First Impressions of Foner’s Class

I thought that I might comment on the online course experience from time to time.

Signing up proved painless. It appears sections shall see weekly release, each containing a lecture by Foner broken up into five to ten minute segments. These pretty clearly date to last year and come straight from his classroom, unlike the more scripted video of him talking to the camera about the class. After each section comes a question based on its content. They’re multiple choice questions geared more toward making you aware of how much attention you paid, rather than real tests. I would have liked it more to sit through the full hour or so of Foner in one go, but suppose I shall survive.

I don’t think that I’ve ever seen Foner deliver a talk. He does it well and with all the charm one would hope for. He told some good jokes. On the subject of his role as historical adviser in a Broadway flop about the Civil War, he noted that the critics objected to the music and the choreography, but nobody criticized it for historical inaccuracy.

The inclusion of images Foner showed the class, many of which one can also view on the course website, really helped. If you haven’t watched or listened to David Blight’s course it bears doing, but none of his materials make it into the video. You have to take his word for it or find them yourself.

The first lecture covered the usual introductory ground. I don’t know if I picked up much new from it, as expected from an introduction, but I always enjoy seeing historians drawing meaning out of sources and he did as great a job as one would expect dissecting a painting of a stump speech in Missouri.

On a shallow level, and fully aware of my own receding hairline, I also appreciated Foner’s comb over. For some reason I had also assigned him roughly the voice of a friend of mine from Virginia, which made the contrast with his actual New York accent.

After the first segment I looked into the readings and found that I’d have to buy the books. I expected something like that, though I held out some hope for online texts. I broke from my custom in the interests of economy (I just ordered Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told today as well.) and opted for ebooks. That option did not exist for Gienapp’s The Civil War And Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection so I will have to miss out on it for now. Fortunately nineteenth century documents of historical import appear online frequently. Unfortunately, the suggested readings work by page number rather than title. As a nice bonus, I already own Foner’s book on Lincoln and slavery. I may see about getting a copy of Gienapp before the end of the course, but it looks like it’s nearly out of print and pricey.

The terms of service include some language about not sharing content from the course. I don’t know if that would extend to the full reading list, but it may. Instead I’ll just note that it includes a book by David Brion Davis on slavery that I planned to read anyway, a survey of the 1850s that I had not heard of, and a promising-sounding book on counterrevolutionary ideology in South Carolina. …and I have a lot of reading to do in the next two weeks.

I opted not to participate in the discussion section, at least for now. I skimmed through it, but the interface left a bit to be desired and my antisocial habits won out. At the end came a quiz with more real content on it. I received nine out of ten because I misplaced an Oscar Wilde quote. Sorry about that, Gentle Readers.

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