Month: October 2009

35. A Don’s Life

It's a Don's Life coverThis week marks the second anniversary of Podularity, so I’m delighted to be welcoming back an old friend of the programme, Cambridge professor of classics, Mary Beard.

Mary appeared in programme 15 to talk about her book on the Roman triumph and more recently in programme 28, to talk about Pompeii.

This time, we’re in conversation about the book of her blog, A Don’s Life, which is out in paperback from Profile Books on 5 November.

AlthoMary Beardugh – as she explains in the interview – it can be a burden to be constantly described as “wickedly subversive”, that’s just what she often succeeds in being in her posts.

Her subjects range from what Romans wore under their togas to whether Prince Harry should have gone to Afghanistan. To hear how Mary took to the blogosphere – and the blogosphere took to her – click on the link above.

And if you listen to the end, you’ll find out how high she rates the chances of her appearing on Twitter any time soon…

34. After we’ve gone

Earth after Us coverWhat would a race of space-travelling aliens 100 million years in the future make of the Earth?

“One can imagine that they’ll be sufficiently scientifically curious to look on the world as extraordinary – because the Earth is extraordinary by comparison with all the other planets.

“And then to investigate its future present, as it were, and try to work out how this future present arose and how it survived for so long.

And to do that they’ll have to play the particular kind of history game that we call geology… they’ll have to become fossil detectives…”

My guest this week is Jan Zalasiewicz, who is a senior lecturer in the department of geology at the University of Leicester. The first ever edition of Podularity featured a geology title, Ted Nield‘s Supercontinent, so it’s fitting that we return to that subject as the programme approaches its second birthday.

Jan ZalasiewiczIn his new book, The Earth after Us, Jan decided to conduct a thought experiment on a grand scale – what would happen if you imagined applying the same techniques as we apply to the study of dinosaurs and other fossils to our own species in some far distant future epoch?

What kind of fossils will humans leave behind? What will happen to cities, cars, and plastic cups? How thick a layer will the “human stratum” be? And will it be obvious that our species once dominated the planet?

The answers are quite sobering…

Living on J Street

J streetThis month’s podcast for Le Monde diplomatique features an interview with Eric Alterman, author of the bestselling What Liberal Media?: The Truth about Bias and the News and most recently Why We’re Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America.

In the podcast I talk to Alterman about his article in this month’s edition of LMD: “Support Israel through Criticism”, which looks at the rise of J Street, an American Jewish lobby that supports a sane and reasonable peace with the Palestinians.

Listen to the podcast by clicking here.

33. Through the Georgian keyhole

Amanda Vickery on the impression of Georgian life given by National Trust properties today:
Amanda Vickery: Behind Closed Doors

“They’re absolutely empty of life. They’re neat and tidy and they don’t smell and there’s no noise of the household. All of those things are absolutely central to what it was like to live in even quite grand eighteenth-century houses.

“Women’s letters are full of complaints about how awful it is, how freezing, the stiff-backed ceremony, people coming in, a lack of privacy…”

This week’s podcast, sponsored by Blackwell Online, features an in-depth interview with Amanda Vickery, whose Behind Closed Doors has just been published by Yale University Press.

In the interview we talk about what home meant to the Georgians, both physically and psychologically. Amanda is fascinating on what a detail of domestic interiors as apparently insignificant as wallpaper can tell you about the taste, status and outlook of a household.

Amanda VickeryFor those with money, it was a period which saw the dawning of the age of  the commercialization of home and simultaneously the feminization of it. While for those of lesser means, such as the Georgians’ army of domestic servants, “home” could be a precarious affair – a temporary bed and a wooden box containing a few treasured possessions in your master’s house.

Amanda’s book is richly illustrated in both senses – there are many pictures of domestic interiors and furnishings, but she also tells many stories of what home meant to individuals, which brings the history alive.

“We see the Georgians at home as we have never seen them before in this ground-breaking book. Vickery can make a young wife’s arrangement of china into an event of thrilling social and psychological tension. Behind Closed Doors is both scholarly and terrifically good fun. Worth staying at home for.”

Frances Wilson, Sunday Times, 11 October 2009

32. What made Greeks laugh?

Halliwell: Greek Laughter

“I’m trying to use laughter as a kind of prism, I suppose, through which to examine certain features of the broader culture…

“Greeks talk a lot about laughter and so there are a lot of perceptions and representations of laughter in prose texts and poetic texts… It’s used all over the place, it’s referred to, it’s discussed by philosophers and others.

“So I really wanted to use it as a prism through which to look at a wider range of Greek values and tensions with in the culture and ways in which Greeks think about many different aspects of life.”

My guest this week is Stephen Halliwell, Professor of Greek at St Andrews University and winner of this year’s Criticos Prize for the best book published on the subject of Greece, ancient or modern.

Stephen HalliwellStephen’s book, Greek Laughter, is a vast compendium of information of what made the Greeks laugh and how laughter functioned in ancient Greek society. As the book makes abundantly clear, laughter was far from unproblematic –  to be laughed down in Greek society was a deeply shameful experience – and laughter was a frequent subject of reflection for philosophers and other ancient Greek thinkers.

The book is also fascinating on the links between laughter and early Christianity (by and large, they weren’t in favour of it…) Click on the link above to hear the podcast, or subscribe at iTunes (link in right-hand column above).

31. The Making of Mr Gray’s Anatomy

Richardson: Making of Mr Gray's Anatomy

“What’s so wonderful about Carter’s illustrations [for Gray’s Anatomy] is that they are not abject people, they are not shown as lumps of meat, they’re not shown as undignified, they’re not shown in pain. In fact, many of the illustrations are quite noble…

“It’s the first real anatomy book for students to be published since the development of chloroform, anaesthesia in general, and I think these bodies are chloroformed bodies. They are not being treated as though they are social outcasts; they’re being treated as human beings.”

My guest on this week’s programme is medical historian, Ruth Richardson. Ruth has written a fascinating history of how the most famous medical textbook of all time came to be written – Gray’s Anatomy, which is still going strong after more than 150 years and 40 editions.

She shows that its success was down to not just Henry Gray, who wrote the text, but also to Henry Carter, who provided the illustrations.

In the interview we talk about the very different fates of these two men and also about how medicine as a career was changing in the mid-nineteenth century. But, as you’ll hear, much of Ruth’s sympathies go to the workhouse poor, who in death provided the models for the illustrations in the book.