Monday, August 27, 2012

Ötzi in Podcast

I used to feel that prehistory were not that interesting. Too little data to go on, too few narratives that can be reconstructed. But with a find such as Ötzi the Iceman, human history of 5000 years ago suddenly bursts to life. In the twenty years that have passed since the find, Ötzi has not stopped telling us new stuff about his life in the Copper Age.

I was reminded to Ötzi by an original amateur podcast The History of Europe Podcast (feed) Christopher Linehan tells the history of Europe, as so many other podcasters do, but his starting point is the earliest of histories. Since the first episodes he has worked his way from the Paleolithic to the Chalcolithic period in the 7th issue. And it is there that Ötzi pops up. With his copper age axe and his whole body and garments preserved in the Alpine ice, he allows Linehan to tell a much more specific story in his podcast.

But if you are new to Ötzi, before listening to Linehan's History of Europe, listen first to Stuff You missed in History Class ( feed) where the basics are told of how Ötzi was found in the Alps between Austria and Italy, however they first thought it was the body of a recently disappeared hiker. Only when the forensic experts had extracted the body fully from the ice it began to dawn this might be a much older individual.

Modern technology has allowed so many ways of analyzing the remains, so that each part of it can be the subject of an entire podcast. Ötzi's shoes for example. The shoes are discussed by Linehan's History of Europe as well as the charming, but short episode of Engines of our ingenuity (feed). The shoes are made of multiple materials and considered extremely fit for the iceman's trek through the mountains. The podcast even goes as far as to claim Ötzi's shoes are even better than many shoes modern people wear. Think about that when you barge around on your crocs.

A huge subject is also Ötzi's medical record: his genetic makeup, his diseases, fractures and wounds as well as the contents of his intestines. Learn more at Medical Discovery News (feed) and Life Technologies (BTR) (feed) Ötzi, for example, was found to have Lime's disease, how that is not what has taken him in.

What actually caused his death, has proven to be one of the conundrums about Ötzi. Did he die of the arrow wound that was inflicted upon him shortly be fore his death (with the arrow head still stuck in his back), or did he die of the frost in the ice that preserved him for 53 centuries? What is certain is that he had been in a fight. It also has become clear he had two good meals with meat and vegetables on the day of his death. He was 46 years old, had brown hair and brown eyes - just like your bloghost...

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Meaning of Everything - Big Ideas

An exceptionally witty and entertaining lecture by Simon Winchester can be heard at the TVO podcast Big Ideas. (feed)

Winchester relates the history of the Oxford English Dictionary. How it came into being and how it attempts to be complete and impartial other than Webster's or Samuel Johnson's dictionaries. Or similar dictionaries of other languages.

A history with many maniacs, slips of paper and a huge crowd of anonymous contributors. Sounds familiarly modern?

More Big Ideas:
Meaning Systems,
The Elegance of the Hedgehog,
Age of Unequals,
Dan Dennett: what should replace religion?,
Chris Hedges.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Reith Lectures 2012 - BBC Podcast

Here is a quick heads up to announce that the Reith lectures Podcast has begun publishing the lecture series that was held about a month ago. Speaker is historian Niall Ferguson and the series title is The Rule of Law and Its Enemies. (feed)

This title is rather reminiscent of Karl Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945) in which he pointed at Fascism and Communism as the ideologies that held the greatest threat to society. Underlying these ideologies were theories that, in Popper's view, had the kind of tendency towards totalitarianism that brought these ideologies about and what similar dangerous ideologies could emerge.

In 2012 such discourse is not taken to ideologies, as is to be expected. Ferguson takes a look at the institutions and their role in society. But the question is still the same: what helps and what threatens the kind of nation we would like to live in?

Reith Lectures 2011:
Reith Lectures 2011.

Reith Lectures 2010:
Reith Lectures 2010 (2),
Reith Lectures 2010.

Reith Lectures in 2009:
A new politics of the common good,
The bioethics concern,
Morality in Politics,
Morality and the Market.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Football Weekly - Euro 2012 Daily (The Guardian)

Occasionally I listen to The Guardian's podcast Football Weekly, but when major tournaments come around, this podcast changes to a daily one and is permanently on my playlist. So now we have the Euro 2012 Daily and it is a great listen (feed). In fact it is so good, I did not even bother with other podcasts.

James Richardson, is as always the witty host to a panel of guests who comment on the games and make haphazard predictions of the upcoming venues. In 30 minutes you are informed and entertained.

The podcast comes out immediately after every games night and accompanies me the morning after. And since my team has been met with defeat it was not met with much happiness, but the podcast invariably managed to cheer me up.

World Cup Daily.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Moral and Political thought of Gandhi (History 175c) - UCLA

Unfortunately, the audio is incomplete, but Vinay Lal's course at UCLA -History 175c- still gives a compelling series of lectures digging into the biography of Gandhi, his thought and his critics. (feed)

Even if the life of Gandhi and his thought are well-known, there are many surprises when you start digging into it. As a concept, nonviolence is not so difficult to understand, but a theory how this might work in a political theory and in a spiritual philosophy is far from self-explanatory. Vinay Lal's lectures are a good way to get acquainted. Although Lal certainly reveres Gandhi there is ample distance to let you feel you are getting a fair introduction.

In comparison, the old Berkeley courses on nonviolence are much more engaged. These two, PACS 164A&B are among those podcast lectures that are no longer available through Berkeley, not even among the classical courses on iTunesU. The Metta Center for nonviolence however still points at them, including video recordings of those lectures. Should you want to take on these, start with Lal's course.

Lal's course is a great complement to other podcasts about Gandhi. When Joseph Lelyveld published his controversial biography of Gandhi, I reviewed a couple of podcasts that paid attention to this book.

Also among other Indian History courses Lal teaches at UCLA this one stands out. It clearly is the subject that is most closely to Lal's areas of interest. The other courses are History of India and the History of British India.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Agatha Christie - Oxford Biographies

Oxford University Press has a Dictionary of National Biographies which probably is also available in print, but can be accessed on-line at a premium. It contains biographies of some sixty thousand people in British history, from 400 BC to today. For promotion they have a podcast every fortnight Oxford Biographies that delivers spoken biographies in seven to fifteen minutes. (feed)

Each free issue is maintained for a limited amount of time in the feed. Names I have commented on in the past such as Roald Dahl and George Best, can no longer be had, but if you are quick PG Wodehouse can still be had, along with William Morris (of the Morris cars) and Hannah Snell an 18th century female soldier.

The latest issue, Agatha Christie, is also one not to miss out on. In nineteen minutes you will get every thing you need to know. How she was shy as a youngster, still loathed being a celebrity as an elderly woman, still such a prolific and successful writer and made a Dame by the end of her life. What I particularly liked was the attention given to her writing methods and the technique she applied to giving the clues, yet manipulating their ambiguity such that it would confuse the reader towards the wrong conclusion until the truth was revealed and the right solution to the whodunnit would be perfectly correct.

More Oxford Biographies:
George Best
Roald Dahl,
Biography Podcasts,
Oxford Biographies podcast review.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Early Middle Ages (Yale)

Open Yale is a great source for academic podcasts. Thanks to a tip from my reader Charles Lipson, I learned about a set of new courses that have become available at Yale, among others Paul Freedman's series about the Early Middle Ages (284-1000 CE) - (feed). After having heard the first four lectures (out of 22), I warmly recommend this series.

In the world of history podcasts there are a couple of other options to get information about the early Middle Ages; UCSD has an MMW part dedicated to this era and there is also a series about the Byzantine Empire that should be had when you are interested in these centuries and there is the multimedia experience of Europe From Its Origins. All of these tend to start with the Roman emperors Diocletian and Constantine to mark the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and then move on to cover the fall of Rome in the West and the consecutive developments in Western Europe.

Yale's Paul Freedman does the same, but with his lectures I was made to realize for the first time, how radical the change is, especially under Constantine and how this truly is the beginning of the Middle Ages, that era in the history of Western Europe that is dominated by Christianity and the Church power. It has been said before, but as Freedman emphasizes how odd it is that an insignificant minority sect such as the Christians, that is known for its pacifism, within a hundred years becomes the dominant creed and political power in this mighty and militaristic empire, I have come to understand more profoundly how remarkable the development is. Really the start of a new age. Neither religion nor the state were the same as before.

More Yale:
The Moral Foundations of Politics
History of epidemics,
Early Modern England,
European Civilization 1648-1945,
France since 1871,
New Testament, history and literature,
The Hebrew Bible.

More Medieval History:
Europe From Its Origins
Norman Centuries
12 Byzantine Rulers,
Byzantine Empire (UCSD),
Medieval Heritage (UCSD - Chamberlain),
Medieval Heritage (UCSD - Herbst).

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Shakespeare’s Restless World

When the excellent BBC history podcast History of the World in 100 Objects arrived at its 100th episode and discussed the 100th object, sadly, this series had to end. (feed) Sadly, because with Neil MacGregor discussing history by analyzing an object from the British Museum or any other museum, the BBC had found a formula for radio and podcast that could be applied to much more than just a 100 pieces. A new subject had to be found for Neil MacGregor to tackle with the help of Museum collections, and fortunately a new subject has been found and a very promising new series has started.

Shakespeare's Restless World has Neil MacGregor discuss the history of Shakespeare's time, by looking at objects from its period and, as with the previous series, calling in various specialists to add their knowledge to the podcast (feed). Just as the previous series, these programs are carefully edited and delivered in comprehensive 14 minute episodes. An additional feature is that the series not only looks at an object, but also has quotations from Shakespeare's work to illustrate the subject at hand. Also, as an improvement on the previous series, the object is pictured in the podcast logo of the episode, so if you have a player that displays the logo while you listen, you can even take a glance at the prop that is being discussed. The podcast is published every workday. Considering that it is not called, Shakespeare in 54 objects or some such numbered title, the makers have not limited themselves from the start to a particular length.

So far, we have had five issues published, four of which I have already heard. I especially liked 'Snacking through Shakespeare' that taught me what were the 16th centuries equivalent of a box of popcorn and a can of soda. In other words: what did people eat while they attended the theater in Shakespeare's time. I was surprised by how accurate this question could be answered and how varied the menu was. Next time you try to silently open your can in the theater and dread the fizzy noise, know that in the 16th century, you'd be in the same spot, but in stead of a can with a fizzy soft drink, you'd pop a bottle of fizzy ale.

A reminder of the great BBC podcasts,
AHOW is back again,

Friday, April 6, 2012

Passover joke

Rabbi Jack receives a letter from the Royal Court that he going to be knighted. All his friends and relatives are so proud of him, but the rabbi is concerned. "How can I be a knight? A rabbi knight, who can conceive of such a thing? And besides, I'll have to go through the whole knighting ceremony. I'll probably do it all wrong. What do I do?"
His friends try to rest him assured. "It is really simple, you kneel before the Queen, she will announce you to be Sir Jack from now on and that's it. It's easy - don't worry. And you will continue to be the same old Jack."
That sort of calms the Rabbi down, but then he finds out that every knight has to choose a motto. Some line in Latin that he has to utter when the Queen knights him. This upsets him even more. "Latin! I do not know the simplest thing in Latin. Why must it be Latin? Couldn't it be Hebrew." In order to get rid of the whining his friends agree: "Yes, choose a line in Hebrew, that will be fine."
"Good," the rabbi acclaims, "I will think of something."

And so the evening comes round that together with a whole lot of other people, Rabbi Jack is going to be knighted. Each man kneels in front of the Queen, she announces their knighthood, they say their line in Latin and the affair is done.
Rabbi Jack is the last in line. He approaches the Queen and she proclaims: "Henceforth, you will be Sir Jack." And Jack says: "Ma Nishtana."
The Queen frowns, failing to recognize his motto, leans over to her adviser and whispers:

"Why is this knight different from others??"

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

De duif van de directrice

Dit is voor mij de ultieme nostalgie

Monday, February 13, 2012

Getting the Silk Road

I am fascinated by the Silk Road and if you, like me, would like to learn more about it, here are some good tips. First of all, Laszlo Montgomery's great China History Podcast (feed) has begun a series about the Silk Road just now. There was also an In Our Time issue about the Silk Road in 2009 which can now be had from the In Our Time History Archive (feed). Other podcast tips I have come up with in the past are:
Zhang Qian,
The Parthians,
Jade artifact 
The Kushan.

The basics of the Silk Road are not difficult to understand: it was -already by 200 BC and still is today- a network of land routs that connected China with the rest of Asia and Europe and which allowed for trade between distant cultures such as the Roman Empire, the Han Chinese, India and more. Notably Silk and Jade were traded along the routes and if you stop here, you are just fine. I try to imagine how this actually worked and then the idea of a Silk Road becomes very complicated to understand. If you begin considering the sheer distances, the difficulty of the terrain, the problems of logistics and so on, I fail to see how it could actually work. How could a trader from China transport something extremely valuable like silk over such a distance alone? He'd be away for at least a year, he'd take enormous risks along the road and assuming he'd manage to sell his goods in Rome, he'd have to get home safely. On the other hand, if the trader wasn't to sell the silk in Rome himself, but rather rely on a chain of middle men, I would expect that the silk, by the time it reached Rome, had become so expensive, nobody would be willing to pay the price.

I am still to get an answer to this basic question, but from Laszlo Montgomery's opening episode, I learned of a solution that addressed one of the logistic problems that would have made the journey impossible: the problem of fresh water. If traders had had to carry the water they needed for the journey, along with the goods they wanted to trade with, the amount of luggage would have become simply too large. Yet, most of the roads pass arid terrain, if not outright desert. The way this was addressed was by local populace that had dug canals from the snowy mountain tops, until numerous wells along the route. This allowed the traders to journey with just their goods. I also understand that this brought the routes down to a very limited amount of possibilities: only those places where the mountains were sufficiently close by and wells had been established.

I still have to get an answer to the practical questions of how the trade was actually pulled off, because it continues to escape me how anyone would have taken the risk of the whole journey or how it could deliver affordable goods within an endless chain of middle men. Exposes about the Silk Road, whether podcast or not, rapidly leave the subject of trade and move on to emphasize what else began to travel along the Silk Road: ideas and technologies. The Silk Road allowed Buddhism to spread from India to the rest of Asia. Along the road also spread Manicheanism and early forms of Christianity. Eventually Islam took the road. Chinese inventions such as paper made it to the west over the road and of course Marco Polo traveled the Silk Road back and forth.

Another point that is not always made, but needs to be held in mind is an inequality that also played a part in the age of exploration when the sea routes also connected China with the rest: China had all the splendid stuff, but what did the rest of the world, especially the Europeans have to offer China? In the later years it was silver from South America, but what traveled on the Silk Road from west to east? How did the Romans pay for their much craved silk? Montgomery mention that spices, ivory and horses were wanted by the Chinese, but this is stuff from other parts of Asia and possibly Africa. What came from Europe? One thing that could not possibly be all, comes as a surprise: chairs. I hope the China History podcast will have more answers in the coming chapters.

More China History Podcast:
Deng Xiaoping,
Chronology of Dynasties,
China History Podcast.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Een grote podcast voor een klein publiek

Veertien Achttien is een van de allerbeste podcasts die op het net te vinden zijn. Dat heb ik al vaker geschreven en om nou niet in herhaling te vervallen, zal ik het anders zeggen: Veertien Achttien is een van de allerbeste podcasts die op het net te vinden was. Verleden tijd.

Het betekent niet dat Veertien Achttien, de grote podcast over de grote oorlog, afgelopen is, of voortijdig podfaded is. Tom Tacken, de onvermoeibare maker van deze serie biografieen, gaat gewoon door. Hij gaat zelfs langer door, voorbij de wapenstilstand van 11 November 1918, wat aanvankelijk de planning was. Er wordt doorverteld tot en met de tekening van het Verdrag van Versailles in 1919. Maar al dit moois komt niet meer in de feed, zal niet meer publiek beschikbaar zijn.

Het is niet de eerste keer dat Tackens provider hem in de steek laat. Toen dat eerder gebeurde wist hij zijn feed bij een ander te plaatsen, maar nu ook deze feed niet meer werkt heeft de podcaster de moed opgegeven. Het is al genoeg moeite om de afleveringen te produceren, er moet niet teveel overhead bijkomen om al dat moois voor niets bij het internetpubliek te krijgen. Wat overblijft is om, voor een niet al te groot bedrag, volger van Veertien Achttien te worden. Dan krijg je tekst en uitleg persoonlijk toegestuurd en kan je genieten tot het einde.

Voor Tom Tacken is het een begrijpelijke beslissing, maar voor het medium podcast is het een grote klap. Ooit leek het mogelijk om met bescheiden middelen, uitzonderlijke audio bij een geinteresseerd publiek te krijgen. Voor de maker eiste het nauwelijks meer dan de inzet van het produceren en voor het publiek was het aanbod gratis. Het klonk altijd al een beetje te mooi om waar te zijn, maar het impliceerde wel een fantastische vrijheid van expressie. Het leverde een prachtig rijk geschakeerd en geinspireerd medium op. Veertien Achttien is niet de eerste podcast die ik zie verdwijnen van dit utopische toneel. Ik vrees een beetje dat het symptomatisch is en dat we geleidelijk terug komen bij wat media in de tijd voor internet ook al was: een wereld gedomineerd door giganten en tamelijk flauwe main-stream produkten.

Als er al een weg daaruit is, terug naar de vrolijke anarchie van podcast uit, laten we zeggen, 2007, dan lijkt mij dat het publiek moet gaan betalen. Als een podcast als Veertien Achttien voldoende volgers heeft, kan het zijn onafhankelijkheid terugwinnen. En dan kan Tacken doorgaan tot 1948 - om maar eens wat te noemen.

Meer Veertien Achttien:
Sholem Schwarzbard,
Bernard Freyberg,
Richard Huelsenbeck,
Veertien Achttien nieuwsbrief (PTSD versus shellshock)
Sir Mark Sykes.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

India and the Mahabharata

Professor Vinay Lal (UCLA) can be heard again on podcast with his History of India (UCLA - History 9A) (feed), about which I have written before in 2009 when it was also podcast. As then, also this time, there is a considerable difference in the characteristics of the material delivered between the first lectures and that those towards the end of the course. Whereas the history is more recognizably history, that is political history, economic history, as we approach the present, the very early history of the Indian subcontinent is presented by Lal with very little political and economic data. Much of the first 10 lectures are spent on discussing culture, religion (as much as the term can be applied, which is doubtful according to Lal) a bit of archeology and the literary traces of old India the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

Two years ago, the series of lectures that discussed hardly any data, but delved into those texts were very hard for me to follow and I am happy to report it is different this time around. The kudos in this respect go entirely to another podcast: The Mahabharata Podcast (feed). Lawrence Manzo's retelling of the Mahabharata, which has progressed to the 90th episode (Bhisma's Final Teachings part 2), has made the story as well as the cultural scope of the epic much more familiar to me. As a consequence, whenever Lal is referring to the Mahabharata's characters and anecdotes, they are familiar, easy to place and his point is coming through.

I want to recommend Manzo's podcast to anyone, regardless whether you are thinking of latching on to History 9A. The Mahabharata is a most fascinating, entertaining and at times mind boggling tale to engage with. Should you seek some shorter preparation, you can also turn to Rick ALbright's series on World Literature (feed) which has a two part issue addressing the Ramayana.

Next on Lal's schedule is the Kama Sutra, which, incidentally was also discussed on the last program of BBC's In Our Time. (feed)

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

More Mahabharata:
The Temptation of Karna,
Flood tales; Noah, Gilgamesh and Manu,
Indian roots of the Unicorn,
Endless cloth,
The Mahabharata Podcast.

More Rick Albright's English 205:
World Literature.

More In Our Time:
In Our Time Archive,
A reminder of the great BBC podcasts,
Diarmaid MacCulloch in podcast,
The Indian Rebellion of 1857,
Frankfurt School.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

In Our Time archive

How long has this been going on? I do not know since when, but this morning I suddenly noticed that the BBC has opened up the entire In Our Time archive for podcast.

I used to write that one should always download the In Our Time podcasts and keep for ever. The BBC used to keep only the last episode in the feed. In case one had not kept the episode, the only option to listen was to go to the on-line archive and listen while streaming. While that has become less and less of a bother with WiFi all around and capable smartphones, it still was a pity you had no option. All of this now belongs to the past; the archive is also available for download and one can lay ones hands on any chapter ever.

The archive has been broken down in five subject feeds:
In Our Time Archive - Culture, (IOT Culture feed)
In Our Time Archive - History, (IOT History feed)
In Our Time Archive - Philosophy, (IOT Philosophy feed)
In Our Time Archive - Religion, (IOT Religion feed)
In Our Time Archive - Science, (IOT Science feed)

I immediately tried the history archive in order to find an issue from 2006, that I remembered as especially informative and the copy of which I had long lost: The Diet of Worms - which has nothing to do with food, in case you wondered. The Diet was an imperial assembly held in the German city of Worms and this program was about the one in 1522, during which Martin Luther had to defend his theology in public. If you ever needed 40 minutes to get a handle on Luther, the man and his ideas, this is the place to go.

Not only the Diet of Worms can be found in the feed, I saw the archive goes back as far as 1998 with promising titles such as Money, Byzantium, the Celts, the Aztecs, the East India Company, the Mughal Empire and on and on. A veritable treasure trove.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Melvyn Bragg and the Written World

It is in the style of Tintin and the Secret of the Unicorn or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom that the BBC offers us Melvyn Bragg and the Written World. What showed up in the podcast feed of In Our Time (with Melvyn Bragg) and consequently disappeared, has now been published as an independent podcast: Written World with Melvyn Bragg (feed).

As I reported in the past days about this series, I got a comment from reader Richard Walker, to point out that this podcast had been spawned from In Our Time. Thanks Richard.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Update to the break update for 2012

Did I write In Our Time started a miniseries The Written World? Well they did and for 24 hours the first two parts were in the feed. Even the third part was there for a couple of minutes, but now, the feed has been cleaned. The series exist, but not in podcast - what a shame. And sorry about sending you on a wild goose chase.

In case you really want to listen, check with In Our Time, The Written World and invoke the BBC iPlayer.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Break update for 2012

Also in 2012 I will be on a prolonged break for the blog. 2011 has been a very busy year, simply too busy to engage in blogging. What has contributed to that, among others, is the fact that I have changed jobs twice. However, I have not stopped listening to podcasts and so let's have a couple of recommendations from my playlists.

The first is In Our Time, which has started a five part series about the human invention of writing and how writing and its innovations have had a fundamental impact on human history. Subscribe to In Our Time's feed and look for the episodes about The Written World.

The second is a sub-series in the China History Podcast which has been going on for 7 episodes already and is still running. Laszlo Montgomery is telling us the biography of Deng Xiaoping and this is the best introduction to recent Chinese history I have had in a long time. (feed)