Now and Then During the first lockdown, Heather Cox Richardson was one of my mainstays. I really enjoyed her American history podcast series, but they became increasingly specialized for her American audience, and more directed towards current events. She started a new series Now and Then with fellow historian Joanne Freeman, where they talk about current events and popular culture, and link them with historical events. In the episode Nostalgia and Political Power they discuss the role of nostalgia in American political history, from Puritan Jeremiads, to the 1913 Gettysburg and Fort Wagner reunions, to the emergence in the 1970s of a cultural obsession with the 1950s. All of these ostensibly ‘nostalgic’ events were very much framed in the politics of the moment.
Flightless Bird. After the first episode on Religion, I wasn’t sure if I was going to persist with this series, but I decided to lighten up and listen to the episode on Toilets. I must admit that I can’t remember this, but the water in American toilets is much higher than in other places in the world, largely because the system works by suction, and because of delicacy over ‘skid marks’. Germans prefer to be able to inspect their productions, so they use a little shelf in the toilet. America is remarkable for its lack of public toilets, running level with Botswana. The presenters then wade (verbally, thankfully) into the issue of male and female toilets. Not surprisingly, the (male) toilet architect they spoke to wants gender-free toilets, something that I ever hear few women agitating for.
Sydney Writers Festival. Having sat through the Queen’s funeral, and its unapologetic linking of Church and State in a highly ritualized and very polished performance of state power, it seemed an appropriate time to listen to the 2022 Sydney Writers Festival presentation on Church & State. Hosted by Tom Tilley, whose recent book looked at his escape from Pentecostalism, he was joined by interfaith minister Stephanie Dowrick and Elle Hardy, the author of Beyond Belief:How Pentecostalism is Taking Over the World. Dowrick was rather uncontrollable as a participant, and rather amusingly was intent on packing up and finishing up, after rambling on for the first part of the panel. She is in no doubt of the dangers of the pointy end of any religion.
The History Listen (ABC) One of the pleasures of my lockdown years has been playing the ukulele: such a happy, silly little instrument that cannot take itself seriously. In Play Your Way to Happiness, my favourite podcast historian Robyn Annear looks at the Hawaiian Steel Guitar which, like the ukulele, promised quick results and instant popularity! The Hawaiian Steel Guitar has a darker history. Invented in the 1880s in Hawaii, after American annexation music was the only way in which the indigenous Hawaiian language could be spoken and passed on. It spread across the world, coming to Australia in 1911, spurred by the highly entrepreneurial advertising and activity of Hawaiian Clubs, established throughout Australia (and the world).
History Extra. The Napoleon of Fleet Street is about Lord Northcliffe, the press baron who came from an impoverished background to dominate the British media of the early 20th century. Capitalizing on the literacy engendered by the 1870s education acts, he introduced snappy headlines and short paragraphs that revolutionized newspapers. He had very definite views on the way that England waged its First World War and meddled in politics. Sound familiar? Yes, because Keith Murdoch (Rupert’s father) was one of Northcliffe’s proteges. Features Andrew Roberts, who recently released The Chief: The Life of Lord Northcliffe, Britain’s Greatest Press Baron
Emperors of Rome. I’m missing my dose of Rome, so I’ve turned back to the very first episode of Emperors of Rome, produced by my alma mater La Trobe University. The series starts off with Julius Caesar. Episode 1 The Early Years of Caesar goes through the little that we know about his childhood. Unfortunately the first chapters of the two biographies of Caesar are missing, so it’s not much. But he was born into an elite family and given an elite education. Episode 2 Caesar the Politician sees him move into a political role, forming the First Triumvirate with Crassus (who was bankrolling him) and Pompey (to whom JC married his daughter, making Caesar Pompey’s father-in-law). Then he became Consul for his statutory year, then moved to Gaul as Pro-Consul. Gaul at that time consisted of Provence, a little bit of northern Italy and a small bit of Croatia. Episode 3 Caesar and Gaul looks at Caesar’s more expansive view of Gaul, which encompassed all of France, the Netherlands and Belgium, and eventually people took on this view as well. Vercingetorix tried, but failed, to unite the Gauls against Caesar, so he just marched on through and then turned to Britain as well. As far as Britain was concerned, the conquest of the sea in getting there was more important than the actual conquest itself. Episode 4 Caesar’s Triumph was really interesting, pointing out that a Triumph was actually a religious ritual to thank Jupiter for the victory, and difficult to achieve because it was the one moment when an emperor displayed both civil and religious power at the same time. Caesar extended his triumphs out over time, as a form of propaganda over his tussle with Pompey.