Saturday, March 5, 2016

Those who do not study history....

...can listen to the podcast later.

Here's the ones I'm hitting right now:

A Podcast History of Our World.  Simply excellent, this is a labor of love by a young history grad. Rob Monaco's voice is wonderful to listen to; clear, engaging, quirky enough to stay interesting. This is the good kind of history; the names and dates are there, in what even here can become an indigestible flood at times, but it is framed with a solid grounding in the trends underlying the bare facts, and enlivened by those quirky little details only real life can invent.

A History of the World in 100 Objects.  From the BBC, narrated by the director of the British Museum. This is analytical, big picture history at its finest, but done via an extremely close look at individual artifacts. Most episodes start in the museum, giving you a feeling of walking those halls and being shown the artifact under discussion. To give the greatest context to the themes of social, cultural, and technological change each object is looked not just through a historian's lens but by interviewees from chefs to political cartoonists (as appropriate, that is).

Extremely well produced, with music and sound design and a pleasure to listen to.

In Our Time. Also from BBC 4, this show tackles a single subject at a time in an open, lightly-moderated discussion. It has a sort of Charlie Rose vibe as the host lightly prods and leads his guests in a lively discussion. The radio equivalent of a BBC "Talking heads" show but really gives you  the feeling of being at the table sharing in a discussion between people who know a subject very well and are intensely interested (and often opinionated, in that confrontation British style of interview) in it.

Stuff You Missed in History Class. I'm still a little on the fence with this one. The hosts have good voices and the stories are intriguing and well-researched, but the style it just a little too fast, too glib, too well-rehearsed; the way the hosts alternate lines, particularly, destroys that illusion that you are listening to someone talk extempore on a subject. It is also very frequently interrupted by various advertisers, and yes such things do need funding, but any production in which the hosts personally deliver some of the advertising immediately places their integrity on a suspect footing. If they are willing to lie for the advertiser, what guarantee have you they won't lie for that same dollar within the context of the program? Not saying this element of financial disclosure isn't a question with all these podcasts, but it is a particular failing of this show to draw your attention to it so frequently.

Hardcore History. Dan Carlin's show is also in my "maybe" pile at the moment. He knows his subjects well, communicates them well, is a very interesting speaker. But all the ones I've listened to tend to run quite long on very little, belaboring certain points. Belaboring them in a fascinating way, certainly, but I didn't really need to spend forty-five minutes getting the point that historical revisionism and the credit for the spreading of Helenic culture does not make Alexander a nice person or absolve him of the rivers of blood he also left behind.

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