Thursday, May 13, 2010

Europe from its origins - A history of Europe

There are a lot of special things to be said about the history podcast Europe from its Origins. (feed) The first thing should be that I really, really warmly recommend this podcast, if only for the sheer ambition of the project: to trace down the roots of European History and tell a history of Europe from these roots (which the host, Joseph Hogarty, places in third century Rome) until the present day. However, there is so much more that this podcast needs to be credited for.

The occasion on which I write this review is not because there is a new chapter in this series. On my last review there were 16 issues, bringing the tale into the 1300s, but there are still 16. What is new, and quite exceptional I might add, is that Joe Hogarty was not happy with the first chapter and has completely redone it and just published it. If you want to understand the depth of the ambition with this project, you definitely should listen (and see!) this enhanced chapter. In addition to the magnificent task of tracing Europe's roots through the ages, Hogarty openly reveals his agenda with this history.

As so many story tellers he is intent on telling the story as it was in reality, but what he means by that is also made explicit. Hogarty is unhappy with modern versions of Europe's history and implies they are anachronistic because they apply modern perspectives and modern morality on different eras. Modern, secular and politically correct historicizing, he wants to say, is overly emphasizing the importance of Islamic influence on European development, overly vilifying the crusades and generally understating that Europe is basically the political and cultural product of Rome's version of Christianity and that it was Christendom that defined Europe throughout the ages and that it was Christianity that unified the tribes, princedoms and states of Europe and that the Christian clergy was the main carrier of European culture and learning.

In a way, Hogarty seems to want to salvage a much more traditional story of Europe's history yet he does so with modern standards and also with very modern means. His enhanced podcast has developed into a vodcast and multimedia telling of the story comes with text, captions, maps, pictures, video clips and excellent music. He tops this vast delivery off with a restrained and neutral tone. His treatment of history is very modern and factual and this means that even though his narrative is placing Christianity in the center of the European experience, he is absolutely not ideological about it. There is no trace Hogarty is trying to boost religious pride or trying to sell an evangelical message. I think the best way to characterize it is to say that he treats the religion as the central cultural force, as would any outsider like a historian from another place and time or an anthropologist from another culture do.

Yet, like a good historian and like a good anthropologist, Hogarty is thoroughly versed in his subject of study. He clearly uses a wide variety of sources, also from outside his native English language. His confident handling of Latin, Greek and many European languages is very impressive and a perfect match for this Europe that comes with one cultural bagage in so many tongues and strands.

A last word about this wonderful offering among history podcasts is technical peculiarity with the podcast's feed. It antedates the chapters. Hogarty seems to be intent on forcing us to go through his series in the right order and so chapter 1 stays on top and each new episode appears on bottom, which is exactly the opposite of what is common with podcasts. Keep that in mind because you would not want to miss any of the episodes and indeed, the advice is well taken to go through them in the chronological order. Have fun. I assure you I am enjoying this one enormously.

More Europe from its origins:
Podcast with pictures - Europe from its origins,
A history of Europe.
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