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