The Autodidact Course Catalog
August 27, 2009 |  by Dale Keiger

Ground-Level French History

David Bell, professor of history, Krieger School

The Great Man approach to history is not without merit or its own worthy reading list. But this course will sample historiography written at an earthier level. Four centuries of France as experienced by common people who become uncommon on closer examination.

  • The Return of Martin Guerre, by Natalie Zemon Davis. A legendary case of 16th-century impostorship from a time, before photographs and DNA testing and Social Security cards, when the question of what established one’s identity was a knotty question indeed.
  • The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, by Robert Darnton. What people thought in 18th-century France, and how they thought it. And yes, there is a massacre of cats—by the workers of a print shop. The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Social
  • Imagination, by Alain Corbin. France in the 18th and 19th centuries was a place of many odors, not all of them appetizing. Corbin’s study demonstrates what smells and public reaction to them say about a culture.
  • Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870–1914, by Eugen Weber. How the French “savage” countryside became incorporated into a modern French unity, told from the viewpoint of the peasants.

Here’s the Deal: Coping With and Surviving Breast Cancer

Lillie D, Shockney, administrative director of the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center

Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer mortality in women (lung cancer tops the list), and incidence rates keep rising in Western countries. A practicum on what women need to know about the illness and its treatment.

Back in the Day: A Joint Seminar on Classical Times

Matthew Roller, professor of classics, and Richard Bett, professor of philosophy, Krieger School

An introductory survey covering the Roman republic and classical Roman and Greek philosophy. Old politics, old philosophy, old intrigue, old guys in togas, and things to ponder that stay ever current.

  • Plutarch’s Lives X: Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, by Plutarch. Roman reformers who met bad ends, back when politics could be a rough—make that murderous—business.
  • Social Conflicts in the Roman Republic, by P. A. Brunt. Short overview of social and political conflicts in the Early (458 BC to 274 BC) and Late (147 BC to 30 BC) Republics.
  • Rome at War: Farms, Families, and Death in the Middle Republic, by Nathan Rosenstein. The appendices and notes take almost as many pages as the primary text, but the book presents a provocative argument: High mortality in Rome’s wars prompted an increase in the birth rate that in turn produced overpopulation, landlessness, and social unrest.
  • Ancient Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, by Julia Annas. Exactly what the title promises.
  • Classical Thought, by Terence Irwin. A brisk survey of classical philosophy that covers Homer, the Naturalist movement, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Epicureans and Stoics, Plotinus, and the early Christians through Augustine. The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Philosophy, edited by David Sedley.

Next: The self-aware brain, the myth of post-racial America and design — good and bad — in everyday life.