Among my favorite podcasts is the BBC Radio 4 show In Our Time. IOT is usually a genteel forum dedicated to discussing "the history of ideas." Topics and tone range from Oxbridge middlebrow to Oxbridge highbrow, but I always walk away learning something. I almost swerved the car, however, when tempers flared on last week's episode. IOT's host, Lord Melvyn Bragg, just about lost it when one of his guests declared "nationalistic" and "racist" his suggestion that British inventors played a non-trivial role in the Industrial Revolution. Who was more (in)correct is almost beside the point -- academics yelling is great radio!
Both parties share blame for things getting a bit out of hand, but I like the theory that Bragg might have knocked back a couple before the show. All said and done, though, this strikes me as just another iteration of the Hegelian "great man theory" of "heroic history" vs. later Marxist views of larger historical forces rendering human initiative inevitable and therefore irrelevant. (These ideas get some discussion in PEL's Hegel episode.) I'll let Mr. Bragg (can't quite type "Lord Bragg" without smirking) have the last word, as quoted from his newsletter:
Well, that first programme certainly went in a direction we had not anticipated. By “we” I mean the producer, Tom Morris, and myself. We wanted to go steadily through coal, steam, canals, iron … Instead I think what happened was that we hit the crunch of what is going on in historical interpretation today. On the one hand, there seems to be the cutting down of the value and importance of individual contributions. On the other, the building up of a form of knowledge which masses various strands together and considers the interconnections between these masses to be, in themselves, instigators of particular change. It’s a question of balance and we got rather overheated, I think; in the context of a live programme where opinions are strongly held, disagreements sometimes come out rather heatedly. But it’s worth disagreeing about.
P.S. Why oh why do we have nothing like this show in the States?
Wes Alwan says
very interesting — for their next episode: nature vs nuture!
Daniel Horne says
Yes, I suspect a return to gentility next week!
If you want to hear other episodes on which some (minor) sparks flew, check out the program on the British Empire:
…or on Nihilism:*
*For anyone who listening to this episode, the Japanese word for “dog” is “inu”, and the Japanese word for “valley” is “tani”. I find it amusing that a professor arguing for Baudrillard’s “skepticism” was so credulous on such a readily verifiable point. Further proof that posh accents and authoritative tones don’t necessarily imply credible arguments.
I was surprised by that episode too!
We do have a show of this type in the states, roughly speaking, in The Partially Examined Life.
(AHEM. Yes, this comment might be a simple fan crush.)
Comparisons arise: I think PEL is better in terms of the treatment of ideas than IOT in terms of its longer format despite the narrower focus, a younger
sassycrew, and the freedom from a specifically-broad market address. (I think you guys have a nonspecific-narrow market, wouldn’t you agree?. Isn’t there a popular migration toward this pole in general?) I’d hate to see you squeeze your style in order to fit into mainstream media formats, for example, a BBC IOT 43 minute show. Also, sometimes with IOT, I get a feeling of catching a remedial lecture from some of my old professors, whereas in PEL, I get a feeling instead of listening in on a conversation between some of the other brighter students in the class. A big difference.
Both shows serve the purpose of shaking out the sediment from the fabric of our education, for which we all have various responsibilities for weaving… or reweaving, as in my case.