It covers events like the Renaissance, Reformation, voyages of exploration, scientific and philosophical developments, political revolutions, wars and ideologies, the interaction of Europe and the rest of the world, commercial developments, cultural and intellectual developments, development of national and European identities, etc.
An assessment of the course The course makes good use of visual aids (old paintings, portraits, photographs, etc) allowing them to assist in learning without flooding the viewer with image after image. It also creatively uses animation (especially in the 'Thought Bubble' section). John Green manages to be an extremely engaging presenter. He uses humor to good effect, never letting us get bored, but not deviating from the topic either. The 'Centre of the World' section was a good addition – an object connected to the topic of discussion would pop out of a large globe placed towards the edge of the screen and John would talk for about 30 seconds about it. While being a nice relaxing break, it also helped provide a bit of trivia.
The best thing about the course is that it did not butcher the nuances of history while trying to make it interesting. Historical events often cannot be seen in black and white. For example, he shows that the Renaissance was not simply a story of the revival of classical traditions or the dominance of 'humanism'. Rather a lot of 'medieval' tendencies persisted even in this age.
The course has to be credited for not making individuals the main center of attention. Other than certain truly exceptional cases, for example, Napoleon, processes are given the focus rather than 'great men'. In addition, the course has been very sensitive to the differences existing between the people – between rich and poor, between man and woman, between city and countryside, etc. Every historical event was perceived in different ways by these different groups. John often says that "How history looks depends on where you sit." This is very clear in the video on European migration in the 19th century. In that video, the experiences of women as well as minorities such as Jews were looked at through sources like letters and autobiographies. Finally, the course has to be credited for giving sufficient attention to the experiences of the colonized people, even though it primarily covers happenings in Europe.
This course is not meant for certification of any kind. Rather it can be used by undergraduate students to prepare a base for their papers on European history. In fact, this is how I found the course. The CBSE school history curriculum has a lot of gaps as far as European history is concerned and without a YouTube playlist like this, it would have been pretty daunting to straightaway jump to UG-level books on this subject.
However, even people who do not plan to do anything with history can still head over and check out this course. The good thing is that you don't need any previous knowledge to understand the stuff that is shown in these videos. And the course is so interesting that you are likely to get hooked on it – a reminder that history can't be boring if taught properly!
Head over to the course playlist at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8dPuuaLjXtMsMTfmRomkVQG8AqrAmJFX
You can also check out other online educational resources.