A collection of podcasts to browse

A friend alerted me to this fascinating series of BBC podcasts called In our time. Each 40-50 minute episode consists of host Melvin Bragg exploring a topic in depth with three academics from various UK universities and research institutes. Created in 1998, it produces a new episode every week and its archive now includes nearly 1,000 podcasts. Each episode also has a full playlist for those who want to know more. Topics go all over the place, covering science, history, literature, art, religion, and more. so that everyone finds something that interests or interests them. Since the panelists are experts in the area discussed, one gets reliable information based on extensive research. The program is ideal for a generalist like me.

The program also stands out for the polite manner in which everyone engages with each other. Unlike some shows where people seem to be picked on to have opposing viewpoints in hopes that sparks will fly, these academics are very polite. There are no shouting, interrupting or arguing over each other. They are very respectful and complementary to each other and even when they disagree, express their differences in a non-confrontational way, prefacing them with things like “I would like to offer a slightly different perspective.. .” or “So and so is true, but we also have to keep in mind that…” It’s a refreshing change from the heated antagonistic exchanges found in many other shows, where the goal seems be to generate heat rather than light.

Bragg is a very good host, putting himself in the shoes of the general public, speaking little and mostly just to ask pointed questions of his guests or to make them clarify something that regular listeners may not know. He clearly does his homework before each episode but uses that knowledge to guide discussion rather than dominate. It is certainly not like the one parodied here.

I sampled episodes and found there was something to learn and enjoy in each one. In those episodes where I already knew something (Paul Dirac and macbeth) I still learned something new and interesting about subjects that were unfamiliar to me (Herodotus, crocodilesand The gold standard) there were a lot of fascinating things that I had no idea existed.

In the case of the fangs episode (the umbrella-sounding label given to the closely related set of species consisting of crocodiles, alligators, etc.), I learned that the reptile lineage was divided into crocs and dinosaurs and I was amazed to learn that during the Triassic period beginning around 250 million years ago, it was crocodiles, not dinosaurs, that ruled the supercontinent of Pangea . They occupied all available ecological niches of land and water. Some of them were formidable, as big as a bus, and others had large hind legs and small front legs and were bipedal and could run fast on land. Some were herbivores and others carnivores. The first mass extinction which occurred in the late Triassic and Jurassic period led to many crocodiles becoming extinct or transformed to become more semi-aquatic and dinosaurs took flight, becoming large and dominant the terrestrial niche. and also the air by evolving into birds.

The mass extinction caused by the giant meteor that crashed into Earth around 66 million years ago killed the dinosaurs, but the crocodiles, being semi-aquatic, were not so badly affected and were survived and branched out again, although it is unclear why they did so. do not diversify even more, some also becoming terrestrial again. There are about 25 species now, but throughout history there were over 500.

Crocs clearly deserve more respect.

the macbeth podcast serves to remind us that Shakespeare was very restrained in his descriptions of scenes and characters. Various directors over time have imposed their visions on the play and some have become so iconic that you can’t imagine anything else. In the macbeth episode I was fascinated by one of the panelists describing his experience in a production where there was no director. Each actor had to develop their own interpretation of their character. It turns out that much of what we associate with the play is due to previous directors’ visions being passed down, not necessarily to anything in the play itself. For example, the three iconic witches who start the play and play such a central role in the fortunes of Macbeth? They immediately bring to mind three tall, old women in pointed black hats stirring a cauldron of poisonous substances in a foggy environment. But the play says nothing about how they looked or what they were doing. Some ancient manuscripts do not even call them witches but “strange sisters” or “whimsical sisters”.

Either way, the bottom line is that this is a site worth perusing. I’m pretty sure you’ll find something you like.

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