As part of a self-improving attempt to actually read ancient historical sources (albeit translated into English), I read Appian‘s Campaigns of Alexander recently. Given some of the dry stuff out there, I was surprised at how well it stood up. It reads like the more narrative end of modern military history. It would be pushing it to compare it to historical fiction, but there is elements of that.
I also listened to Jamie Redfern‘s A History of Alexander podcast for some commentary on the source. Originally from 2011-2012, it’s probably in the first wave of podcast inspired by Mike Duncan’s History of Rome. As with many of these, initially the production can be a little rough but it settles down (I think there’s even a remastered version that I somehow missed).
There were some nice comparisons of the sources (Appian being his favourite) and discussions where things may have been obscure, as well as the occasional bit of humour. Actually, with the most exciting scenes quoted on the podcast it almost worked as an audiobook alternative.
What else is there to add? The story of Alexander is a classic. There are battles, intrigue, a clash of cultures. In either form, it’s very enjoyable.
With the ease that the internet allows, many people who run blogs or podcasts (even very good ones) will be amateurs making the most of their spare time. However, time can be limited and running things can cost money – so podcasts will sometimes consider ways to raise funds. Some of these methods work better than others, but there’s plenty of room for inventiveness.
Some like the History of Byzantium podcast may sell occasional special episodes. Others like Hardcore History may sell large parts of their back catalogue (at a fairly decent price too, given the length – they’re worth checking out). Many like David Crowther’s History of England podcast, may just have an option for donations. Peter Adamson at the History of Philosophy gets a grant. And some like The History of Iran podcast are even funded via Kickstarter.
Continue reading Post 63: History of Rome/Revolutions Fundraiser
After Mike Duncan’s superb History of Rome, do we really need another podcast about Romans? Obviously more than a few people think so, by the way that this series, by La Trobe University in Australia has rocketed up the iTunes charts. In fairness, the show itself has a different format and tone – it’s much more biographical in focus and is presented as an interview between the host, Matt Smith, and a lecturer at the university, Dr Rhiannon Evans. Pieces of the interviews are then put together to tell the story and discuss any interesting points that crop up.
Continue reading Post 60: Emperors of Rome podcast
Back in August, I wrote a post on Peter Adamson’s podcast series The History of Philosophy (Without Any Gaps). You can find more in depth thoughts in that post but, to be brief, I liked it a lot. It was clear, fun with an approachable structure that moved forward and built on what had gone before (both in philosophy and in the in-jokes). Adamson, a university professor, created the show in collaboration with the Leverhulme Trust and had on an array of academic guests to talk over the topics in detail.
The first section involved the greats of Greek philosophy – Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. It also covered many of their predecessors (this is “without any gaps” after all) with such big names as Thales of Miletus and Pythagoras. So where do we go next? Well, in his Late Antiquity section we begin with more Greek philosophers (including more household names) before moving on to the dominance of Plato and Aristotle in neo-Platonism, and finally the early Christian church.
Continue reading Post 55: History of Philosophy part 2
As you may have noticed from this blog, I listen to a decent amount of podcasts. One of my favourites is Robin Pierson’s History of Byzantium. I was pleased to find that they recently had on a special guest, one of my favourite history writers, Tom Holland. As the podcast had reached a handy stopping point just after Islam had exploded onto the world stage, it was a perfect chance to begin trying to shed some light on the origins and early stages of the religion and the arab invasion. The author of a recent book on the subject aimed at a popular audience, Holland was an ideal choice to start things off.
Continue reading Post 54: Tom Holland vs The History of Byzantium
My last attempt to familiarize myself with Greek myths didn’t go too well. Robert Grave’s book on the topic was written in a rather affected style and contained interpretations and footnotes that could best be described as a bit mental. After a bit of a break, I recently made a new attempt with Paul Vincent’s Myths and History of Greece and Rome podcast.
It’s not a bad idea for a topic, and I can picture a series that works to tell the stories dramatically while dropping out now and then to explain them. How should we interpret these myths? How do they relate to other aspects of ancient Greek culture? How did they change over time? What impact have they had since? It would be fascinating to hear answers to these, preferably while staying well away from Robert Grave’s mushroom hallucination trip. It was disappointing then to find this series a bit ‘no thrills’.
Continue reading Post 51: Myths and History of Ancient Greece
This is my fiftieth post on this blog. I’d wondered if I should do anything special here, but in the end have decided to just note a couple of small things. Firstly, the History of England podcast is going on to a (hopefully brief) hiatus. It has been one of my favourite podcasts for a few years now with its mix of amateur dramatic, sheds and the ladybird book of Kings and Queens. However, David Crowther has been doing it more or less non-stop for four years and has decided to break until early next year to help keep things fresh. Here is the relevant post from his facebook group.
Continue reading Post 50: Web comics, podcast news and other things.
Iggy Pop has recently been presenting a show on BBC Radio 6. He’s actually been doing this for a few months now, but I listen to the radio so little nowadays that I’ve only noticed this week. He’s got a very eclectic taste in music (in a good way) and his shows are well worth listening to. The most recent at time of writing – “Here Come The Germans” – has a great mix of classic krautrock like La Dusseldorf, more recent stuff like Rammstein and older tunes from Bertolt Brecht. There’s even some Wagner in there. They can be found, on the BBC website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03yblbx. He is also soon to deliver the John Peel Lecture
Anyway … I also happened to stumble upon a short piece of writing by Iggy on the importance of Edward Gibbon to his life and outlook. It’s short and pretty succinct, but well worth spending thirty seconds or so reading. The point that particularly resonated with me was number 2:
“I learn much about the way our society really works, because the system-origins – military, religious, political, colonial, agricultural, financial – are all there to be scrutinized in their infancy. I have gained perspective.”
It’s one of the things I enjoy most about history (not just Rome, but it does stand out as shining examples of this), the way one can see the modern world built up on what had been before – slowly adding complexity, correcting the mistakes, often making more mistakes in the process. As well as his show on BBC, Iggy is soon to deliver John Peel Lecture on the concept of free music in a capitalist society. I’m not sure if he’ll take much from Gibbon on that one, but I am sure that it’ll be an interesting talk nonetheless.
I’ll leave this post with his final comment: one that would be a good tagline for a history blog,
“I urge anyone who wants life on earth to really come alive for them to enjoy the beautiful ancestral ancient world.”
This is yet another in the History of X mould – the name happens to be flipped around to Egyptian History, so I guess its already breaking that formula, but how will it stand up against its predecessors? On first glance things look good – the presenter Dominic Perry is actually a graduate student in Egyptian history. As much as I love David Crowther’s ‘man in a shed’ amateurism on History of England podcast, Egyptian history is an area with so many conspiracy theories, myths and general nonsense that it is reassuring to have someone who can give a modern academic view. It’s also great to have someone with access to and experience of materials and locations that wouldn’t be possible for the amateur podcaster.
I should say at this point that I’ve struggled with Egyptian history in the past. Even recently, I attempted to read Toby Wilkinson’s epic history of Egypt but balked halfway through in the face of incomprehensible names and a seemingly never ending succession of kings that we know little about. That’s the potential problem with such a show, the kingdoms of Egypt lasted for so long and the culture changed so much over that time – pacing things correctly can be difficult.
Previously I was barely able to get a handle on things before a new king or god or style of temple would pop up and blow everything out of the water. With this said, it is very much to Dominic Perry’s credit that he has managed to bring me along with him. The show does move quickly, but things are well placed with a special focus on new concepts as they arrive. This is balanced well, with episodes often split between a narrative and another topic (for example, women or the economy).
Continue reading Post 45: The Egyptian History Podcast
On first sight, How Jamaica Conquered The World did not sound particularly promising. No offence to Jamaica, but I’d never had any real interest in their history. It’s to podcaster Roifield Brown’s credit then that he has managed to make such a fascinating and unique podcast that it can win over skeptics like me.
Continue reading Post 39: How Jamaica Conquered The World