Monday, May 23, 2011

Devouring Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire 5 minutes at a time

Portrait, oil on canvas, of Edward Emily Gibbo...Image via Wikipedia
 (1737–1794) BY SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS (1723–1792)
The masters of the fairest and most wealthy climates of the globe [The Romans] turned with contempt from gloomy hills, assailed by the winter tempest, from lakes concealed in a blue mist, and from cold and lonely heaths, over which the deer of the forest were chased by a troop of naked barbarians [Scotland]. - Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

18th century historians like Edward Gibbon (April 27, 1737 – January 16, 1794) write such stilted prose that I have found myself hesitant to tackle his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for fear that I would toss my hard-bound collection of this classic work into some cob-webbed abyss in the attic in frustration before I even finished Volume 1.  But, despite its errors that have been revealed by research in the last 300 years, Gibbon's work is considered one of those sources that a well read Roman scholar should have studied in the course of their career.

Lately, though, I have found a technical solution to my dilemma.  I read about a new service called Daily Lit that offers to email you five minutes worth of any work in their fairly extensive library of mostly public domain titles each day so you can "eat your vegetables" in tiny little bites.

I must admit trying to digest Gibbon's preface was a challenge, even at five minutes a day!  But now I'm finally into the meat of his first chapter and found the quote above that made me smile at the flourishes in his description.

Daily Lit also offers to email you free video lectures from Khan Academy that run between 10 and 25 minutes long.  Although Khan Academy's lectures are predominately math, they have begun offering history lectures too.  I'm presently subscribed to their lecture series on The French Revolution.

Instructor Sal Khan, a graduate of MIT, uses a virtual blackboard overlaid with images on which he writes and draws as he lectures in a very laid back manner, referring to Napoleon Bonaparte as a "dude who really knew what he was doing!"  His conversational style is so natural that you quickly become immersed in the topic and it doesn't feel like a formal lecture at all.  I was so excited by their efforts to offer free educational experiences that I sent them an e-mail offering the free use of my image archive.  I would love to have Sal explain the decline and fall of the Roman Empire!  His efforts even drew the attention of Google who gave him a $2 million grant to further develop his courses. I encourage you to check him out!

Related articles
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Penguin Classics) 

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