Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A listener's guide to Geography of World Cultures

Now that I have finished Stanford's enhanced podcast Geography of World Cultures by Martin Lewis, I think it is very appropriate to give a listener's guide into the lecture series (see Stanford on iTunes U). The main reason being, no matter how excellent and deeply fascinating this course, it is a series that relies heavily on visuals, most of which the listeners misses out on

Central are the maps and these maps are part of the enhanced podcast. In order to sufficiently discern the details, one needs a large screen to see and simple mp3 players do not offer that quality. I have followed the course on PC, maybe a large iPod can do some of the same, but generally the advice is to do as I did - sit down in front of a computer screen.

The series breaks down in two major sections. The first six lectures (ignore the titles, they are synchronized with the planning, not with the actual lectures) are about the spread of languages. This is the part that is far the easiest to follow. Occasionally Lewis will point to the map and the listener will miss out on the indication, but generally the context suffices. Only when it is question time - about twice per lecture, one drops out of the visual connections. The same goes for the last four lectures, those about the spread of religion, but here the points Lewis indicates on the maps are far less intelligible. In addition there are frequent drops in sound quality and there is an entire section (the major part of lecture #7) about animism which is accompanied by slides that are not in the podcast visuals.

Hence, the language part is recommended for everybody, the religion part for the die hards especially #7 and #8 (#9 and #10 about Judaism, Christianity and Islam are much better). Die hards are the map freaks and the scourers for general knowledge about cultures that is rarely offered in such a comprehensive way. If only one could have physically attended the lectures...

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