Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The National Archives Podcast

The National Archives of of the United Kingdom organize lectures they record, nice up with music and release as podcasts. This is a History Podcast I advise to pass, unless you are very dedicated to the subject. The latest podcast about King John and the Magna Carta is a case in point.

I am ready to suffer some drawbacks in educational podcasts, which quite regularly are recordings of live lectures. The result is mostly: bad sound, inaudible questions, additional noises, sudden lapses in sound level and the quite frustrating references to slides or other visual material. In this respect, this podcast is no less than others, it may even be better, but like with the others the compensation for these drawbacks hinges on the quality of the lecture as such. Is it exciting? Entertaining? Thought provoking? Can it deliver a couple of key points that open up the subject and allows you from then on to say something about it and understand more? On the subject of King John and the Magna Carta, none of that was established even remotely.

I guess everybody who dislikes history, must have had a teacher who delivered lessons in the way of the National Archives lecture. With a toneless voice and poor enunciation, the lecturer reads out the titles from his Power Point, hands then an endless train of dates, facts and figures without conclusion or punch, only to move on to the next slide with either the next title or some artifact of the archive. Even for the history die-hard, such as myself, it is impossible to keep attention, let alone pick up some interesting fact, understanding or even a joke or a juicy anecdote.
I can't tell anything about King John or the Magna Carta, not even after two runs of the show. But to give you a feel of what it is like, ask someone who barely reads English to read to you the following lines:

Anne Frid de Vries was born in 1966 and grew to be neither the lawyer, nor the scientist he had hoped to be. A mediocre writer, a bland blogger and a dedicated father, are what we see by 2007. Here we see him on a school picture in 1976, squeezed in between the tallest boy in the class, Leo, and school master Brons. In 1979 he became an avid reader of comic books and I can show you here an 'Eppo' magazine that he signed with his name. This one he bought for 25 cents on the market. And here we have a recount he wrote of his first kiss in 1983. It has been suggested that this was his 'first time', but this is highly disputed and generally considered unlikely. We do have here a receipt for a package of condoms he bought in a vending machine in 1985 for the price of 3.50, 'gulden' the currency of that place and time. The head master Broekman, may have said in 1978, Anne was going to salvage the ESA project that failed at the time, but in 1990 he graduated Law School. Professor Huppes graded his master's thesis with a 9. Professor Hoekema brought him to the University of Amsterdam where he left to make a living as a software engineer in Israel. Here we see the ticket dated 13 may 1998 and you can see that the return flight was never used. The next item is a certificate of the Hebrew Course, 600 hours, 100% attendance. Marital life... yes. He married in 1998, became a father in 2001 and again in 2004. And this is a picture with him and his sons in 2006. Thank you.

OK, you can wake up now.
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