Wednesday, January 20, 2010

History of British India - Vinay Lal at UCLA

A lot of action has been going on around the history of India on this blog. The few podcasts on the subject are lecture series by Vinay Lal at UCLA: History of India (feed) and History of British India (feed). The main criticisms on Lal's work are that his lectures are not well organized, his knowledge seems limited and his interpretations are heavily politicized.

This has been voiced in comments and in blogs that refer to the course on the whole history of India. Lal is supposed to be a specialist on British India and hence the new course (History of British India (feed)) is having me listen in closely.

So far the outcome is slightly disappointing. We have had five lectures, the last of which was not podcast (only 1 minute came through) and what Lal has been teaching is almost completely identical to what he has also said during the previous course (History of India (feed)). Also, since he seems to be giving the narrative in a chronological way, but in effect goes on thematic tangents. So we are still presented with material that is not immediately well ordered. As to the politics and the quality of the knowledge, I am looking forward to find what other listeners will write - either in the comments below, or in their blogs.

More Vinay Lal's:
History of India - the search goes on,
8 podcasts I listened to,
History of India or Europe?
History of India.

The China Hegemony - LSE Podcast

The LSE podcast is one to keep an eye on constantly. The London School of Economics publishes here guest lectures on a weekly basis and offer the best on insights on the most compelling issues of the day. Especially in the realm of economics and geopolitics you will have a constant stream of information from the best minds. In addition to their lectures, you will frequently find much interest in the consecutive Q&A sessions. The audience is frequently as knowledgeable as the speaker.

Apart from top academicians, economists, policy makers and diplomats, you occasionally have journalist speakers who have distinguished themselves with noteworthy writings. One such speaker was Martin Jacques who wrote a book and held a talk with the same title: When China Rules the World. The typical way in which this is a work of journalism and not of an academician or a politician - and we have seen this several times at the LSE podcast - is that Jacques has written the book and holds the lecture extrapolating freely from indicators, in this case, as if it is already a given that the world will soon live in a Chinese hegemony. Whereas this free reasoning can sometimes weaken the talk, in this case it works very vitalizing.

His picture of the Chinese hegemony is an analysis of Chinese culture, Chinese history, Chinese strength and the mere application to an assumed future is just the icing on the cake. What is to learn is how one should expect China to act more in accordance with its history rather than as a copy of western hegemony. In this respect Jacques uses the term 'civilization state' as opposed to a nation state, which not only emphasizes the difference between the western way of thinking in nations, but also to show the continuity of the People's Republic within millenniums of Chinese history and culture. Of course China will modernize, but in a Chinese way. It will not colonize like the west, but it will more likely rule according the old Chinese tributary ways.

Did I say that the audience poses interesting questions? Not always, but here it does and draws from the speaker also analysis of the weaknesses of China. In short: what can stop China from ruling the world? And the short answer is: China. Listen in order to find out how.

More LSE:
The myth of work,
Pasts and futures of Christianity,
Global capitalism - the Gray view,
Israeli at the London School of Economics,
Michael Sandel.