There is an international ranking concerning about the quality of Universities. When you get the chance participating of a free course in history offered from one of the most prestigious university in the world you feel like receiving a gift from heaven.
But from the beginning I had a small spine in mind. History – my dearest hobby since decades – is like a atmospheric depression laid over the Atlantic Ocean. Nobody knows exactly how it occurred, therefore everybody could have a different opinion how it was created. And Leopold von Ranke, one of the great historians, once said that “history should be offered as it really happened”.
My great expatiation, with the progression of the course, given by the lecturer, were gradually disappointed. Martin Benheim was announced as an explorer, mapper, merchant, navigator and cosmographer, searching for Gold on the West Coast of Africa. This important icon of history is portrayed more or less as an adventurous treasure hunter. And when you have a positivistic view without giving the benefit of the doubt, you might – assuming not being history professor – getting this result. But when a knighted person by Joa III, who, for sure not committed this honor for alleged prospector activities, is mentioned in a history course it should receive the honor, which it deserves.
Stefan Zweig wrote in his fascinating book about the greatest maritime adventure of mankind, Magellan, that the great mariner was inspired by a map of Beheim, which he discovered in the “Tesoraria”, Portugals archive of naval secrets, which showed the “paso”; the connection of the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, during Magellan’s voyage it turned out that this map was wrong. The Beheim paso was the enormous mouth of the La Plata river, el paso was 2 weeks down south.
Soon it was obvious that the installed student evaluation process, for writing an essay every week a student had to evaluate 5 essays from fellow students, was error prone. In the first 4 weeks 20 % of the posted threads in the discussion forums were concerned with this procedure, although only 2000 students out of 80000 submitted essays. Considered as a big result! It turned out that the international forum was hardly compatible, difference in language skills, perspectives, mediated teaching content and National pride reduced the discussants to a small circle, which met in all forums and had to different questions adapted and stereotyped answers.
The recommended, expensive textbook is full of colorful pictures but sometimes does not reflect historical reality.
But, how to express my gratitude? Of course this course widened my knowledge, changed in many points my conventions – but not in the way the lecturer expected and I assumed. And as last remark, this experience spread serious doubt about the findings of THES, were a university evaluates its fellow competitors, tackled by the Anglo-Saxon lightness of being.
[1 Later corrected to Martin Behaim