Monday, July 4, 2016

Revisionist Licensing

Malcom Gladwell's new podcast is called Revisionist History (feed) and this title instilled in me a slightly different expectation than what I got in the first episode. I was expecting either a revision of any widely accepted narrative, or a study of any such widely accepted narrative that had been challenged, more or less successfully. What Gladwell does rather, is take on a certain subject and show how we would generally assume a certain history and in stead get another. It is not very different, but still it is not negating an established thought but rather revealing the twist of closer inspection versus superficial expectation.

There are two episodes out, while I write this and I have only heard the first one, but this episode, The Lady Vanishes was so powerful, I just had to review immediately. Gladwell asks us: If Hilary Clinton will be elected as president, will that pave the way for more women in office or will generally enhance the chances for any other woman to be elected president? The historical sample taken is from the 19th century when the female painter Elizabeth Thompson was about to enter the Royal Society of the Arts in England.

Yes, we would expect such occurrences to work as a sluice that opens, but Gladwell invokes the concept of Moral Licensing from social psychology to show that the opposite might be true and presents the historic examples to support this kind of revisionist history (which I maintain is not exactly revisionist history in the regular sense, but we catch the drift). His point is that frequently individuals and societies allow particular cases of minority members (Women, Colored people, Jews etc) to enter a realm otherwise closed for them, only to satisfy their conscience and consequently proceed to discriminate with renewed ardor. The saddest example Jews in Germany as he takes it from Amos Elon's study "The pity of ot all" - which shows the Jews in German society from 1743-1933 occasionally succeeding to break the glass ceilings and walls, but nevertheless finding themselves eventually in a land that embraced the lethal antisemitism of the Nazis.

It is a very bleak conclusion; it cautions us that when we think discrimination might be over it may come back with a vengeance. While this may exactly be the case, there are two major reservations I have here. One is that this line of thinking has a tendency to be irrefutable because no matter how many examples you may find that discrimination is receding, it might still be a case of moral licensing. The second is that this idea of moral licensing comes from psychology, hence it describes processes in individuals and Gladwell takes this micro-level theory and applies it on a macro-level which is a jump cannot be made just like that.

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Wrong artwork for podcast - does anyone know a fix?

Some of the podcasts show up in my iPhone with the wrong picture. For a long time I thought I did something wrong, but some internet research shows that many more people complain about media files that have the proper artwork in iTunes on the PC are synched on a device with the wrong artwork. I checked my iPad and the same problem occurs there.

Take for example this episode from the Talking History podcast as it shows in the player on my PC (screenshot on the left - correct) and on my iPhone and iPad with the artwork of a totally other podcast (screenshot to the right). As a matter of fact, when you look more closely, more than just the picture is messed up. It seems that more mp3 labels are not exactly in place.

Does anybody else have this problem? Did you manage to solve it? I would love to hear about it and many more with me as the internet is full of complaints about this but few suggestions to solutions.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

History of Oil - resurrected from podfade

We have gone through this history in quite a number of podcasts: Sarajevo 1914, Pearl Harbor 1941 and even the fall of Mossadegh 1953, haven't we? How is it that I was glued to my iPod with these narratives all over again? I was listening to A History of Oil an amateur podcast by Peter Doran. (feed). I wrote this review in 2013 and for a long time this podcast seemed to have finished, but it came back from hiatus and promises to keep on from where it left off. All I wrote in 2013 is worth repeating.

Any new history podcast should reveal a fact about history that was not that clear until now. A History of Oil does that even where you hardly expect to be surprised. Take for instance Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi Invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. We already knew the Germans over-stretched themselves. We knew they had fuel shortages. We knew they had to capture the oil fields on the Caspian Sea around Baku and failed to do so. We knew that no matter how long they could hold out in Soviet territory, this was a turning point in the Second World War, but still A History of Oil's perspective gives something new.

A History of Oil effectively starts in the middle of the nineteenth century when crude oil began to enter the markets as a commodity and before long we approach the First World War. The British are the first to let their navy switch from coal to oil, but others are soon to follow, so that we are more than normally aware how oil has become a vital strategic resource by the time the Second World War comes around. Then, in 1941, as the Nazis invade the Soviet Union and have one success after another, oil became a problem. The Germans had used many times more fuel than planned. In fact operation Barbarossa rapidly depleted the oil reserves and no source was at hand that could meet the increased demand. So, if we thought that the defeat at Stalingrad was the turning point, A History of Oil, makes it clear that the defeat was inherent. Not a radically new point, but still a new support for the thesis that Barbarossa was a decisive Nazi mistake from the get go.

This is only one example of what the slightly altered perspective of A History of Oil brings to familiar data. Another refreshing experience is to go through the era not by means of national histories, but by means of the history of corporations; Standard Oil, Royal Dutch, Shell, British Petroleum and so on. It makes John D. Rockefeller more prominent than Theodore Roosevelt. It makes the Japanese invasion of Borneo more prominent than their attack on Pearl Harbor. It places Mexico, Venezuela and Indonesia in the center of attention what rarely happens and so on.

In short, A History of Oil is a remarkable enrichment to the library of history podcasts and highly recommended listening.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The History of Islam podcast

The most essential history podcast right now must be The History of Islam podcast (feed) by Elias Belhaddad. Current affairs have a very palpable presence of Islam and much of the history since the rise of Islam (and it rose at lightning speed) has a strong presence of Islam. Yet most historiography (and podcasts as well) can only offer the perspective from without. Yet, as we are in crisis with Islam (and maybe we always were) it seems without a doubt extremely important to acquire understanding of Islam. I certainly feel that way.

Elias Belhaddad clearly has set this as a goal: to inform about Islam and convey its perspective to his audience. The consequence of this is that while we have proceeded 14 episodes into the series, we have only just now arrived at Muhammad and he is about to leave for Medina. Belhaddad has deliberately spent most of his time until this point in laying out the groundwork for what he sees is indispensable for understanding the world and people from which Muhammad and Islam came about.

He has invested in explaining the environment of the Arabian Penninsula and how the harsh nature designates the mentality and life style of the Arab peoples. Then he has gone through great lengths laying out the history of the Quraysh clan, how they came to control Mecca and from there on along the lineage down till Muhammad.

He is clearly passionate about the subject, he has great admiration for the Arab people (though not without criticism), he knows his Arabic and personally I assume he is a Muslim, although he has not divulged any such details about himself which is his full right of course.

Hence this is a podcast of great relevance, done with passion and with much purpose. In addition his audio is good and his delivery is much to my liking. Nevertheless I keep wondering with each and every episode: why is this important? What is the take away message? I am sure Elias has a clear idea where he wants to go, and why he narrates the way he does, but he reveals very little of it. Maybe he feels this keeping of the cards to his chest is an advantage, but I wager, the podcast would gain in depth if he were to be transparent on his decisions of what to put in, what to leave out and what it is he wants to make clear in particular.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The History of Denmark podcast

Søren Krarup is an 18 year old Danish high school student who is about to take his final exams and as a result there will be a one month hiatus in his podcast The history of Denmark (feed). No need to apologize, Søren ; what is a month? I have so many other podcasts in my playlist. Anyway, here is part ONE of the review.

Where in the world can we expect from a youth who has not even finished his school to supply a full fledged history podcast and in another than his native tongue? Krarup pulls it off with flying figures and fills in yet another gap in the large supply of 'The history of [this country]' podcasts. His English, although with a slight accent, is fluent; his writing is perfect; his presentation very professional, his structure is a straightforward chronological telling of Danish history - everything is in the right place and done properly. Speaking of language: there are a large number of German names in his history so far, and these he pronounces with a flawless German accent. I am extremely sensitive to language, so this is a sheer delight.

A lot of my readers are history podcasters and would be history podcasters and I would like to point to Krarup's work as an example. I was raving about Zack Twamley (When dimplomacy fails) the other day as the exemplary history podcaster of this day and age, but his may be a tough standard to emulate. So I would suggest to begin by looking at The History of Denmark in order to get a good view of the basics - this is what you have to get right. And as for the readers of my blog who are interested in Denmark, we have enough to recommend the podcast. Follow the URL, subscribe and take it all in.

In my earlier blogging days I would have stopped at this point, but now I wish to share my thoughts on how to get it to the next level. And this is meant generally. Every podcaster should make these considerations, and if I apply it to The History of Denmark, then that is a concrete example and definitely no reason to say Søren Krarup is doing something wrong. If anything it is how to get it better. On to part TWO of the review.

The Jelling stone mentioning Gorm and Denmark
In the last episode Krarup happily announced he had some 400 subscribers to the podcast. After I publish my review, he will get instant exposure to another 200-2000 potential subscribers. What will convince these readers to go and subscribe? It could easily double or even triple the listener base, but what would bring my readers to spend time with Denmark, when there is also Latvia, Bulgaria, Italy, Germany, England, Japan, China and on and on? Can you expect them to be interested in Denmark? Would they subscribe simply because Denmark's history has not yet been covered in another podcast? And what if it has? Why Krarup's podcast? Actually, I wonder if the mere reason that Denmark was not covered yet in podcast could in earnest be enough reason for Krarup to make one.

The question what makes Denmark interesting can potentially be met by a wide range of answers, but it struck me that the way this podcast is structured, has one question almost pushing itself to the forefront. The country boasts to be the oldest Kingdom in the world. Krarup emphasizes with tangible pride in one of the early episodes that the current queen of Denmark is a direct descendant of Gorm the Old, who is mentioned in the runes on the 10th century Jellingstenen which is the oldest source referring to the country by its name Danmark. So we have a country here of stable continuity spanning over a 1000 years.

Continuity over such a long time is not common in history, so there is the first question: How can a small country maintain its social, linguistic and political continuity over such a long time? It has had its share of civil war, succession crises, occupation and unions with other countries, just like others, yet it stayed the same (it did, did it not?) - what explains that?

Any podcaster who embarks on a series and poses such a central question, gives purpose to the project and greater power of keeping the listeners tied in. As a matter of fact, every episode should have such a question (Like: How did Valdemar manage to win the Danish civil war and reunite the Danes?) to draw us in again and again. It certainly makes this Israeli crave for the next episode on the edge of his seat. One month waiting will be such a long time.

The world's oldest Kingdom

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Monday, June 6, 2016

The alleged racism of Albert Camus

Albert Camus became my idol, when at the age of 16-17 I read The Stranger for the first time (L’Étranger - I read it in French and in Dutch). On one of the recent issues of Entitled Opinions (feed) host Robert Harrison discussed this novel with Alice Kaplan, Professor of French at Yale University: Alice Kaplan on Albert Camus and The Stranger. And from the start the discussion gave a new interpretation of the racism in The Stranger.

Albert Camus as my idol represented the ultimate personal moralism, cleansed from common hypocrisy and ideological and religious pomposity. However, soon enough my personal saint was seriously challenged in his sainthood: I read an analysis of The Stranger by Conor Cruise O'Brien. O'Brien attempted to show that The Stranger was the product of French colonialist bourgeois cultural baggage. In the novel all the French characters have names and a personalized identity. Yet all the native Algerians are 'Arabs' and Meursaults murder of an 'Arab' is a mere vehicle to bring about an unconvincing show trial which is a vehicle to show Meursaults sanctity of the Camusian kind, yet indifferently ignores the cruelties towards the Arabs in the book to which Meursault shows no protest, judgment or even regret. In short, the Arabs are treated as the subhuman the French colonial was used to treat them and hence the writer and his book are marred by inherent racism. My hero was markedly tainted now; I would not want to give up on him and kept on reading and studying his work, yet O'Brien's harsh criticism was impossible to overlook.

Alice Kaplan turns the issue completely around. She claims that Camus saw his society for what it was and as a court reporter was acutely aware that a case such as Meursault's would be treated as the murder of 'an Arab'. Hence, in her view, Camus' use of the French colonialist language and point of view is deliberate and entails among others a critical view on the inherent racism of his environment. I find it partly convincing for two reasons. For one it fits in with the naturalistic style of The Stranger which meticulously describes Meursault's world as it is, without making it grimmer or prettier and carefully abstaining from all judgment. Secondly, it fits in with Camus' independent moralism as expressed also in his later work. Listen and judge for yourself; as for me, as reluctant as I ever was to take in O'Brien's criticism I still feel that something holds.

The point where it holds connects with my personal experience, today, here in Israel, but also previously, when I still lived in The Netherlands. You see, it has always struck me that even the most politically correct people, those that reject racism wherever they see it and choose the side of the oppressed, they still talk of the oppressed in those generalizing terms. In the society where ethnic identity has such deep implications, even if you are totally against it, you are stuck with a language and public discourse that is drawn along the lines of ethnic categorization and profiling. It means that only if The Stranger would not be written in French and not be set in Algeria in the 1940's the novel would have a beginning of a chance to get away with this kind of inherent racism. It would no longer be The Stranger and would no longer be by Camus. So we will have to live with the criticism no matter what.

More Camus on the blog:
Entitled Opinions (2009),
In Our Time (2008),
In Our Time (2009),
The Partially Examined Life (2011),
Philosophy Bites (2008),
Philosophy Bites (2009).

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Indus Valley Civilization - the missing link

As I already wrote in my post about Ancient History podcasts, I am always on the lookout for new podcast episodes that deal with the Indus Valley Civilization. Little is known about this civ and nothing beats a good mystery, but there is more than just this vague general curiosity.

I was first alerted to the Indus Valley Civ (IVC) by an old history podcast David Kalivas World History podcast, that dates from 2005 and podfaded between 2007 and 2010. David Kalivas not only pointed out what makes the Indus Valley Civ so fascinating in itself: its not yet deciphered script, its amazing stretch (far more vast that other civs), its uncommon social structure (very egalitarian possibly?), and not least of all: its disappearance. Nothing seems to be left from it. What we find nowadays in India and Pakistan are the prolonged product of the Aryans that moved into the IVC's sphere and who apparently replaced it completely. Enough titillating angles to explore in a podcast, but Kalivas taught us more.

Kalivas made a general point about how we deal with Ancient History and its civs - we generally treat them as isolated entries, but he postulated that it is far more likely that the civs interacted intensively and heavily influenced one another. It was this proposition that has inspired me since and whenever I am looking into ancient history, I am looking for those indications of communication, exchange and influence from the other civs. This influence supposedly crosses the boundaries of geography, but also of time; civs are learning and copying from other civs that they come in contact with and from civs that have come before them and from which they inherit in one way or another.

Since the famous seals from the IVC were found as far away as Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Arabian Penninsula, we know there was contact, but since we know so little, we cannot identify what the recipients got from IVC. Similarly, we know that Aryans came after the IVC and we know them a lot better from the writings that are the basis of Hindu culture today, but what remains of the IVC in the Indus world of today? Did the Aryans learn some of their stuff from IVC, or copied it, or if not that, as they were driving the old people out, did they push them into south India and give us the Dravidian languages? A lot of possibilities, but little concrete evidence.

Recently I found two more podcast episodes with an angle on the IVC. The first was an issue of The Maritime History podcast (feed): Harappa and the Erythraean Sea. The perspective of this podcast as the title indicates, is to relate sea-faring in history. This particular episode is to discuss the sea-faring in the Arabian sea in Ancient Times. What we learn is that this early in history (3rd milennium BCE), people managed to exploit the monsoon winds and their regular cycle. We also learn that this can be understood from Egyptian and Babylonian sources. The sources sum up the various products that can be had in the various ports on the opposite ends of the monsoon region, but also detailed pointers from sailors how and when the monsoon wind can be used to sail to the other side and how the coast can be recognized and should be navigated. The podcasts proceeds to describe what we already knew about the IVC, when and where it blossomed and that it traded with Egypt and Mesopotamia, probably through middle men. The archaeology of this civ is relatively new, and for example there are no finds of ships or shipping material, but since the archaeology is so new, we may be getting significant new insights in the near future. And so, the podcast follows the assumption that we already adopted, that there was intensive trade, yet it emphasizes there is still not that much evidence. Consequently, with the likely exchange still not entirely proven, it is still too early to suggest ideas of how the IVC got influenced and how it influenced others. So not many new ideas but a valuable addition on the technicalities of seafaring in those days in that area.

The second was an issue in the German podcast Hoaxilla - Der skeptische Podcast aus Hamburg (feed): Mohenjo Daro. This podcast digs into the question of how the IVC could so suddenly disappear without much trace. And the reason for this podcast, that is for skeptics and not necessarily for history lovers, to take on the subject, is because they try to debunk the claim that Mohenjo Daro was wiped out by a prehistoric atomic bomb. The debunking of such a preposterous theory is obviously very easy and harrdly noteworthy if the podcast had stopped there, but the real interesting part is where they discuss what would be a more convincing theory to explain the rather rapid decline of the IVC (not just in the Mohenjo Daro area but also at Harappa and elsewhere). Here we are presented with some good possible answers to this very central question. The best contribution in my opinion is that not only does the podcast point out that more reasonable theories are better founded in the available data and therefore more convincing, but they also make the truly scientific point that in history circles is less often brought up: what makes a theory a good theory is that it offers more explanation embedded in more of the available data than what competing or previous theories did. Not necessarily because it will more likely turn out to be true, but it is more interesting and has more propelling power for the study in the field.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Anne is a Man - resuming the blog

Between the heydays of this blog, 2009, 2010, and today, podcast has taken on a flight, history podcast in particular. There was a dip in the middle though. When I gradually lost interest in reviewing podcasts, the best amateur podcasts were fading and around 2012, I really thought that podcast was about to be co-opted by the big institutes. For example I was thinking of the BBC, which is still a prolific producer of great podcasts. It was then I felt I began repeating myself and was no longer serving as a hub for finding new podcasts, especially history podcasts. Exit Anne is a Man.

Anne the Man
Today as I return to reviewing (history) podcast, I find that there is a new generation of amateur podcasts and this new generation consists of a broader base of producers, covers more eras and subjects in history, produces much better audio quality and has also introduced additional standards for the content. The most outstanding example of this new generation of improved history podcasts I am thinking of is the podcast I reviewed a month ago: When diplomacy Fails. For this first time I have even reviewed the podcast on iTunes - something that was technically impossible in 2010.

With my blog in 2010, I was hoping to contribute to the podcasting community; bring the producers and the listeners together and instill cooperation between the podcasters. Today, with the history podcast group on Facebook and collaborations such as the Agora Podcasting Network others have established this already. Therefore, as Anne is a Man - podcast reviews returns to the blogosphere, the old formula seems no longer valid. The reviews as I did them then, should go to iTunes. The community building has been done by others. New content can more easily be found elsewhere than here.

I never stopped listening to history podcasts, as a matter of fact, the new generation of history podcasts makes my playlist longer than ever. I also never stopped telling my friends about podcast finds - off the record I kept on reviewing. I still love to do that, but I can no more cover it all. And there is no need as others already do that. I used to generally characterize the podcast and point out what was good about it. It had an objective generality to it. Now I figure this is more or less covered by others and my contribution should be more specific: why did I choose to listen to this podcast and what did I take away from it?

Why are we interested in history? There are some questions we seek to answer; something that ultimately should shed light on what we seek to understand - mostly in the present. For me, this is the case and invariably I keep listening to history podcasts with this agenda. And whenever I want to write about a podcast series or episode it is because this search was somehow met with a refreshing response, be it answers, be it new questions.

For example, I have always been puzzled by the golden age of The Netherlands; how could such a small region successfully rebel against the Spanish powerhouse and develop into a major power during the 17th century? In When Diplomacy Fails, there are episodes about the Dutch Revolt, about the Thirty Years War and about the Anglo-Dutch wars that supply some of the answers. I guess I should rewrite that review now...

Friday, May 20, 2016

NBN - Year Zero of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

The New Books Network (NBN) is an umbrella for the numerous "New Books in ..."-podcasts, among which I have been following New Books in History (feed) for ever and I always pick and choose from its endless offering. The podcast review below is about an interview with the author of a new book, that was not only published in the New Books in History feed, but also in New Books in Jewish Studies and New Books in Middle Eastern Studies: Hillel Cohen, "Year Zero of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1929″ (Brandeis UP, 2015). But first a digression.

Not in a neutral way I can tell where I am from. I was born in The Netherlands - that is not the dangerous statement. I can even say I originally come from Europe or the EU - you do not have to agree with the EU or like Europe to still find the statement perfectly acceptable, but how can I say where I live? I have to say I live in Israel, or I can say I live in Palestine and any which way this is a laden statement. Even the fact that I am an Israeli citizen, especially in the light of being also Dutch, is seemingly putting me in a certain camp. That is what the Arab-Israeli conflict does for you. I live in this conflict even in the language of it and there are no words you can use that will not push you to one side or the other.

Hillel Cohen explains that the conflict may have started before 1929, but his book "Year Zero of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1929" intends to show that the conflict as an historical entity, that is as a subject that is named such and written about started in 1929. And ever since we are not only living in the conflict, we are also not capable of talking, writing about it without getting trapped in the sides and consequently in only one perspective. During the interview on the podcast New Books in Jewish Studies he shows how he struggles with it and tells also how he encourages his students to make an effort to change perspectives.

I was very much taken in by the entire interview. Even though I am well familiar with the developments in the 1920s and also with the politicized nature of the historiography of the conflict - Hillel Cohen showed his dedication in a very candid way. What you get to see is how this historian, knowing he is part of one side and drawn into one perspective, puts in a tremendous effort to reveal the other perspectives, first of all to himself, but also to his students and his readers. It takes his academic work beyond academia, beyond politics to a realm of true soul searching. And this, as I can reveal about myself as well, is also what the conflict does for you.

Therefore this issue of the podcast is a must listen for anyone who is remotely interested in the conflict. In addition, this post is paving the way for an upcoming podcast review I am working on. This is about a podcast that is entirely dedicated to the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Subscribe to podcast by URL - iTunes 11 (and up)

In the old trove of blog post drafts I found this post from 2013. I do not know why I never published it. Since it is still relevant, here we go. With a three year delay:

For a moment I thought the possibility to directly subscribe to a podcast had vanished with iTunes 11 (and 12), but that is not the case. The option has moved on the menu from 'Advanced' to 'File'. For my blog this feature is absolutely critical as this allows me to continue posting feed URLs as I used to.

Copy the URL to a podcast feed anywhere you find it, for example on any post on this blog that reviews a podcast. Go to iTunes 11 and click the menu item 'File'. Under File you will find the option "Subscribe to Podcast..." - select this. A tiny window will open in which you can paste the URL you had copied to begin with. After pasting the URL, click OK and iTunes will be subscribed to the chosen podcast. Thus you will not have to look the same podcast up in the iTunes store and subscribe from there.

 If you have a previous version of iTunes, you find the same possibility under 'Advanced' as explained in the old post about subscribing to podcasts in iTunes.

Friday, May 6, 2016

History of Germany - Geschichte der Deutschen

This review must start with the podcaster, before the podcast: Travis Dow. He is a most prolific podcaster, involved in more than just the two podcasts I listen to and review here: History of Germany and its German version Geschichte der Deutschen. He is also involved in Bohemican, The secret Cabinet, History of Alchemy and Americana für euch. Travis Dow makes more podcasts than Anne is a Man can listen to - is that telling or what?

I cannot even keep up with all the installments of History of Germany, but I pick and choose with great excitement from the episodes. Of course I had to listen to the episode about the Frisians - with my Frisian roots (and name!), about the Olle DDR (the GDR) the one about the Reinheitsgebot (a must for the beer purists) and the one that explains why Dutch is not Deutsch (German) although it is the same word - ever wondered? Travis gets you the answer and he gives it both in English (feed) and German (feed). Right now I am engaged in his episodes about the Franks and Karl der Große.

What makes the podcast pay off the most, is that Travis delivers history with the same questions and search for connections and explanations that have me hooked on history in general. His delivery is very conversational, that is, he is not following any apparent script but rather engaging in a natural monologue (or dialogue with his guests) which makes for engaged listening even if it turns into rambling here and there.

Since Travis is an American, I was very curious to try the German version of his podcast expecting he'd be less conversational and free-flowing when not using his mother-tongue, but that is not the case, his German is completely fluent and his German podcast is just as conversational. Hence it is also not a one on one translation. The two feeds follow the same path, but Travis is conscious of talking to a different audience with different general knowledge and different reference points. This I find brilliant.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Bulgarian History Podcast

It is quite exceptional what brought me to the Bulgarian History Podcast (site, feed). Usually I am getting a recommendation or I hit a subject that I would love to know more about and discover the podcast that covers it. With this podcast, the country and the people made it happen.

Last year's Passover vacation I spent in Bulgaria and although the rental car broke down twice, winter hit in mid-April for which we had no clothes on us and we got booked in a hotel in Bansko that we hated so much we left it as soon as we arrived, I had the best time I hadn't had in a vacation of this kind ever. I fell in love with the landscape, the people and the history. This history was revealed to us by a student who spoke excellent English and gave us a free tour of Sofia on the first day of our stay. I decided that as soon as I got back home, I'd go look for a podcast on Bulgarian history, not knowing that the best was still to come.

The Bulgarian History podcast is an excellent podcast by Eric Halsey, an American who has been living in and around Bulgaria for quite some time and has been studying its history even longer. He combines his his great rendering of the history with a very professionally produced podcast. I have been recommending this podcast to my friends and as a sign of how good this podcast is, they all got hooked.

We learn from the earliest Bulgarian history mostly from Byzantine sources and so in any case you are getting some of the more well-known Byzantine history, but with a refreshing new angle. That is not all however; despite its rugged terrain, Bulgaria forms a crossroads where several mighty neighbors meet. It begins with the Thracians, Proto-Bulgarians and Slavs, which deliver the mix from which the population stems and it continues with the Bulgarian nation performing their balancing act between Romans, Byzantines, Hungarians, Serbs, Macedonians, Franks even and later on Turks, Russians, Germans and on and on. This just has to make for fascinating history and Eric Halsey makes it all happen. And for me personally, with every episode I hear, I get to be reminded again of Sofia, Koprivshtitsa and the journey to Rilski Manastir (and more).

Monday, May 2, 2016

When diplomacy fails

The new highlight on my playlist is When Diplomacy Fails (WDF in short blog, feed). There are many reasons why I stopped blogging, but a refreshing history podcast such as WDF was sorely missing and had me feeling there was nothing new to write about. Now that it exists and has come to fruition (it has been around for four years and I am still catching up), it is certainly one of the reasons I came back to history podcast reviewing. Fortunately there are more - I have some 12 podcast review drafts in the pipeline!

WDF episodes come in three types. There are the single subject episodes. In these the host Zack Twamley tackles a subject and finishes dealing with it. Just as the others these are very good: well studied and well prepared. Although they are more superficial than the second type I will come to in the next paragraph, they are well written, well presented and give just what you need (perhaps with the exception of the episode about The First Italo-Ethiopian War, but that is the only one off I have encountered so far). In fact, if you are new to this podcast, as I was a couple of months ago, these are the ones to start with. You might even want to consider to line them up chronologically and let Zack work you to the second type of episodes he has for you in store: the specials. You can take the 19th century subjects leading up to the First World War and then take on the brilliant, massive, fascinating and surprising special about the 1914 July Crisis. Or you could take the 15th and 16th century episodes and line them up to the special about the Thirty Years War.

So there you have it: the second type: Zack's specials, where he has a subject spread out over several episodes. These are the tremendously thorough and well-studied podcasts. The ones that stick out for me are the Thirty Years War - a monument in the podcasting landscape, and the July Crisis of 1914. Did Gavrilo Princip cause the First World War? Is Wilhelm the second to blame? We have had more podcasts revising the standard take that Germany is to blame. Zack however does this to his own surprise. He had made a single subject episode on the First World War and fed us this frame of mind, but then during his special honestly come to another conclusion and tell us about it. You must hear it.

Then there is the third kind of episode: TALK episodes. In these podcasts, Zack is joined by his friend Sean and they discuss the latest podcast subject in a free-flowing conversation. Obviously these episodes are much more casual and light which leads Zack to be a bit apologetic about them. He really should not be; among conversational podcasts, many of which derail in insufferable rambling or otherwise in unnaturally scripted unconvincing pseudo-dialogue, WDF's Talk episodes stand out as truly interesting. I am still not sure what is the right balance between banter and disciplined discussion that makes for a good conversation podcast, but when Zack and Sean hit the spot, they surely show the way.

Taken all the three types together in one podcast, makes WDF a new standard and shining example in history podcasts. Fortunately, again, he is not alone, a whole wave of new history podcasts with similar qualities has sprung up and revived the podcasting genre. Thanks Zack.

UPDATE 8 May 2016: I noticed that I used an outdated link for the podcast and repaired that

Monday, April 18, 2016

The podcast backlog - Ancient History Podcasts

The last podcast review I wrote is about two and a half years old. In the mean time lots of new podcasts have been added to the collection and many worth mentioning - where to start?

Let's start with a collection. Some two years ago I embarked on a quest for sources on ancient history, attempting to fill the gaps and dig up the roots of the more familiar eras. And not to forget as a continuation of my everlasting search for sources on my favorite ancient civilization: The Indus Valley Civ. No luck, there, but on the whole, a lot was found.

The History of Europe Podcast (feed)
Unfortunately podfaded, but the chapters can still be found in the feed. This podcast never really got to tell the history of Europe, really, but what it did manage to do is tell really ancient history - Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age. So, as far as ancient history is concerned- this is where to start.

Rob Monaco's The Podcast History of our World (feed) also starts way back in the dawn of man. Yet he moves more quickly through the era's. A huge added value of this podcast is the quality of the narration. We are taking huge steps through history and it could have turned out superficial and sketchy and worst of all, what always seems to hurt exposes of ancient history, disconnected and fragmented. Yet, Rob manages to turn the pieces into a mesmerizing flowing tale of real people.

Another podcast that has this quality is Scott C.'s The Ancient World (feed). The collection has a part A, which is the 'true' history part and this is the one I have listened to on my quest for old old history with great joy. In part B, Scott has gone on a path that is very worthwhile and befitting his talents and a history podcast, but which did not serve my listening goal; he has forged the history bits in lively tales, making the podcast less a history and more a story-telling podcast.

Although I had no luck finding a podcast about the Indus Valley Civilization. Others civs are there to be had: The Chinese in Laszlo Montgomery's excellent The China History Podcast (feed) which you know already if you follow this blog. Add to this the Japanese in Cameron Foster's A Short History of Japan (feed) which I also should have mentioned before.

There are also new ones I found: Dominic Perry's The Egyptian History Podcast (feed). Excellent and detailed.

Another fantastic find: Khodadad Rezakhani's The History of Iran Podcast (feed) Very professional. Waiting eagerly for new episodes

Lastly, a podcast that can not be found in iTunes: History of Armenia Podcast Series (feed)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Lost in space - Anne is a Man tentatively renewed

I have just changed the title of this blog. No more podcast reviews you may ask - well you have not had any in two years, so what good would be an answer any which way? If I am to get back to posting, podcast reviews are likely to be among them. And recipes and I think I might write about language learning.

First of all I changed the title to take away the pretense that this is still and could ever be a hub for podcast finding. That is probably not going to be the case. And all those podcasters that were hoping I'd plug their work, should seek exposure elsewhere.

Yet, the blog still exists and I frequently feel the urge to write - something, anything. And so, the change of title is first of all an opening of the gates. It allows me to start posting again.

I have some backlog of posts. The podcast reviews in them are past their due date. There are recipes I have jotted down in notebooks lying about the house and I'd hate for them to get lost. I have been using my blog as reference while cooking. Like when I took my son to Holland for his Bar Mitzva and I promised my sister I would cook her a meal. The same happens at home when I can't find the notebook with the recipe I am looking for.

My Profile in Duolingo
Lastly, ever since I came to Israel and had to urgently learn Hebrew I am extremely conscious about language learning. While the blog was still active I used to write about learning languages with the help of podcasts, but there is so much more these days. For example I am heavily using the app Duolingo. Around this I find myself telling and writing so much that it seems much could be focused here.

So why "lost in space"? Well, this blog is lost in space. It exists on the Web and it still attracts traffic, whether helpful for finding podcasts or not (probably not any more). I myself feel lost in space - being a Dutchman in Israel, a legal professional in a computer job and generally feeling like a stranger in a strange land. The blog is inevitably about how I keep my sanity in this insane life.