Podcast Review – The History of Rome

So here at the home (and office) of Finds and Features the lurgy has struck, and people are off sick left right and centre. So with a sore throat, what else is there to do but curl up in bed with a bowl of hot veggie stew, a bad dvd and a hot water bottle? Why… I even have time to do another entry!

So, here’s a review of the world’s most AWESOME history podcast. Frankly it could be the best podcast full stop, but that might be just because I haven’t found any good entertainment podcasts.

Podcast Review: The History of Rome

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Available from ITunes, or direct from the author’s website.

Despite the notable lack of Roman period archaeology in this blog, the Roman Empire in the West is actually one of my favourite periods, and the one I have studied most concertedly. Consequently it was with some trepidation that I started listening to this podcast – after all it’s easy enough to ignore the fallacies with a movie (yes, I love Gladiator, but mostly for the first battle scene) but much harder with pure history!

However I was pleasantly surprised. Continue reading

Podcast review

So, being a commuter I spend a lot of time on trains. Some of this time I endevour to spend profitably, some of it I waste. I’ve recently ventured into the world of podcasts in search of entertainment during the long hours, and so I thought I’d do some reviews of some of my recent discoveries.

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Available through ITunes or from the author’s website.

This series of podcasts are labelled as ‘lectures’ and right from the introduction the author (Lars Brownworth) makes it clear that he doesn’t like modern history methods, and that he thinks history is actually made by individuals and has very little to do with ‘movements’.

Everyone has a right to their own approach to history (that’s one of the advantages!), but I have to admit to finding these podcasts a little irritating. For starters the author repeatedly refers to what the emperors were thinking or feeling, which we just can’t know, and makes incredible leaps of assumption for which only hindsight really justifies. He glosses over or only gives a brief nod to significant debates (for instance, the extent to which Constantine might be considered a Christian), following the old-fashioned approach of presenting history as truth, rather than as constantly evolving opinion.

I assumed that this was because the author is an enthusiast with perhaps little, or out-dated, historical education. I mean, his approach is essentially Victorian in its focus on ‘great men’, dates and battles. But apparently Lars is actually a high-school teacher. I guess this explains why he calls them ‘lectures’, which seems a little incongruous. Though the New York Times does say that he is self-taught amateur, he actually has a bachelor’s degree in history, so one might expect a little more rigour. But I assume he has decided to forgo that in order to popularise the period and make it more accessible.

What is particularly worrying about this set of podcasts is how people have really jumped on it. It’s great to see Byzantine history getting a bit more attention (I too knew nothing about it until studying it at undergrad), but the author’s approach is old-fashioned and doesn’t encourage critical thought or interpretation.

If you like old-fashioned dates-and-battles history and can tolerate widespread assumptions and ‘personalising’ of the emperors then I’m sure you’ll like it. It’s reasonable entertainment for everyone who likes historical romances or murder-mysteries. But let’s face it, podcasting is self-indulgent, and whatever the New York Times thinks, this isn’t good educational material.

Though I can’t recommend it for anyone who’s studied history, it does have one very strong advantage. The 12 Byzantine Rulers covers a time/place that saw the birth of the west’s relationship with Islam, and considering the current situation, we could all do with more knowledge of that.