Friday, June 13, 2008

Whittaker Chambers - lecture podcast review

History 7b, the Berkeley lecture series about American History after the Civil War, has its highs and lows. Professor Jennifer Burns lectures with an accompanying Power Point presentation and to the dynamic of the lecture this can be detrimental. There are more lecture podcasts that suffer from this, most notably the National Archives Podcast, where the talk turns into an unstructured droning, punctuated by the visuals unavailable to the podcast listener.

Burns' series has this occasional lapse, but is, contrary to those moments, at times very strong, especially when a large part of the lecture is dedicated to spelling out a case in point to describe the period at hand. An example of such was the lecture about the twenties, illustrated by the Scopes Trial and this is the case again, when Burns wants to paint the picture of the atmosphere and dynamics of the early fifties in the US with its communist scare.

The story she uses as a case in point is that of Whittaker Chambers. Chambers renounced communism in the thirties, testified to having run a spy network, but was left forgotten until the renewed red scare in the fifties. The case came back and his testimony marked the downfall of Alger Hiss and the rise of Richard Nixon. Burns is very effective to make the tormented and uneasy character of Chambers come to life and manages to plug this into the drama with Hiss and Nixon. Very entertaining and very instructive.

More American History:
Scopes Trial,
American History before 1870,
The American Constitution's British roots - BTHP,
US History - from Civil War to Present.

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