zaelle: (Nekotalia Iggycat)
[personal profile] zaelle
It's been a while but I thought I should record here my first serious attempt at completing a massive online course. It's kind of interesting that I've been better able to focus on taking this online course now that I actually have a job, than I ever did when I didn't have one.

Anyway, it's a fascinating course about how 'space' was perceived in early to medieval viking literature. The course says 'Scandinavia' as a whole, but most of the material we're reading from is from Iceland. I'm not sure if that's a result of more written records and sagas surviving better out of Iceland than from Norway, Sweden or Denmark, or for some other reason, but it is interesting none-the-less.

We started off 'at the beginning' with readings of the Poetic Edda (I'm going to insert a side comment here to mark my amusement - the day I got the Poetic Edda as assigned reading was the same day a Tumblr post popped up to say that I should be proud of writing fanfiction because the Lord of the Rings was a fanfic of the Poetic Edda...) and the Prose Edda.

It's interesting to read these pieces that were obviously recorded during a transitional state in these Viking societies - Christianity was taking over, and it's hypothesized that the Prose Edda was written down as an attempt to preserve the oral stories before they completely disappeared. Even with that of course (because it's written down), there are allusions to the old gods making way for the Christian God.

The Prose Edda, which is written much later serves as a guide for poets (to study the Poetic Edda), in the guise of a rewritten history. It states that the old Gods - Odin, Thor, etc, are these really awesome dudes who came from Turkey. Because they came from a much more advanced society in the near east, they were worshiped as Gods. The Gods are called the Aesir, because they came from Asia. Yeah that blew my mind (and I have my doubts), but it does make me think about works of transitional literature and how Christianity infused itself with local beliefs (pseudo discrediting them but not entirely) to carve a place for itself.

This week we're going to Iceland (I think we're going to stay in Iceland for a while) and it's actually pretty miraculous that the Iceland as written about in the Saga of the Icelanders (how the island was eventually colonized/settled by early Norwegians) is still very much unchanged from Iceland today. Historians can actually map out specific locations in Iceland where the saga stories take place. They don't have massive buildings to mark the spot, but they have all these years of globalisation and maintain their natural landmarks to be placemarkers.

I live in a place that carves up entire hills and demolishes ancient temples just because they don't fit the current political narrative, so the reality that there's an island half a world away that is 1) a heckova lot more developed and successful than my country and 2) has managed to preserve itself to remain mostly UNCHANGED by nature since about 900AD (give or take) is pretty darned amazing. My mind is still blown.

The result is that people who read the sagas can literally walk those roads as easily as if the old sagas were a travel guide. It makes it less surprising to me that the movements to build temples to the old Norse Gods are the most alive in Iceland.

Of course, when your country looks like don't need to build a massive landmark.

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I've tried taking online courses before - Introduction to Sustainability and something to do with Disaster Recovery. I didn't manage to pay attention for more than a week.
Part of it is adjusting to the new structure - live interactions are very different from videos and online discussion forums. Not busting yourself for a grade is different from just reading the forums enough and doing some short quizzes just to pass.

The other aspect that takes time to get used to is the idea of peer review. Everything is peer review (although in this course the instructors are very active in the discussion forums), and that's one thing in a traditional classroom where you physically meet people (and the class is no larger than 30-50 people), but here with a classroom of hundreds spread out across the world...that feels different.

I'm struggling right now to get my thoughts together well enough to post on the discussion forum (I'm always late to these because the new stuff is posted on Tuesdays and I spend the week watching the lectures and reading the stuff, yet only get a chance to do the quizzes and process what I read on the weekends). My thoughts are flying all over the place though, I'm a little fatigued.

Overall it's fun so far. The course is run out of the University of Zurich. I think if there's any lesson I've learned here, it's that I should use Coursera to take courses I'm actually interested in, regardless of how practical or useful they will be for my professional or life skills...rather than the alternative.
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