July 14, 2014

Ancient Nubia

Tags: Coursera, MOOC, History

The last online course completed in my recent burst of MOOC study was Ancient Nubia by Emory University on Coursera. Ancient history courses are dominated by Mediterranean cultures (at least the ones presented in the English language). Ancient Greece and Rome are well represented in online courses and podcasts. Thus opportunities to study other ancient civilisations must be seized on the rare occasions they arise.

Nubia is the region immediately south of the Nile’s first cataract, and stretching down past the sixth cataract. In modern geography this is the area between Egypt south of Aswan, and Sudan north of Khartoum. Civilisation arose here soon after ancient Egypt, and there was extensive interaction between the two. Trade had definitely commenced by the time of the Old Kingdom (as there are texts describing the commerce); Pharaoh’s during the Middle Kingdom conquered various parts of Nubia; and, in the New Kingdom, Nubian kings returned the favour conquering Egypt in 760BC and forming the 25th Dynasty - a period known as the reign of the Black Pharaohs. Nubia was also influenced by (and influenced) societies in central Africa and in it’s later years by Axum.

Archaeologically, Nubia has received a great deal less attention than it’s famous northern neighbour. However, when Egypt decided to build the Aswan Dam it became clear that many Nubian ruins would disappear under the resulting lake. Numerous studies were undertaken before the flooding, and since the Nubians sometimes built in stone and had a written language, a great deal can be determined about them.

This 8 week course is presented by Dr Peter Lacovara and covers the history of Nubia from prehistorical beginnings until its decline around the 3rd century AD. The course progresses chronologically and is largely focussed on major events and archaeological artefacts. Each week consists of around 30 minutes of video and a multiple choice test. There is no exam. There is however a class participation requirement. Posting in the forums every week on a set question is worth 5% of the overall course mark. This forced participation may work well in small classes, but in an online class of several hundred it just resulted in a great deal of what essentially became little more than “me too” posts. The first few had interesting information, but they soon decayed into a waste of space. I avoided this part of the course.

The video lectures are mostly the presenter sitting down and talking to the camera. Occasionally there are interviews, slides or short documentary extracts. The lecturer seemed uncomfortable talking to the camera, but was fine in interviews. Production quality is consistently high.

A worthwhile, but basic, course on Nubia.