Wisdom of History

Course No. 4360
Professor J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
Share This Course
4.2 out of 5
138 Reviews
70% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 4360
Streaming Included Free

Course Overview

Do the lessons passed down to us by history, lessons whose origins may lie hundreds, even thousands, of years in the past, still have value for us today? Is Santayana's oft-repeated saying, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" merely a way to offer lip service to history as a teacher—or can we learn from it? And if we can, what is it that we should be learning?

Professor J. Rufus Fears believes that not only can we learn from history—we must. In The Wisdom of History, his newest course for The Teaching Company, he draws on decades of experience as a world-renowned scholar and classical historian to examine the patterns of history. Ignoring them, by choice or because we've never learned to see them, is to risk becoming their prisoner, repeating the mistakes that have toppled leaders, nations, and empires throughout time.

In this personal reflection on history, Professor Fears has taken on the challenge of extracting the past's lessons in ways that speak to us today, showing us how the experience of ancient empires like those of Rome and Persia have much to teach us about the risks and responsibilities of being a superpower. He shows how the study of those who left their impact on an earlier world—Caesar Augustus or Genghis Khan, George Washington or Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi or Josef Stalin—can equip us to make responsible choices as nations, citizens, or individuals.

You may not agree with everything Professor Fears says history teaches us—for example, that the desire for freedom and democracy is not shared by everyone and never has been—but that is fine with him, even desirable. For example, here's what he writes about the accompanying course bibliography:

"I have followed Lord Acton's dictum that it is the mark of an uneducated person to read books he or she agrees with. The educated person reads books he or she disagrees with. Thus I have frequently recommended books that disagree with me because these are the ones we find most stimulating."

The challenge Professor Fears poses, to seek such stimulation and examine history closely, is especially pertinent during the "ahistorical age" he says we live in—an era when too many people are willing to invest in a "dangerous delusion" that "science, technology, the global economy, and the information superhighway all make us immune to the lessons of history," and that "in an age of global economy, war and tyranny will become things of the past."

A Profound Challenge

This delusion, Professor Fears says, has become more dangerous in light of recent history.

"The terrorist attack on our country was a watershed for American history. 9/11 presented the United States with a challenge as profound as the American Revolution, the Civil War, and World War II. The Wisdom of History was conceived in my conviction that if America and its leaders are to meet that challenge, then we must learn and apply the lessons of history."

Because it addresses enduring issues that have contemporary relevance, this course is perhaps even more timely than any current headline. It offers a relevant context for understanding the post-9/11 world Professor Fears says has transformed our country and influenced his own intellectual growth; a world in which the Middle East plays—as it does in this course—a recurrent and crucial part.

Like Professor Fears's five previous courses—A History of Freedom, Famous Greeks, Famous Romans, Churchill, and Books That Have Made History: Books That Can Change Your LifeThe Wisdom of History is taught with passionate conviction and love of subject.

For those who have already enjoyed one or more courses by Professor Fears, The Wisdom of History makes an ideal companion piece. And for those new to Dr. Fears, this course is ideal as an introduction to the work of a scholar whose mastery of his subject and ability to present it with clarity and spirit has been repeatedly honored by his peers and students.

Professor Fears has extraordinary skills as both teacher and scholar. He has received 24 university and national teaching awards; he was named three times by University of Oklahoma students as Professor of the Year, and once as Most Inspiring Professor.

Vivid Narratives from a Superb Storyteller

Professor Fears creates vivid narratives of people and events that continue to reverberate in your mind long after you've paused a lecture to think about what you've just heard. This skill has helped make his courses among our most popular, and it is on frequent display in these lectures.

But in a panoramic exploration that ranges from the ancient Greeks and Hebrews to the history of this nation, and in his unflinching and perceptive portraits of those who shaped our world for better and worse, Professor Fears supplies something more than just another telling of history, no matter how engrossing.

By filtering history through his personal perspective—and inviting us to take seriously the effort to distill laws or lessons from the past—he is determined to teach us to see history from a fresh perspective that both evokes the past and speaks to the present. The result is a course that teaches us, by example, how to learn from history. We can add what we learn to the storehouse of hard-won wisdom each of us have already built up to make our own decisions, both privately and as citizens or public leaders.

Some of History's most Provocative Themes

What sorts of themes does Professor Fears invite us to consider? He uses an intimate portrait of Winston Churchill, a man who understood history deeply and wisely, to tell us that:

  • Despite the importance of doing so, we do not learn from history.
  • Science and technology cannot immunize us from history's lessons.
  • Freedom, which Americans believe is longed for by people worldwide, is not a globally shared value. By contrast, desire for power, whether wielded as a despot, or as a benevolent empire or superpower, is a universal value.
  • Known as the cradle of civilization, the Middle East has also been the graveyard of empires, no matter what their intention, as the Romans and so many others have learned.
  • America will experience the same ultimate destiny as the memorable democracies, republics, and superpowers of the past.
  • Religion and spirituality—and the lust for power—are the most profound motivators in history.
  • Nations and empires rise and fall not because of anonymous social and economic forces but because of decisions made by individuals.
  • A true statesman possesses four qualities: a bedrock of principles, a moral compass, a vision, and the ability to build consensus to achieve that vision.

Professor Fears also declares that the United States, because of its unique foundation in freedom and the power it wields through science and technology, "might still be able to provide lessons and leadership to guide the world into a new age of prosperity—if Americans are willing to learn from the past." We are not free from the lessons of history, but we can learn from those lessons and make our decisions based on what we learn.

Although most of us will never achieve the knowledge and understanding of history wielded by a man like Churchill, the end of this course indeed brings us to the same position in which Professor Fears placed him at its beginning—armed with a historical perspective that can, if we choose to heed its wisdom, help guide our lives and choices for the future.

Hide Full Description
36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Why We Study History
    We define the wisdom of history as the ability to think historically, that is, to use the lessons of the past to make decisions in the present, and to plan for the future—as Winston Churchill did in preparing for and executing his destiny as a statesman. x
  • 2
    World War I and the Lessons of History
    This lecture asks why the last century—unequalled in advancements in technology, science, education, and knowledge—is also unequalled in the destructiveness of its wars, the scale of its human suffering, and the savagery of its tyrannies. x
  • 3
    Hitler's Rise and the Lessons of History
    Churchill called World War II "the unnecessary war." The existence of Adolf Hitler is a pre-eminent example of the lessons history tries to teach us. This lecture looks at how the failure of Woodrow Wilson and the generation of politicians after World War I demonstrate the consequences of ignoring those lessons. x
  • 4
    World War II and the Lessons of History
    Winston Churchill understood that Stalin was a tyrant as evil as Hitler, and that Communism was as evil as National Socialism. But as he attempted to heed history's lessons and prevent the Allies from repeating and compounding the mistakes made after World War I, his warnings were ignored. x
  • 5
    Is Freedom a Universal Value?
    Freedom consists of three separate ideals. Those ideals—national, political, and individual—of freedom have achieved a unique balance in the United States, the result of a likewise unique confluence of historical currents. But history teaches that such a balance is not universal, and that failure to understand this lesson can have dire consequences. x
  • 6
    Birth of Civilization in the Middle East
    America's foreign policy has long been based on the belief that freedom is a universal value. But the history of what is now known as the Middle East shows that nations, like individuals, frequently choose the perceived security of despotism to the responsibilities of freedom, with great civilizations—ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, for example—rising and falling with no concept of freedom. x
  • 7
    The Trojan War and the Middle East
    The power vacuum created by the collapse of the Hittite and Egyptian empires led to the most famous war of antiquity, which demonstrates for us that a balance of power is a fragile and dangerous mechanism for maintaining peace. x
  • 8
    Ancient Israel and the Middle East
    The Old Testament, our earliest example of historical writing, has in the book of Samuel profound lessons for us today. The story of King David teaches that there is a profound moral dimension to history and that private and public morality cannot be separated. x
  • 9
    Ancient Greece and the Middle East
    Herodotus composed his Histories of the war between Persia and Greece in an effort to explain the ways of the gods to men, seeking to understand through history and its moral dimensions why nations rise and fall. He found his explanation in the concept of hybris, the outrageous abuse of power that leads nations and individuals to disaster. x
  • 10
    Athenian Democracy and Empire
    Athenian democracy rested on values fundamentally identical to American democracy. It teaches us that empire and democratic freedom are compatible, that democracies do not necessarily make peaceful neighbors, and that wars undertaken to spread democratic values can end in defeat and disaster. x
  • 11
    The Destiny of the Athenian Democracy
    America shares with ancient Athens a fundamental conviction that it is the duty of the strong to come to the aid of the weak, with corollary beliefs in pre-emptive war, often with the expectation of being welcomed as a liberator. The experiences of ancient Athens suggest that these are dangerous delusions. x
  • 12
    Alexander the Great and the Middle East
    Alexander was uniquely successful in his ability to solve the problem of the Middle East. He ruled not by imposing Greek ideals but by becoming a Middle Easterner, accepting the ethnic and religious diversity of the Middle East and its long tradition of absolute rule. x
  • 13
    The Roman Republic as Superpower
    History teaches that it is very difficult to be a superpower with a constitution designed for a small city-state. Rome was ultimately forced to choose whether to keep the freedoms of a republic or to remain a superpower. Its choice determined the future politics of Europe and the Middle East to this day. x
  • 14
    Rome of the Caesars as Superpower
    The Roman Empire did far more than the Roman Republic to advance the cause of individual freedom. It offered a model of how to achieve peace and prosperity over a large geographical area while securing individual rights, ethnic autonomy, and local political freedom. x
  • 15
    Rome and the Middle East
    The Middle East supplies a key to understanding the history of Rome. Rome's attempts to bring stability, peace, and Roman political values to Judea illustrate why the Romans found a solution to the problems of the Middle East so intractable. x
  • 16
    Why the Roman Empire Fell
    Since the time Rome was declining and falling, historians, moralists, and countless others have tried to explain why. In addition to threats from Germanic tribes, much of the explanation lies in Rome's involvement in the Middle East and the cycle of nation building, annexation, and terrorism that followed. Failure to solve these problems reduced the Roman Empire to a relic. x
  • 17
    Christianity
    In an important fashion, Christianity was a triumph of the religious values of the Middle East over the traditions of Greece and Rome. The rise of Christianity and Islam, within the context of the Roman Empire, illustrates the power of religion as a motivating force in history. x
  • 18
    Islam
    Christianity and Islam have much in common. Yet from the beginning of Islam in the 7th century they have been locked in conflict. The Byzantine Empire and the Crusades demonstrate enduring lessons about the Middle East as the graveyard of empires. x
  • 19
    The Ottoman Empire and Turkey
    Mustapha Kemal, known to history as Ataturk, is the most remarkable and successful statesman produced by the modern Middle East. His creation of a unified Turkey built on a foundation of secularism and ethnic nationalism is a most instructive example of how to create a nation-state in the Middle East that is based on European political and cultural values. x
  • 20
    The Spanish Empire and Latin America
    Despite its proximity to the United States, its vast resources, and its industrious population, Latin America has never developed enduring institutions of democracy. Instead, it has often given us examples of civil war and despotism. The history of Latin America shakes the assumption that democracy in one country will spread to neighboring countries. x
  • 21
    Napoleon's Liberal Empire
    Napoleon saw himself as a combination of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, but his attempts to transform Europe as a benevolent despot failed. His career attests to both the enduring lesson of hybris and the danger of pre-emptive wars in the name of liberal and democratic ideals. x
  • 22
    The British Empire in India
    The British believed they were combining liberty and empire, but, for many of their subjects, Britain was simply an example of the lust for power as a motivating force of history. The British experience in India illustrated the power of other forces—ideas and religion—to shape history. Who could have imagined a frail Indian barrister could, without violence, bring such an empire to its knees? x
  • 23
    Russia and Empire
    In both 20th-century Russia and China, democratic revolutions would end in savage tyrannies. The wisdom of history teaches us that this is not an accident, but the predictable result of the historical development of both countries. x
  • 24
    China and Empire
    Civilization rose in China independently from the birth of civilization in the Middle East. But like the Middle East, China throughout its history has chosen despotism over freedom, with Confucius's notion—of order flowing from above—as an ideal that persists, producing despotism even out of a revolution aimed at establishing democracy. x
  • 25
    The Empire of Genghis Khan
    Genghis Khan is one of history's bloodiest conquerors, yet modern historians see him as a statesman who brought a new era of achievement to regions he conquered. His life and legacy teach the lesson of the lust for power—and its ambiguous consequences. x
  • 26
    Britain's Legacy of Freedom
    This lecture considers the heritage of freedom that developed in England and was passed on to America, where it merged with four other crucial historical currents of freedom—the Old Testament, Greece and Rome, Christianity, and the U.S. frontier. x
  • 27
    George Washington as Statesman
    Since Herodotus and Thucydides, the question has been asked: In a time of crisis, can a democracy bring forth leaders superior to those produced by autocracy? The short answer is "yes," as is the longer one, with this lecture offering the first of two examples from our nation's history. x
  • 28
    Thomas Jefferson as Statesman
    Napoleon believed himself destined to establish a new Roman Empire, but it was his democratic contemporary, a man of far different moral character, whose decision to purchase the Louisiana Territory created an empire far larger, more enduring, and more noble than anything Napoleon imagined. x
  • 29
    America's Empire of Liberty—Lewis and Clark
    Americans are reluctant to describe this country as an empire, but the United States is one of the most successful imperial nations in history. This lecture explores the consequences of Jefferson's foresight in not only accomplishing the Louisiana Purchase—the largest expansion of territory ever made by purchase and negotiation—but in choosing the ideal men to lead the expedition to explore those new lands. x
  • 30
    America and Slavery
    The United States was founded in the self-evident truth that "all men are created equal." However, slavery was recognized by the Constitution as the law of the land. Ultimately, only the Civil War could resolve Americans' understanding of the fundamental meaning of freedom. x
  • 31
    Abraham Lincoln as Statesman
    At the beginning of the Civil War, many in Europe and America believed that the decay of democracy was embodied in the choice of a backwoods solicitor to guide his nation. Instead, Lincoln's presidency provided the ultimate testimony to the ability of democracy to produce leaders in a time of crisis. x
  • 32
    The United States and Empire
    With the end of the Civil War, the once-more-United States entered the stage of world politics, making it clear to the powers of Europe that this young nation, despite its recent internal conflicts, was not going to fade away. But as America began its appearance on that stage, could it reconcile its values as a democracy with its actions as a superpower? x
  • 33
    Franklin Roosevelt as Statesman
    During World War II, the rule of totalitarian governments extended from Spain to Vladivostok. Yet democracy was able to triumph. As was the case with Britain and Winston Churchill, the United States was able to produce, in Franklin Roosevelt, a wartime leader with few equals in history. x
  • 34
    A Superpower at the Crossroads
    Harry Truman believed that America was chosen to bring freedom to the world and that to achieve this, America must be a superpower. In the process, the United States entered into the legacy of the empires of Europe and Asia—in the Middle East, Indo-China, and Korea. The consequences are still with us. x
  • 35
    The Wisdom of History and the Citizen
    The wisdom of history has lessons for each of us, both as citizens and as private individuals. The Founders of our country were successful as statesmen because they thought historically and understood that history is the most important discipline for citizens of a free republic. x
  • 36
    The Wisdom of History and You
    We look at what each one of us in our personal lives can take away from history—which can be described without trivialization as one great self-help book, more valuable than all the guides that fill the shelves in airport bookstores—and discover perhaps its greatest lesson. x

Lecture Titles

Clone Content from Your Professor tab

What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Download 36 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
Instant Audio Includes:
  • Download 36 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 36 lectures on 6 DVDs
  • 224-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 224-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Maps
  • Suggested readings

Enjoy This Course On-the-Go with Our Mobile Apps!*

  • App store App store iPhone + iPad
  • Google Play Google Play Android Devices
  • Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Tablet + Firephone
*Courses can be streamed from anywhere you have an internet connection. Standard carrier data rates may apply in areas that do not have wifi connections pursuant to your carrier contract.

Your professor

J. Rufus Fears

About Your Professor

J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
Dr. J. Rufus Fears was David Ross Boyd Professor of Classics at the University of Oklahoma, where he held the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty. He also served as David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University. Before joining the faculty at the University of Oklahoma, Professor Fears was Professor of History and...
Learn More About This Professor
Also By This Professor

Reviews

Wisdom of History is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 138.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Provocative Class Dr. Fears enjoys the role of teacher as provocateur. While I did not agree with all his opinions, the class makes a person think, and that is the point. I believe that great teachers have great insights and a great love of teaching. Dr. Fears manifests both qualities. Also, having a class that presents the big picture of history is valuable.
Date published: 2019-01-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Sterile presentation I should not have bought something filmed in 2006. It was low-tech.
Date published: 2019-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Wisdom of History Bought this some years ago, loved it, and want to watch it again! There are some very interesting ideas and concepts presented--well worth anyone's time (especially those who want to explore new ideas, or see old ideas in a new light). This is the "wisdom of history" and not merely dates and factoids of it. Highly recommended to Thinkers!
Date published: 2019-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What an eye opener. I've always been a history buff. This approach by Professor Fears puts an interesting spin on it. I've always felt that human nature was universal and eternal. The Professor makes the case for my theory. Very informative and entertaining.
Date published: 2019-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful storyteller! We have purchased two course with Dr. Fears. He is very knowledgeable and makes the history come alive with his narratives.
Date published: 2019-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insightful and exceedingly relevant today Rufus Fears was a master—criticized as old-fashioned, narrow, and provincial by some, and unquestionably representing a traditional approach to studying and teaching history—but in my view he was one of a kind, and this 2007 course is 100% relevant today, one of several I have undertaken to try to understand and cope with the current era. In this course Professor Fears reiterated many of the principles he expounded on in his previous courses, such as the four essential attributes of a statesman (a bedrock of moral principles; an unwavering moral compass; a vision for the future; and the ability to compromise and work with others). Of the 36 lectures, four (the first and second, and the last two) could almost stand alone as a mini-course, crystallizing his message. It was plain—and impressive—how in virtually every discussion he could well have been referring specifically to the United States in 2018, even though he died in 2012.
Date published: 2019-01-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sage Musings It is hard to really categorize this course. Professor Fears travels through early world history to modern times reflecting on the wisdom to be gained from studying various people and events. The course was like sitting in a room listening to a wise old man pontificate on various topics. He does not hold back any punches and freely speaks his mind. Professor Fears packs an incredible amount of insight into each lesson. I think I am a little bit wiser for having listened to this class. Time spent gaining wisdom is never wasted, and this course is certainly worth the listener's time.
Date published: 2018-11-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Look at History Rufus Fears really makes his points. Among them, empires die in the Middle East. May we learn at least that lesson.
Date published: 2018-10-31
  • y_2019, m_7, d_15, h_5
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_2.0.12
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_9, tr_129
  • loc_en_US, sid_4360, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.0
  • CLOUD, getContent, 14.73ms
  • REVIEWS, PRODUCT

Questions & Answers

Customers Who Bought This Course Also Bought