Trinity College in Dublin Offers Free Online History Class - 10,000 Students Sign Up

- by Susan Halas

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Announcement of free Irish history course.

 By the last week in August more than 10,000 people had signed up for Trinity College Dublin’s first free online course: IRISH LIVES: War and Revolution - Exploring Ireland's History 1912-1923. According to the video trailer at the school’s website the class seeks to take the student through revolution, civil war and partition and provide a variety of interpretations as well as multiple views of historical scholarship.

The free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is coordinated by Trinity faculty members Prof. Ciaran Brady, Dr. Anne Dolan and Dr. Ciaran Wallace in partnership with FutureLearn, an online educational portal. The class begins on Sept 1. It is available to anyone with internet access via desktop, tablet or smart phone (course registration link at end).

Prospective students who found out about the class through ads in the New York Review of Books and other more traditional media come from around the world. According to Trinity, more than half of those who have thus far enrolled are from outside Ireland, with strong demand in countries with an Irish diaspora such as the UK and the US.

Though this period in modern Irish history has been written about by many, the six-week long university level class hopes its multi-media offering will be “more than just a list of names and dates.” It aims “to explore the lives of average men, women and children living through war and revolution, examining the political and social changes that shaped modern Ireland.”

Trinity said that by engaging with original sources – text, photos, film, sound and primary historical documents - and encountering contradictory viewpoints, participants will learn about the contested nature of all history, and the challenges facing historians.

On her faculty page Dr. Anne Dolan, a Trinity lecturer in Modern Irish History, writes “My research has examined the nature and the legacy of the Irish civil war, but I am currently working on an examination of violence and killing throughout the revolutionary period in Ireland. I am particularly interested in the consequences of violence at a political and at a personal level and in placing the Irish experience in a wider context.”

Her colleague, Prof. Ciarán Brady from Trinity’s School of Histories and Humanities, said, “Our aim with the course is to question that there is a single narrative or an easy explanation of the past. We want to challenge the silent assumption that there can be one authoritative voice claiming to have all the answers. To that end, we have designed a course intended to stimulate in you a critical attitude towards the question of whose history gets recorded and sought out, and whose history, ultimately, gets told.”

“We believe there is an opportunity for the university to leverage the disruptive potential of online learning, particularly in building our global reputation,” said the university’s associate dean for online education, Prof. Tim Savage. “The online environment will provide students with a stimulating learning experience by creating a structured, yet flexible, learning approach.”

It remains to be seen what is the impact this appealing offering in modern Irish history, but a class with 10,000 students should certainly serve to stimulate interest in the era and the books that chronicle it. Book dealers and collectors and libraries with holdings in this period take note.