After I graduated college, I began studying philosophy in earnest. I read through large quantities of old philosophical books in translation, and I enjoyed it immensely and learned a great deal.
At that time, I used to say that if I could go back and start college over again to maximize my learning, I would focus my studies on languages and history. I was finding from experience after college that while I could get as much or more from studying ideas independently as I could studying them in a classroom, independent study of languages or historical facts was not nearly as effective on my own.
For learning historical dates and names and places and events etc, and for learning vocabulary and grammatical tables etc, there’s nothing like a classroom to provide motivation: a grade that will remain attached to us for life, a test that cannot be deferred forever, a supportive community of peers to study with and suffer alongside.
I still think there are great advantages for studying those two subject areas in college, but I’m now less hopeless about the possibility of studying them independently. I’ve already said a fair bit about language learning previously.
For the study of history, my best recommendation is The Great Courses.
This product is really unbelievable.
For the price of a single credit on Audible, I can buy a course that has twelve or even twenty-four hours’ worth of lectures. The lectures are done by a world-class teacher and scholar on a particular subject, and I can listen to them as many times as I want. And if I want, there’s even an included course PDF covering all the same material for no extra charge.
That means I get a huge amount of material, for less than twenty dollars, delivered by a world-class expert. It’s hard not to compare this to what we could get at a college or university — hundreds of dollars for a probably mediocre prof, who has the power to make your life truly miserable on a whim.
I’m not saying college is a waste of money, only that if there’s anything worthwhile in college classes, how much more must the Great Courses be worth our time and money!
It’s interesting that in every course, each lecture is about thirty minutes long. I don’t think I’ve ever had a college class that consisted of thirty-minute lectures. Still, the format seems to work very well. I can’t explain it, but I do enjoy it.
And I recommend the history courses most highly of all. There are lots of good courses available, but in my experience, the best value and best entertainment come from the history courses. Give one a try. Whatever catches your interest. See if you aren’t hooked.
Here’s a little tip, by the way: when you’re ready, try buying two (or more) courses that cover the same or similar material, done by different professors, and listen to one of them, then listen to the other, and then go back and relisten to the first and then go back to the other. Bounce back and forth a couple times. This has a few advantages. For one thing, it gives you two different perspectives, and then any differing emphases or interpretations or conclusions will be very illuminating. It also makes it more interesting to relisten to the first course; most of the good courses will be worth enjoying multiple times, but it can be tedious to do the one thing over and over again with nothing to compare against. It also gives a subtle confidence when we hear two world-class experts, who do not agree on everything, give a similar analysis of a given question. Where they overlap, we will feel that we are on firm ground indeed.