Thursday, January 7, 2010

History of India - the search goes on

I have finished the lecture series at UCLA by professor Vinay Lal about the history of India (feed). As written before: it was not an easy ride. I ascribe this to the fact that I had next to no former knowledge about India in general and its history in particular. Yet, a fellow blogger (varnam) criticizes professor Lal to 'teach in a very confusing manner'. Whatever is truth in the matter, for me the bottom-line is that there is a great need for more podcasts on India. In that respect I appreciate any recommendation I can get.

In general Lal's course seems to be partly conducted in response to Hindu nationalism. Lal doesn't spend much time to define Hindu nationalism, nor does he show where it hits the scene and who are the main figures involved. Yet, what is made clear over the entire course, which covers 5000 years of history, is that the interpretation of India's history is greatly politicized by Hindu nationalism and Lal disagrees with its tenants - whatever they are.

Hindu nationalism needs to be distinguished from Indian nationalism, which enters the scene in the 19th century and whose most famous figure head is Gandhi. Indian nationalism, is the movement that began to strive for independence. The goal for one such as Gandhi was to have a unified India containing both Hindus and Muslims. Implicit in this goal is that India as a cultural entity is carried by both these religious communities. The Hindu nationalists - apparently - seem to believe that true Indian equals Hindu.

In this respect Lal is unclear about Hindu nationalism, but makes a point in using another term in the discourse: Communalism. Communalism is a social cultural approach to people, culture and tradition and poses religion at the pinnacle of human identity. In the communalist view, one can be man, living in Delhi, Hindi speaker, but ultimately one is a Hindu, or alternately, a Muslim. In that view one is not a Bengali first and a Muslim or Hindu second. The religious identity politics that is founded by the communalist view makes the coexistence of Muslims and Hindus more problematic and tends to view the Muslim element in India History as intrusive. Lal on the other hand claims that for example the Moguls are profoundly Indian and an the Mogul empire is an integral part within Indian history, even if it is Muslim.

All of this material is so rich, one simply must have more podcasts to get a better picture. If I walk backwards through the course I can mention a couple of tremendously fascinating subjects which are touched upon by only few or no other podcasts I know of:

The life and works of M.K. Gandhi - half a lecture in Lal's course and some attention in Berkeley's Introduction to nonviolence

The rise of Indian nationalism and unrest in the 19th century (with the rebellion of 1857) - Hardly more than a lecture and a half with Lal and no other podcast to cover even a bit of this.

British India (under the company and under the Crown) - Few lectures with Lal. In courses that touch on British History, here and there one will touch upon India, but I do not recall anything substantial on the top of my head.

The Moguls - What little you have in Lal can be nicely supplemented and compared with UCSD's MMW4

The Guptas - What little you have in Lal can be nicely supplemented and compared with UCSD's MMW3

Hindu texts; Vedas, Upanishads, Mahabharata - Lal uses these extensively to relate to Indian History until the Middle Ages. For me this is the most confusing part. Which podcasts brings some order?

Indus Valley Civilization - There is a very old issue from David Kalivas' World History that touches upon this civ, as well as five minutes in Engines of our Ingenuity. Lal's contribution is to show how even this history is politicized.

Lal's last remark in the course made a huge impression on me. He said to make a distinction between Indian Civilization and the Indian State. The Indian state may be very young, but Indian Civilization is very old. Also, the civilization stretches much further than the state. Civilization can be much richer and contradictory than a state can be.

More History of India:
8 podcasts I listened to,
History of India or Europe?
History of India.

Useful tools for podcast listeners

Several problems can prevent you from enjoying your podcasts to the fullest. Here are three free utilities that can help you repair the most common technical issues with your audio files.

Increase volume

The most common problem with lecture podcasts is that the audio is too weak. It happens again with the brand new series at UCSD by Matthew Herbst about the Byzantine Empire (feed). The lecture can barely be heard. Technically it means that the sound operates around 77dB, whereas the standard for good listening is as high as 90dB. For podcasts, it is my experience, 90dB is more like a minimum, which means that anything weaker than that cannot be properly enjoyed.

The utility to help you is MP3Gain, which is free and easy to use (download). You can view the files in MP3Gain and then increase the sound level up to a maximum of 100dB - which I recommend. A gain from 77 to 100 as I managed with Herbst's lectures makes a world of differences. If you have sound as low as 60dB, I think you may suffer from distortion when it is cranked up to 100dB. Yet, 75dB is as low as I have found any podcast to come.

Convert to mp3

Occasionally you will get content in a format that does not suit you. With VLC media player (aka VideoLanPlayer), you can convert almost any format to anything else (download). I have used this to convert one audio format to another, as well as converting video to audio. Conversion takes about 10 seconds. It has happened when I converted video to audio, the conversion to mp3 did not succeed (empty file). What I did then was first convert to mp4 and then the mp4 to mp3.

Removing silence or noise

When you have audio files that are dear to you but contain sections that are a nuisance, you can use Audacity to simply cut those away (download). This is excellent for editing lecture recordings especially at UCSD. They start with silence and then have all the noise of the audience entering the lecture hall and this may go on for minutes until the actual lecture begins. You can import a file into audacity and identify the bad sections and simply delete them.

More advanced tips for podcast listeners:
Preference settings per podcast,
iTunes 9 - help for the podcast listener,
Suggestion for the advanced podcast listener,
Devising your own podcast feed - Huffduffer,
Using playlists for podcasts.