FutureLearn: Free history courses for all

Since leaving university I’ve been missing the organised educational experience in getting my history fix. While reading and documentary watching are great, I’ve been becoming increasingly addicted to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and particularly those offered by FutureLearn.

FutureLearn provides a platform for top UK universities to create free online courses on a whole range of subjects, including some great history ones. These courses involve videos, articles, illustrations and photos and quizzes. They often allow you not only to learn about the topic presented, they also allow you to see what is actually involved in real university courses on the topic – what these academics are actually up to.

You can learn all sorts of techniques used by different types of historians, archaeologists and scientists. They allow you to see artefacts and sources that you might not easily be able to access. The courses are split into about 20 modules per week, with each week being opened up every Monday.

You can spend as much or as little time on the modules as you like, and in some courses you’ll be tested with little quizzes and tests, to give you a final score. You can also request certificates to prove you have completed the course. I’m currently on three courses with FutureLearn.

Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier
Newcastle University
This course focuses on the building and context of Hadrian’s Wall and the people who lived on and around it. It’s great for exploring historical, archaeological and language techniques including aerial photography, reading tombstones and categorising small finds. It also has some great ‘cold cases’ to study, in-depth explorations of mysterious finds near the wall, which you are tested on with little quizzes. The course is six weeks long and is now about half way through.

Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds
University of Southampton
This course is only four weeks long and explains what maritime archaeology is, what the basic knowledge areas required by maritime archaeologists are and what techniques they use. It’s already dispelled the myth that maritime archaeology only deals with underwater shipwrecks; it is concerned with the historical evidence left behind by anyone connected with the maritime world, on land or in the sea. The course started on 6th October and there’s certainly time to start it now and catch up on the first week.

Shakespeare and his World
University of Warwick and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
This is a course I’ve just started, one week after it began, because I was getting through my other courses too quickly! This is a very long course – 10 weeks – and it’s a much more personal and in-depth course than the others, presented almost entirely by Jonathan Bate in 5-10 minute long videos. Each week focuses on a different Shakespeare play and a different theme from his life and context. For example week 2 deals with Shakespeare and Stratford and The Merry Wives of Windsor. What’s wonderful about this course is that Jonathan bate introduces to you many artefacts from the collections of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

There are many other courses available on the FutureLearn website and more are being added all the time, so I really recommend checking it out – https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/

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