I was going to go with “Never Learn Anything from History” but then remembered that was actually the first Kate Beaton collection title, so that would have been rude of me. If you don’t know Beaton’s “Hark! A Vagrant” webcomic, then you really should.
Another podcasty episode. On that subject, Tea and Jeopardy. my favourite, has just started its Advent shorts. Based on last year they should be superb.
However, today we are serious. Today… we are here to Learn.
I am partial to a bit of a historical podcast, and recently I’ve been devouring a few (I tend to podcast-binge when I find one I like that has a back catalogue.) I can very much recommend, first off, The Ancient World, presented by Scott C. I’ve run through the original series of this, which takes us from early human civilisations all over the globe, all the way up to just before the rise of the Romans, The dynasties, the wars, the religions, all wrapped up pithily for easy consumption. And it’s maddening, in a weird way. And just possibly that’s all the fault of the Sumerians. Ancient Sumeria came out of nowhere and gave us Gilgamesh and Inanna and the weird stuff in Stephenson’s Snow Crash and Duncan’s even weirder Vellum and Ink. Sumeria also kicked off with a set-up of rule by Big Men and Great Men that then gallops all the way through history, rooted in the idea that the point of all the little men (who don’t get capitals, and nor do the women) is to slave and fight so that the Big Men can feel big about themselves. Cue learning the names of all the kings of England and the Great Man school of history And All That. Which might just be the way that humans were always going to turn out, but Scott talks early on about a few false starts that didn’t seen to rely on the same hierarchy of force (1). But we got the Sumerian model, so hooray for us. And yes, I am being very simple-minded and drawing unwarranted conclusions from very incomplete archaeology, but it’s nice to believe that it wasn’t inevitable that we would turn out so screwed up. Alternative universes FTW.
The other major historical podcasts I’ve been tearing through are both produced by Mike Duncan. His original magnum opus was the History of Rome podcast which is now complete, so no more Romans for you (I first got put onto this by yet another Podcast as it was referenced frequently on Dissecting Worlds). His new series is Revolutions which so far has gone through the English Revolution (i.e. Parliament vs the Charlies), The American Revolution and the French Revolution, and is just winding up to kick off the Haitian Revolution any day now. Duncan is another superb historical communicator, and some of the more eyebrow-raising things I’ve come away with include: if Charles I had been able to get the Divine Right stick just an inch further out of his backside, he could have ended up marching into London with Cromwell to lead the New Model Army in a fight against Parliament; the French Revolution and the Imperialisation of the Roman Republic were both presaged by periods when the gap between rich and poor had become so great that it wrecked the economy; there wasn’t a moment in the French Revolution’s long history, even right before the Terror, when people weren’t basically saying “Well, that’s over. Everything’s fine now”.
Non-historical but informative podcasts I’ve also enjoying include Lore, which is an elegant little set of accounts of scary stories, fortean phenomena and horrible real events presented by horror writer Aaron Mahnke who has a real flair for the creepy. I also want to give a shout out to the informatively-titled Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff, which features RPG bigwigs Ken Hite and Robin D Laws bringing their considerable intellects to all manner of topics. There’s a lot of gaming in there, especially for the GM, but also history, the supernatural, conspiracy theories, spy tradecraft and even cooking tips. You know, stuff.
(1) The Indus Valley/Harappan civilisation was arguably way ahead of everyone else, including huge cities with sewers way before anyone ever thought of the Romans – and in those precisely planned cities there’s no grand palace or vast temple to speak of an absolute ruler or a ruling elite. The Norte Chico of South America seemed to have a complex culture without any defensive structures. Even the Minoans of the Mediterranean, though they had dirty great axes as a religious symbol, had a society that ran on trade and glorified nature and the human form in its art, rather than war. All three were brought down by natural disaster or climate change, although the Mycenaeans did swan in to finish of the post-eruption Minoans.