Thursday, February 20, 2014

MOOCs and Early America

Peter Onuf filming at Monticello
Well, it looks like the world of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and the world of early American history are about to collide. 

Earlier this month the College of William & Mary and Colonial Williamsburg announced that they will joining together in the hopes of producing a MOOC on Virginia's role in the American Revolution.  Here is a taste of the press release:

William & Mary and Colonial Williamsburg will work together to develop a detailed proposal for the course and will seek donor support for funding.  W&M Professor James Whittenburg has been appointed to serve as the MOOC’s lead instructor, including curriculum development and course content.  He is the Pullen Professor of History and Director of Graduate Studies, specializing in colonial America and early national history. Whittenburg and his colleagues in the Lyon G. Tyler Department of History recently received top honors in U.S. News & World Report’s survey on graduate schools, which ranked William & Mary’s U.S. colonial history program third in the nation. His counterpart at Colonial Williamsburg will be Frances Burroughs, Theresa A. and Lawrence C. Salameno Director of Educational Program Development. Burroughs and her colleagues in the division of Productions, Publications and Learning Ventures create Emmy Award winning interactive television programming.

Meanwhile, up in Charlottesville, Virginia, the University of Virginia is teaming up with Monticello to offer a MOOC on the life and legacy of Thomas Jefferson.  It will be taught by University of Virginia historian Peter Onuf.  Here is a taste of the press release:


Titled “Age of Jefferson,” the course launches Feb. 17 – President’s Day – and is being taught by Peter Onuf, U.Va.’s Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor Emeritus, senior fellow at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello and an expert on Jefferson and the early American republic. The six-week, noncredit course is free and can be taken on either Coursera or iTunes U. (A preview of the course can be viewed here.)
“Thinking about – and with – Jefferson enables us to gain a fresh perspective on our world, a world that Jefferson did so much to shape,” said Onuf, who is also one of the three “history guys” who host the public radio show, “BackStory with the American History Guys.” “The American Revolution marked a critical and formative epoch in the emergence of the modern world. Studying Jefferson, his hopes and fears, his achievements and his failures, enables us to understand our world better.”
The course will offer an introduction to Jefferson’s thoughts, focusing on several key ideas and themes that engaged him throughout his public career and private life. It will address the three achievements Jefferson asked to be listed on his tombstone: writing the Declaration of Independence, advocating religious freedom, and advancing the cause of education by founding the University of Virginia. The course will also explore Jefferson’s lifelong relationship with the institution of slavery.