Saturday, April 11, 2009

History since 1715 - UCLA lecture series

The University of California Los Angeles is like San Diego and Berkeley one of those few institutions that bring lectures as podcast each semester and allows us to download independent of iTunes. The UCLA courses come in a large variety of disciplines and many of them are also available on video.

The course I have started, and which has gone off with a good start, is History 1C - Western Civilization 1715-present (feed). As usual, the first lecture is full of administrative stuff that needs to be taken care off before the course can begin, but in stead of skipping this lecture (which is usually a food idea) I'd recommend to stick with it and get some thoughts about the use of words like West, Civilization and Modern.

I always knew you cannot call anything history without it being a history among many other valid ways of narration. Pinpointing any history as being about the West, about a Civilization and about Modern Times, necessarily also carries some political and historic implications, but I hadn't had it specified until now. It turns out that talking of the West, is something that in the US has not been done until WW1. In Europe, lecturer Lynn Hunt claims, this word is not used at all, although I feel this may change very rapidly now. At least in Israel we clearly think as The West being a cultural conglomerate of North-America and Europe which is to be differentiated from the East and the Islam world, although boundaries are not so clear (where does Japan go?). Calling it civilization and modern, demotes elsewhere and since when to a lesser position.

Despite nasty audio trouble, I stuck around for the second and third lecture, where the beginning of the era is tackled from the perspective of how ideas can affect history. We get the Enlightenment and th French Revolution to show this. I hope the audio will improve soon and then this is just the perfect course.

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Sentiments in international relations - NBIH podcast review

New Books in History (NBIH) keeps me excited. Now I have listened to an interview with Robert Hendershot about his latest book Family Spats: Perception, Illusion and Sentimentality in the Anglo-American Special Relationship. Hendershot, in short, concludes that on a sentimental level the US and the UK feel connected and that this keeps the political relationship close, much rather than interests and concurrence in international policy.

Listening to the interview is simply fun. Marshall Poe is a very inspiring interviewer. He is genuinely excited about the book. He has insights in the subject, but makes sure that it is Hendershot who is talking. And talking he does. In a smooth and natural fashion we get from his background to the making of this book. It turns out he already had the feeling that the close relationship of the US with the Brits was more one of a cultural, perceived than of a political, established kind, but the point is: how do you prove such.

The US and the UK have had, at times, bad relationship from a political standpoint. Like for example in 1956 during the Suez Crisis. So how can you show that even then, the two countries feel connected and the storm will pass quickly? It just so happens that because of the Cold War the US government invested in research compiling statistical data about the people's perception of other nations, inside and outside the US. Hendershot had access to these archives and could stave his ideas with hard data.

More NBIH:
Samuel Kassow and the Warsaw Ghetto history,
Ronald Reagan,
Evolution, genetics and history,
Kees Boterbloem about Jan Struys.

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