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Reading, Writing, Designing, Crafting, Blogging
And other interesting projects
I'm Amanda
I'm a freelance writer, designer,
and content curator.
I am a lifelong learner
(Because education doesn't stop
at the classroom).
My Portfolio
Features work for a vared client base,
including technology, craft, food and non-profit.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Reflecting on the Harvard Classics 365 Project

It's been over four years since I completed and published The Harvard Classics in a Year: A Liberal Education in 365 Days, and I'm still very proud of what I achieved.

The eBook (and accompanying website) was a labour of love: it took almost two years to gather, compile, edit and annotate this massive tome, which in printed format would equate to over 4000 pages (the size of 10 hefty paperback books). To date, I've sold just over 9,000 copies on the Kindle store, which may not seem like a lot (and I've always been well aware that a book like this would never hit the bestseller list!), though my intention was always to gather the material in a user-friendly format for those who wished to use it. I'd like to think that in that sense, the project has been successful. Lately though, I've been contemplating starting other, less lengthy, projects of a similar nature. More importantly, I've been thinking about how I can improve on my work.

What exactly is The Harvard Classics in a Year? And how is it different from the Five Foot Shelf?

In the early years of the 20th century, the president of Harvard University, Charles Eliot, famously stated that the elements of a liberal education could be obtained by spending 15 minutes a day reading from a collection of books that could fit on a five-foot shelf. Seeing this as a perfect opportunity for literary success, publisher P. F. Collier and Son challenged Eliot to select works of great literature to be included in such a collection, and so in 1909 the first editions of The Harvard Classics were created.

It took around a year from conception to completion of The Harvard Classics. Eliot worked with William A. Neilson, a professor of English to complete the collection, with Eliot choosing the works for inclusion while Neilson selected the specific editions and wrote introductory notes.

Originally, the collection comprised of 50 volumes, with 4-500 pages in each book. Later, a 51st edition was included: Lectures on the Harvard Classics, followed by The Shelf of Fiction in 1917.

Most notable and relevant to The Harvard Classics in a Year was a slim little book titled The Reading Guide in which Eliot specified a text, series of poems or selection from a greater volume for reading each day of the year. This is the title on which The Harvard Classics in a Year is based.

My project comprised of gathering and organising all of the selections Dr. Eliot prescribed for each day of the year into a single, easily accessible volume. This included selections from each of the fifty original volumes, including Eliot's extensive footnotes, and - in many cases - trying to figure out exactly where on the page Eliot presumed his readers to begin. Wherever possible, I also included original illustrations in addition to Eliot's complete introductions from The Readers' Guide.

The intention was to create a single, portable volume for others to easily access the wisdom and literature of The Harvard Classics without the cost (and impracticality) of having the entire five foot shelf of books to hand. I sincerely hope I succeeded in this aim.

Not so great aspects of The Harvard Classics/365 Project

The glaringly obvious flaw of using The Harvard Classics as the basis for a modern liberal education is that the collection is 110 years old. Since it's initial production, we have made huge advances in all subjects on which THC (The Harvard Classics) hoped to educate us, and many, many more classic works have been published.

With this in mind during the production of HC365, I hoped that readers would use the eBook as a platform to inspire further study. At times, I wanted to include my own references to more modern works and internet resources, though it quickly became apparent that to do so would incur a massive further impact on my time. Instead, I resolved to do this with a different, shorter project based on THC (which I hope will be ready to publish in the coming months).

A flaw which to some may be less obvious is the almost complete omission of any works by female authors. Again, with the knowledge that THC is a "product of it's time" we can infer that there were indeed very few published works by women available at the beginning of the 20th century from which Eliot could draw. Back then, women had far fewer rights and those who did publish either did so for their peers or wrote under a pseudonym. But as a woman it irks me. I confess my compulsion to produce something similar to HC365 using works by or about women, but so far I'm struggling to contain my researches to historical works and those published in the public domain...

Having read through the reviews of The Harvard Classics in a Year, I should also refer to constructive criticism of my project, including the lack of an author index and references to the specific translations of non-English works. At the time of publication, I'd not considered these additions. To go back and edit the original document now would require a lot of time and work, though I do admit would add value and ease of use.

What next?

Since publishing HC365, I've worked several different jobs and side projects. Despite my ambitions to continue working on projects based on the five-foot shelf, the demands on my time have prevented me from achieving them.

Recently, I have been able to spend some time focusing on the outlines for a few smaller projects, both for my own educational pleasure and to share with others. I also have a much larger ongoing project, for which the stage of gathering information is likely to take some months before I'm fully ready to write.

To those reading this post who have an interest in The Harvard Classics or similar anthologies, I would sincerely appreciate your comments and suggestions for any future projects or how I could improve on my current works in this field. Please feel free to comment below or contact me directly by email.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

The Manual for Civilisation

Since 2014, the Long Now foundation has been curating The Manual for Civilisation: a collaboratively curated library for long-term thinking.

The Long Now Foundation champions art and culture as a route to helping people think and act more long-term. Established in 1996 to creatively foster long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years, Long Now has been involved in and inspired by projects which answer the question, "what books would you want to restart civilisation from scratch?"
The Manual For Civilization is working toward a living, crowd-curated library of 3,500 books put forward by the Long Now community and on display at The Interval. To stack the shelves, we solicited book recommendations from Long Now members and supporters, special guest curators like Long Now founders Stewart Brand and Brian Eno, past Seminar speakers like George Dyson and Neal Stephenson, subject experts Maria Popova and Violet Blue, and volunteer curators like Alan Beatts, Michael Pujals, and Heath Rezabek.
I stumbled upon The Manual for Civilisation through reading Maria Popova's commentary on Stewart Brand's book list for the project, and her own subsequent submission. The desire and motivation to create a library of "important" literature for the long term is particularly appealing to me. Book lists help shape our reading and, consequently, our understanding of the world.

Currently, the project has around 1400 submissions. Long Now plan to continue gathering suggestions from it's members, supporters and special guests until around 5000 works have been gathered when the list can be whittled down to the 3500 or so whose physical copies will be housed on shelves at the Long Now headquarters: The Interval in San Francisco.

Some of the books suggested so far are out of print and difficult to source, so only around 800 titles are currently held at The Interval. One aim of the project is to digitise the Manual for Civilisation, which serves a dual purpose: to create a digital record of the texts, and enable easier access to anyone interested in perusing these curated works.

At the time of writing this article, 895 books from the list are available to read online at Open Library. Some are available in different formats, ready to download on your Kindle or ePub reader, while others are scanned reproductions of texts in PDF format, or may require you to "borrow" since copyright is still valid.

Collection for The Manual began using four broad categories:

  1. Long-term Thinking, Past and Future: these include books on history as well as futurism and many books by Long Now speakers.
  2. Rigorous Science Fiction: especially works that build richly imagined possible worlds to help us think about the future.
  3. The Cultural Canon: great works of literature, poetry, philosophy, religion.
  4. Mechanics of Civilization: “how-to” books for critical skills and technology, for example books on navigation, growing and gathering food, midwifery, forging tools.
These serve to assist the structure of the collection in addition to providing guidance for contributors of the titles they wish to submit.

This page on the Long Now website describes the origins, inspiration and goals of the project in much more detail. You may also want to look at the book lists submitted so far, which includes submissions from Tim O'Reilly, the founder of O'Reilly Media, Mark Pauline of Survival Research Labs, the author Neal Stephenson, and guerrilla archivists, Megan and Rick Prelinger.

Header image credit: Stephanie Overton, via Flickr.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Getting started with Citizen Science

I'm probably a little late to the game in extolling the virtues of citizen science. Although I've previously participated in projects and research, such as the BBC's Big Personality Test and the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, I hadn't realised that Citizen Science has become a global phenomenon...

What an amazing time it is we live in when anyone can contribute to the advancement of science and research, be it from the comfort of our home or on the move using our mobile phones!

What is Citizen Science?

In a nutshell, citizen science is people-powered research.

Citizen science projects invite members of the public to meaningfully contribute to scientific research. Such projects are usually sponsored by organisations, such as universities or wildlife charities. Activities can range from transcribing sections of old manuscripts to observing and gathering data about local wildlife. Generally speaking, online participation is required, whether this be by visiting the organisation's webpage or using a dedicated app.


Image by Becky Kinnard, from the Zooniverse Artwork Pack
Zooniverse is the world's largest and most popular organisation for people-powered research. There are currently 100 live projects citizen scientists can participate in, while many more have already been completed. The research enables by thousands of volunteers across the world has enabled Zooniverse to produce dozens of publications which would otherwise not have been possible.

Through Zooniverse, you can choose to participate in 10 different categories of citizen science projects, including:
  • Arts, where you could identify and classify 19th century microscopy illustrations
  • Biology, where you could explore the bottom of The Great Lakes to help better understand the impact of invasive species
  • Climate, to help unearth some of the UKs earliest weather records
  • History, to help track the life histories and criminal careers of Australian prisoners
  • Language, to help Zooniverse unlock the mysteries of the Cairo Geniza
  • Literature: transcribe handwritten documents by Shakespeare's contemporaries
  • Medicine: spot the difference between brains using the Brain Match game
  • Nature, where you can watch and listen to help Zooniverse better understand the red-tailed hawk.
  • Physics, to explore galaxies near and far with Galaxy Zoo
  • Social Science, to help classify soldier reflections on war and military service dating back to WWII
It's easy and free to register as a volunteer with Zooniverse; even children can participate, though if you're under 16 you'll need your parent or guardian's permission. If you find yourself spending lots of time on the platform, you may want to consider signing up for beta-testing of new projects, or even volunteer as a Project Moderator. Comprehensive forums allow you to discuss your research with others.

Other Citizen Science Projects

There are many other citizen science projects and portals, some of which began to harness the power of people-powered research before the advent of home-based internet. 

Here are a few of my favourites:
  • ARTigo is a social image-tagging platform, featuring games and online resources to help the organisation add meta-data to art reproductions in order to improve computerised search results.
  • Foldit is an online puzzle game about protein folding, through which he highest scoring solutions are analyzed by researchers, who determine whether or not there is a native structural configuration (native state) that can be applied to relevant proteins in the real world.
  • Moth Night is the annual celebration of moth recording throughout Britain and Ireland by moth recording enthusiasts with local public events aimed at raising awareness of moths among the general public.
  • Stardust@Home allows participants to search for interstellar particles retrieved from NASA's 1999 Discovery mission.
  • RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch has been collecting data from citizen scientists for over 40 years!

You might also want to take a look at Wikipedia's List of Citizen Science Projects for links and information to current and historical projects from all over the globe.

Do you participate?

I'd love to hear of your experiences or recommended sites for citizen science involvement. Please feel free to leave your comments below.

Header image credit: Abe Russel, via Flickr

Monday, 17 June 2019

Studying the Classics with OpenLearn - A Free Introductory Programme

Ancient history is a fascinating subject. So much of ancient culture stimulates thought and ideas which remain relevant in our modern society. I'm particularly interested in classical studies because of the development across so many areas of learning: history, literature, philosophy, art...

I have not had the benefit of any formal or directed study in the classics for many years, not since being at school. Since I hope to include a qualification in Ancient Civilisations in my forthcoming year-long study project, I looked to the extensive library on OpenLearn to introduce me to the subject.

From the wonderful selection of materials available on OpenLearn, I've developed for myself a short programme of study, which I intend to complete over the summer months. This programme consists of 10 courses ranging in difficulty from Introductory to Advanced, with length of between 3 and 20 hours study to completion. Much of the content of these courses are derived from degree modules from The Open University, which suggests they are an ideal springboard to encourage further study.

Classical Studies Programme with OpenLearn

I've listed the Classical Studies free courses from OpenLearn below, organised by level and roughly by how I think one module will flow smoothly into the next. I would highly recommend creating your own free account with OpenLearn which will enable you to keep track of your progress and download certificates upon completion of each course.

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Of course, there's no need to study in this particular order, or even to complete one course fully before moving on to another. Virtually all of these courses comprise of sections and modules, allowing us to dip in and out as time and interest dictate.

Free Printables

If you would like to keep track of your progress, I've also designed free printables which you can use to tick off the courses and modules you've completed. These are A4 size, in PDF format which you may freely use and distribute as you wish:

I've chosen to print the enhanced list in "two up" format, so that both pages are printed on a single side of A4, so that I can slip it into my A5 academic diary for easy reference. 

Content to enrich and enhance

In addition to these certificate courses, OpenLearn has a vast range of articles, videos and activities to enhance and enrich the learning experience. Although I haven't included these specifically in my introductory programme, I'll be sure to use these materials over the next few months. Here are some of my favourites:

Learn with me?

Please let me know if you're interested in following along with this programme of study, either by leaving a comment below or via my contact page! I'll post updates of my progress on Twitter in addition to monthly round-ups on this site.

If you know of any other useful Classical Studies resources, I'd love to know about them, so please feel free to share.

Featured photo credit: Nick Kenrick, via Flickr

Thursday, 13 June 2019

What are the 50 greatest films I need to see?

As part of my upcoming year of self-directed learning, I intend to watch 50 critically acclaimed movies to enhance my knowledge through the medium of film.

I made the choice to include this because film is not simply a form of entertainment. Film can expose us to different perspectives on culture, politics and ideas. It can inspire us to seek out knowledge in areas we hadn't previously considered, and is a social medium,  as expressed so clearly by Nathan Rohe, writing for The Odyssey:
Films encourage ideas and social commentary within communities. They have the power to express a culture's ideals and shape them. Art, especially film, is important because it gives us the ability to form lasting human connections through by letting us share our experiences with each other.
This element of my learning programme needs to pay consideration to the principles of SMART targets, in addition to directing me to watch films I may otherwise have missed. For this reason, I've spent some time trying to find a curated list of 50 films to watch methodically. The problem is deciding which to choose!

From directors to professional film critics and your average moviegoer, everyone has their own subjective definition of what makes a film "great". A simple Google search for the term "50 greatest films" yields around 1,040,000,000 results!

Since I am based in the UK, the BFI's decennial 50 Greatest Films of All Time list tops the search results. This list boasts a high level of integrity as the list was aggregated by submissions from critics, programmers, academics and distributors, and is highly regarded as the "definitive" list of the greatest film of all time. Unfortunately, I feel the list is skewed towards films which are older (very few inclusions were produced before the year 2000) which makes them difficult to source in addition to being less appealing. This causes difficulties meeting the Realistic and Achievable elements of my SMART targets.

Similar principles apply to the American Film Institute's "100 Years... 100 Movies" list, with the obvious addition that all of these movies are American - and I would really prefer a list which includes world cinema (although I do admit that the list is appealing)!

Last year, Empire published a list of The 100 Greatest Movies after asking readers of their prestigious magazine to place their votes. Having seen 95% of the movies included, I wholly agree that all of these inclusions are brilliant. I'll probably work my way through the remaining 5 I have not yet seen in the months to come, simply for the sense of "completion", though cannot consider using Empire's list or any other audience polls (such as IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes rankings) since they're unlikely to expose me to film I would not otherwise have chosen.

The BBC's list of The 21st Century's 100 Greatest Films is very appealing. Published in 2016, this list aggregates submissions from 117 film critics to include a wide variety of genres and diversity. Having scanned through the top 50, I can see only a handful I've previously had the pleasure of viewing, which makes this particular list a top contender.

Another consideration is the BFI's list of 50 films to watch before the age of 14. Yes, I know I'm in my forties now, but my consideration here is that these films were chosen for their educational value in addition to their suitability for a younger audience. Film is an important part of my family life, so choosing this list would enable me to share this part of my learning programme with my children.

Classically Educated has a wonderful long-term project to watch each of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (from the book by Steven Jay Schneider) in chronological order. Although I have no idea how I could choose 50 from this huge list, it is certainly worth a considering a look if I can borrow a copy from the library.


I'm not yet decided which list to adopt. Over the next week or so, I'll do more research and mull over my choices as well as discuss with my family whether or not they would like to be involved.

I'd be more than happy to consider any other film lists you as readers of my site would like to suggest, and encourage you to post them in the comments section below.

Header image credit: Ginnie, via Flickr

Monday, 10 June 2019

Have you discovered Mathigon?

Knowing of my interest in learning resources, a kind friend sent me a link to the most recent Monday Puzzles article on The Guardian which presents a set of mathematical puzzles sourced from Mathigon.

Aimed at school-aged and college students, Mathigon is described as "an interactive textbook". I love the look and feel of the site, which encourages learners to explore, develop their skills and properly interact with different mathematical concepts. Registration is optional, free, and enables you to track your learning.

The site is still in development: many areas are not yet available, though personally I think it's already well-rounded and very interesting. My favourite sections are those which encourage us to think of how math interacts with real-life rather than simply as a theoretical construct:

Everything in our world follows mathematical laws: from the motion of stars and galaxies to the transmission of phone signals, bus timetables, weather prediction and online banking. Mathematics lets us describe and explain all of these examples, and can reveal profound truths about their underlying patterns.

In this way, it reminds me a lot of Jo Boaler's "How to Learn Math" course, which remains one of my favourite resources as it helps students begin to understand the great beauty and power of mathematics in our experiences of the world.

Mathigon is a dream learning resource for students (and teachers) of maths, which was conceived, coded, written and designed by Philipp Legner, aged 26 - a truly impressive feat for one single person to accomplish!

The Guardian article explains more:

Legner studied maths at Cambridge university. He got the idea for Mathigon when volunteering for a maths outreach project with local schools. “I always meet kids (and adults) who “hate” mathematics, so I wanted to develop a platform where every student can enjoy learning mathematics – just like I did. Rather than simply memorising equations and procedures, I want students to be able to explore, discover and be creative.”

Needless to say, I've already created my own account to enable me to play around with the site. Please head over to Mathigon to see for yourself, and share with anyone you think could benefit from this rich and fascinating free resource.

Image credit: Screenshot of the website provided by Mathigon within the media kit.

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