The University Record, April 22, 2002

New course on life in eastern Roman Empire

By Nancy Ross-Flanigan
News and Information Services

Building on the success of its first online course offered through in January, the U-M is rolling out a second Fathom e-course April 23. “Daily Life in the Eastern Roman Empire (100 BCE–100 CE): Trade, Travel and Transformation” was developed by Susan Alcock, associate professor of classical studies; David Potter, professor of classical studies; Sharon Herbert, director of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and chair of classical studies; and Terry Wilfong, assistant professor of Near Eastern studies and assistant curator of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.

During the self-paced course, learners will explore everyday life in the ancient Roman Empire during the turbulent era that encompasses the lifetimes of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Augustus, Jesus Christ, Nero and St. Paul. They will follow characters and occupations through a variety of landscapes in the Eastern Mediterranean region and learn about transformations in the empire. Enrollees will have password-protected access to the course until June 25, during which time they can view five to 10 hours of multimedia course materials, participate in discussions and work on mini-assignments. The fee for the non-credit course is $45.

“We’re really excited to be offering courses through Fathom,” says Louis King, U-M liaison to “We’re an institution of brick and mortar, and it’s nice to be able to share our educational resources with a larger audience, and we do have a large following across the nation and around the globe.”

The course’s high quality, robust multimedia and engaging approach make it a “compelling and accessible learning experience,” says Jennifer Scott, Fathom executive producer of the e-course. “We are thrilled to help bring the deep resources of the

University of Michigan and its faculty to alumni and wider audiences in this online course.”

The University’s first Fathom course, “The Shakespeare You Never Knew: The First History Plays,” was developed by English Prof. Ralph Williams and will be repeated in May. Some enrollees were longtime Shakespeare fans, but for others the online course offered a chance to explore at their own pace a body of literature that they never had read. Class members praised Fathom’s multimedia approach, saying the audio and video clips and online discussions made the reading assignments easier to understand and helped place the material in an historical context. For those who had missed the performances of the Royal Shakespeare Company during its residency at the U-M last year, the multimedia materials made it possible to “get a true sense of how the plays unfolded here in Ann Arbor without having seen the actual performances,” King says.

Users who visit the U-M entry to the Fathom site ( also will find free “features” (interactive narratives by top faculty) on topics ranging from architecture and business to physics and psychology. Currently, 15 features are available; another 16 are under development and should be available by mid-summer. Two new seminars and a third e-course also are being developed.

The U-M joined Fathom—a consortium of institutions offering authenticated information online—in late 2000. Other members of the Fathom consortium are Columbia University, London School of Economics and Political Science, Cambridge University Press, the British Library, the New York Public Library, the University of Chicago, American Film Institute, RAND, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Science Museum (United Kingdom), and the Natural History Museum (United Kingdom).