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?