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In-Depth Review: The Modern and the Postmodern Part 1

Detailed review by Class Central user Anne Orton on a literary tour from Darwin to Nietzche to Madame Bovary.

This review is by Anne Orton. Anne is a sixty-four year old retiree who began her professional career as a middle school teacher and later as a headteacher/principal. She was then appointed as an educational adviser to a number of English local authorities before being appointed HMI (Her Majesty’s Inspector) of schools. Anne worked as HMI for Ofsted for over 10 years, retiring in 2011 as Divisional Manager leading a large team of inspectors in the Midlands. Anne now divides her time between her homes in Nottingham and France spending much of the year studying with the University of the Third Age as well as MOOCs, reading, visiting galleries and generally enjoying life and life long learning. 

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We all live in the modern world and most of our days (or mine at least!) seem to be taken up in trying to understand how we got here in the first place. This course: “The Modern and the Postmodern Part 1” will certainly help you make sense of the main thoughts and influences that have shaped our lives today. You will also be introduced to how these ideas have been reflected and represented in the works of artists and writers who have lived through the stirring times from the Enlightenment to the beginning of the 20th century.


I am by profession an English teacher and former school inspector with a great interest in life long learning. My main aim in taking this course was to add to my rather basic understanding of the great thinkers whose philosophies have shaped the modern world. Since my retirement, I have enough time to indulge this passion and have turned to MOOCs to stimulate my thinking and broaden my understanding of the liberal arts in general. A cross-curricular approach works best for me and MOOCs, drawing on a wide number of disciplines are my first port of call. The Modern and the Postmodern Part 1 certainly ticked all those boxes.

If I were to have my time over again, I would be banging on the doors of Wesleyan University begging to be a full time student in this discipline. 

I have only ‘audited’ this course – as I’m lucky enough not to require any further qualifications. However, if I were to have my time over again, I would be banging on the doors of Wesleyan University begging to be a full time student in this discipline. I very much enjoyed the video lectures and the course reading material, most of which I completed; the only exceptions being works that were already well known to me. I also found the helpful in-module quizzes extremely useful for checking my understanding of the more complex concepts as I went along. I only glanced at the forum I’m afraid – arguments are what husbands are for! However, the inputs that I did review seemed lively, reflective and interesting.


The Modern and Postmodern Part 1

From what the sole lecturer, Professor Michael Roth indicates to his classes, this course has obviously been running some time at Wesleyan and I’m not surprised at its popularity. The themes and ideas he introduces are the cornerstone of our present civilization and culture. Any student wanting to understand where we are now needs to see where we have come from – and why. The Modern and the Postmodern provides this insight.

Michael is an inspirational, rigorous and engaging lecturer who seems to combine his leadership role with a full program of humanities teaching at Wesleyan. 

You are guided in your studies by Professor Michael Roth, a well-known author in the field of philosophy, history and the arts. He is also the President of Wesleyan University. Michael is an inspirational, rigorous and engaging lecturer who seems to combine his leadership role with a full program of humanities teaching at Wesleyan. It is clear that he enjoys teaching and, from the response evident from his students, they enjoy his lectures too – and for the man who tried to ban ‘Zonker Day’ this is no mean feat. (Do please look this up – it’s hilarious. It’s not every lecturer who makes it to the Garry Trudeau comic strip)

It was a privilege to be one of his class! 

Michael’s learning ‘sits easy on him’ though. Complex thoughts are conveyed with humor and passion in a simple but not over-simplified manner. I particularly enjoyed watching Michael strive to grasp just the right word to convey the meaning he wanted. It was a privilege to be one of his class!

Although I have some background in European Literature and Art, I found much that was new to me and as well as some that was familiar. But even with well-known texts, new learning took place. For example, I reread Madame Bovary with renewed pleasure after gaining the new insights provided by this course.


But this course is also suitable for those with little or no experience in the liberal arts. All that’s really needed is an interest in the subject, a willingness to take on and read round new ideas and a fairly basic general knowledge. The less experienced student will find that the key concepts are set out in such a cross-curricular and developmental way that the parallels and the links across the philosophies, history, science, literature and the arts will become clear for the first time – well they did to me at least.


The course is like a journey through time.  

The course is like a journey through time. It begins with a brief introduction to Kant and Rousseau and how their teachings influenced Enlightenment thinking. From the increasing freedoms of the Enlightenment, we move swiftly on to the French Revolution and the other subsequent upheavals of 19th and early 20th century Europe. We are shown how some of these concepts shaped the literature of the time, and in particular, through a detailed study of Flaubert’s realist novel Madame Bovary, are shown how the different schools of developing thought are characterized in the novel’s main protagonists. We are also introduced to the discoveries of Darwin and later to the theories of both Marx and Nietzche. We are also shown how their struggles were later reflected and refuted in the intensity of the poetry of writers such Baudelaire and in the paintings of the French realist and impressionist schools. It’s a whirlwind tour but enjoyable every step of the way.


I can’t really comment I’m afraid on the course assignments as I was only auditing the course and decided not to do these but 800 words for the longest assignment didn’t sound too bad to me – the only problem I might have found was limiting my output to such a short written offering.

I ‘whipped’ though the course, spending around 3 hours on each week’s module but doing it all at once. A bit like binging through a box set!


What’s the next step for me? The Modern and Postmodern Part 2 of course! I can’t wait to get to Freud and Wittgenstein – and that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write before I completed this course!


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