Monday, June 23, 2008

The big idea of History

The Canadian broadcaster TVO publishes a lecture podcast Big Ideas. If this is basically a TV program, I must say, the visuals are hardly missing, if at all. As a full audio production, it works out very well. Here I want to report one absolutely outstanding lecture by Margaret MacMillan.

MacMillan speaks in two consecutive lectures (two podcasts) about the current use of history. She observes history had less of a meaning during the Cold War, but since we have come back to a less orderly world, people are obsessed with history. We have returned to the understanding that we can and must learn from history. She notices the rise in media attention, to which we can add the fantastic amount of history podcasts around. All nice and well, but there is a catch.

She tries to warn us, we must not turn history into a religion; into a narrative that cannot be questioned and that serves to elate, teach, justify and redeem us. She cringes how history is used by the likes of George Bush, Islamists, Israeli's and Palestinians. She proposes that history should teach us to ask questions. She throws a couple of attempted historical analogues (Munich 1938, Vietnam, Cuban Missile Crisis etc) and manages to show how what seems to be applicable can be off and a different analogue can point into a wholly other direction.

These two lectures are a must listen to anybody who thinks about history, policy and the world and certainly for you history podcast listeners out there.

Relevant other posts:
Church History - podcast review,
Post-1945 Europe,
The Great Dictators,
Thinking Outside the European Box,
Islam and Europe - LSE podcast review.

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