I Like to Break a Mental Sweat

The bad news is that a recent cold snap has prevented me from getting back into a regular cycling routine (I’ll need to get some heavy gloves for winter I suppose – its only my fingers that get cold…). The Kilted Kid and I have done a couple of brief lifting sessions, with him starting his work on the Personal Fitness Merit Badge (which requires recording 12 weeks of physical activity) so there is that. But over the past 3 months I have participated in 7 online courses, or as I like to call it “Breaking a Mental Sweat.”

If you’ve seen the movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, a farcical comedy about two rival gyms, you know the David and Goliath story of the corporate rivalry between Globogym and Average Joes Gym as well as the rivalry between gym owners White Goodman and Peter Le Fleur for the affections of love interest Kate Veatch. One scene, White Goodman (played by Ben Stiller) tries to impress Kate by pretending that he’s been reading a dictionary to show how smart he is with the line “Oh, you caught me. I like to break a mental sweat too.”

I have found a good batch of courses offered through two websites: FutureLearn and The Open University. Over the past months, FutureLearn has had a good run of courses, and all seven that I took are through their portal. What have I learned? Here are the courses I have taken:

Archaeology: From Dig to Lab and Beyond from the University of Reading. With degrees in anthropology, classics and archaeology, and after participating in two excavations there wasn’t anything new or insightful in this course for me. But lacking any prior experience in the field but it was a good little review and overview of what goes on at an archaeological overview or introduction into the field of archaeology. It covered the basics of archaeological fieldwork and laboratory analysis but is definitely geared more as a recruitment tool for their program.

Early Modern Scottish Paleography from the University of Glasgow (my alma mater). Decidedly the best and most practical course of the group, this offered a great introduction to paleography (the study of manuscripts and handwriting) particularly geared toward the 16th-18th century examples from Scotland. This course has some serious practical applications for my current work. In other words, its learning all the various letter forms and spellings to help researchers read documents like the excerpt below from a witch hunting trial in Lanarkshire from 1650.

Introduction to Intercultural Studies: Defining the Concept of Culture from the University of Leeds. This course covers the first four weeks of an Undergraduate course of the same name which leads to a degree in Intercultural Studies. The course looks at how anthropologists and sociologists define and use the term culture. It also explores concepts such as cultural bias (how it is basically impossible to view or evaluate a culture without being biased by your own culture). My biggest takeaways from it is how left leaning academic institutions and the British have become, played out mainly in the apologetic approach to colonialism.

Introduction to Intercultural Studies: Language and Culture from the University of Leeds. This course also covers the first four weeks of an Undergraduate course of the same name and leads to a degree in Intercultural Studies. This course examines the role that language plays in shaping and defining cultures as well as how it affects cultural interaction.

Preserving Norwegian Stave Churches from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. This is a good introduction and analysis of the archaeology and history of Norwegian wooden churches but more importantly and analysis of all the efforts in play to preserve them for future generations. The most important part is how the preservation teams approach and strike the balance between preservation and reconstruction, especially as some of the buildings which are hundreds of years old are still in use for worship services. I would highly recommend this course.

Scottish Highland Clans: Origin, Decline and Transformation from the University of Glasgow (Alma Mater again!). This is a great overview class and (I think) the first of its kind. Even though it didn’t really have a lot of new information for me, it was still a well-ordered presentation of the history of Scottish clanship. It was also nice to see one of my old professors again.

Walter Scott: The Man Behind the Monument from the University of Aberdeen. Similar to a course I took a while ago about Robert Burns, this course gave a lot of the background behind the stories written by Sir Walter Scott. Scott is known for his romanticized novels about the Highlands, particularly during the Jacobite era with his best known work probably being Rob Roy.

And that’s what I’ve been up to… So what comes next? Probably a course that called “History of the Book in the Early Modern Period: 1450-1800.”