Archaeology of Portus: Exploring the Lost Harbour of Ancient Rome (Course on Future Learn)

The third course I've done on Future Learn was about archaeology & the Roman port Portus. And sadly I found it a bit disappointing. The course was run by Southampton University, whose archaeology department are one of the partners in the excavation of the site at Portus. Portus is in Italy, near Rome & to the west of it. From the 1st Century AD it was the main port serving the city of Rome, remaining in use until the 7th Century. Since then the coastline of Italy has changed and the whole site is now inland. Portus was one of the sites that featured in Rome's Lost Empire which we watched over a year ago (post) and that's part of what drew me to this course.

Over the first 5 of the 6 weeks that the course ran they had three strands of information. One of these was following the development of Portus from its foundation by Claudius in the 1st Century AD through to its use by the Ostrogothic rulers of Rome after the Western Roman Empire had fallen. The second strand was putting the port in context with the wider Roman (and post-Roman) world - looking not only at things like what sorts of goods & from where passed through the port but also at what was going on in historical terms at the time. The third strand was about archaeological methods - ranging from really basic stuff covered on any archaeology documentary, through to descriptions of cutting edge techniques. The final week was intended to pull the whole thing together and to get us involved with actual work going on right then at the site. It had a section where you could ask them to photograph things on site or answer questions about particular things. And the assignment was to look at some actual data & try and draw some conclusions.

As I said at the beginning I was rather disappointed, and in fact I never finished the final week. In part this was because it didn't feel like it was pitched at people like me. I found the way the material was presented somewhat patronising on more than one occasion, and over all I felt they were interacting with us as pupils rather than as fellow adults (if that makes sense). This is in contrast to the other Future Learn courses I've done (or am doing) - the two Shakespeare ones and the English literature one I'm currently doing have managed to present technical terminology and explain details of their subject without resorting to phrases like "Well, I seem to be using a lot of big words in this one!". I'd hesitate to say that to a primary school child for fear of offending them, let alone to a large group of adults.

I found the material in the course itself felt somewhat repetitive, and thus a bit shallow. I think that was an artifact of the way it was presented rather than actually being the case. Most sections had both a short video and a short article, with a lot of overlap in the material but some unique pieces of information in each. So to get all the information you had to watch the video and read the article, hence the feeling of repetition. Some videos were better than others - the ones where one of the educators was talking to camera on their own were the best. The ones where a student was conducting a very staged feeling interview with the educator in question were the worst - it was a good idea, I just think they failed to pull it off.

On the positive side they did give a lot of links to further information in each section. I confess I rarely followed them, because I wasn't feeling particularly engaged with the course. There were also extra "Advanced" sections where they explained some techniques in more detail, and some of those were the more interesting parts of the course.

Overall, a rather disappointing experience. I was too put off by the tone and the feeling of repetition to ever really get properly into the subject matter.

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