New Books in Latin American Studies. Bedlam in the New World. Most of the books in this podcast are academic texts published in the US, and not likely to be readily available in Australia – and if they are, they are usually prohibitively expensive. So this podcast is a good way of becoming familiar with the books without reading them. Christina Ramos was originally a historian of science and medicine and it sounds as if she was rather railroaded into Latin American history. Bedlam in the New World: A Mexican Madhouse in the Age of Enlightenment tells the story of Mexico City’s oldest public institution for the insane, the Hospital de San Hipólito, founded in 1567 by the Catholic Church. It finally closed in 1910 when a secular asylum was opened. Other historians and theorists have spoken about the medicalization of madness, and the use of the asylum as a form of social control, but her book looks at the relationship between religion and the asylum. Over such a long period of time, the Church moved from an idea of madness as a form of bewitchment or possession to a view of it as illness, and this played out through the activities of the Inquisition which wanted to probe into issues of intent and veracity – concepts not usually considered in asylums. Hospital records can be bald and bureaucratic, but the Inquisition’s rich records capture the voices of people who appeared before it. She speaks of the Spanish Enlightenment, which I confess I had never thought of before and closes her book at the point where the medical model took over from the spiritual model in the early 20th century.
Rear Vision (ABC) Zero COVID in China: the social, economic and political cost looks at the continuing policy of lockdown that China is following, after the rest of the world has decided to ‘live with COVID’. At the moment it seems that China’s government is just as ideological by not wanting to give up on its success in quashing COVID during 2020, as Western governments are in their determination to shut their eyes and chant ‘COVID-normal’. The inactivated vaccines produced by the Chinese government are less effective than MRNA, especially against Delta and Omicron, and there has been no herd immunity developed. They started with vaccinating front-line workers rather than the elderly, so there is a very large group of vulnerable citizens. Despite the disruption to the economy internally and supply chains globally, there is no sign of a change in policy, with the Chinese government cancelling the 2023 Asian Cup which was going to be held there.
History of Rome. Episode 156 Jockeying for Position. The three forces of Maximus, Theodosius and Valentinian were fairly evenly balanced. They could each hold their own, but were not strong enough to overthrow the others. This state of balance meant that most of their actions were PR stunts backed by diplomacy. Once Bishop Ambrose arose in Milan, both Maximus and Theodosius knew how powerful he was, and both positioned themselves as defenders of the Nicene Creed- in fact Theodosius became a bit fanatical about it all, but at this stage he just went after Arians, rather than pagans generally. Maximus wanted to show his chops too, so he ordered executions for heresy (which Ambrose opposed) and ordered the closure of Arian churches in Milan. Valentinian and his mother Justina were Arians, which was a bit awkward as they were based in Milan, with the strongly anti-Arian Ambrose. There was a stand-off between Ambrose and Valentinian and his mother over the occupation of a church, and in the end Valentinian and his mother Justina fled Milan.
Episode 157 Only the Penitent Man Shall Pass sees Valentinian (and Mum) and Theodosius joining forces in a war against Maximus. Maximus’ troops eventually handed him over and he was beheaded. Now Theodosius had to face Ambrose and reached out to him, but Ambrose was stubborn. There was an anti-Semitic uprising by monks that Ambrose supported. Theodosius humbly went to the Senate to shore up his authority but his position was undercut by the Massacre of Thessalonica (Greece) where imperial troops violently put down unrest over the arrest of a chariot racer over an alleged homosexual rape. When the general was killed, Theodosius ordered the slaughter of the crowd at the next chariot race. He regretted his decision, and tried to countermand it, but it was too late- although all of the details about this massacre are murky. Ambrose took the high moral ground and announced that he could no longer associate with Theodosius until the emperor made a personal apology. In the end, Theodosius grovelled and prayed – so Ambrose won. This is seen by some as a watershed moment that emphasized the Church’s power over the soul. Once forgiven, Theodosius turned his attention to stamping out paganism – and this may (or not) have been responsible for the destruction of the Library of Alexandria (no-one really knows who destroyed it).
Episode 158 An Imperial Suicide When Theodosius finally left Milan to go back to the east, he appointed General Arbogast to mind the shop, even though Valentinian was by now twenty years old. When Arbogast began making his own appointments of minister, Valentinian became depressed over his lack of power and committed suicide. Even though this was convenient for Arbogast, he probably wasn’t behind it, because as a Frank, he couldn’t have become emperor anyway. When no news came about who should be Valentinian’s successor, Arbogast named Eugenius, who had noble links. Eugenius set about reinstating pagan practice and restored the pagan Temple of Venus and Roma and the Altar of Victory, after continued petitions from the Roman Senate. It was, in effect, the last gasp of the pagan empire, even though both Arbogast and Eugenius were themselves Christians.
The Wheeler Centre. Well, it’s a video rather than a podcast, but I’ve just re-read Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South for my upcoming book group, and I found this talk by Alice Pung at the Wheeler Centre in January 2015. Actually, it was a bit too gushing for me, and I had hoped for something more critical. Pung drew on her own working-class origins to talk about Park’s treatment of class in the novel, although as the child of Vietnamese refugees, her working-class experience was very different from that of the Darcy family.
The Daily (NYT) In the wake of the terrible news on the overturning of Roe v Wade in the U.S. Supreme Court, An Abortion Rights Champion of the 1970s on Life Before and After Roe is fascinating. Fifty years ago Nancy Stearns was a NY lawyer who was preparing to mount a case in the New York court system challenging the ban on abortion in effect at that time, arguing that the impact of an unwanted pregnancy led to inequality in terms of liberty and the equal protection of the law, both of which are protected under the Constitution. However, just as the case was about to reach the court, New York legalized abortion, rendering the case moot. Roe v Wade made its argument for abortion reform on the grounds of privacy, not the Constitution (which I remember Ruth Bader Ginsberg also thought was a weakness), and as we have seen, an originalist can reject ‘privacy’ as a right because it is not protected by the Constitution. Nancy Stearn’s argument was never tested. Nonetheless, she thinks that even her arguments would be overthrown under the current Supreme Court, and she urges people to keep fighting even though she doesn’t think that she will live long enough to see safe abortions re-established in the United States.
Lives Less Ordinary (BBC) You probably think you don’t know Abi Morgan, but if you are an ABC viewer, you probably do. She is the screenwriter of The Iron Lady, Shame, and The Split, but in this episode My husband thought I was an imposter, she felt as if she were in her own nightmarish television series. When her husband Jacob, who suffers from MS, was rapidly taken off a drug-trial, he became so gravely ill that he was placed in a medically-induced coma. When he awoke, he suffered from Capgras Syndrome, where the sufferer becomes convinced that someone close to them has been replaced by an impostor. In this case, Jacob believed that his wife was an imposter -only his wife- and they have had to rebuild their relationship to accommodate this belief.