Sunday, May 31, 2009

New podcasts in May 2009 - Anne is a Man

This month there were eight podcasts reviewed for the first time. One was reviewed in a guest post by Saeed Ahmed, the others by myself. The majority, as usual, were in the realm of history, but there were also two vodcasts paid attention to. See below.

Culture:
Mighty Movie Podcast (review, site, feed)
Dan Persons takes us behind the screen in this interview podcast in and around movies.

Political Science:
Politics 114B (UCLA) (review, site, feed)
UCLA's political science introduction, kindly reviewed by Saeed Ahmed

History:
Islamic Medicine (review, site, feed)
The University of Warwick's series by Professor Peter Pormann about the Medieval Medicine as it was received from the Greeks, influenced by other cultures and preserved in the Islam world, before it was received by the West.

The History Faculty (review, site, feed)
British Academic history podcast on a large variety of subjects.

History 131 (University of Alaska Fairbanks) (review, site, feed)
History of the Americas before 1870

History 132 (University of Alaska Fairbanks) (review, site, feed)
US History after 1870

Vodcasts:
Feed Me Bubbe (review, site, feed / ipod feed)
Jewish Food and Culture video podcast.

Ersatz TV (review, site, feed / ipod feed)
German science video podcast presented by Annik Rubens in her incomparable mildly humoristic style.

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I love to get new podcast recommendations. You can let me know your preferences by commenting on the blog or sending mail to Anne is a Man at: Anne Frid de Vries (in one word) AT yahoo DOT co DOT uk

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De Armeense Genocide - Veertien Achttien recensie

De podcast Veertien Achttien gaat vergezeld van een nieuwsbrief en daaruit konden we vernemen hoe de maker Tom Tacken ertoe is gekomen om de laatste aflevering van zijn podcast te wijden aan de Armeniër Komitas Vardapet. In het kort is dat omdat hij Aremeens vluchtelingen onder zijn kennissen heeft. Armeniërs die al vele jaren op een verblijfsvergunning in Nederland wachten.

Nog niet zo lang geleden besprak ik op dit blog de podcast New Books in History waarin, ook al naar aanleiding van de Eerste Wereldoorlog, Norman Stone aan het woord komt. In die uitzending zegt hij ondermeer dat de Armeense tragedie van 1915 geen genocide genoemd kan worden. Het lijkt dat hij zich daarmee in een minderheid van historici bevindt. In podcast kan men onder meer History 5 van Berkeley beluisteren waarin door Professor Anderson ruime aandacht aan de Armeniërs besteed wordt en de kwestie dat het om een genocide gaat onderbouwd wordt.

Het kan heel goed dat Tacken dezelfde colleges heeft gevolgd want hij volgt dezelfde lijn als Anderson. En ook hij begint met een citaat van, of all people, Adolf Hitler: 'Wie heeft het vandaag nog over de Armeniërs?' Wat op zijn minst duidelijk is, is dat de Armeniërs opgejaagd werden van huis en haard op een tocht die ze redelijkerwijs niet konden overleven. Effectief was dat een doodvonnis en de Turken deden daar ook niet huichelachtig over, toen althans. Vandaag is dat heel anders. En over de verblijfverblijfsvergunning van de Armeense kennissen van Tacken zal beslist worden door de Turkse Albayrak. Dat is ook wat.

Meer Veertien Achttien:
John Condon,
Koning George V,
Colmar von der Goltz,
Sir Ian Hamilton,
H.H. Asquith.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The apostle Paul - guest post on In Our Time

This is a guest post written by Jim Mowatt. Jim is a dedicated listener to history podcasts and the producer of one himself: Historyzine. Like myself Jim loves the BBC podcast In Our Time and when he expressed his enthusiasm about the latest edition, I was happy to find him ready to write about it on my blog.

In Our Time surprises and delights over and over again in that it brings to light so many subjects on the fringes of my consciousness and provides enough depth of discussion to draw me further into the topic. This time they've chosen one of the most important people in the Christian church and yet someone who the non religious (such as myself and the majority of other peoples upon the earth) have barely encountered. As I've stated I have no strong religious belief but I do have a fascination for spirituality and religion and this podcast drew me in and inspired me to read some of the writings of St. Paul and gave me enough context that I could appreciate them all the more.

The presenter, Melvyn Bragg introduces his guests John Haldane, Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, John Barclay, Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at Durham University and Helen Bond, Senior Lecturer in the New Testament at the University of Edinburgh and gives us these words: A long time ago, a man called Saul was travelling to Damascus when a light flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Paul (Saul) was a Jewish Pharisee probably going to Damascus to find out more about these troublesome Christians. His job/devotion/whatever was to police the strict adherence of Jews to the codes which had been set down for them. There seem to have been much diluting of these codes and this, he felt, watered down the Jewish faith. Paul received his conversion of faith and was immediately energised spreading a message not only to the Jewish peoples (all the early Christians were Jewish) but also to the Gentiles. He travelled many thousands of miles setting up little cells of Christian peoples throughout the Roman empire and leaving us the legacy we have today of the 13 epistles in the New Testament of the Christian bible. If not for Paul then it is quite likely that Christianity would have been a minority offshoot of the Jewish religion but Paul felt that the death and resurrection of Jesus had heralded a new age where all that had been would be swept away and a new world would come into being. Paul felt that this offered a path to salvation for all the peoples of the earth through Jesus Christ and that everyone could be saved. I suspect that there were many arguments about this at the time. Paul, even though he seems to have been quite well respected for his knowledge of scripture was a latecomer to the Christian movement. His conversion followed soon after the death of Jesus but he never met him and was not one of Jesus' disciples. To the apostles Paul must have seemed more of an irritant than a help. They had met and lived with Jesus. They had heard his teachings directly and yet here was this man Paul who felt he knew better than they, the message from God.

Despite this Paul has had an enormous effect upon the Christian church and this podcast did briefly refer to the influence of Paul upon Augustine and Luther many hundreds of years later. I'm grateful to this podcast for encouraging me to look again at the writings of Paul and feel his passion and enthusiasm for his subject. It shows the power of the written word that even now, 2000 years later I can read his texts and almost see and hear him speak (OK, OK, I wouldn't be able to understand him in the original Greek). His voice is vivid and strong. When he remonstrates, cajoles and harangues the Galatians I reel before his onslaught as they would. I may disagree with much that he says but I respect his belief and enthusiasm. This is an excellent series. Long may it continue.

More Podcasts about Early Christianity:
Philip Harland and others.

More In Our Time:
Whale evolution,
Magna Carta,
BBC's In Our Time - always recommended,
Brave New World,
Rafael's School of Athens and the depiction of Plato and Aristotle.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Shavuot in Gan Shmuel

The regular readers of the blog must have noticed I was away for a couple of days and the reason for that is simple. We were celebrating the holiday of Shavuot and this involved a lot of quality time with my wife and children and a closed PC.

We were invited to experience the holiday on kibbutz Gan Shmuel which is famous for its elaborate Shavuot ritual. They have a long show with song, dance and procession which is performed in a very professional fashion by the kibbutz members themselves. The theme of the ritual is around the agricultural aspect of Shavuot: the celebration of the first harvests. The other religious meaning, the reception of Torah, was not commemorated in any way at all. This is typical for the kibbutz perception of Judaism.

Once we were watching, we realized we hadn't taken our cameras with us and what photos I shot with my cell phone came out ridiculously unclear. Fortunately, Wikimedia could supply some visuals. The displayed picture is in the public domain, courtesy of the Gan Shmuel Archive.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

MMW 3 by Matthew Herbst - UCSD history lectures

The University of California San Diego, as pointed out so many times, takes podcast lecture series off line as soon as they are finished. Here is a reason to go out and get the series MMW 3 The Medieval Heritage delivered by the great professor Matthew Herbst. MMW, on a side note, stands for The Making of the Modern World and as such is a six-fold series that intends to cover the entirety of World History, in which series 3 covers roughly 100 BCE to 1200 CE.

I love Herbst's approach to both history and lecturing. It makes for a very exciting and accessible series. In addition to that, MMW 3 delivers world history with much less emphasis on western history as most lecture series and other podcasts do. There is ample room for China, India and also Africa, Armenia and a lecture (number 5) placing Persia on the map - something I have been looking for.

While we are at it, notice that the first two lecture are missing, so you will rather abruptly fall into the course picking up on Greeks, Romans and the rise of Christianity. As said in lecture 5 you can learn about Persia and also about Armenia. What follows is China (6, 8 and 10), India (7) and a lot of Islam, as of lecture 11 - where I am listening right now. Lecture 9 is to be skipped, this is the mid term exam.

More MMW:
UCSD's lecture podcasts,
MMW 2,
MMW 4,
MMW 6,
MMW 3.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Renoir and Slumming - Thinking Allowed

BBC's Thinking Allowed had its program last week entirely dedicated to Slumming. This is the term for upper and middle class white, mostly men, mingle with the lower class, mostly colored women in the jazz scene of the US during the early twentieth century.

The guests on the program make clear how this has created a kind of openness between the races and classes as well paved the way for new developments in culture, mostly music. Yet, the indignation of class difference still was strongly playing its role. The phenomenon was dealt with as a purely American one, but I thought of Paris.

I thought of Paris, thanks to the podfaded Art History lectures by William Bryson in 2008 (UCSD) - Formations of Modern Art. Also in Paris there was the phenomenon upper class men went for their leisure to the lower class areas and mingled with, mostly, lower class women. This has been made visible most notably by the painter Renoir. In Renoir's vision, these are scenes of great joy, but what joy is that? Just like with slumming, it is cheap entertainment for the men and a chance of social mobility for the women. The double entendre is inevitable.

More Thinking Allowed:
Mizrahi Jews,
The weekly social science stop,
Substance and Sociology,
Hole in the Wall,
Moral relativism.

Leisure listening with Nilpod

I have reviewed Nilpod before and I wrote something that has been more or less refuted by my own behavior. I thought the Irish podcast Nilpod would wear off really fast. How long can you listen to two guys conversing away?

The facts are though, that over the last weeks, every time I saw a new Nilpod chapter was out, I went out and listened. And had a good time. Especially this last episode, which is about primary school (mp3), was rather good. It combines fascinating memories of speakers Nick and Wil with the fact they are teachers themselves today and the uproar about the Irish schools recently. This makes that the conversation receives a lot of additional meaning.

In the end, Nilpod is a leisure podcast. I listen to it while going about stuff that cannot be combined with the kind of academic podcasts I usually listen to. I used to listen to radio like that. In this respect it is more than radio, but I'd choose Nilpod rather than radio and that is telling something.

More conversation podcasts:
First Nilpod review,
Real Talk.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Omniculturalism - LSE lecture

It is not a new policy problem. The Romans had to deal with it. The Ottomans had their methods: incorporating different cultures into one state. The modern name is multiculturalism or assimilation? Neither seem to be viable. At the London School of Economics (LSE Public Lectures and Events) Professor Fathali Moghaddam was invited to present his alternative coined Omniculturalism.

Moghaddam first of all makes a point of showing how neither multiculturalism nor assimilation can be successful. Multiculturalism, as it accepts difference, is just too naive - we all know that. But Moghaddam's strength is how he shows very convincingly the fatal conceptual weakness of multiculturalism; how it cannot work psychologically and how it is too relativistic. Similarly he defeats assimilation.

His alternative omniculturalism seems to me closer to multiculturalism, just a little less naive. In stead of putting all the differences cheerfully in the forefront, omniculturalism begins by stating what people have in common. It argues that education should be based on that and only secondarily, and inevitably, we will find our differences, but having started from common ground, it will be easier to accept each other and resolve conflict.

More LSE Events:
Controversies in the Economics of Climate Change,
Nudge: decision architecture,
The EU and the Middle East,
The British Mandate in Palestine,
Iran Today.

Surviving those family dinners on the holidays

The stories of the fictional podcast Namaste Stories (feed) have a surrealist feel, but they seem profoundly real as well, autobiographical perhaps. In any case, there is a persistent personal perspective in these stories by Dave P.



In the last story (Wall of Gurus), I could very much sympathize with him. It was a Thanksgiving Dinner with the extended family; the posed idyll, the obligations of the occasion, the codes of good manners. In short the tensions rises to a breaking point and it starts to take tremendous efforts not to led this forced togetherness explode into a raging row. It could be Christmas or Passover just the same. What's up next? Shavuot - the vicious cycle never stops.

More Namaste and Dave P:
The new direction of Dave P,
New York Coffee Cup,
Namaste Stories, podcast as an art,
Namaste Stories, fiction podcast.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Holocaust - History 1c

UCLA's History 1c, in dealing with modern history has to deal with the Holocaust among others, which is a subject big enough to spend an entire lecture series on. I have seen other general history courses struggle with this. The holocaust cannot be set aside or even briefly mentioned, yet when one begins, in the end, never enough has been said. Professor Lynn Hunt, however, in the one designated lecture (the May 19th lecture), has done an impressive job in capturing all dimensions of the holocaust.

She kicks of with John Cage's piece 4'33" indicating how words fall short and by the end, after a full wordy lecture she makes full circle with John Cage. By then she has described the cultural impact, the philosophical impact (Hannah Arendt!) as well as the historic impact including the statistics. It was the best lecture about the Shoah as part of a general course I have ever heard.

On the subject of the statistics one detail stuck out for me: she presented as a fact that 60% of Dutch Jewry did not survive the Shoah. It is a figure that I have always learned to be much higher (up to 80%). I have mailed her a question about this and hope to be able to report back with an answer.

More History 1c:
Nietzsche in a nutshell,
Industrialization and Italian unification,
History since 1715.

Gelogen over zijn leeftijd - veertien achttien recensie

Aan het eind van de laatste aflevering van Veertien Achttien weet je het niet meer. Ligt in het besproken graf in Poelcappelle nu werkelijk John Condon, of iemand anders? Het zou best iemand anders kunnen zijn, maar feit blijft dat Condon in de oorlog gebleven is. Op de prille leeftijd van 14 jaar.

Natuurlijk werden er geen veertienjarigen geronseld in Kitchener's Army, maar toen er om vrijwilligers werd gevraagd, waren er vele jongens wie de oorlog trok. En zij die te jong waren, probeerden over hun leeftijd te liegen. Verteller Tom Tacken geeft een aantal redenen waarom de jonge Ier Condon in de Grote Oorlog wilde dienen. Het is een verhaal over de Ierse onafhankelijkheidswording. Maar wie de geschiedenis een beetje kent, weet dat niet alleen Ierse jongens met een leugen aan het front kwamen. Het is ook het verhaal hoe de oorlog trekt.

Condon was wel erg jong. De jongste naar verluid. De leugen kon hem wel in de oorlog krijgen, maar wanneer werd dat eindelijk doorzien? Geen leugen kon hem meer uit de oorlog krijgen en getuige zijn grafzerk (of hij er nu in ligt of niet) toen hij eenmaal dood was, wist men wel heel precies dat hij nog maar veertien was. Zo was deze oorlog, makkelijk begonnen, maar schier onmogelijk om uit te komen.

Meer Veertien Achttien:
Koning George V,
Colmar von der Goltz,
Sir Ian Hamilton,
H.H. Asquith,
Anton Kröller.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Climate change will make us pay - LSE

On the podcast of the London School of Economics (LSE public lectures and events) was a lecture by Professor Geoffrey Heal held on May 6th: Controversies in the Economics of Climate Change. In this lecture Heal goes over the economic cost climate change will cause.

His starting point is that the scientific question about Climate Change has largely been decided. There is wide consensus the climate is changing. Heal's subject is to take these established facts and evaluate, as well as possible, what the cost of these changes are. He emphasizes that these issues are still widely debated, hence the controversies of climate change, but the way he deals with them is by suggesting that only the size of the cost is debatable. There will be costs and they are enormous.

His analysis range from rather accurate like his esteem that the costs of the rising sea level will go over 1% of GDP, to completely unknown. The damages to the ocean, the warming of the climate are factors that he thinks are hard to enumerate. natural disasters and the disappearance of a multitude of species are impossible to range. On all accounts the costs are gigantic. It is not a happy lecture for the worried. Yet one, I feel, you must have heard.

On a side note. LSE also had a lecture called Urban Nomads which pays attention to the enormous stream of migration within China. The audio of this lecture is rather poor, the content is secondary (we listen in on a tape that is being played) and the subject is handled in a very anecdotal fashion. I cannot recommend this particular issue of LSE's podcast.

More LSE Events:
Nudge: decision architecture,
The EU and the Middle East,
The British Mandate in Palestine,
Iran Today,
Science and Religion.

Whale evolution - In Our Time

BBC's In Our Time deserves a review nearly every week. Not always I manage in the same week and as you all know by now: at the end of the week, the podcast has already disappeared from the feed and can only be heard in stream. Such is already the fate of last week's program about The Siege of Vienna. This week's program had me interested immediately and I managed to listen to it this weekend and so here is the review in time.

Melvyn Bragg and his guests addressed The Whale: a History. The whale had long been rather an anomaly in the animal kingdom, a creature that was not easy to fit into any of the categories in the tree of species. New finds and new technologies have helped establish new insights that reveal the evolution of the whale and in a very accessible, concise and interesting way the program orders this for us. At the beginning it is promised, in a way, that we will see how the whale is a kind of champion of evolution and by the end we come full circle and this is summarized completely.

This champion of evolution shows what evolution is capable of. It evolves all the sorts of adaptations it needs in its exceptional environment, the ocean, whereby its appearance takes it far away from its origins and its kin and only series of fossil finds and microbiology and retrace this. And so we learn how the whale is actually part of the strain of hoofed animals, just like horses and deer. In the show it is likened to seals, otters, beavers and eventually we learn what is its closest living relative: the hippopotamus. Very exciting and very well done.

More In Our Time:
Magna Carta,
BBC's In Our Time - always recommended,
Brave New World,
Rafael's School of Athens and the depiction of Plato and Aristotle,
The Boxer Rebellion.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

James Mann about Ronald Reagan - UChannel

The fascinating thing about the 1980's for me is that I vividly remembered them, was a fanatic newspaper reader at the time and that the 1980's are becoming part of history. And then, when historians speak of events in the 1980's I relive the era and also receive new perspectives on my own perception. A case in point is when James Mann speaks about his book The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War.

James Mann was a guest speaker at Princeton University in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in April 2009 where he spoke of his new book (UChannel Podcast). Even if he is not the most engaging speaker - he retells some of the parts of his book en research in a seemingly random fashion - the experience is still very exciting. At least for me. At the time, I never felt Reagan was worried about the Cold War and happily seizing the opportunity to make deals with Gorbachev. Mann shows in many entertaining anecdotes that this is so.

If you like this lecture by James Mann, you will enjoy all the more the interview he gave to Marshall Poe on New Books in History. In both podcasts you will learn the backstory, among others, of Reagan's famous line in Berlin: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! I keep hearing this with Pink Floyd in the backdrop (I told you I am from the eighties), but if aything was torn down that day, it was Erich Honecker - listen and find out.

More UChannel Podcast:
Disasters and Peace,
Enclosing the commons of the mind,
Middle East challenges,
Good climate for everyone (global warming),
Robots and War.

The Sunni-Shia divide and the future of Islam

APM's Speaking of Faith frequently airs reruns of old shows and then republish them in the podcast feed also. This week the interview Krista Tippett had with Vali Nasr was published again. Last year I wrote about this issue and here is the review once more:

In the latest edition of Speaking of Faith, Krista Tippett speaks with Vali Nasr, Islam expert in the US or Iranian descent. (The Sunni-Shia divide and the future of Islam) Nasr and Tippett delve into the divide between Sunni and Shia that make up a 90 and respectively 10% of Muslims in the world. However, this division is not evenly dispersed. In Iran 90% are Shia and in Iraq 60%. Elsewhere Shia are a minority by far, if existent at all. (transcript, full interview)

Little attention is awarded to what makes up the divide and what are the cultural and historical differences. What Nasr has come to speak of is the effect on the world that the regime change in Iraq has. Iraq had been ruled by the Sunni minority, but American intervention has brought a fledgling democracy a majority rule. Not only does this mean for Iraq, the Shia suddenly find themselves in power, it also enhances the power of Iran, the previously only Shia ruled state. It also brings the Shia influence into the Middle-East, into the Arab world and has put Shia power on the map for the whole world, Muslim or not. Where Shia was formerly unknown or ignored, it has become a power to reckon with. And where Shia people accepted their submissive position, the idea is rising that political power is an availability for them.

The change in Iraq was triggered by force, because the Americans, as Nasr with tangible disappointment continues to point out, thought they could fast-track Iraq to western society. However, as impossible as it is to fast track any development in whole countries, let alone cultures, the power change has only revealed and unleashed old fashioned tribalism. In spite of that, no more and no less, Islam on the whole is struggling with modernity. In Nasr's mind, modernity will eventually find its way in to Islam, but not for another 60 or 100 years.

More Speaking of Faith:
Wangari Maathai,
Rumi,
The story and God,
The Buddha in the world,
Doubt.

Friday, May 22, 2009

American Exceptionalism - NBIH

In many nations people have the idea their nation is special and quite a few will not be especially modest in conversation about it. The podcast New Books In History takes on this trait where the United States is concerned. Guest Godfrey Hodgson wrote a book about American Exceptionalism and host Marshall Poe interviews him.

Poe makes sure Hodgson systematically takes on the idea and splits it up in 'American Messianism', the ideology that America is special and the factual question: whether America has a significantly different history from other nations and stands out on exceptional values (freedom and democracy) and achievements (winning all world wars, one, two and three).

As can be expected Hodgson attempts to counter these two ideas extensively and while this may seem annoying for the average American listener (I guess non-Americans will feel rather pleased, but their turn will come one day as well), the interview is actually very worthwhile and entertaining. Neither Poe nor Hodgson really bash the country, should you be afraid.

More NBIH:
The Great War in short,
How Rome Fell,
Glancing over the backlog,
Jews in the Russian army,
Who will write our history?.

History 131

On The Podcast Parlor in one of the forum discussions a remark was made that almost everybody agreed to. Podcasts that are recordings of live lectures have a lot of issues, mostly with audio, but also others, and as a result of that are seemingly more difficult to follow. However, their being live makes up for this, they are actually more easy to follow than crisp recorded monologues.

And so, on the subject of American History, where I have reviewed Gretchen Reilly's series (Before 1870 and After 1870), she has the advantages of good audio, but the drawback of not being live. I am beginning to compare this to two history courses from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which actually were also recommended on The Podcast Parlor: David Hoogland Noon's History 131 and History 132. (History 131 feed, History 132 feed)

I have made a beginning of History 131 and am learning a lot about the early history of North America (before 1776) a lot of which I know next to nothing about. Professor Hoogland Noon gives a lot of interesting information. The Americas' development and their place in European conflicts and their influx of people from Europe and of course, sadly, from Africa comes out very detailed. Some people enjoy the professor's quirky love of eccentric days on the calendar, but if you do not, they make up only a warm up five minutes of the lectures. I guess he needs it to overcome his nervousness. After that he is off and quite good.

More American History:
Gilder Lehrmann history podcasts,
American Independence (in Hebrew),
US History since 1877 (Gretchen Reilly),
American History before 1870 (Gretchen Reilly),
Religion and Law in US society (UCSD).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Great War in short - NBIH podcast review

Who is responsible for World War I starting? This question rose on the podcast New Books In History where Marshall Poe interviewed Norman Stone who has just written book about the Great War in the series of 'short histories about'.

Stone answers with the traditional answer 'Germany' and this surprised me a bit. This is what I learned in secondary school, but since I have mainly seen this idea nuanced. If one has harsh words for German diplomacy then there is enough to be said also about others. The consensus, so is my impression, has moved in the direction that the alliance systems that had come into being and the consecutive delicate balance of power made it sort of inevitable. Yet Stone cuts this short and points at Germany which had been vying for European domination for decades and had been planning this war in advance. When opportunity came, they were all to eager to cease, is his standpoint.

In comparison to what other podcasts, especially the lecture series of Berkeley (History 5), Stanford (History of the international system) and UCSD (Politics and Warfare), this verdict seems rather crude and I am not entirely convinced after all. However it is a point not to be taken lightly. It makes for a perspective on the history that is more military than political, but Stone's strong point appears to lie there. The way he explains the logistical complications of the modern size of warfare in WW1 was very clarifying. So after all, for all WW1 buffs, this is a podcast one must hear.

More NBIH:
How Rome Fell,
Glancing over the backlog,
Jews in the Russian army,
Who will write our history?,
Sentiments in International Relations.

Baxter Wood fellow blogger

A friendly blogger who has joined the scene of those who write about podcasts and on-line courses is Baxter Wood. While he drives his truck around the US he listens to what great educational audio content the net offers. He occasionally writes about it in his blog The re-education of Baxter Wood. In addition he is an active member in The Podcast Parlor the on-line community we have set up and where you are all invited to join and discuss the podcasts you like.

The regular media occasionally pick up on the new media trends and an American TV program about education through podcast had Baxter prominently featured.



Berkeley's courses by Hubert Dreyfus, who is interviewed on the program have also been reviewed here:
Nietzsche,
Philosophy 6,
Kierkegaard,
Hiroshima Mon Amour,
Philosophy 7 - Existentialism.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why did Rome fall? NBIH

This edition of the podcast New Books In History should interest a lot of people. The amount of podcasts out there that busies itself with Roman History is tremendous. I have once made a summary post of Roman History Podcasts and this is one that receives a lot of hits till this day.

Marshal Poe spoke with the British historian Adrian Goldsworthy about his book: 'How Rome fell: Death of a Superpower'. At some point in the podcast Goldsworthy sums it up very concise: Rome came to the fall from within. It rotted down from the top. The leaders became so cossupt, so bad, that the system couldn't correct itself no longer and it collapsed into itself.

Poe thinks he recognizes this from the Soviet Union (Poe is a specialist in Russian history). When a leader is bad, he can be corrected by his surroundings, but when he becomes so cruel that he has removed the entourage of good helpers and anybody who wants to remonstrate can lose his head, the chain of command starts to believe in its own lies and steadily drives the whole system over the cliff. And there was some driving to do. Goldsworthy goes through great lengths to describe the volume of Rome's hegemony. In this the message already lies: nothing could bring down Rome but Rome.

The fashion today is to liken Rome to the US and Goldsworthy rejects this out of hand. The two are too different and the whole thinking style of parallels seems unfit in his opinion. Another thing to add is that it remains implicit where Rome falls. Goldsworthy seems to put this in 476 and I felt the question missing: what does it mean about the strength of the Roman Empire that Byzantium lived on for another 1000 years?

More Roman History:
Carthage (In Our Time and others),
The Punic Wars (Dan Carlin's hardcore History),
Tacitus (In Our Time),
German Cultural History,
Roman History in Podcasts.

More NBIH:
Glancing over the backlog,
Jews in the Russian army,
Who will write our history?,
Sentiments in International Relations,
Ronald Reagan.

Ersatz TV - german vodcast review

Annik Rubens, the podcast pioneer from Germany (Schlaflos in München) has moved on and embarked on a vodcast project that combines her understated humorist qualities with tv presentation on a series of programs with assorted subjects that are informative and entertaining at the same time. The freedom of new media gives this piece of TV a fresh, pointy and innovative feel that triggers a variety of thoughts on its name: Ersatz TV (feed, feed for iPod)

"Ersatz TV" suggests a supposed modesty, as if this vodcast is no real TV, just a replacement. Replacement, however, is what it might just become for the sheer quality of it, compared with regular TV. That, could be exactly the the ambition of this Ersatz-modesty. If it were up to me, let us have it. I have long lost interest in television, but this might just bring interest back. Kudos for Annik and cooperators Hartmut Grawe, Ralf Tritschler and Halle 5 Media.



Somebody does spiffy stuff like this in English, Hebrew or Dutch? I'd like to know. Until then: 'Ni hao bei Ersatz TV'. Stunning find, I tell you.

More Annik Rubens:
German Podcasts,
Schlaflos in München.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The hidden opinions of Harriet Beecher Stowe

A kind of dialog has evolved between Julie Davies of Forgotten Classics and myself. As Julie is reading Uncle Tom's Cabin on her show, we are exchanging thoughts on the issue of racism in this famous novel.

Until chapter 16 both Julie and myself have been struck by sentences that were sticking out of the text that made generalist remarks about blacks and that were quite demeaning. Julie has sort of taken on the position that Stowe, as a woman of her time, could not help herself from thinking along the lines of theories on racial traits and was not intentionally racist. In my previous review I have opposed this idea on account that these generalities neither fit in the story nor in the message of Uncle Tom and therefore take on a nagging racist motif.

Chapter 16 however, decidedly makes this much more complicated. Stowe lets loose a monologue by Marie St. Clare that expresses all the racism you could accuse her of and while this goes on it is so clear the writer makes a mockery of the speaker. In case this had escaped you, she closes off the chapter with explicitly stating her opinion. She positions herself, not just against slavery, but also explicitly against racism. This makes a strong point for Julie's view on the matter that the book is not racist. It makes however the ideas on racial traits rather problematic and especially Stowe's opinion on the issue remains hidden.

Together with great drama and sophisticated character positioning (with Marie, Ophelia and St. Clare) Stowe's novel takes us in and on the subject of race and equality she forces us to think. Even if her own answers are not so clear. Julie's choice to pick this book for her show turns out to be a fantastic one.

Picture: Title-page illustration by Hammatt Billings (wikimedia commons)

More Forgotten Classics:
The racism of Uncle Tom's Cabin,
Uncle Tom's Cabin revisited,
Cooking with Forgotten Classics,
Forgotten Classics - podcast review.

Olga Zuiderhoek en Paul Rosenmoller

Om echt een heel goed interviewprogramma te zijn, zou KRO's voor 1 nacht wat meer lef moeten hebben. Sommige van de vragen die Marc Stakenburg stelt zijn te comfortabel voor de spreker. Regelmatig volgen er antwoorden die niet aangepakt worden. Steeds blijkt wel uit de reacties van Stakenburg dat hij goed geconcentreerd is en heel af en toe prikt hij wel een beetje, maar meer wordt het niet.

Zoals bijvoorbeeld in het gesprek met Olga Zuiderhoek, waarin hij een paar keer haar eigen uitspraken naar haar terugkaatst, of haar verrast met een vergelijking tussen het universum van de film Abel en het Assen waar Zuiderhoek opgegroeid is. Maar al snel verklaart hij: 'daar zal ik je niet langer mee lastig vallen,' en keert terug naar veilig terrein. Het maakt de interviews een beetje zelfgenoegzaam en het wordt gered door goede gasten die zich uit eigen beweging laten zien. Olga Zuiderhoek is er zo een, maar met een wat pittiger interview zouden we toch wat meer de onbekende Olga te zien kunnen krijgen, denk ik. En dan is het een gemiste kans.

Zo'n interviewflauwte is natuurlijk dodelijk met een gast die teveel schermen om zich heen heeft. In deze categorie vallen bij mij de politici en de komieken. Van het interview met Paul Rosenmöller verwachtte ik daarom niet zoveel en het is nogmaals dankzij de gast zelf dat het toch nog wat wordt. Rosenmöller gaat de moeilijkheden niet geheel uit de weg, maar Stakenburg laat hem wel de toon bepalen als het over Fortuin of Rosenmöllers verleden met fanatieke Marxisten gaat. Dat is dan ook een gemiste kans. En dan zwijg ik nog over de obligate muziekjes die in het programma gemonteerd worden en die regelmatig niets met het geprek te maken hebben.

Eerder over KRO's voor 1 nacht:
Gijs Wanders en Adjiedj Bakas,
Arnon Grunberg.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Failed Crusades - History Faculty

Thanks to Jim Mowatt of the podcast Historyzine I found out about the history podcast The History Faculty (feed). Make sure you copy the feed from here, because the site is not giving it away so easily and Jim Mowatt warns in advance that the on site videos are made with a still camera, so that audio is the way to go.

On The History Faculty historians are invited to lecture about their specialism and this results in a list of very varied subjects. Out of this list I took two lectures that are related to the crusades. On both lectures Professor Graham Loud of the University of Leeds speaks. First he lines out the Second Crusade, which, he claims, was better organized and led than the first. The first was actually quite unexpectedly successful at capturing Jerusalem and founding the Latin Kingdom. And so, the second, set out to be even better than that, yet failed. This lecture explains how. Unfortunately, the lecture is cut off by the end rather abruptly, making you feel there may me some crucial stuff missing.

Then, after this crusade, in 1187, there is the battle of Hattin (or Chitin as Israelis such as myself know it). During this battle Saladin thoroughly defeated the Christians and even if the Latin Kingdom continued the exist for a bit more, but it was effectively done for. Saladin's victory was predictable and yet the Christians engaged. Loud explains why this was so. Militarily it was foolish, but politically there were enough reasons to take Saladin on.

The feed is not systematically organized, which is makes it not straightforward to find the subject to your liking, but there is much to find.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mizrachim - Thinking Allowed

The last episode of Thinking Allowed had an item about the Mizrahi Jews of Israel. For Laurie Taylor and possibly for the overwhelming majority of his listeners there was a lot of news to be learned here.

I have experienced myself in many exchanges with people outside Israel that they are not aware of the division between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews and especially not of the implications this has in Israeli society. The Sephardi Jews, literally, are the Spanish Jews. They are the Jews that have a different liturgy from the Ashkenazi, that is literally German Jews. The Ashkenazim are the Jews of European origin and the Sephardi have found their diaspora from the Iberian peninsula, throughout North Africa, the near East until deep into Asia. This is why they are also called: Mizrachim, easterners.

The original zionists were Ashkenazim and they were the founders of the state of Israel. Yet, the mizrachim joined early on and in large numbers immediately after the foundation of the state. In spite of the fact they became 2nd rate citizens in many ways, they came to make up a majority of the population and became quite the political power to reckon with. Here is where Thinking Allowed more or less stops and the modern Israeli may want to add that this has been true until recently but the division between Ashkenazim and Mizrachim in Israel is less pronounced and less important today.

More Thinking Allowed:
The weekly social science stop,
Substance and Sociology,
Hole in the Wall,
Moral relativism,
Male Immaturity.

Freek de Jonge - Simek 's Nachts (Elsevier)

Zoals ik in mijn vorige recensie al schreef: ik heb weinig vertrouwen in interviews met komieken. En ik heb Freek de Jonge expliciet genoemd als iemand die mij altijd tegenvalt. Daar is trouwens wel een uitzondering op. Ergens in de jaren tachtig werd hij geinterviewd in Vrij Nederland door Bibeb. Maar toen was ik nog zo jong en zo idolaat van hem.

Niettemin haastte ik me om het interview dat Simek gisteravond met hem had zo snel mogelijk te horen. Met Simek weet je het nooit en bovendien, hoe heeft hij toch al die coryfeeen naar Elseviers versie van zijn programma gekregen? De reeks die hij tot nu toe heeft neergezet is indrukwekkend. Is iedereen bezig om dit programma terug op de radio te krijgen? Dat zou meer dan terecht zijn. Simek is een uniek geluid in de wereld van interviewers, ook al heeft hij naast pieken behoorlijke dalen (ik vond het gesprek met Ab Osterhaus na een goed begin vervelend worden), het blijft top.

Met Freek de Jonge heeft Simek al mijn verwachtingen overtroffen. Dit werd een buitengewoon programma. Freek was ontspannen en Simek maakte een goede connectie en op die moment stroomt Simek 's Nachts als de Amazone. Groots, heftig en gevarieerd. En Freek wist een brug te leggen naar mijn bewondering van vroeger.

Meer Simek 's Nachts:
Kees van Kooten (Elsevier),
Connie Palmen (Elsevier),
Dhyan Sutorius (RVU),
Louis Tas (RVU),
Piet Hein Eek (RVU).

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Adoration by Egoyan - Mighty Movie Podcast

I knew Atom Egoyan from The Sweet Hereafter in which Ian Holm plays a sad lawyer who needs to deal with a pretty sad law suit while simultaneously he is scrambling to help his daughter who is slipping in a destructive life style. A good movie, but no cheery one to easily let you loose afterwards.

In the Mighty Movie Podcast host Dan Persons interviews Atom Egoyan about his latest movie Adoration. The theme is as tough as with the other movie. A young boy who has lost his parents in a car accident engages in spreading a lie about his parents. Although this may be seen as a part of mourning or of search for identity, the lie in itself comes with certain consequences.

Apart from the fact that this may be a good movie, if tough, like the other one I knew, the podcast does everything to prepare you for viewing and in addition allows a peek into the thoughts Egoyan has about this film and its plot. Persons has created in this way a very valuable and I think exceptional rubric about film and we can consider ourselves very lucky this is available on podcast.

More Mighty Movie Podcast:
Nursery University.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Romanticism - Entitled Opinions

Romanticism tends to figure in history podcasts about the nineteenth century. It is usually defined more as a state of mind than just a trend in art or philosophy. However, I never get away with the feeling that that romanticist state of mind is actually something so strong in the modern human condition, it is fit to refer to it more generally, also outside the realm of nineteenth century history.

The podcast Entitled Opinions seems to do just that. Or at least, in a first, but certainly not the last show - this is promised on air - on the subject the attention goes out much more intensively to picturing very carefully what exactly is this state of mind. The connection both the host Robert Harrison and Denise Gigante display seems so much alive that it just confirms my idea Romanticism is still here today.

The examples however do come from the nineteenth century writers and poets so even Harrison and Gigante do not necessarily agree with me. What they emphasize in this show is the fascination the romantics had with organic form and how they let this play out in their work. This was found not just in the content and not just in the form, but as Gigante tells us also in the way works were arrived at; constructed, or better allowed to growth into existence in an organic way.

More Entitled Opinions:
Sartre's Existentialism,
Five Free Favorites of Jesse Willis.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Politics 114B - UCLA political science course

This is a guest post written by Saeed Ahmed

Politics 114B, "United States Political Thought; 1865 to the Present," taught by Brian Walker in the spring 2008, available in both video and audio formats in the UCLA Bruincast website, is divided into two parts (or units), which Dr. Walker refers to as American Political Theory, Here and Now and The Roots of Contemporary American Political Theory, respectively. The first comprises of lectures covering political philosophies starting with conservatism, neoconservatism, religious conservatism, libertarianism, and moving leftward to Rawls' ideas of justice, and eventually Chomskyisc progressivism. This unit is meant to describe, in summary fashion, what makes up the foundations of different schools as they exist today. Unit two is essentially a history of political philosophy from the post civil era to the present.

In the first lecture, Dr. Walker starts by listing major issues and social challenges that have caused political struggle over the last 150 years: Slavery, race and inequality; the women's movement; the importance of the military in American politics; the growth of the US as a hegemonic power; and the role of technology. These are some of the issues that provide the material of political philosophic dispute, which the course covers.

Much of the course is spent discussing subtleties. For example, it is emphasized that in US political thinking, nearly all intellectual traditions are essentially "liberal" (including conservatives), in that they believe in equality, justice and law. So the dichotomy is not between liberal and conservative, but rather consists of more nuanced distinctions based on what are considered proper responses to social challenges.

Conservative schools are distinguished: traditional (think William Buckley, George Will), neo- (e.g. Irving Kristol, William Kristol, David Fromm), religious, and liberatarian. On the other side are "progressive liberals", "welfare state liberals," and "anarchists".

Two key thinkers, who in many ways optimize the two streams of thought that the course is trying to contrast are John Rawls and Robert Nozick. Rawls elucidates a very complex notion of liberalism and justice, and Nozick persuasively advocates a individualistic, liberatarian philosophy. While not opposites, and not exhausitive in their coverage of all prior political philosophers, these two thinkers synthesize many of the key elements of the progressive liberal and conservative liberal traditions.

Absent from this course is the type of conservatism which is exemplified by certain elements of American media today, such as right-wing talk radio, and certain hosts on Fox News such as Glenn Beck. I think one or two lectures covering the liberal and conservative media would have been good to add to this course. That is because most people get more exposure to these, than the more heady journals, books, and manuscripts which are discussed in this course.

This is an upper division course, so to fully appreciate it, considerable attention, effort and diligence is required. Listeners should know some basic US history, and if they don't, probably could benefit by listening first to Gretchen Reilly's course on post-civil war history (currently available in Itunes). The reading list for the course (which can be downloaded from the course website) is quite extensive. Sampling some of these readings may also contribute to a better understanding of this challenging material.

More Political Science
Political Science 10 (UCLA),
Political Science 179 (Berkeley).

More UCLA
History 1c,
Israel Studies.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Feed me bubbe - Jewish food and culture vodcast

Can you make your grandma a new media star? Avrom, producer and host of the vodcast Feed Me Bubbe seems to come really close to achieving just that. He follows his 'bubbe' while she cooks traditional Jewish food and on the side chatters about her memories, about Jewish customs and about Yiddish.

The whole show has a carefully cultivated air of charming amateurism, that is played out very well. This makes the show informative and extremely entertaining. I personally find it hilarious and I am sure to a certain extent this is intended. If you have followed my recipes and found them too oriental, you will love bubbe and her Ashkenazi dishes. There is chopped chicken liver, chicken soup (in various editions), latkes, tzimes, varnishkes and of course blintzes - see video; does Bubbe call them 'blintlach'? Never mind.

Feed me bubbe is a wholesome, kosher, Jewish food and culture show of seemingly old-fashioned style brought with the latest of new media. It couldn't be better.

New Books In History - quick glance over the backlog

The podcast New Books In History is my new favorite on the block. I have been listening to several episodes, nearly back to back and I do want to go on and hear more. So I am do not want to review them all, but pack them together. Especially now that Marshall Poe has fixed the feed and the whole backlog has become available. (feed)

Kristin Celello wrote a history of marriage counseling in the US. In the interview she gave to Marshall Poe we come to see the origins of marriage counseling: worried conservatives who couldn't stop divorce becoming legal and stepped in by trying to save marriages. One consequence of this was that marriage counseling is not an exclusively psycho-therapy field. Another thing that struck me is that the counseling predominantly speaks to women, as if, until today, it is mostly the task of the woman to maintain marriage. An old nineteenth century concept of woman being the responsible figure in the home...

Yuma Totani studies the Tokyo war crime trials after World War II. Poe asks her to compare with the Nuremberg trials and pays a lot of attention to the question how the trials were received in Japan and are still seen today. After Totani's first book on the subject, she feels there is more to be done and she explains how she is expanding on the first study.

Tony Michels is invited to speak about Jewish socialists in the US. His book on the subject is not new, but came out as a paperback. His tales show the intricacies of how Jews dealt with Judaism, with various other cultural influences and how they decided in terms of assimilation upon arrival in the US. It is my impression the flirt with socialism is a part of this struggle. In any way, with Michels you come to see this particular aspect in its many different colors.

More NBIH:
Jews in the Russian army,
Who will write our history?,
Sentiments in International Relations,
Ronald Reagan,
Prokofiev.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Life Changing Lessons - Shrink Rap Radio podcast

Shrink Rap Radio had an old guest come back for a second interview. I also loved the first interview with prison psychologist Dana Houck when he spoke of his work with prisoners and his use of Jungian Psychology and archaic tales to help them deal with their issues.

Although Houck has had to leave the prison system -more about that below- he has spent time laying down his experience in a new book about Life Changing Lessons that his prisoners learned and that we can learn from them. It turns into a fascinating interview in which Houck retells how he managed to help hardened criminals to open up to their issues and get along in life. Some of these lessons are not so evident to the extent that interviewer Dr. David van Nuys is genuinely surprised and asks for further explanation. Houck achieved all this through a qualitative approach in group therapy. By nagging the clients, by applying tales such as the Odyssey and Three Little Pigs and digging into the prisoners' dreams.

The reason Houck has had to leave the institution is because his therapeutic approach is not as hard as CBT and other evidence based therapy methods. Tax payers and policy makers demand, probably rightfully so, some accountability for the services rendered to prisoners. But Houck and Van Nuys mark the dilemma this poses towards seemingly effective approaches such as Houck's and how to evaluate those creative and qualitative styles among the quantitative measures of main stream science. A highly recommended issue of Shrink Rap Radio - as per usual.

More Shrink Rap Radio:
Shrink Rap Radio - 200 great podcasts,
Technology and The Evolving Brain,
Nova Spivack,
Relationships and the brain,
Psychologist writer.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Magna Carta - In Our Time

With a true history item BBC's In Our Time was back its usual self after last weeks science escapade (Vacuum of Space). History is its main object and usually gives the most accessible items.

The Magna Carta was discussed and mostly how it came into being. Any attempt to revisionist history was stopped immediately and bad king John was at once characterized as 'an absolute rotter'. But this did not mean the Magna Carta got a lazy middle of the road show. Though it was more historic than legal, if political in points.

Only by the end it was pointed out how the Magna Carta opened the way to constitutional thinking and the remark was made that it is more thoroughly studied in the US than in England. This neatly connects to the first series of chapters in the the podcast Binge Thinking History, that lays out exactly this: the English roots of the American constitution. With ample attention for the Magna Carta. It is a nice idea to listen to this IOT episode and these BTHP episodes together.

More In Our Time:
BBC's In Our Time - always recommended,
Brave New World,
Rafael's School of Athens and the depiction of Plato and Aristotle,
The Boxer Rebellion,
The library of Alexandria,
The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot.

Previously about BTHP:
It rules the waves,
Royal Navy,
Win, lose or draw,
Blitz on London,
Battle of Britain
and The American Constitution's British roots.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Medieval Islamic Medicine - University of Warwick podcast

Thanks to the Podcast Parlor, I have found out about the podcasts that the University of Warwick puts out. From the site of Warwick you can access all podcasts (feed), but I have not yet figured out how to access the separate subjects in separate feeds from there. It is possible to go through iTunes U though. Seek out the University of Warwick (under U in the universities and colleges list) and there you will find various history subjects laid out to you.

The first series I took up was Islamic Medicine (iTunes feed) by Peter Pormann. This series consists of seven short podcasts (10-20 minutes. Monologues by Pormann) about medieval medicine in the Islamic tradition. In many respects this is a continuation of classical Greek Medicine on which the sages in the Islamic world continued and to which they added. Among these sages are not only Muslims. There are Christians and Jews involved in the activities as well. The Jew Maimonides (Rambam) is part of this culture and in the translation movement that delivered a huge amount of Greek texts to Arabic, are quite a few Syriac Christians.

The importance of the Islamic Medicine is that eventually it is the bridge from the Greeks to the modern west. In spite of the fact that modern scientific evidence based medicine has been added to this tradition, some of its basics are still alive today. In culture and in various practices.

More history of medicine:
Four Humour Medicine (BBC's In Our Time),
Pain (Missing Link),
Medical History (medicalhistory podcast).

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Two years, Anne is a Man - podcast reviews.

I started on May 10th 2007. Hence, now it is two years I have been writing this blog. It has been a great ride. I am so happy with the readership - people from all over the world, some of them reacting with really smart feedback. And a continuous inspiration to write. Thanks to all the great podcasters who keep on delivering their excellent content and thanks to the fact I have discovered I can write these reviews naturally. It is what they say about writing: you have to discover your voice and your form.

So... I am glad to be here and I feel privileged that all you readers keep following the blog and I want to especially thank Steve Tuckey, who has marked my history podcast page (which I have to update asap!) on stumbleupon and this has not only given a run of visits right after the share, but somehow, continues to do so.

Stay around. So will I.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Mechanical icon

For all you history podcast fans out there, here is a project from a history podcaster that is not a podcast. It is not even a video podcast. It is a video project though, a project of video essays.

There are these iconic pictures that mark history for us. As single pictures can say more than a thousand words, certain pictures capture history more than a thousand tales. And what better medium to talk about those pictures is the visual? Podcaster Marshall Poe of the great podcast New Books In History, has done this on the website Mechanical Icon. In an ever growing series of video essays, he discusses those iconic images that photography has delivered us and that capture history in a famous way.

Poe doesn't only mark the way in which these images are meaningful and manage to capture history in one shot. He also points out how these images often are manipulated and attempt to sell history in a visual that is sometimes stronger than a thousand lies. Take for example the picture of Karl Marx, that is conveniently cut by his followers in such a way as to hide what can also be seen and understood if the full picture is observed.

It is a pity these essays do not come in a vodcast feed. They surely are worth it. Independent of that, I heartily recommend everybody to go and check. This collection is a row of jewels side by side.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Flu Pandemic - Rear Vision podcast

Has the swine-flu fright died down a bit? And if so, is that right? We could learn from earlier flu pandemics. ABC's Rear Vision puts them in perspective. Those that we have sufficient data about are one in 1890, 1957 and in 1968, but the most gruesome was the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919.

One thing we take away from the show is that these flus have an initial wave that seems weak, but then strikes more violently, so that would make our relief unwarranted. However, we also learn how much more we know about viruses and how this knowledge helped prevent a pandemic of the bird-flu in 1997. The bird-flu virus was also much more dangerous than the current swine-flu. So that is a mixed message.

The history of 1918 is marred by the Great War anyway and I can't help but be struck by the poignant fact that this flu took 50 million lives of mostly young people after a war that had also taken exactly those. I think it goes too far, as is suggested in the program, that the lost generations of France, Germany and England were actually lost to flu and not to the trenches. The Spanish flu took 50 million lives world wide, men and women. The millions of soldiers who died on the war front were exclusively men and from a few countries. The generation was lost to both. Losing a generation to war is very much part of modernity with its large scale war, but losing a generation to disease sounds like a story from the Middle-Ages. We are not out of those woods yet.

More Rear Vision:
Coffee,
Fiji.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The racism of Uncle Tom's Cabin

Forgotten Classics' Julie Davies persistently goes on reading Uncle Tom's Cabin to us and consistently does so with an excellent voice. As pointed out before, this is more than just an audiobook, Davies adds footnotes where needed, for example to clarify references to Scripture, to explain uncommon word use and by the end there is always a short literary expose triggered by the latest section.

Chapters twelve to fifteen, that were read in the last two installments, raised the issue of racism again. Davies continues to play down the severity of this aspect of the work, though she will not deny it is a point for serious criticism. I am personally having a hard time putting myself over the condescending generalizations about black people Stowe throws every other chapter into her text. They stick out too naggingly to be ignored and even if they evoke what is considered generally accepted knowledge in the nineteenth century US of Stowe, it fits so badly with the rest of the book, it needs much further analysis than just the commonplace apology that Stowe is a woman of her time.

For example, in chapter fifteen, Tom arrives at the St. Clare estate, which contains an abundant mansion of Moorish style. Davies' literature lesson after the reading explains that this southern extravagance is symbolic in Stowe's novel for the moral depravity of the Slavery realm. It is therefore not terribly expectable that the paramount of moral virtue Uncle Tom himself, should approve of these looks, however, Stowe writes that blacks naturally love decorative abundance and glamor and thus explains why Tom appreciates the architecture. And so, the idea of racial traits overrules the intrinsic, specific logic of the book in which Tom is such a sober, devout person in character and behavior as well as preferences that should fit with the puritanic style of the North, where Stowe has stored the quality of the moral high ground.

Not only is there, I think, inconsistency with the narrative logic here, there is also inconsistency with the message. If slavery is such an abomination that should be abolished, why is that so? The whole effort of the book is to humanize the victims, to show they are people. And indeed the black characters are as varied, as mature and as good as the white ones in the story, if not better. On the human level Stowe drives the point home that we are all God's children and there can be no justification that one should enslave the other. This collides with the racial generalities she throws around, which reduce the blacks to children, to those who like beads and mirrors, have simple pleasures and ambitions in life and so on. This is just implicitly saying they are inferior and this is just one step away from allowing their enslavement by the 'better' whites. And if, if still, Stowe were to insist that slavery is bad, bad for the suffering it causes then it is no argument of human equality but one of mercy towards the weak. Which makes abolition an act of condescending benevolence and not of moral obligation.

Once you see this terrible bad fit with the novel, it can be attempted to simply skip those sentences and then to find nothing is lost. St. Clare asks Tom if he likes the place and Tom replies: "Yes master, it is just fine." Nothing is missing here. The inserted generalization of the blacks preferences for ornament is completely superfluous and as stated, inconsistent. It is only right it bothers the reader. But hasn't it bothered Stowe? Why did she have to throw these statements around when she absolutely did not need them?

If this is what she sincerely believed then her abolition is one of condescending benevolence towards the lowly. Isn't Life Among the Lowly the subtitle of the book? If she really did think of the black as lowly, if more pure on virtue like children, then this is racism. However, it could also be that her use of the word 'lowly' in the subtitle is sarcastic. You can read the book such that she vehemently objects to categorizing the blacks as lowly. If so, then all the more the question is: what are these sentences doing here?

As a writer I know what that kind of sentences indicate. If you are squeezing remarks in your text that do not belong there and barely fit, you act out of obligation. Then the question is, what obliged Stowe to wreck her human drama with pompous, quasi-scientific generalities? I can think of only one reason: these sentences of established science, of common sense of the time gave her some justification. She needed this for her audience.

What was her audience? I am convinced her audience are exactly those whites that she describes so well in her book, those that make up the best characters of the tale: The Shelbys, the St. Clares, Haley and so on: white middle class. That middle class that was not particularly charmed by slavery but had not translated their uncomfortable feelings yet into outright rejection. Lest she be seen as a hysterical woman (hysteria is a typical affliction the nineteenth century liked to ascribe to middle class women) who only had an eye for the individual human drama and showed no general sense like political and scientific sense, she would not be taken seriously. You could take that white middle-class with its racism and turn it against slavery more easily than uproot the racism out of them.

It is only afterward, until very recently, the sensible middle class has come to see racism for what it is and does. And so Stowe was right to not attack those racial tenets, but since she was of that white middle class herself, she may not have seen it so clearly herself and her own thinking was half way abolition and racism and her book stands exactly there, where she has come to understand slavery is wrong but not yet fully understood the underlying causes.

Picture: Title-page illustration by Hammatt Billings (wikimedia commons)

More Forgotten Classics:
Uncle Tom's Cabin revisited,
Cooking with Forgotten Classics,
Forgotten Classics - podcast review.

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