There is a place for middle-brow overviews in series form, before and after the Internet, so long as they neither condescend, nor misrepresent both a subject, and its complexity. The Guardian recently had an article on Kenneth Clark's series 'Civilization'. It's one of the good ones, if dated and plummy. Not all are worthwhile: I do not like the Ken Burns series, and Attenborough's are worthy, if thin of content for my tastes.
'Civilization' I learned of only because in 1988/9, my very RP-speaking, canon-centric, though otherwise quite excellent professor of 'Survey of English Literature', assigned it to us to make up for the lacunae in the experience of we North Americans, as we would not have had the pleasure of, as he put it, being able to visit a "10th Century mead hall" across campus. He sounds a worse snob than he was. He was right. When I got to visit England, the nearest to the Stendahl Syndrome I have experienced was entering the National Gallery, and finding the Elgin Marbles, the Rosetta Stone (thanks, Kamo) and Persian Lions all in the first few rooms.* Paul Peeler at McGill was the professor, I recall. No sign of him on the Internet, as he
must have retired long ago. According to a girlfriend who became an
assistant to him, he was sidelined in the faculty for paying too much
attention to teaching. "And so it goes..." My father had the book made from the series, which I did look through (though rather doubt my father had). I did not watch much of the series, both because I then thought Clark a precious ass, and because one had to make time to go to the a/v room on campus, if you can imagine that, as one did for learning language, which I only once did for Japanese the time the prettiest Hong Kong girl in class asked me to join her.
On science, I was impressed with the few parts of Bronowski's 'Ascent of Man' I was able to catch on TVO, and always meant to go back to watch the balance. You could do worse than to watch the conclusion.
You may see why I falsely remembered Bronowski having committed suicide, whereas it was a character he played in 'Hannah and her Sisters'. It would have been a great complement to one of the most memorable courses I took: 'History of Science'. Cannot remember the professor's name, but besides teaching, for the most part, the history of European cosmology and introducing me to fascinating characters like Giordano Bruno, Kepler, Tycho Brahe, and Koestler through his book 'The Sleepwalkers', he had a habit of confronting us with what you could call rhetorical-challenges:
- "Koestler committed suicide with his wife, when he decided it wasn't worth living. What do you think of that?!"
- "Milton said, "'What is truth?', said Pilate jesting, and would not stay for an answer.""
- He brought in a lecturer from the Sorbonne, and made us sit though an hour of Parisian French half of us could not understand, being Anglos at an English university... in a French province.
Within more recent living memory, what parts of Simon Schama's 'A History of Britain' I saw I found put the pieces I knew into better order in my mind, if the images of burning caltrops on beaches was a bit overwrought.
If I were going to include radio series and webcasts: 'A Short History of Progress' about the Ponzi-scheme that is every civilization.
Do you have any other suggestions for me to subject my children to in a decade?
*The other time was in The National Treasure Museum in Taipei, as I am an EA Studies minor.