“Plagues, Witches, and War”: A Video Preview

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With about twenty-four hours until the MOOC goes live, enrollment in “Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction” stands at just around 15,000, with more streaming in by the hour. I have been in contact with over a thousand of these students via Twitter (#hfmooc, #hisfiction), Facebook (the “Plagues, Witches, and War” student page), and this blog. They come from all over the world: Brazil, South Africa, Ecuador, China, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, Russia, Spain, Senegal, Canada, Colombia, and thousands of towns, cities, and rural areas around the United States. If you’re reading this and would like to sign up for the class, you may do so by going here. Enrollment will be open up until the last couple weeks of the class, so if this is an especially busy time for you it’s still possible to complete the class even if you can’t give it too much attention until sometime in November.

As I noted on several earlier posts about the MOOC (see here and here), one of the class’s features will be a series of five seminars with visiting writers, who will follow up their visits to my class with extended exchanges with Coursera students on the forums (with several of them also taking questions on Twitter). Two of these authors—Jane Alison (discussing The Love-Artist) and Katherine Howe (discussing The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane)—have already visited my on-grounds seminar on historical fiction. This is probably the best group of undergraduates I’ve ever had, and the authors have delighted our two visitors so far with engaging and challenging exchanges on the nature, rigors, and craft of historical fiction. These have been long and substantive discussions, worth viewing in full, but I thought I would post a few snippets as a preview so that enrolled and prospective students can get a glimpse of what they’ll be seeing once the video content for these weeks is posted. The next visitor is Geraldine Brooks, followed by Mary Beth Keane and Yangsze Choo.

The last few weeks have felt like a marathon, with all the work entailed in putting one of these courses together: writing and revising lectures, planning assignments, typing up and formatting slides, shooting videos (all with multiple takes), getting releases signed by visitors and students, consulting with University Counsel, preparing video and audio patches, dealing with the intricacies of the Coursera interface, and moving everything through post-production with the help of an extraordinary team. It’s been an exhilarating experience, and while there have been some last-minute glitches (and there will surely be others), “Plagues, Witches, and War” is ready for launch.

Those enrolled in the class will receive an e-mail around 8:00 Eastern Standard Time tomorrow morning (Tuesday, October 15) letting them know the course page is live and directing them to the home page. Until then, enjoy!

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29 comments on ““Plagues, Witches, and War”: A Video Preview

  1. Avi Solomon on said:

    I hope Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The White Company” is required reading!

    • Bruce Holsinger on said:

      Alas, it’s not, but I love that novel!

      • elder mike deerhawk akerley on said:

        I got the program to work finally. But your is over. Looks like a good course sorry I miss it. Are you going to teach this subject again if so let me know or can I still do the work. If so where are the reading listed.
        Thanks for your time.
        mike deerhawk

        • Stephanie Renee dos Santos on said:

          Hi Bruce-

          I just tried to evaluate 5 students archival assignments, but I don’t see how I am to grade them? #5 seems to have a #3 in the grade area and I didn’t put that there and I don’t see a button to enter in a grade? I’m not understanding how to finish my “Evaluation Phase” assessment and move onto the “Result Phase”. Any pointers? And I’m not sure how to critique one of the submissions, # 5, as they have mentioned a primary resource but have linked and referenced an English translation of it. Help!

          All the Best,

          Stephanie Renee dos Santos

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  2. Katherine Scott Crawford on said:

    Truly looking forward to this course; thanks for the insight into what goes into making it happen. Fascinating!

    • Bruce Holsinger on said:

      Thanks Katherine–it’s been fascinating indeed! I hope you enjoy it, and please do spread the word, as people can still enroll for several more weeks.

  3. Anonymous on said:

    So excited for this coursera course! I think I have an unhealthy amount curiosity for this topic…

    • Bruce Holsinger on said:

      Well, when it comes to historical fiction, no amount of curiosity is unhealthy…

    • Silvia on said:

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  4. Lisa Meadows on said:

    Can’t wait for this course to start tomorrow. My books are on order. I’ve read Deliverance Dane, loved, loved it! Just wondering what you think of the Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon in terms of historical fiction. I started reading this series a few years ago and can’t wait for the newest installment, which comes out very soon. Very nice to have this course right here in my own backyard too!

    • Bruce Holsinger on said:

      Thanks Lisa. To be honest with you I haven’t read any of Gabaldon’s work, but you’re about the fiftieth person who’s recommended it to me so it’s probably about time…I hope you enjoy the course!

  5. Donna Gifford on said:

    I am so excited by this course. I don’t have time for it but I am going to make time. Among my “work-related” MOOCs on Organizational Analysis and Disruptive Technologies I have to have something that is enjoyable and reminds me why I am in education in the first place.

    • Bruce Holsinger on said:

      That’s just great, Donna–and as you’ll see, the readings are not overly demanding: they’re selective, and they’re carefully organized into core and supplemental readings so students don’t get burned out…

  6. thank you so very much for the effort going into this course! the readings, the lineup of authors and the caliber of instruction for this course are unmatched! Looking forward to tomorrow!

  7. broadwaydon on said:

    The more I hear about this course, the more excited I am. A friend recommended it to me and, as soon as I saw the description, I signed up. Hearing these clips makes me even more thrilled. I haven’t read all of the books, but I’ve read and loved everything I could find by Geraldine Brooks. The clips from the conversations with the other authors make me believe that this will be a thought provoking journey indeed. Thanks for your work on this.

    • Bruce Holsinger on said:

      Thanks Don. To be honest with you, one of the reasons I posted the clips is that I’m worried my solo lectures in Unit 1 will be too boring to sustain students’ attention until Unit 2 and Jane Alison! Probably needless hand-wringing but I’m glad you liked the clips and what they promise.

  8. Stephanie Renee dos Santos on said:

    Hello- Will a direct link to today’s course material be sent to my email or do I need to log in somewhere? I don’t see anything in my email inbox as of right now.

    Thank you ahead of time for helping find where the course material is!


    Stephanie Renee dos Santos

    • Bruce Holsinger on said:

      Just sent the Welcome e-mail, Stephanie–I hope you’ve received it by now! If not the course site is at https://class.coursera.org/hisfiction-001/class

      • Stephanie Renee dos Santos on said:

        Bruce- Thank you! Now I will get started on the course work. And thank you for setting this all up. Best ~ Stephanie

  9. Sharon Aiken on said:

    Thanks for offering this course; this is my first attempt at online learning. Like everyone else, I’m excited; I’ve talked two friends into joining me in this adventure, and I look forward to the learning!

    • Bruce Holsinger on said:

      Thanks for the kind words, Sharon! I hope you and your friends enjoy the course, and keep coming back to the blog once it’s over!

  10. Lorraine McCawey on said:

    Hi! I am looking forward to this course. I haven’t been to classes in 40 + years and find this online course to be very interesting and challenging.

  11. Looking forward to starting on this course! very excited as i know this will help immensely with my historical writing!

  12. epitome50 on said:

    Looking forward to a course with such diversity, interest and promise in a field of pure enjoyment. This is the first non-work related course I’ve done for years and I hope it will help me to develop skills in writing historical fiction to match my interest in reading this genre. Thank you for the massive organisational effort

  13. Stephanie Renee dos Santos on said:

    Hi Bruce-

    After reading The Love-Artist and seeing how Jane Alison used a dramatic scene late in Ovid’s life for her prologue and then she closed the novel with an epilogue that completed the prologue scene, it has me wondering about the possibility of taking a conflict scene from mid-novel and using it for a prologue. Do you know of any historical novels that do this?

    This was my question to Jane Alison, but I am also curious to know what you have to say about this?


    Stephanie Renee dos Santos

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