Wednesday, December 9, 2009

History of India or Europe?

This semester I discovered two history lecture podcasts to recommend. UCLA's History of India with Vinay Lal and Yale's European Civilization 1648-1945 with John Merriman. Here is to report how I fared on both series.

In advance I did not know which one I would ride until the end - listening in to 20 to 40 hours of audio for one or two reviews is quite a taxing investment. However, I was genuinely interested, especially in Indian History, as there are no comparable podcast (series) available. Professor Merriman's course on Yale, I expected, was going to mean too much of a repetition to me as there are many, many comparable series on the web. (As I pointed out in the first review) And then it worked out completely differently. By now I have flown through Merriman's course at Yale and I am stuck in the beginning in Lal's course at UCLA. And this is not because of either one's lack of quality; both are great courses.

Where I thought that lack of familiarity will glue me to the History of India and the recognition will make me abandon the History of Europe, it worked exactly the other way round. My familiarity with Europe and courses in European History made Merriman's course very accessible and allowed me to pick up on some fine details and emphases. Lal's course, on the other hand, goes through the early history or India to the background of the Hindu scripts such as the Rg Veda, the Bagvadgita and the Mahabharata and no matter how compellingly interesting this is, my sheer ignorance of the field causes this course to be extremely demanding. Nothing is familiar, everything is uncommon, new and requiring effort to digest.

So, what is the conclusion of all this? Still I will warmly recommend both courses and still I want to persevere with Lal's History of India, but if you come from where I come from, be prepared that this is no easy ride and maybe do some preparatory reading, before you go into the lectures. And isn't that completely logical and to be expected in hindsight? For the History of Europe I am already prepared, for the History of India I am not and therefore I must put in more effort. No wonder there is so much more attention for main stream Western History - it is a vicious circle.

More History of India.
More History of Europe.


W0lf said...

Ha! I had the exact same experience as you did -- except I am Indian, and I am listening to Vinay Lal's history of India. You're right -- its much easier to listen to this stuff when you have some background in it.

Unknown said...

Thanks for letting this know. I have just finished yet another lecture in Lal's series. I am still pre-Gupta; lots to go still.
Would you have any further India related podcasts to recommend?


Saad Akhtar said...

I loved the Indian history podcast! (Am Indian, was familiar with topics).

Vinay Lal dealt with quite a few controversial topics directly, without giving a disclaimer or being apologetic about the politics. Straight through! It was beautiful.

But even I was wondering how anyone not familiar with Indian topics/ideas/words would handle this. It does require a bit of homework.

Haven't started on the European history one yet.

Dr. Z said...

Hi Anne,
I wonder if the podcast format makes it more difficult to take on new material than a book format does.

Does a topic as fascinating as Indian history, require one to visually encounter polysyllabic, multi-consonantal, words to better grasp it? This, of course, from a Westerner's point of view.

More generally, sholuld inital learning be by book and visual aids and then more devleoped learning through podcasts?

As a wanna-be educator this interests me. How to best use the different senses to facilitate learning?

As always, thank you for your dedication to making these materials and discussion possible.
Semper Pax, John

W0lf said...

Can't think of any indian-history podcasts -- but there are some about contemporary indian issues that you may find interesting:

Kamala Bhatt Show

Indicast - Made by a couple of young Indian MBAs from Mumbai.

Somehow, Podcasting has not really caught on among the Indian intelligentsia yet.

Unknown said...

Guys, I am overwhelmed. Sometimes I get one comment on a post. But five? Never.
So, I have been using the weekend to regain my breath. Please bear with me.

Good to hear from you. How are your plans to make an Indian History podcast progressing?

@Dr. Z
You might be right, but I think there are many ways to help a podcast audience to take in new stuff. You could add a glossary to the description or notes section of the MP3 file.
By all means, you have to know your audience and serve the average level of knowledge. In this history lecture Vinay Lal is assuming his students have read the assigned portions of the Gita or the Upanishads etc. If the podcast eavesdropper has not, that is his problem - of course. If you want to serve the eavesdroppers, you must assign some time to quotes and explanations and so on. Let's mail about it if you wish.

thanks for the links. I'll be checking these podcasts out. What you describe about podcasting not having reached the intelligentsia, I can tell that this is true for many countries outside the US and possibly the UK. Certainly the Dutch and the Israelis are virtually absent.

Saad Akhtar said...

@Anne: Oh that plan is still under "planning stage" :)

I have the domain and the hardware ready. Listing down topics and experts.

I guess the new year would be a good starting point for actually taking this forward. And as W0lf says, not many Indian history podcasts around, so there sure is a demand.

And keep up the good work! :) This blog has been a starting point for many a learning experiences for me..

Unknown said...

I am scrambling Saad. Still suffering from a blog block.