Category Archives: Podcasts 2022

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 9-16 November

Rough Translations This time, they look at Australia. The Stoop: Reclaiming Black in Australia is a discussion of Indigenous Australians and their adoption of the term ‘Black’ or ‘Blak’ to describe themselves. Two rather incredulous comperes Leila Day and Hana Baba interview Rhianna Patrick, a Torres Strait woman who used to work for the ABC. They also interview Jackie Huggins and Daniel Browning about the use of the term ‘black’ historically; the effect of American Black politics, and the delicate issue of ‘black’ as referring to colour or culture.

99% Invisible Finishing off their 500th episode three-part series on Vernacular architecture, this episode Vernacular- Volume 3 deals with the houseboats on San Francisco Bay- some very luxurious, others piled together with driftwood. They then go on to look at stone houses in Bermuda, constructed with stone roofs no less, to stop the houses being destroyed by the ‘suck-in’ effect of a hurricane. The roofs are painted white to reflect the sun and they channel and filter rainwater. They then travel to Oakland California where the Queen Anne Victorian took advantage of the slightly larger block size, and added everything possible to the decoration. Finally, the episode goes to Santa Fe, where the historic district has strict building regulation insisting on ‘earth coloured’ adobe construction – but what does ‘earth coloured’ mean? The regulations specify brown, tan or ‘local earth tones’.

Lives Less Ordinary (BBC) My Father’s Hidden Crime tells the story of an Argentinian woman, Analía Kalinec, who is an adult when she learns that her father has been arrested for crimes committed during the Pinochet regime more than 30 years ago. The rest of the family stood behind him, but when she did her own research, she decided that he was, indeed, a torturer and responsible for many kidnappings. This caused a breach with her sisters, and her father is now trying to disinherit her after she wrote a book “I Will Carry His/Your? Name” (I’m translating here, so I’m not sure).

History Extra A whistle-stop tour around the world in AD 1500 takes us, as the title promises, around the Chinese, Indian, Ottoman, Sassanid and European empires and dynasties, and nomadic kingdoms. Jerry Brotton is a Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary University of London, which is a bit difficult because he distances himself in this podcast from the European-centric term “Renaissance”. He notes that England under the Tudors is largely peripheral to the action, and that Islam was spreading like wild-fire. Europe was small and fractured, but starting to look outwards, especially after the Black Death, but it remained a bit-player. The Americas had just been “discovered”, and the Spanish tried to conceptualize them as ‘Islam’, the only reference source for the ‘other’ that they knew. The Portuguese were travelling along the west coast of Africa, where they encountered Benin. This was really wide-ranging, and enjoyable – I loved the breadth of his analysis.

Emperors of Rome Interlude: What is an Emperor? points out that, strictly speaking, what we call ’emperors’ were actually ‘princeps’ and that Julius Caesar wasn’t actually an Emperor in terms of all power being located in one man. If he had lived longer, Julius Caesar might have entrenched himself as an Emperor but we all know what happened to him, and he spent most of his time fighting a civil war. When Augustus ascended, it wasn’t clear if he was part of a dynasty or not. Under emperors, the military became more important and they began choosing their own emperors, which meant that the Emperor was always beholden to the army. The Emperor came to have the role of the Chief Priest (the Pontifex Maximus)- a name adopted by current Popes. Episode VIII The Augustan Revolution sees Octavian taking on the name Augustus in 27BCE. He did toy with the idea of adopting the name ‘Romulus’ but the name had connotations of fracticide, so he went for Augustus or ‘revered one’ instead. He was lucky to have triumphed over Mark Antony, who was the better soldier, and probably made a mistake in fleeing with Cleopatra because he probably would have won had he stayed to fight Octavian. Octavian used anti-Eastern/ anti-Egyptian prejudice to win the propaganda war too. So who was Octavian/Augustus? He was the great-nephew of Julius Caesar, which meant that he was the adopted son of a God (because Caesar was deified after his death), but he was aware of Caesar’s mistakes and was determined not to repeat them. He gave the republic back to itself, but he retained veto power and had huge authority over his tame Senate. He burnt the oracles that were unfavourable towards him, exercised censorship and assassinated those who threatened him. Episode IX Augustan Rome looks at Rome under Augustus. He consolidated the empire, mainly through Tiberius’ success. He spent a lot of money on Rome itself, and exercised good brand management.He publicized a return to “old fashioned values” by proscribing adultery, giving baby bonuses and insisting on men wearing togas).

Then jumping ahead about 190 episodes and a few years later, up to the recent Episode CC1 Actium features Barry Strauss (Bryce and Edith M. Bowmar Professor in Humanistic Studies at Cornell University, author of The War That Made the Roman Empire: Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavian at Actium). The battle at Actium was between Mark Antony and Octavian. Cleopatra -politician, Queen, good strategic thinker and Mark Antony’s banker) was present because she was Queen and because she didn’t trust Mark Antony to actually fight (she feared that Octavian would talk him into not fighting). Mark Antony had a fleet of 500 state-of-the-art warships as against Octavian’s 400 ships. But Mark Antony needed to protect his supply line and his men were not as experienced in naval battles. Actium, near Corfu, was a good base and a good crossing point from Greece to Italy. However, Mark Antony and Cleopatra were losing ships and men, and they were both sick with malaria, and planning to head back to Greece and burn their ships. The battle took place on 2 September 31BCE, and right from the start Mark Antony and Cleopatra kept their sails and masts up so that they could make a quick getaway. The battle started in the morning and Cleopatra and her sixty ships began to leave, leaving Mark Antony’s troops behind as he fled too. Professor Strauss points out that Atrium was a campaign of which this battle was only a part. If Mark Antony and Cleopatra had won, the Roman Empire would have been more Eastern and more Greek.

Russia If You’re Listening. One of my favourite journalists, Matt Bevan is back with a seventh series of his “…If You’re Listening” program. He returns to where he started with “Russia If You’re Listening” part II, dealing with the invasion of Ukraine. In Episode 1 How war weakened strongman Putin, Bevan asks why Putin decided to invade Ukraine now. It wasn’t to earn another stint as president because he had already achieved the status of ‘lifetime President’, but perhaps it was a way of deflecting talk of succession. Bevan describes the four-hour radio programs that Putin gives where he takes live questions (albeit pre-vetted) for four hours. He said that he would write an essay on Russian history, which he did, setting out his justification for the ‘special operation’. Zelenskyy was not a very effective leader, and most Ukrainian leaders ended up being dictators after a couple of years – and Zelenskyy was certainly losing support. The US warned Zelenskyy that Putin was planning an attack but Zelenskyy kept it quiet, so the US went public with their information. Zelenskyy is Jewish, so the ‘Nazi’ excuse is bullshit. More accurately, it reflects the Soviet WWII meaning of Nazism as ‘the enemy’.

I hear with my little ear: 25-31 October 2022

You’re Dead to Me (BBC) This program has a ‘serious’ historian paired with a comedian, and they discuss a historical topic. Julius Caesar’s Rise to Power features Dr Shushma Malik from Cambridge who published on Nero, was a lecturer in Australia at the University of Queensland and has worked with Dr. Caillan Davenport from ANU (who features on the Emperors of Rome podcast) to write ‘Mythbusting the Roman Empire‘ for The Conversation. The comedian is Ahir Shah, and I know nothing about him. Things I learned: first, how Roman names worked: Given name first (e.g. Gaius) , Family name second (e.g. Julius), Branch of the family third (Caesar). Caesar was pronounced Kaiser. Second, there were rumours that JC was in a homosexual relationship with the King of Turkey, but the rumours weren’t so much about the homosexuality itself, as the power relationship within it. The program finished with ‘Nuance Corner’ where Dr Malik talked about the sources, pointing out that both Suetonius and Plutarch were writing biographies rather than histories, reflecting the perspective that personality influences history.

History Extra Chaos, ruin and renewal: Germany in 1945 looks at Germany in the aftermath of WWII. As Harald Jähner (author of Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich) points out, the war didn’t finish on one specific day but instead was a series of surrenders. By researching life in Germany in the years immediately afterwards, he found that despair and joy co-existed. It took a generation for Germany people to face the enormity of their acquiescence and guilt, and that to give their children some sort of moral compass, they could not admit to what had happened. He points out that one’s politics are often swayed by emotion, and that after the war, the development of the Cold War meant that former enemies became allies.

The Daily Running an election in the heart of election denialism features an interview with Stephen Richter, a conservative, lifelong Movement Republican who was elected as recorder at Maricopa County in Arizona in 2020. When Arizona went for Joe Biden, Arizona became a nerve centre for election deniers, with a company called Cyber Ninjas brought in to investigate Arizona as part of the Stop the Steal Movement. They found (incorrectly) that files had been deleted, something that was palpably false, and the threats and intimidation have continued. Although a Republican himself, he is now in the position of hoping that election deniers do not win in the mid-terms, for the sake of democracy in the future.

History Listen – This is the final episode in the 3-part series on Loveday Internment camp in South Australia. Miyakatsu Koike was a mild-mannered Japanese bank official who was arrested by the Dutch East Indies authorities in Indonesia after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. He was sent to Australia under terrible conditions overseen by the Dutch and was initially treated with compassion by the Australians, who were not yet aware of the Japanese treatment of Australian POWs. Never a soldier, only a citizen, he was interned for more than four years.

History Hit It’s Halloween as I write this, so how about A Short History of Seances. This features Lisa Morton, an expert on Spiritualism and author of Calling the Spirits: A History of Seances. Necromancy and talking to the dead existed from ancient times and in many different cultures, but seances as a public, group and usually money-making performance are a different thing. The first seance in America was conducted by Kate and Maggie Fox in 1848, who later confessed to cracking their toe knuckles to get the rapping sound. They ended up poverty-stricken alcoholics and admitted their fraudulence in 1885. They were just the start of a string of other fraudsters conducting seances. Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle sparred over the authenticity of seances, with Houdini outraged by Doyle’s wife claiming to have spoken to his mother.

Witness History (BBC) “Our” Julia Gillard makes it onto Witness History in a 10 minute segment on Julia Gillard’s Misogyny Speech, commemorating the 10th anniversary. It features an interview with Julia herself and some context. I’d forgotten that Abbott actually attacked her about hypocrisy in appointing Peter Slipper, rather than making a sexist comment as such. No matter- off she went, with good reason.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 17-24 October 2022

Emperors of Rome Going back and continuing on with Julius Caesar with Dr Rhiannon Evans (Lecture in Mediterranean Studies, La Trobe University and host Matt Smith. Episode V Caesar and Civil War has lots of parallels with current day (not that they make them- I do). Julius Caesar (hereafter JC) had enemies in the Senate but they couldn’t charge him if he was still Consul or Pro Consul (shades of Trump?). The crossing of the Rubicon with his troops (it was not allowed to bring your army with you) shows the transference of loyalty from the Roman Empire to the individual instead. The triumvirate was no longer operational: Crassus had died, and Pompey (by now JC’s rival and enemy) was killed by the Ptolomys in Egypt. Cleopatra was installed. Dr Evans questions the romance of Cleopatra’s relationship with Caesar, given the view of marriage as a form of alliance at the time. JC had made himself dictator for 10 years and then for life- so many rules and norms were being broken by that time (shades of Xi Jinping?) Episode VI The Death of Caesar JC remained popular with the people but he had enemies in the Senate- not the majority of the Senate but enough- who resented him taking on the trappings of monarchy lie a throne, a diadem, wearing purple etc. He had been merciful to his enemies, which was a mistake. The assassination happened on the Ides of March because he was going to leave with his armies the next day. His assassins had to flee, and his bloodied toga was displayed on a statue outside the Senate. Episode VII The Legacy of Caesar. For someone who didn’t rule for long, he had a big impact. Augustus claimed lineage from him (he was actually JC’s great-nephew); JC had embarked on a big building program; and he went on to be embraced by many dictators, including Mussolini. Jumping ahead a bit then to Episode LX Cleopatra, recorded live at the Wheeler Centre on 22 November 2016. Cleopatra was from the Ptolomy family from Greece, which kept itself apart from the Egyptians and intermarried within itself. However, unlike the rest of her family, Cleopatra actually learned the Egyptian language and championed herself as the Queen of Egyptians the people, as well as the territory. She was intelligent, and not necessarily beautiful. I’m rather ashamed to admit that I knew so little about this that I thought she was having it off with Caesar and Anthony at the same time, but Caesar was long dead by now.

New Books Network. You should thank me because I listened to this podcast so that you don’t have to. The Small Matter of Suing Chevron was of course not a small matter at all and in this podcast the author of the book of the same name, Suzana Sawyer talks about the case, which ended up taking up 200,000 pages and running for decades. Texaco, later taken over by Chevron, had been drilling for oil between 1964 and 1992 close to the Amazon. It was a very contaminating activity, and they left behind more than 300 wells and pits to bury the waste products from the extraction process. An Ecuadorian court ruled in 2011 that Chevron was liable for $9 billion, mainly for remediation but 2 weeks before the ruling was handed down, Chevron commenced a case in a New York court. Armed with 2000 lawyers, Chevron had the case overturned, arguing that the Republic of Ecuador had already signed off on the remediation process with Texaco and therefore the findings were overturned. It ended up in a court at The Hague determined that the Ecuadorian judgment had been procured through fraud and was unenforceable. Sawyer is an anthropologist, not a lawyer and not a historian, and she had worked with indigenous groups in the Amazon prior to the launching of the case. She talks in rather convoluted ways about finding a grammar based on chemistry to talk about the legal process, which is in itself very complicated. But chemical/scientific concepts like “valences” and “exposure orbitals” are not particularly useful in talking about legal argument and this was a very hesitant, disjointed and abstruse podcast. I would have given up but I was already too far in.

99% Invisible Vuvuzela Remember the South African world cup and that dreadful vuvuzela? Tuned at Bflat, it can play only one note, and has since been banned by FIFA (thank God). The origins of the vuvuzela are murky, but it seems that it was invented by a man called Saddam Maake, who used a bicycle horn at first, and then modified it. But somehow or other the ownership got tied up with a plastics manufacturer, who also claims to be the inventor. Soccer is very popular in South Africa, and during the apartheid years, it was the only way that activists could meet together without being arrested because – hey, they were just watching the football. Although 99% is an American podcast, this episode is presented by James Parkinson, with a lovely familiar Australian accent

In Our Time (BBC) I hadn’t heard of Berthe Morisot, but she was one of the French Impressionist painters who has been overlooked in the 20th century. She was born into a wealthy family, had the support of her mother to become an artist at a time when women required chaperones to sketch at the Louvre and were not encouraged to undertake formal training. She married Eugene Manet (Edouard Manet’s brother) and she had extensive networks within the artistic world. She exhibited six times at the Salon de Paris, and in eight Impressionist exhibitions alongside Cezanne, Degas, Monet, Pissarro and Renoir. She painted in plein-air, but she also painted family interiors, often featuring her sister Edma (who was also a gifted artist until she married) and her daughter Julie. I was fascinated by her painting of Edma who was heavily pregnant (and looking rather fed up with the whole thing). I’d never heard of her- check out her paintings. This episode Berthe Morisot features Tamar Garb (Professor of History of Art at University College London) Lois Oliver (Curator at the Royal Academy and Adjunct Professor of Art History at the American University of Notre Dame London) and Claire Moran (Reader in French at Queen’s University Belfast) and an increasingly-decrepit-sounding Melvyn Bragg. I just looked him up- he is 83 and sounds every bit of it.

All in the Mind (ABC) I seem to be listening to a few podcasts about the ethics of experiments recently, and here’s another one, part of All in the Mind’s series on Unethical Experiments. Childhood attachment, animal rights and the ‘pit of despair’ looks at the experiments conducted by eminent psychologist Harry Harlow at a time when animals were not considered to have feelings or emotions at all. I remember pictures of ‘cloth mother’ and ‘metal mother’ and baby chimps from first year Psych. Ironically, it was the resistance to the type of experiments that Harlow conducted that spurred the animal rights movement.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 9-16 October

Revisionist History I’ve telling everyone I meet about a three-part series of podcasts on Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History program about the Minnesota Starvation Project. In the first episode, The Department of Physiological Hygiene, he describes what this experiment was about: during the last year of WWII 36 men volunteered to undertake a year-long experiment in what happens when you are put on a starvation diet that results in a loss of 25% of your body weight? Three months were spent measuring and regulating calorific intake and output, then six months on a very stringent diet and exercise regime, then three months to return to health. In Episode Two, The Rise of the Guinea Pigs, Gladwell challenges the scientific consensus that such an experiment would never be conducted today for ethical reasons. He digs deeper into the process by which the experiment was set up, and found that the volunteers were genuinely volunteers- they were conscientious objectors who wanted to do something for the war effort but did not want to fight. Most of what we know about nutrition and starvation comes from this experiment, why not repeat it with genuine volunteers (as these men were) now that we could monitor what was happening with much more precision than was done sixty years ago? (I don’t agree). Episode Three The Mennonite National Anthem looks more closely at the volunteers’ motivations for enlisting in the experiment, many of which related to their religious beliefs. They look at one volunteer, Lester Glick, who kept a diary throughout, and using the oral histories provided by many of the participants, note that none of them regretted their involvement. This is really good.

The History Listen (ABC) The Loveday Trilogy Part I looks at German Oskar Speck, who decided in 1932 to paddle his kayak single-handed to Cyprus but then kept on going- all the way to Australia. By now, Hitler’s National Socialist Party was the government of Germany so his relationship with Nazism is confused but either way, he ended up in Loveday Internment Camp as an enemy alien. Fancy going all that way, only to end up interned!

Now and Then When the news came out that Rudy Giuliani was drunk on election night, Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman dive back into American history to see other times when the tide and tenor of American politics may have been affected by alcohol. Alcohol in American Politics starts with Franklin Pierce (never heard of him), but moves onto Warren Harding’s hypocrisy during Prohibition, Teddy Kennedy’s alcoholism that led to Chappaquiddick and Gerald Ford hiding his addictions under the cover of his wife Betty.

The Ancients Much as I might want it, it’s almost impossible for me to even conceive of a mindset where race is completely irrelevant. But in this episode Race in Antiquity it seems that this might have been the case in Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures. The Kushite pharaohs, Septimus Severus, Peter the Great’s son – being ‘black’ was described much the same way that being ‘blonde’ might be described today. Features Luke Pepera who is writing a book Motherland: 500,000 Years of African History, Cultures, and Identity (big topic!) which will be published next year.

History Hit In Russia Falters in Ukraine: Parallels with World War I historian Alexander Watson, author of the award-winning book The Fortress: The Great Siege of Przemysl, talks about the Eastern front during WWI- the one that we hear less about. Although he is cautious not to say “history is repeating”, there certainly are parallels. After the Russo-Japanese war, Russia made a huge investment in its army in an attempt to project great-power status. The Russian people were never as enthusiastic about the war as the political elites were, and there were draft riots in 1914 (I think of the lines of cars leaving Russia in the wake of its recent draft). Russia came into WWI ostensibly to protect Serbia (I think of Putin designating Ukraine “Little Russia” and the need to “defend” the territories annexed through his recent “referendum”). Because of the huge size of the Russian army, people thought that its force would be overwhelming (just as many thought would be the case with Ukraine). The parallels (so far) stop once the elites lose legitimacy after 1916 and a string of defeats, and once revolution breaks out. Dare we hope?

Inside the SLV. Jamie Wang Flickr CCCC BY-SA 2.0

Nothing on TV It’s time to hear a good Aussie voice, and who better than Robyn Annear. She hasn’t done a podcast for ages, so I’m having to delve into her back catalogue. Clean Hands starts off with the theft of soap from the front entrance to the Melbourne Public Library (now State Library of Victoria) – the soap was carefully cut into small pieces the size of a domino, but people were quite annoyed by the thefts. But not as outraged as they were when people stole the books, cutting out the Melbourne Public Library stamp on p. 91 (always), and erasing the stamp on the front and back pages. The Melbourne Public Library was open to everyone, which was a principle quite unusual at the time, and one which Redmond Barry vigorously defended. There were suggestions that there be a special room for people who just came into the library to lounge instead of read, but that never happened either. Although thinking back to nights at SLV, before the roof was opened up and everything was plunged into an eternal twilight lit by little green lamps, I think that there were many people there then too, in overcoats and smelling of alcohol, who were not actually ‘reading’.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 1-8 October 2022

The Ancients. The Rise and Fall of Roman London. This episode features Professor Dominic Perring, Director of the UCL Centre for Applied Archaeology, who discusses what the archaeology studies conducted as part of the constant rebuilding of London have told us about the Roman phase of London’s History. I had listened and read to histories of London before (e.g. Peter Ackroyd’s London) but I tended to skip over the Roman bit to get to the 16th century parts. Now having finished my History of Rome podcasts, I have much more context to understand the ebb and flow of Roman London, and how it meshed with developments in the Roman Empire more generally. He starts off in AD43 as the first fort was constructed. Emperor Claudius came along for a 16 day trip, but did not linger in London but instead marched to Colchester. With the Boudiccan revolt of 60-61CE , London was burnt to the ground, but Vespasian embarked on a big rebuilding program as a way of asserting his legitimacy. However, there were fires in 125-6 CE, and possibly plague in 165-180 CE, which led to London growing and contracting. By the 3rd century, when the whole Roman Empire was in crisis, Britain became a good source of rebellious emperors e.g. Constantine. By the 5th century when the Roman Empire ‘fell’, London was smaller and less active because of the loss of trade and people, while other towns prospered. In effect, London had been invented by Rome and discarded by Rome

History This Week. This week in 1788, William Brodie was hanged in Edinburgh. He was the source material for R.L. Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and this episode The Hanging of Jekyll and Hyde goes through the story of this outwardly respectable church member and cabinet maker, who led a gang of thieves who became increasingly brazen.

Duolingo I don’t very often include my Spanish podcasts in these lists, but I do make an exception for Duolingo, which uses both Spanish and English in their episodes. You would be able to follow the podcast, even if you don’t speak Spanish. In Mexico City- Tenochtitlan, un ciudad oculta we are taken on a tour of the remains of the Aztec city that is covered over by the modern Mexico City. In the podcast, we travel to the Zocalo, and to ruins that were uncovered while constructing the Metro. I would LOVE to go to Mexico City.

History Hit The Energy Crisis: 2022 vs 1973 compares the mining strikes and Arab-Israeli was that led to energy shortages in 1973, compared with the crisis that is facing Britain and Europe this coming winter. In 1973, it was not so much prices that were the problem as a worldwide scarcity of oil, exacerbated in England by coal strike action. It would seem that in 2022, governments are cautious of telling people what to do anymore (burnt, no doubt, by COVID) and there is less sense of communal struggle and national unity. The episode features historian Alwyn Turner, who has a new book about crises in the 1970s called Crisis, What Crisis?

Now and Then features historians Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman. In the episode From Monopoly to Mystery Date they’re feeling a bit summery (they are from America after all), so they are looking at board games- in particular those where you throw and dice and move back and forward. I hadn’t heard of them all, but the story of Monopoly was fascinating. It was invented by a woman who wanted to demonstrate the principles of Henry George’s Single Tax theory, whereby the value of land was not intrinsic, but only a reflection of the social value ascribed to it and the status of the people who lived nearby. It wasn’t called Monopoly, but instead The Landlord’s Game. She was fairly badly ripped off (how ironic) and the game lost its political commentary in the Parker Bros. version. Then there was ‘Chutzpah’, a Jewish Monopoly game, which 50 years later looks very racist, and Mystery Date, an appallingly sexist and demeaning dating game.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 25-30 September 2022

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.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 17-24 September

London Review of Books. Are you over the wall-to-wall Queen’s funeral? I am. It was a good corrective to listen to Grief Totalitarianism, where James Butler and Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite pick up on Glen Newey’s phrase “Grief Totalitarianism” which describes the way that everything is put on hold during a period of mourning. The machinery of state that we have seen in brilliant colour over the last two weeks is asserting that “this is the way things have been and the way they are going to stay”. These two commentators (one of historian) discuss the state of Britain in a week when Britain lost both its Prime Minister and monarch, looking back to Thatcher’s Britain and forward to the prospect of Truss replicating it (or not). Interesting.

History This Week Saladin takes back the Holy City goes back to 1187CE when Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt has a decision to make. Will he invade Jerusalem, where the Crusader’s lader Balian of Ibelin, is threatening to blow up the joint (and thus go down in history as the Muslim leader who caused the destruction of the Dome of the Rock, one of Islam’s holiest sites) or will he let the Crusaders surrender and leave (even though the Crusaders didn’t show Muslims such mercy when they took possession of Jerusalem in 1099CE. What do you reckon happened? A good podcast that doesn’t presuppose any great knowledge of these events (which is good, because I don’t have much)

History Extra Dangerous Ideas and Scandalous Lives: Germany’s first Romantics focuses on the university town of Jena in the late 18th/early 19th century which attracted philosophers, scientists and writers. I must admit that I hadn’t heard of many of them except Novalis (and that was only because of Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower) but they are very famous in German intellectual life, Andrea Wulf, author of Magnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of the Self, assures us. Lots of tangled relationships and intellectual jealous ending up in tears, as you might expect. I would have enjoyed this more if I’d heard of any of them before.

A witch window. Source Wikimedia

99% Invisible continues on with its 500th episode (over episodes 501 and 502) with Vernacular Volume 2. This time they look at Witch Windows in Vermont, a window placed on the diagonal in an upper floor room (supposedly because witches can’t fly on the diagonal); concrete wheat silos in Minneapolis and ‘lanais’ (pronounced la-naze) in Florida, which actually originated in Hawaii. They just look like a big porch to me’

Democracy Sausage. I’ve just finished reading Joelle Gergis’ Humanity’s Moment. Here she talks about the book, and why she wrote it. The podcast is okay, but you’d be better off reading the book.

Flightless Bird (Armchair Expert). This podcast got a mention in last Saturday’s Age. Flightless Bird is a series presented by a New Zealand journalist who got stuck in America during the COVID lockdown and decided that he wanted to explore America through an outsider’s eyes. He is accompanied in his quest by Dax Shepard and Monica Padman (two Americans). They are young, foul-mouthed, chatty and not particularly well-educated. He starts off by launching into Religion– what is it with Americans and religion? He talks with Mike McHargue – a Baptist who became an atheist who then became a Christian again, drawing on studies of neurology and left and right brain thinking (interestingly, Karen Armstrong, who is much more well-educated, draws on similar studies). They talk about the concept of a State Church in UK and other European countries (and obviously non-conformism doesn’t come onto their radar, and they don’t seem particularly aware of the lack of an established church in Australian and NZ history). Don’t know if I’ll persist with this one.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 1-8 September 2022

The Ancients (History Hit) So you thought that after finishing the History of Rome podcast, that would be it for the Romans? NO WAY as my little two-and-a-half-year-old grandson would say: I didn’t listen to over 70 hours of podcasts just for it to go in one ear and out the other! So, when I saw Prosthetics in Antiquity, that sounded interesting. Dr Jane Draycott from University of Glasgow explains that there was no actual word for ‘prosthesis’ in antiquity, although they did have wigs, artificial legs and feet, false teeth etc. Unlike today, when prostheses are made to look as natural as possible, in Ancient Greece and Rome it was felt that for a prosthesis to be lifelike was a form of deception and disguise. Instead, prostheses were personalized and, in the case of wealthy wearers, were a form of display. Many examples have been found in tombs, although wooden prostheses were less likely to survive than metal ones. There are also many references in literature to prostheses, although they were mentioned in passing, rather than described fully. Fascinating.

Emperors of Rome. I haven’t listened to this in a while- and Dr. Rhiannon Evans is back! Episode CXCVI – Fulvia looks at this aristocratic woman who lived in the late Roman Republic. Born into an important Plebian political dynasty, she was politically active in her own right too and married three times, most importantly to Marc Antony. She was directly involved in raising troops to fight for Antony in the Perusine War against Octavian (the future Emperor Augustus) in 41-40 BCE. Anthony didn’t appreciate her involvement, though, and he had her exiled. Cicero didn’t have a good word to say about her, and this has influenced the way historians have viewed her.

New Books NetworkNew Books in Latin American Studies. In this interview, Kate Phillips, the author of Bought and Sold: Scotland, Jamaica and Slavery claims that the Scots role in West Indian slavery is little known. This might be true of the man-in-the-street in Scotland, but it is not true of historians (and I note that Phillips is a retired social development specialist from Glasgow University, rather than a historian). Even here in Melbourne we have the city of Moreland changing its name because of its association with ‘Moreland’, a plantation owned by the family of Farquahar McCrae, who made no secret of their Scottishness. Apart from this questionable claim, however, Phillips has delved into the archives to draw a rich picture of plantation life for both Scots owners and overseers, and their enslaved workers. She points out that the field slave was more likely to be a young woman than a man, because men were generally trained to work as carpenters, bricklayers, mill workers etc. Ironically, after the Apprenticeship system broke down in the 1840s (and Scots slave-owners had applied for compensation for the loss of their ‘property’) formerly enslaved workers squatted on their old plantation lands, when their Scots ‘owners’ just went ‘home’ without selling the plantation. Now that Jamaica is becoming a tourist population, the descendants in Scotland are reaping the profits from these ‘abandoned’ properties.

History Workshop Podcast. Transnational Suffragettes starts off disastrously with about 2 minutes of the presenters all talking simultaneously over each other. However, the problem is soon resolved and a discussion follows, chaired by Australian historian now at Cambridge, Rosa Campbell, with James Keating a historian of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Australia and New Zealand and author of  Distant Sisters: Australasian Women and the International Struggle for the Vote, 1880–1914 and Sumita Mukherjee a historian of nineteenth and twentieth century transnationalism, mobility and migration in South Asia, Britain and the British Empire, with a particular focus on gender, and author of Indian Suffragettes: Female Identities and Transnational Networks. They discuss the transnational women’s movement at the start of the 20th century, where the hierarchy was: 1. White Women, 2. Indian and Japanese Women, 3. Black Women and 4. First Nations Women. Although included in international conferences, women from ‘The South’ were not able to get their concerns reflected in the agendas of these larger meetings, although they were able to develop networks. In Australia in particular, the women’s suffrage movement was still very much a state-based (as distinct from national) concern, which did not lend itself easily to international events. Nonetheless, in Aust and NZ, representatives disseminated international news through scrapbooks, newspaper articles, magic lantern shows and circulation of letters. He particularly mentions the Womens Christian Temperance Union, an international body which took an increased interest in Maori women when they achieved the vote alongside white women in NZ. Meanwhile, Indian suffragettes looked back past British colonialism to the Vedic tradition.

The History Listen (ABC) is running a 3-part series called ‘The Loveday Trilogy’ which looks at individuals who ended up in Loveday internment camp in South Australia during WW2. This episode, Francesco Fantin, is actually the second episode, but you don’t need to have listened to the first one. Fantin was born in Italy in 1901 to a working class family. Largely self-educated, he became an anarchist and socialist. When Mussolini came to power in 1922, Australia became a favoured destination for anti-fascists, and he emigrated to Australia and headed for the Queensland cane fields. There he became labour organizer, and he led a strike action to demand the burning of canefields to kill off rats and snakes, a health-and-safety act opposed by the sugar planters. But when he was arrested and interned in 1942, he found himself in a camp where the fascists outnumbered the anti-fascists, and his life was in just as much peril as it might have been in Italy.

The Documentary (BBC) Now that Boris has gone, The Documentary looks at Global Britain after Boris Johnson, in a rather too flattering episode, I feel. Given Johnson’s penchant for Shakespeare, it is presented as a play with 5 acts: 1. Brexit 2. Johnson meets Biden 3. Exit from Afghanistan 4. COP 26 and 5. Ukraine. Almost makes you forget what a twat he is.

History Hit. In A Short History of Humans, Dan Snow interviews economist Oded Galor, the founder of Unified Growth Theory and author of the recently released The Journey of Humanity: The Origins of Wealth and Inequality. He argues that for 99.9% of man’s history, there was no substantial change in the rate of man’s progress, as any technological advance led to an increase in population, which largely cancelled out an advances. However, during the last two hundred years, rapid technological change has led to increased complexity requiring more universal education, for which parents needed to reduce their family size. He sees the Industrial Revolution itself as a red herring, emphasizing acceleration of change, rather than innovation, and he largely discounts cultural and biographical factors in world history. However, he softens this later on in the interview when discussing why Western Europe became the centre of accelerating change. In counter-point to the example of China, he points to Western Europe’s cultural fluidity which led to competitive nationalism, and factors like geography, culture and institutions which affected the “take off” point from stagnation to growth. He suggests that these factors can be “designed into” development programs, leading generally to progressive policy in terms of education, human rights etc. He is very ‘economic’-y, seeing growth as an unqualified good, and in this interview, silent on the effect of climate change.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 25-31 August 2022

History of Rome. I’ve done it! I finished!! Episode 177 The Burning Ships sees the last attempt to tackle the Vandals in North Africa. Between 465 and 467 there was no emperor at all in the Western Empire after Severus died. Leo over in the East was too busy dealing with the Huns to pay much attention, and General Ricimer who was the real power behind the Western throne was happy for it to stay vacant. Once he turned his mind to it, Leo wanted Anthemius (who was a bit of a rival, and better off out of the way) while Genseric the Hun (over in North Africa) wanted Olybrius, probably as a way of using family connections to embed himself into the imperial family. Genseric recommenced pirate raids on Sicily and Italy, as a way of throwing his weight around. In response, Leo named Anthemius and sent him off to wage a big war of both the Western and Eastern empires against Genseric on three fronts. At first the Romans were victorious but then Genseric sent empty ships in amongst the Roman fleet and set them on fire. The Romans lost 600 ships in the resulting tumult. In 469CE Anthemius tried to retake Gaul, where the Goths were expanding their territory under King Euric. The Romano-British leader Riothamus was encouraged to invade from the Brittany Coast as part of the attack on the Goths- he may have been the legendary King Arthur (or not). Ricimer and Anthemius were on the brink of civil war, but they had a 12 month truce to fight the Goths unsuccessfully. When Civil War threatened again, Leo sent Olybrius to mediate between Athemius and Ricimer but, secretly, Leo was backing Anthemius and the letter exists to prove it.

Episode 178 Not with a Bang But a Whimper takes up when Leo’s secret letter was discovered. Finding that Leo was on Anthemius’ side, Ricimer and Olybrius killed Anthemius and Olybrius took his place. This made the Italian nobles and Genseric happy. But then Ricimer died, followed soon after by Olybrius. They were succeeded by Ricimer’s nephew Gundobad, King of the Burgundians, who killed Anthemius. Gundobad elevated Glycerius to the position of Western Roman Emperor, but he was not recognized by Emperor Leo in the East, who supported Julius Nepos as replacement instead. By now the Visigoths (Western Goths) and Ostrogoths (i.e. Eastern Goths) were getting restless. Then in 474 Emperor Leo, Julius Nepos’ backer, died and was succeeded by Leo II who was only six years old, with his father Zeno as the real power behind the throne. But then Leo II died too (was he murdered?) but Zeno was happy for Nepos to continue in his position. Glycerius surrendered in the face of overwhelming power and was made a Bishop (a favourite go-away measure). In 475CE came the rise of Orestes, a former Hun, who arranged a revolt against Nepos. Orestes’ son 14 year old son Romulus Augustulus was elevated but of course, he was a puppet too. There was a soldier uprising against Orestes, led by Odoacer. Orestes ended up dead with Romulus Augustulus deposed. And at that point it all got too hard and the Western Empire just faded away. So, in effect, we have gone full circle from Romulus (of Romulus and Remus fame) and ending with Romulus Augustulus.

Episode 179 The End! I got there! Or more to the point, Mike Duncan got there after recording an episode every Sunday for five years, generating 74 hours of content, after nearly faltering at Episode 33 (where he dealt with Marius and Sulla). The whole way through the series, he joked about ‘256 reasons why the Roman Empire fell’ but here he actually does give his summary of the reasons, under 6 (not 256) headings:

  1. Political factors. The Empire ended up a brittle farce, with poor emperors and a corrupt bureaucracy
  2. Economic factors. Inflation destroyed the middle class, and the poor began to see the State as a predator.
  3. Military factors. The Legions were in effect dead. Romans avoided military duty which means that the army was dependent on Germanic mercenaries
  4. Social factors (Mike Duncan’s personal favourite). Failure to integrate Germanic people, and the prejudice of the Italian aristocracy
  5. Religious factors. Duncan doesn’t accept Gibbons’ argument that Christianity led to the fall of the empire, but certainly there was increasing religious intolerance.
  6. Environmental factors. Between 250 and 550 CE there were fluctuations in the climate, with more famines and plagues.

So why didn’t the Eastern empire fall as well, instead surviving as the Byzantine Empire for the next 1000 years? Partially it was geography, with the Western Empire having to grapple with long Rhine and Danube frontiers. The East, on the other hand, dealt with the Sassanids who were at least a stable force. Second, the Eastern empire was wealthier because of its ties with India and China in the East. Third, there was the imperial apparatus itself. The East middle-class thrived, and imperial service was still seen as prestigious.

And there it ends. I can’t believe I’ve done it.

The Real Story. Salman Rushdie and the fatwa. I want to do something on this at our next Unitarian service in September, so I listened to this podcast carefully. Rushdie was born in ‘Bombay’ (which is the way he always refers to it) in 1947 and sent to England for his education. While a student at Cambridge University he first came across the story of the Satanic Verses, a set of verses disputed and later rejected by Islamic scholars. In his book The Satanic Verses he questions the sacred and divine, but he also gives the prophet and two of his wives pejorative names. However, he asks – how could one fictional book threaten Islam? The Prophet in Islam is a man, not a god. The fatwa was announced by a Shia cleric, and in itself is not consistent with Islam, where the only death sentence is for apostasy (i.e. a believer later rejecting the faith). One of the speakers in this program claims that the West has been naive about the proselytizing nature of Islam. In the UK, there was opposition to the book from the start, and the political response was interesting. The Labor Party announced that the book should not be reprinted: Margaret Thatcher, on the other hand, defended him. The speakers end by suggesting that the fatwa has become internalized amongst writers.

The Latin American History Podcast started a series on the conquest of Peru, but the last episode was in August 2021. I even wrote to the presenter (wondering if he was still even alive!) and yes, he is- but he is travelling in South America. So, Episode 3 The Conquest of Peru switched its focus from the Spaniards to the Inca, and here he called upon Nicholas Machinski from the A History of the Inca podcast. Unfortunately, the sound quality of Nicholas’ comments was really poor and hard to hear. Nonetheless, he clearly knows a great deal about Inca history. It was interesting to listen to this after just finishing the History of Rome podcast. In the 1520s, when the Spaniards arrived, the Inca were undergoing their own succession crisis after the death of the Emperor which culminated in a civil war between the claimants. The Inca Empire was at its largest at this time, stretching from parts of Colombia in the north, down to parts of Chile and from the Pacific Ocean to the Andes. As part of its expansion, if the leaders of conquered tribes pledged loyalty to the Inca ruler, they would be left in peace by the Inca authorities, but if they resisted they were forcibly shifted from their ancestral homes to another location. Nonetheless, there was a strong rebellious force underlying this Inca hegemony, and some groups were happy to join the Spaniards against the Inca. Smallpox was already present before the Spanish arrived. The Inca Army was huge (up to 100,000) and mobile because of its road network, but at the time of invasion it was poorly led and undisciplined. There was only one invading European force, so the Inca couldn’t play off European sides against each other as the Iroquois had done in North America with the English and French invaders.

Fifteen Minute History. Despite its name, this podcast from the University of Texas at Austin never quite manages to fit into fifteen minutes- twenty yes, but fifteen no. The Servant Girl Annihilator is a pretty old episode from 2018 where then-Ph D candidate Lauren Henly talks about a series of murders of several young women that occurred between Christmas 1884 and May 1885 in Austin Texas. They didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about a ‘serial murderer’ then, and it took a while for the concept of the same person committing a series of murders to catch on. At first, it was only Afro-American women who were killed, but then two white women were murdered as well. There was speculation that perhaps these were early murders committed by Jack the Ripper, who then migrated to England to continue his spree there (a largely discounted theory). Others have posited that the murderer was a young Afro American man called Nathan Elgin, exposed in a PBS special called “Solved” on account of a missing toe which matched a footprint with a missing toe. In her research, she does not describe the murders herself (instead using reports at the time) and concentrates on the victims and the vibrant African American community in which they lived.

Wikimedia: A refugee special train at Ambala Station

History Hour (BBC) Seventy-Five Years since India’s Partition is a compilation of stories from an earlier series produced by the BBC to mark the seventieth anniversary. I’ve started listening to this earlier series too, called Partition Voices but I’m finding it a bit repetitive and you’re just as well off with the History Hour episode. The History Hour episode also discusses the death of Nehru and the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, became the first non-European to win a Nobel Prize for Literature. The stories about Partition are horrifying, on all sides, and although the migrants who fled to England didn’t particularly want to talk about it at the time (largely through shame), their children are more intent on finding out what happened. The attitudes of the British are appalling too, with one radio announcer declaring that both sides needed a “good hard smack on the nose” to stop the pre-Partition violence. Yes, that would do it.

Partition Voices (BBC) Actually, I take that back. I persevered with Partition Voices, and found it well worthwhile. However, I listened to it in the wrong order because that’s how it came out on BBC Sounds. The right order is: Division, Aftermath and Legacy. It’s quite sickening to hear the cossetted and oblivious views of English colonials living in India at the time in Episode 1; the violence is appalling in Episode 2 where both sides engage in ethnic cleansing; and Episode 3 shows the effect on later generations, a phenomenon noted with Holocaust survivor families, but not so much with ‘East Asians’ who, in British society, are lumped together despite this bloodied history.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 17-24 August 2022

History of Rome Podcast. I’m getting so close to the end that I can almost taste it! Episode 174 The Sack of Rome Part II We left off with the ascension of Petronius Maximus as emperor in 455AD. He ruled for 77 days only, and his main effect was to provoke the Vandals to sack Rome. As a way of cementing his legitimacy, he forced Eudoxia to marry him (after murdering her husband Valentinian) and wanted to marry his son off to Eudoxia’s daughter who was already betrothed to the son of the Vandal king Genseric. Genseric was not amused. On hearing that the Vandals were heading towards Rome, Petronius Maximus advised the resident of Rome to “run away!”, which they did, murdering him on the way. The Vandals sacked Rome for the second time over a period of two weeks, and although the name ‘Vandal’ has gone down in history for thoughtless destruction, perhaps it wasn’t as bad as it sounds- there is no archaeological evidence for wanton obliteration. Genseric went back to North Africa, taking Eudoxia with him. Meanwhile, the Gallo-Roman Avitus, who had been sent by Petronius Maximus to Theodoric II to get the support of the Goths, learned about Maximus’ death, and Theodoric suggested that Avitus become emperor. Theodoric might have thought that this was a good idea, but Emperor Marcian in the East wasn’t sure; Genseric started raiding again and the Italians were resentful about the ascent of the “Gallo-Roman” emperor. So Ricamer and Majorian deposed Avitus, but didn’t kill him immediately, making him Bishop of Piacenza instead, perhaps because they didn’t want Marcian to get angry, or to keep Gothic support.But then Marcian died anyway, and Avitus was killed soon after.

Episode 175 Trying to Take it All Back sees Majorian marching around trying to reassert Imperial authority over the provinces while Ricimer remained in Italy. Ricimer knew that he couldn’t become emperor in his own right because of his Germanic background so Majorian was proclaimed emperor with Ricimer behind the scenes. They wanted to “make the empire great again” and they reinstituted the navy and Majorian invaded Gaul and defeated the Goths. The Gallic nobles acquiesced when they found out that their tax debts would be waived. Majorian then turned his eyes to Spain, as a step in his broader plan of invading North Africa. But Genseric, knowing that they were coming, destroyed his own province Mauritania in a scorched-earth policy that would make an invasion difficult and infiltrated the ship-building port to destroy Majorian’s navy. The North African invasion was shelved. Ricamer and Majorian had a falling out, and Majorian was murdered on Ricimer’s orders.

Episode 176 The Quote Unquote Emperor. Well, the murder of Majorian didn’t go down well with a number of generals (especially Aegidius in Gaul and Marsellinus in Dalmatia) or the Vandal King Genseric in North Africa. Ricamer sent off old Agrippinis to his native Gaul, where he offered the Goths the region of Narbonne, which they jumped at because they had been wanting a Mediterranean port for ages. The rebel general Aegidius and Agrippinis met in battle, and Aegidius won. Meanwhile, the Vandals were still skirmishing and Genseric was starting to make Attilla-the-Hun type demands on the fortune of the Theodosian women that Genseric had taken back to North Africa with him, claiming that because he was protecting them, the fortune should go to him. After the murder of Majorian, Ricamer wanted someone pliable, so he appointed Emperor Severus, who was very weak and ended up dying anyway (possibly at Ricamer’s hand too). Ricamer took his sweet time in appointing a replacement.

Lives Less Ordinary (BBC) The Family That Went to War with a Dictatorship tells the story of Moshood Abiola, also known as MKO, a wealthy businessman who stood as presidential candidate in 1993, in the brief hiatus between military dictatorships in Nigeria. He was arrested and imprisoned for his efforts. His daughter Hafsat Abiola Costello and her mother agitated for his release, but both women paid a price, in different ways. This reminded me a bit of Gillian Slovo’s Every Secret Thing (my review here) in that politics can extol a high price from the family- and it certainly happened here.

New Books Network. Australian and New Zealand books don’t often feature in the New Books Network, so when Alastair Paton’s Of Marsupials and Men was featured, I decided to listen. I must admit that I hadn’t heard of this book, which is marketed as “the fascinating and often hilarious history of the men and women who dedicated their lives to understanding Australia’s native animals.” The author is a journalist rather than historian, and it sounds a rather breezy read, full of anecdotes. It seems to cover early attempts to draw animals, the acclimatization movement, collecting and sale of ‘exotic’ animals, and chapters on platypuses, sharks and snakes (not all of which are marsupials, the last time I looked). It sounds a pretty light read.

A narrow boat on one of Birmingham’s canals when we visited in July 2011

Archive on 4 (BBC). With the holding of the now-completed Commonwealth Games, Brum Britain looks at Birmingham, whose citizens hate being called the “second city”. It touches on the history of Birmingham, especially during the Industrial Revolution, but focuses mainly on the contribution of performers and comedians from Birmingham, including Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Hancock, Lenny Henry, and Julie Walters. Also thrown into the mix are Tolkien and Heavy Metal (Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Led Zeppelin) to Duran Duran, UB40, and Peaky Blinders.

File on 4. Dementia: The Final Indignity. There’s no dignity in dementia, and it is exacerbated by the haste with which dementia patients are bundled into adult nappies and incontinence pants, often to make life easier for the carers who do not have the time or availability to take a frail older person to the toilet. This is particularly true when an older person is admitted to hospital. But the person behind the wish to go to the toilet is ignored, and the last shreds of dignity are often discarded. Very depressing.