December 11, 2009

Entitled Opinions and A History of Rome

Its been a fairly heavy week workwise and the blog has had to take a backseat. Next week I am away and the redoubtable Sulla will be posting on the blog. I thought though rather than arguing about history or about films or anything else today, I'd actually post about something I have just discovered or rather two things I have just discovered. Both illustrate the use that the internet can be put to in the course of civilising us all- including myself. Both are podcasts. The first is Entitled Opinions- this comes from Stanford University and is hosted by Stanford's professor of Italian and French, Robert Harrison. Basically Harrison invites members of the academic community and other intellectuals onto his program and interviews them for an hour about the subject of their specialism. In a sense it resembles In our Time, my favourite BBC podcast, but it is probably slightly less accessible than In our Time. No allowances are made here- there is no dumbing down- there is even an entire discussion with Michel Serre in French. The themes and quality varies widely of course- it depends on how well Professor Harrison's guests adapt to the format. Some of the programs are brilliant though- I particularly enjoyed a series of programs he did with Professor Thomas Sheehan about the historical Jesus and Resurrection Event. Before them I had never paid enough attention to Matthew 27.53- quite what Professor Sheehan makes of that I will leave you to discover.

The second podcast is actually one that was recommended to me by Peter Cuthbertson. Mike Duncan is a great narrator. Basically what he does is take you week by week through the entire history of Rome- starting with the first foundation in 753 BC perhaps and currently he is up to Domitian (I'm a couple of episodes behind so he may have got to Nerva). What he does is to read the ancient historians and some modern historians- he does not pretend to be an expert on what happened- but what he offers is a very accessible and fun introduction to the history of Rome. He has a great sense of humour as well which makes his podcasts very lively and they are intellectually stimulating. What he does is provide you with a chronology upon which you can hang the other knowledge that you have- some of the things he has said have filled in gaps for me in my knowledge of Rome and I'm sure that will be true for many of his listeners- very few people know about the entire history of Rome from beggining to end and its good to have this simple and straightforward, entertaining, amusing and accurate narrative of what happened.

These two podcasts illustrate to me what the internet should and could be about- distributing knowledge from people who know stuff to people who don't, sharing our experiences of the world. So often it is merely a talking shop or rather a shouting shop as one side abuses the other politically or culturally- but it does not have to be like that and both Harrison and Duncan capture ways in which the internet can contribute to, rather than detract from, the enlightenment of mankind.


Anonymous said...

I heartily second the recommendation for Entitled Opinions - it should be much better known. Unfortunately the good professor has a penchant for irritating little (or not so little ) homilies and disco music which you have to go beyond but this is well outweighed by the overall intellectual top quality of the output.