Sunday, November 2, 2008

Simon Bolivar, and others - In Our Time review

Four episodes of In Our Time have been out since the last time I wrote about this excellent program and podcast by the BBC. Since only the latest episode is available for download (feed), for the preceding three, I can but refer you to the on-line streams.

The earliest of these three is about Kurt Gödel and his incompleteness theory in mathematics. Also for you non-mathematicians (like myself) this is a very worthy chapter. When mathematicians felt they had their world in the palm of their hands and were about to grasp its axioms completely, young Gödel, maintained that it is necessarily incomplete.

A similar turn in thinking is observed in the next issue, Vitalism, about the spark of life. When history had just turned us in to the fast moving lane towards mechanical thinking, people started looking for the magical component to life. Was it electricity, or what, that would definitively rescue man, animal, life, from being interpreted as a machine?

Needless to say, Dante's Inferno, is also a must listen to. As IOT must stand stil with all major milestones in our cultural heritage. And where can you get an accessible 40 minutes about this masterpiece?

This week's download is about Simon Bolivar and is as excellent as ever. Better even in some ways as somehow Bolivar presented the team to round some thoughts of within the span of one program. For me it also filled quite a gap in my knowledge. It goes to show, once again, how my perspective is so profoundly positioned in north-western Europe. South-America, as many other parts of the world, drop so frequently out of sight. I knew next to nothing about Bolivar. IOT set this straight.

More In Our Time:
The Translation Movement,
John Donne (The Metaphysical Poets),
The Arab Conquests.

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History 5 on industrialization

Berkeley's History 5 has been one of the first podcast lecture series I discovered back in the days before my blog and it was the first I would follow from beginning to end. I wouldn't have to follow it any more, if I didn't feel this was about the best podcast recommendation I can give to my readers. And so I keep listening, noticing the little differences and making sure it still is you way to go in history podcasts.

Also with the current lecturer, Professor Carla Hesse, History 5 remains the best podcast and the basic baggage I think a history podcast listener should take with him, or her for that matter. In comparison with previous lecturers (Anderson and Laqueur) Hesse goes much faster through the first part of the described era and so we wind up in the Enlightenment and French revolution before the mid-term. And right after the mid-term we have hit the Industrial Revolution.

In Anderson's lecture series, I also high-lighted the issue about this revolution and it is a thrilling comparison with Hesse's take. Both professors emphasize there is no industrialization out of the blue, but whereas Anderson puts the preceding agricultural revolution to the center, Hesse goes a step further.

Hesse's conclusion is, it is better to speak of industrialization and not of a revolution. She argues the process starts earlier and continues much longer. Industrialization also changes its pace and geographical focus throughout history and then the real question is why it happens at all. Here she seems in agreement with Anderson, that there is an important part to be played by the population boom and that that was made possible by more intensive agriculture. However, she doesn't show this as an explanation, but rather as a question, a profound question as opposed to the contemporary Malthus's doomsday scenario, which supposed population could not grow without hitting catastrophical starvation. Why didn't this happen? What made population grow in the first place, before developments in agriculture and industry supported it?

Ideas about global warming, disease immunity and social changes (earlier marriages, more kids) pass the stage. This is only one example of the fantastic quality of this series, year in year out, twice a year. It is only too bad the audio is sometimes really bad. Hesse apparently speaks with her hands and frequently knocks the microphone about, causing drastic changes in the sound levels.

See also:
History 5 by Carla Hesse,
Capitalism and Socialism,
Air pollution in London,
Industrialization in Germany,
Agricultural Revolution first.

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