Image of a Celtic castle and bridge with the course title superimposed
Read - Finished Reading: The Celtic World by Jennifer Paxton (The Great Courses)
When you hear the word “Celtic,” which images come to mind? These days it could easily be Braveheart, kilts, leprechauns, and St. Patrick’s Day. However, since the surge of interest and pride in Celtic identity since the 19th century, much of what we thought we knew about the Celts has been radically transformed. From the warriors who nearly defeated Julius Caesar to Irish saints who took on the traits of Celtic deities, get to know the real Celts.

In The Celtic World, discover the incredible story of the Celtic-speaking peoples, whose art, language, and culture once spread from Ireland to Austria. This series of 24 enlightening lectures explains the traditional historical view of who the Celts were, then contrasts it with brand-new evidence from DNA analysis and archeology that totally changes our perspective on where the Celts came from. European history and culture have been profoundly affected by the Celts, from the myth of King Arthur to the very map of the United Kingdom, where the English confronted the peoples of the “Celtic Fringe.”

With a wealth of historical expertise, Professor Jennifer Paxton, Director of the University Honors Program and Clinical Assistant Professor of History at The Catholic University of America, guides you through each topic related to Celtic history with approachability and ease as you unearth what we once thought it meant—and what it may actually mean—to be Celtic. Professor Paxton’s engaging, often humorous delivery blends perfectly with the facts about the Celts to uncover surprising historical revelations. The ancient Celts are very much alive in the literary and artistic traditions that their descendants have both preserved and very deliberately revived. All facets of Celtic life, past and present, are addressed by Professor Paxton, who demonstrates a masterful knowledge and carefully separates fact from myth at every turn.

Brief review

I loved the first 3/4ths the most for their density and my lack of general familiarity. The end was a bit less dense and went to quickly. Overall this was a great introduction with a lot of cultural sensitivity and nuance. I really appreciate some of the modern coverage and overview which is sometimes difficult to find without a lot of additional political baggage.

Perhaps I missed it in the introduction, but it would have been nice to have a bit more of Dr. Paxton’s personal background. It wasn’t until late in the series that she mentioned growing up in Ireland and being “forced” to learn Irish in school. A bit more on her background and biases would have been nice to have, though generally her love for the subject and her general objective balance seems to shine through.

She did a particularly good job of highlighting some of the cultural highlights rooted in falsehoods or popularized writing which isn’t historically correct. She seems to give a lot of balance to prior historical research and broad views versus more current scholarship.

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Chris Aldrich

I'm a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, theoretical mathematics, and big history. I'm also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.

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