Crash Course: The Best Show on the Internet

No, really.  And I am extraordinarily picky.  I don’t listen to podcasts and I rarely watch web series — despite the fact that I have worked on both, they just don’t hold my attention.  This, on the other hand, is absolute brilliance, and everyone I know who knows about it has watched the entire series of videos.

John Green, a self-deprecating James Potter look-alike, is a talented writer and charming host (who is happily married and therefore not available to return my crush) and the graphic team at Thought Bubble makes a lot of the more difficult concepts both fun and easier to understand.  Why isn’t learning always this fun?

My favorite episode is the Columbian Exchange, because that’s one of my favorite historical events and it’s video number 23, which is my favorite number.

There is also a series on science that I haven’t watched in its whole, it seems a lot less ADHD and charming, but still awesome.  I mean, introducing biology as about sex and not dying… well, hell, I’m sold.


Crash Course: The Best Show on the Internet

8 thoughts on “Crash Course: The Best Show on the Internet

  1. EEB

    I have just lost hours of my life.

    Well, maybe lost is the wrong word. After all, I am learning shit (or just re-learning). This is awesome. Thanks for sharing!

  2. 2


    CrashCourse is amazing.

    Incidentally, the Brother Green who does the science one also hosts a short vlog-style show on science on YouTube called SciShow that’s worth checking out.

  3. 3

    Unfortunately, much of the archaeology (fact wise) in the first video is wrong. Well, it is rightish, and we get the point, but few of the actual facts are actual facts.

  4. 4

    15,000 years is the wrong date. Maybe 11,000 or a bit less.

    The info on forager “free time” is an old story that got around from an inadequate analysis of Richard Lee’s and it has been revised. They work harder than that, though not as had as those in peasant economies. Also, the time allocation studies we’ve done don’t specifically suggest that foragers spend more time in art, music, and story telling. Horticultural cultures living near foragers do those things as well. The extra time is spent taking naps and being worn out from hard work and stuff.

    This is not wrong but misleading: He shows areas of agricultural orign, but there were many many more. Also, this is not wrong but work done by Wrangham and me documents that roots are a major part of forager diet. I hate it when people don’t mention our roots!

    Fishing and other coastal resources do not provide an easy living. What he says may come from a recent study by Curtis Marean that suggested (but incorrectly, I think) that coastal resources in S. Africa filled in an important niche, but if that’s true it is not because of abundance but timing.

    People throughout the history of modern humans were not concentrated along coastal areas. They were all over the place. In many regions coastal resources were ignored even when people were living near the ocean. There are reasons having to do with the nature of the landsape (modeled in work done by A. Brooks and me) that make coastal archaeological sites look more abundant and use of those resources overrperesented in the archaeological record.

    “Marine life is less likely to eat you” … Harvesting of marine resources using boats is the most dangerious things people have done in traditional economies, and hand-gathering (of shellfish etc.) is considered very dangerous compared to gathering plants on land. Humans by the period in question here dominated the terrestrial carnivores where they are big and abundant, made them go extinct here and there, and much of the inhabited world doesn’t really have them anyway.

    The part about foragers having it better in the sense of health (from bones/teeth) is correct. But the forager/agriculturalist distinction only applies in any really obvious way at the “transition” (where the evidence exists which is in the Levant, the US Souteast, southern Africa, the Nile Valley a few places in Latin America) for the first few generations after that transition. After that agriculturalists adjust somehow (selection? change in culture? technology? diversifying crops?) so the bones and teeth generally go back to normal. Much later in time, however, health problems probably come back again due to population densities going up, viruses, and increased warfare.

    The research on “Nisa” does not suggest that foragers were skootilypooping more than other groups. Nisa’s story talks a lot about sex, but she is related her entire life and the Ju/’hoansi are pretty free in speaking of sex as opposed to other groups who never mention it. I’m not sure why he interprets M. Shostak’s work in this way.

    He lists as an advantage of starting to grow crops less of a problem with starvation, but all the available research suggests that foraging has less of a problem with starvation. Among the people I worked with in the Congo who were in two groups, those who grew crops and those who mainly foraged, there was a hunger season every year for both groups, but the horticulturals tended to wrack up the deaths during hunger season and the foragers not.

    The stuff after that is not as erroneous, but of course the actual history is more complex. He ignores animals as part of the origin, but in Africa it was key. Many areas with intensive agriculture did not have population centers. Agriculture did not cause or uniquely allow population centers… that seems to have been political. “Tradespeople” did not fit into improved agricultural technology. I have no idea where he gets that.

    An interesting point about “agriculture can be practiced all over the world” … sort of, but not really. Human foragers inhabited most of the planet, and until about 150 years ago, huge huge areas of the planet were only barly usable or not usable at all by agriculturists. With wells and irrigation, eventually, more areas were inhabited, but still today there are places where only foragers or people on supply lines can live and no agriculture can happen.

    Generally he skips the middle part, and he compares foraging to much more recent (but still traditional) agriculture, like terrace and irrigation farming. That leaves out a lot of important details.

    There are herding economies that don’t move. A major animal economy that worked with agriculture developed in Europe involving pigs grown in the hiterland on stable farms and traded to cities, where they were also grown, developed prior to classical times and became important in ancient Greece, according to work by Fillios and myself.

    Unless you are the mongels is always true, of course.

    Elephants are domesticated. I don’t know why he doesn’t know that! His reasons for what can and can not be domesticated are just stuff he made up.

    His litany of theories of why start agriculture is pretty good, because he covers a lot of ideas and in fact, there are a lot of ideas!

    His litany of bad things about agriculture is pretty good.

    Here’s the thing. Historians (of later periods) can’t stop themselves from babbling about prehistory or ethnography, even though there is no particularly good reason they know much about those things. This is a common phenomenon that really annoys we who study the origins of agriculture and variation in traditional foraging and horticultural ecologies and economies and stuff. I’m sure that when he gets to the later stuff it will all be great.

  5. 6

    “…and it’s video number 23, which is my favorite number.”

    Wait, what? We’re supposed to have favorite numbers now? I’m still not settled on the color. Is there a favorite finding service I can hire? At this rate, I’ll never get around to phobias.

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