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Jul 13 / Charlotte

The Friendly Polymath on!

I’m chuffed to bits that, a site I followed with great enthusiasm when I was studying medieval history on my own and then at Columbia, has posted the video for the Evolution of English class in its Resources section. It’s really gratifying to see that people are getting so much pleasure out of the lecture, and I’ve received several very nice notes from people already. How wonderful!

My husband, who took many hours of his leisure time to make the first video, assures me that he will finish part 2 this weekend. I hope that everyone who sees it will get as much pleasure from listening as I got from teaching the class. There are many more videos to come, so stay tuned!

Mar 15 / Charlotte

The Brontë Sisters: a New Friendly Polymath/Brooklyn Brainery Class


Jen from the Brooklyn Brainery asked me to write up a description for the latest class I’m offering on the Brontë sisters. I’ve loved Charlotte and Anne Brontë’s writing since I was a teenager (though I have a harder time liking Emily’s Wuthering Heights), so I’m super excited to be able to offer this class.

It’s on three consecutive Wednesdays, 3/21, 3/28, and 4/4. Each class will focus loosely on a different sister, and I’ll tie the whole subject together with a lot of references to and readings from their works. It should be an awesome time, so y’all come!

Here’s the synopsis I wrote:

Some literature just shouldn’t be taught in schools. Not because it’s too racy or too incomprehensible, but because a two-week reading and a list of comprehension questions just go nowhere towards describing the historical and literary context needed to really understand and appreciate the real power of a great novel.

This is definitely the case with the Bronte sisters. If you’re anything like me, you might have read Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights in school and not gotten a lot out of them. You may never even have heard of Agnes GreyVillette, or The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Yet each of these novels has something fascinating to say about the time and place in which they were written, and the people who wrote or influenced them — as any lucky person who rereads these books in adulthood will find.

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte themselves are in many ways more interesting than the works of literature they produced. The more you know about their lives, the more questions you long to ask.

How could meek, sheltered clergyman’s daughters from the far north of England produce intense, morally ambivalent characters like Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester? The sisters each have a great deal to say on the rights and desires of women, but what do their writings on that subject mean, and can they really be considered feminists? If the sisters were intensely religious, as their writings show, then where does the thread of religious skepticism running through their books come from?

This class attempts both to answer those questions and to show what we can learn about our past and ourselves from reading old books.We’ll touch on historiography, 19th century literary history, the Luddite and Chartist revolts, Victorian morals and manners, the role of single women in society, and much more. There’s no need to have read any of the sisters’ novels beforehand, but I certainly hope you’ll want to pick them up afterwards.

Y’all come! You can sign up for the class here, or if you can’t make it, you’ll be able to find the class notes on this site after each class.

Jan 20 / Charlotte

The History and Evolution of English — Resources


Thank you all so much for coming out to learn about the history and evolution of English. I had a great time answering all your questions, and I certainly hope you enjoyed the class too!

It’s taken me quite a while to put this resources page together, because there’s just so much incredibly awesome stuff to share. You’ll also find my presentation files in PDF format. I’ll add the sound files I used in the presentation to this page as soon as possible. Happy reading!


Part 1, Origins-1500 (PDF)

Part 2, 1500-present (PDF)


Sounds Familiar? from the British Library — This is a fantastic resource that gives a number of maps of English accents and dialects, and some interviews with native speakers.

The Great Vowel Shift, from Harvard — Now with sound files for comparison.

The History of English Phonemes, from Furman University — This site gives you examples of the same word pronounced in all four eras (Old, Middle, Early Modern, and Modern).

Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary, from Yale — Some enterprising person scanned in the pages and put them online.

History of the English Language, from Dan Short — Super useful timeline here.

American Accent Undergoing Great Vowel Shift, from NPR — It might be happening again!

English Spelling Reform — Some have tried, and all have failed. Here’s why.

If you want to learn more…

The Lexicographer’s Dilemma: The Evolution of ‘Proper’ English, from Shakespeare to South Park, by Jack Lynch

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English, by John McWhorter

Awesome Videos!

A tour of British accents (including the “Geordie” I kept mentioning):

Shakespeare in the original pronunciation!

The history of English in 10 minutes (super funny!):

Jan 2 / Charlotte

Free Online College Classes: Technical and Computer Science Edition


There are few industries as self-education friendly as the computer industry. The rapid pace of change and emergence of new technologies means that computer science degrees are not necessarily as important as a portfolio of current skills — leaving the door open for talented non-degreed people who want to work in the field and are willing to teach themselves what they need to know. Even if you already have a computer science degree or have been working in the field for a number of years, you still need to update your skills as often as possible.

Fortunately, there are a lot of great books and online resources you can use to teach yourself not only basic computer science principles (things like object orientation, information theory, etc), but individual programming languages and even advanced things like machine learning and natural language processing. Once you get the basic concepts down (which can be either quite easy or an absolute slog, depending on how abstract your thinking generally is), you’re pretty much ready to learn anything.

Here are a few links to help you get started. Enjoy!

Computer Science 101

Introduction to Computer Science and Programming from MIT — This class uses Python, which is currently a super popular language.

CS 101 from Stanford University — Online class starts February 2012.

Information Theory from Stanford University — Online class starts March 2012.

Programming Languages and Methodologies

Building Programming Experience from MIT — Intro to basic programming principles.

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs from MIT – Builds on the previous course. One of the basic comp sci classes for MIT students.

Design and Analysis of Algorithms from Stanford University — Online class starts January 2012.

Java Programming from Orange Coast College — Java is one of the most basic and well-known languages. Learning Java gives you a pretty good overview of what to expect in more modern languages.

Introduction to C++ from MIT — C++ is one of the oldest and most basic (pun not intended) of the currently-used programming languages. Most everyone learns it in school.

Practical Programming in C from MIT – C is a precursor to C++, and the progenitor of newer languages like Objective C, which is used for iOS programming. Sometimes people learn C instead of C++ in school.

Webpage Authoring from Gavilan College — This class covers HTML.

Developing Apps for iOS from Stanford — Build programs for iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone!

Technological Entrepreneurship

Lean Launchpad from Stanford University — Online class starts February 2012.

Technology Entrepreneurship from Stanford University — Online class starts January 2012.

Everything Else

Media Programming from Georgia Tech — Covers principles of user interface (UI) design.

Machine Learning from Stanford University — Online class starts January 2012.

Game Theory from Stanford University — Online class starts February 2012.

Computer Security from Stanford University — Online class starts February 2012.

Stanford Engineering Everywhere — Lots of different classes, both computer and engineering-related.

Free Math, Physics, Science, and Comp Sci Textbooks — NYU has a ton of interesting material here.

Dec 2 / Charlotte

The Evolution of English: A New Brooklyn Brainery Class!


I’m excited!

This January I’ll be teaching another class at the Brooklyn Brainery. The Evolution of English will be a super-fun two-part romp through the past 1,000 years of the written and spoken English language, complete with a ton of multimedia, in-class spoken language examples, and potentially the biggest IPA chart ever carried along the streets of Brooklyn. (Be afraid!)

As usual I’ll be posting the presentations and notes right here for your perusal, and Greg and I hope to record the class this time and post screencasts using Screenr so that y’all can get the full experience. You’ll definitely have a better time if you come in-person, however!

Right now sign-ups for this session (Tuesdays, January 3rd and January 10th) look completely full, but the more of you who get on the waiting list, the more likely the Brainery folks are to ask me to teach the class again. Help a sister and sign up for the waiting list, won’t you? :)