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Posts Tagged ‘In Our Time’

— 1 —

This week’s takes are mostly about listening and watching. Things will get interesting over the next few days, but probably mostly on Instagram – so head over there to keep up.

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In Our Time has sadly gone into its summer break, but it ended on a very high note with an excellent program on bird migration. What I particularly enjoyed about it was Melvyn Bragg’s infectious awestruck attitude about the whole business, which mirrors mine – How do they know?  – and the fact that he just couldn’t get over it, which is the proper attitude in the face of mystery. Secondly, the scientists on the program were all refreshingly honest about the answers to Melvyn’s questions, which most of the time involved a lot of we’re not sure and maybe and…we just don’t know. 

So much of the media’s reporting on science is couched in almost religious and certainly ideological certainty – a certainty which many, if not most scientists themselves would reject. I always enjoy the scholars on In Our Time, who are willing to admit what they don’t know and engage in respectful disagreement about what they think they might have a handle on.

— 3 —

Also this week, I listened to In Our Time broadcasts on the poet John Clare, of whom I am ashamed to say I had never heard, and Hannah Arendt. 

The program on Clare was interesting because, well, it was all new to me, but also because of the material presented about Clare’s relationship with publishing. He was a farmer, and while we might think, “poor lower class poet rejected by the smart set,” in fact the truth was the opposite – ever since Burns, the search had been on for the next Big Country Poet, and it was thought for while that Clare might be the one. And then he ended up in insane asylums for two decades, sadly, probably because of manic depression.

The program on Hannah Arendt set her work in helpful context, with a great deal of discussion about how she was misunderstood by critics. In brief, the “banality of evil” is not an invitation to diminish evil, but an explanation of how evil can become just another job to do.

— 4 —

And then I discovered a new BBC podcast program!

It’s called Science Stories and while the format is different than In Our Time, the general attitude and approach are the same, emphasizing the importance of  context as we seek to understand past scientific endeavors, which is something I appreciate so much, and is so refreshing, surrounded as we are in our media sea of context-free accusations, assertions, presumptions and fabrications.

And guess what? Religion is quite often part of the context – and might even be a paradigmatic framework for the context – and that is okay. 

On a science program!

So, for example, a program on Robert Grosseteste, 13th century Bishop of Lincoln and teacher, famously, of Roger Bacon. Grosseteste was, as many learned men of the time were, a polymath, but this particular episode of Science Stories focused on what the presenter termed his proto-“Big Bang” theory rooted in his observations of light and informed by his Genesis-shaped faith. It’s only 28 minutes and well worth your time. A taste:

Scientist: The story I was told when I was growing up was before 1600, all was darkness and…theology and dogmatism…and then suddenly Newton, Galileo, Kepler, who-hoa – all is light and Enlightenment and we get back on track with science. And you know, that’s never rung true because science doesn’t work like that – we all make little steps and we all, as Newton said, stand on the shoulders of giants. I think in Grosseteste, we’ve come across one of the giants on which the early modern scientists stood…..

….Presenter: And the motivation, certainly, for people like Grosseteste was ultimately a religious one, a theological one.

Scientist: Yes, it’s very clear that he would have been mystified by the question, “Can you reconcile your science with your religion?”  – he would have looked at you very askance and said, “What do you mean? That’s why I’m doing this science!”

.

— 5 —

The episode on “The Anglo Saxon Remedy that kills MRSA”  was also fascinating, involving researchers who are exploring these 1100-year old books of remedies with the aim of not only figuring out the origins of these remedies but also their effectiveness.

As in the previous program, spirituality is given due credit and respect as are techniques and approaches we might want to initially wave off as nothing more than superstition – for example, chanting a rhyme or prayer in association with the application of the remedy. As the researchers pointed out, it was not mere superstition at work here – in a world without clocks, this would be a way of keeping time as you applied the compress or shook the mixture.

— 6 —

My older son has been working a lot at night, so we haven’t been doing a lot of movies – two we have watched over the past week have been The Seven Samurai and Twelve Angry Men.  We spread out The Seven Samurai over two nights, although I think we could have done it all in one, in retrospect. It’s quite absorbing and didn’t feel at all like an almost 4-hour movie (as opposed to the Heston Ben-Hur which felt every minute of it to me during last year’s rewatch after 40 years, probably –  #confessyourunpopularopinion)

They really liked The Seven Samurai, and so I see more Kurosawa in our future, whenever we can manage another evening, which won’t be for a while, it looks like, what with travel and work. Probably The Hidden Forest, which inspired Star Wars, would make the most sense, although I’m more interested in Stray Dog. We won’t do Rashomon. 

Twelve Angry Men is, of course, much shorter – having begun as a television drama – and quite an efficient and compelling way to introduce a good discussion of appearance, reality, truth and integrity. There’s one simplistic psychological-torment-motivation subplot that was annoying and overwrought, but then that is par for the late-50’s course.

Oh, and one night after work, the 16-year old pulled Doctor Strangelove off the shelf and "amy welborn"took it in his room to watch it. Speaking of context, what I offered him afterwards was that early 60’s context of nuclear terror which led the young parents of a two-year old, living in Texas in the fall of 1962, to formulate a plan about what they’d do if the bombs dropped – a plan that involved an overdose of sleeping pills, as they calmly reminisced a few decades later. The grown daughter was startled, to say the least, but the fact that her quite traditional parents had felt driven to concoct such a plan showed how frightened people really were at the time. They weren’t building bomb shelters just for the fun of it.

Speaking of mid-century psychological-torment-subplots..

Kidding!

— 7 —

Okay! Let’s have a saint!

Today is the feast of Kateri Tekakwitha. She’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints – a couple of pages of which are available online. 

 

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— 1 —

This is a very link-ish quick takes. I’m writing other things, thinking about other things, so I’m just going to toss out links to recent reads and listens.

But first, let me bring a bit of sunshine to your day, via a wallpaper mural in the basement of a home in which an estate sale was held last week:

 

 

What would you say? Late 70’s?

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Planned Parenthood’s Brutal Century – a good synopsis of the deeply embedded anti-human eugenics presumptions of not only Planned Parenthood but so much of “enlightened” American intellectual culture of the late 19th through mid-20th century.

 

 

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You have perhaps heard the story of little Charlie Gard, born with a rare and fatal genetic disease. 

Charlie Gard suffers from a very rare genetic condition, and is now living in Great Ormond Street Hospital with the help of a ventilator. When doctors there determined that they could not save his life, the hospital made a decision to remove the ventilator. His parents objected, and raised enough funds to transport the child to the US for experimental treatment. But their right to find treatment for their child was rejected in a series of court decisions. This week the European Court of Human Rights, the parents’ last hope for relief, ruled that the experimental treatment offered “no prospects of success” and the baby was “being exposed to continued pain, suffering, and distress.”

The court affirmed the hospital’s right to remove life support. “Our parental rights have been stripped away,” protested Chris Gard, the child’s father. The parents reported that Great Ormond Street Hospital had refused their request to have Charlie brought home for his last night, or to allow him to die peacefully in a hospice.

The English bishops and the Pontifical Academy for Life have issued statements on the case. Neither statements addresses the issue of state power over medical decisions. 

The injustice is that Charlie will die when the hospital administration wants, and where the hospital administration wants. His parents have been deprived of their right to supervise his case. They could not take him the US for experimental treatment. They could not take him home, to die in peace. As one of our readers observed, Charlie was essentially kidnapped, so that the authorities would be sure that he died on schedule.

Two tepid statements, from the local bishops’ conference and from the Vatican, might have been appropriate if the discussion had centered on the decision to turn off the ventilator. But they missed the essential point of the controversy entirely. The state—the hospital, the courts—had seized the power to preside over a child’s death, regardless of the parents’ wishes. Sadly, the Catholic hierarchy did not protest.

Catholic Hierarchs yesterday: An individual’s and family’s right to make decisions regarding freedom, justice and a living supersedes a State’s civil arrangements and legal borders.

Catholic Hierarchs today: A State’s civil arrangements supersedes a family’s authority to make decisions regarding the life of its members. 

I mean, I thought bridges were better than walls, and we’re not supposed to erect walls to keep people from exercising their freedom.

Pick one, guys. Pick one.

Another commentary:

John Paul II was well aware of the ways in which governments can steal the legitimate authority of parents and families: in “Familiaris Consortio” he affirmed that “the church openly and strongly defends the rights of the family against the intolerable usurpations of society and the state.” One would imagine that one such “intolerable usurpation” would be a government denying two parents the right to try to save their baby boy’s life. And one would imagine that an institution entitled “the Pontifical Academy for Life” would recognize that.

 

 

— 4 —

On a more cheerful note, our local new source, the Birmingham News, has given good coverage this week to Catholic matters: the ordination of two priests last Saturday, and the celebration of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form last night in honor of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Here’s the story of one of the new priests.

And the other.

And the Mass. 

You can view the list of music from the Mass here (it’s a pdf – scroll down for 6/29) at the part of the parish website where orders of worship eventually get posted. 

 

— 5 —

I found this interesting – Does God want you to spend $300,000 for College? …in which a NYTimes reporter asks Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins about the moral implications of high tuition. In my opinion, he’s not tough enough on Jenkins. The question has implications, not just for Catholic higher education, but Catholic education at all levels.

 

— 6 —

Related, by the same author in the same article series on faith and money: The Monk Who Left the Monastery to Fix Retirement Plans. 

So has Mr. Lynam concluded that his former colleagues need him more than his former students? Not exactly. “I’m not irreplaceable in the classroom,” he said. “But I did not see another company serving teachers in the way that I can serve them. It’s not that one form of service is higher or lower.”

It is a very different role, though — one he describes as being a “suffering prevention specialist.” His professional conversations now feel a lot like confession, he said, with people sharing stories of unpaid debts, betrayals and sure things that were far from it. He listens, and then he must hold the mirror up to those who may not want to see the truth.

“Perhaps one of the cardinal sins that I see the most, though it’s not a popular one to talk about, is sloth,” he said. “Some people are afraid but also a little lazy, and they don’t really want to do the hard work of facing their mistakes or lack of organization and knowledge on these subjects and take responsibility.”

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This week’s In Our Time listen – in between all the rain – was on Pushkin’s poem, Eugene Onegin.  

Well, that’s it. That’s all I have left, folks!

IMG_20170625_134749

 

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When it comes to instant video social media-type stuff, I toyed with Snapchat a bit last year. I started mostly because my daughter wanted me to join so she could share Snaps with me, and then we went to Italy for three weeks, and I thought it would be an efficient way of getting and sharing video.

But I didn’t really like it that much, and when Instagram unveiled a similar feature – Instagram Stories – I tried it out and found I liked it much better. The most important difference to me between the two was that Instagram makes it very, very easy to share on Instagram Stories after the moment – with Snapchat, you can load up saved images and videos, but it’s a hassle and it doesn’t have the same look as the in-the-moment Snaps.

And so what Snapchat wants you to do is engage with the app in the moment – and I don’t want to do that. I want to take a quick photo or snip of video, save it for later uploading, and then focus on the moment of what’s happening in front of me. I didn’t want to have to be stopping and saying, “Wait, let me upload this to Snapchat.”  I prefer to just take my photos, and later, when the event is over, upload.

All of that is by way of introduction to a few words about who I am actually still following on Snapchat (besides my daughter) – it’s down to two:

Everest No Filter

and David Lebovitz.

David Lebovitz is an American Paris-based food writer – he wrote the book on homemade ice cream and has other excellent books, and his website is invaluable.  He uses Snapchat very well, and I really enjoy it – I don’t get into social media very much at all, but I do look forward to David’s daily forays through Paris (although he’s been in the US for a few weeks now – that’s interesting too) and his work in the kitchen.  He uses the medium very, very well.

I started following Everest No Filter last year – it’s the Snapchat account of Adrian Ballinger and Cory Richards. Ballinger is a climber, and while Richards obviously climbs as well, he’s also known as a photographer.  They started Everest No Filter last year as an account for people to follow them as they attempted to scale Everest (duh) with no supplemental oxygen.  Last year, Richards made it, but Ballinger didn’t – although not by much.

It’s Everest climbing season again, and so they are back. I have no plans to climb Mount Everest, nor do I have any other extreme sporting goals, but I am just hooked on the Everest No Filter Snapchat – it’s fascinating to learn about the work and effort that goes into a climb like this, and the two are very honest about the challenges. It is always thought-provoking to me to learn about people going through a great deal of effort to accomplish a goal and to wonder, for myself…what is worth that? 

If you don’t have and don’t want to bother with Snapchat, you can see a lot of the #EverestNoFilter stuff at their YouTube channel – they also periodically do Facebook Live events, too. The Everest No Filter website, with links to all their social media, is here. 

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Not Mount Everest:

amy-welborn

— 3 —

That’s Ruffner Mountain, about fifteen minutes from our house. It was part of last weekend’s adventures.

Car show was just at the park on the other side of the hill from our house. We walked there. 

— 4 —

This week’s aural adventures centered around The North – the North of England, that is.

I discovered that last fall, Melvyn Bragg (of In Our Time) had presented a series of programs on the North of England – they are just excellent.  

A few highlights:

The Glories of the North concerns the “Northumbrian Renaissance” – the flourishing of intellectual, artistic and spiritual life of the early medieval period, centered on three things: The Ruthwell Cross, the Lindesfarne Gospels, and the Venerable Bede. It was quite moving, really.

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Northern Inventions and the Birth of the Industrial Revolution is self-explanatory, of course, but expresses a train of thought that Bragg has often elucidated on In Our Time and something that I – the product of a long line of humanities-type people on both sides – have only recently come to appreciate, especially as the fruit of homeschooling – the creativity and genius of those engaged in science and industry and, quite honestly (and he deals with this) the snobbery of elites who downplay these achievements – England’s greatest contribution to world history, as Bragg would say it – completely undervalued by elites.

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The Radical North offers a quick look (all the programs are about half an hour) on the reforming movements that came out of the North. What I appreciated about this program is the due credit given to religion – in this case, Unitarianism, Quakerism and Methodism.  In particular, the role of Methodism in the development of trade unionism and sensitivity to workers’ rights, a role which one scholar on the program quite forthrightly said was vital and had been unfairly downplayed by Marxist-leaning historians since the 60’s (Beginning with E.P. Thompson, whose Making of the English Working Class was the first non-textbook college text I ever had. I had knocked off my history major freshman requirements in the summer, so I was able to take an upper-level history course the winter of my freshman year – it was a junior-level course on the Industrial Revolution, and oh, I felt so special, in there with the older students and no more schoolbooks, but instead the thick, important feeling Thompson in hand.

He even took us on a field trip to a textile mill that was, somehow, still operating somewhere in East Tennessee. )

So Thompson – you dissed the religionists, but the sight of that cover still gives me a frisson of excitement that even I was welcome in a world of intellectual engagement with Important Things.

It was worth doing.

So yes. Take a listen to The Matter of the North.  It’s worth your time. 

— 7 —

Perhaps you saw it earlier in the week...and perhaps you didn’t. So here it is, the cover of my next book, coming out in August (they say):

amy_welborn2

Secondly, since May is Mary’s month, it’s a good time to read a free book about her, originally published by Word Among Us, now out of print and available in a pdf version here.

Amy Welborn and Michael Dubruiel

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Seven Quick Takes

Sorry. SexyTime is over!

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Well, last week, it was Ben Hatke with good news, and this week it’s Gene Luen Yang, who was awarded a McArthur “Genius” Fellowship.  Yang is the author of some excellent works, including AMERICAN BORN CHINESE and the 2 volume BOXERS and SAINTS. Catholics might have first “met” him as the creator of a really good “Rosary Comic Book” published by Pauline Books and Media in 2003. Yang is Catholic and up until last year, worked in a Catholic high school in Oakland.

So great to see Yang’s fine work recognized in this way.

(By the way, Hatke is on a short book tour right now in support of his new series, Ordinary Jack…and Birmingham is on the list! Looking forward to meeting him next week.)

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Good news: my favorite podcast, the BBC4 history-themed series In Our Time has returned for a new season. I haven’t yet listened to the first episode, aired Thursday, on Zeno’s Paradoxes, but I did catch up this past week with an excellent episode on Margery Kempe.

kempeFor those of you who don’t know, Kempe was a medieval English mystic. She experienced her first vision of Christ after a profoundly difficult post-partum experience, bore thirteen more children, then started having more visions and going on pilgrimages. Her account of her life and visions was well known, but, of course, the Reformation Vandals took care of that, and – this, I didn’t know – a complete version was unknown to the post-Reformation world until 1934, when a copy was found in a cabinet in which someone was looking for ping-pong balls. You can read about the story of the discovery, and theories as to how this copy survived and got to its finding place here.

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This jibed nicely with some reading I’ve been doing for a project on women and the Reformation, only serving to reinforce my convictions about what a disaster the Protestant Reformation was for women (not to mention most other aspects of life in the West) and contribute to my inexorable, steadily growing aggravation with the apparent approaching canonization of Martin Luther.

It’s going to be a loooong 500th anniversary, and..

wehavenoliquor

 

But wait! We do! Never mind. We’ll get make it. God’s got this!

 

 — 4 —

Also on the listening front: this episode of The Food Programme, another BBC radio show I really like. This episode told the story of Charles Green, who was the cook on Shackleton’s Endurance expedition. Oh, what a tale. Green lived until 1973, and for a time, gave talks to groups with slides that Shackleton had given him, slides which he unfortunately felt necessary to sell when times got hard.

There is one audio recording of an interview with Green, and in the program, his own voice is interspersed with the narration of Gerard Baker , who has served as a cook on modern Antarctic expeditions. The account of what Green had to and did accomplish to keep the men alive, as healthy as possible and, in a sense, spiritually fed is quite moving. It is a reminder of all that goes into human accomplishment, and how most of it is unseen and unheralded.

 

— 5 

Today is the memorial of Padre Pio – or, more formally, St. Pius of Petrelcina, by far the most popular saint in Italy. His image is in every church and more shops than you can count. …..The relic of his heart has been in Boston over the past couple of days. Domenico Bettinelli writes a bit about it here and has links to other accounts. And oh, you must see the photos. So moving.

6–

Here’s a good blog post. Timothy O’Malley, director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, on why “Chant is Good for Children.”

Last Sunday, we went to the Melkite Liturgy on campus. The entire liturgy, as anyone knows who has attended Eastern liturgies, is sung. Despite our son’s lack of familiarity with the words on the page, he hummed along the entire time (sometimes even during the Eucharistic Prayer). With his slight speech delay, with his limited grasp of understanding of English, the chant allowed him to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice in a way that he rarely experiences.

Not once did he ask to leave.

Not once was he bored (though he did perform frequent prostrations and crossing of himself).

To this Catholic, we have to admit that music too often functions in our parishes as quaint interludes between the rationalism of speech. Our liturgies are wordy, sounding more like bad speeches than prayer. Why would anyone believe that we’re participating in the very liturgy of heaven itself?

If this is heaven, perhaps, I don’t want it. It seems really boring.

The chant of the Roman Missal should be normative in our parishes. Priests should learn to sing. We should chant the readings, the Psalm, the Creed, the Intercessions, the Eucharistic Prayer, the Pater Noster. Everything that can be chanted.

Years ago, I made a similar observation, also partly inspired by the experience of Eastern Catholic liturgy:

The organic integrity of the chanted liturgy. I must say that is attendance at the Eastern Catholic liturgies that helped me understand the concept of “singing the Mass” as opposed to “singing at Mass.” Chant is, I think, the natural language of vocal prayer – not recitation, but chant, even if that chant is nothing more than a sing-song. There was one aspect of this last liturgy that was recited – the prayer before reception of Communion. But that was it.

— 7 —

Get some copies! Spread the word! There will be a Spanish-language edition as well. 

Advent 2016 Daily Devotional

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Tomorrow (June 27) is the memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria.  Here’s what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said about St. Cyril in his General Audience in 2007:

Cyril’s writings – truly numerous and already widely disseminated in various Latin and Eastern translations in his own lifetime, attested to by their instant success – are of the utmost importance for the history of Christianity. His commentaries on many of the New and Old Testament Books are important, including those on the entire Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Psalms and the Gospels of John and Luke. Also important are his many doctrinal works, in which the defence of the Trinitarian faith against the Arian and Nestorian theses recurs. The basis of Cyril’s teaching is the ecclesiastical tradition and in particular, as I mentioned, the writings of Athanasius, his great Predecessor in the See of Alexandria. Among Cyril’s other writings, the books Against Julian deserve mention. They were the last great response to the anti-Christian controversies, probably dictated by the Bishop of Alexandria in the last years of his life to respond to the work Against the Galileans, composed many years earlier in 363 by the Emperor known as the “Apostate” for having abandoned the Christianity in which he was raised.

The Christian faith is first and foremost the encounter with Jesus, “a Person, which gives life a new horizon” (Deus Caritas Est, n. 1). St Cyril of Alexandria was an unflagging, staunch witness of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, emphasizing above all his unity, as he repeats in 433 in his first letter (PG 77, 228-237) to Bishop Succensus: “Only one is the Son, only one the Lord Jesus Christ, both before the Incarnation and after the Incarnation. Indeed, the Logos born of God the Father was not one Son and the one born of the Blessed Virgin another; but we believe that the very One who was born before the ages was also born according to the flesh and of a woman”. Over and above its doctrinal meaning, this assertion shows that faith in Jesus the Logos born of the Father is firmly rooted in history because, as St Cyril affirms, this same Jesus came in time with his birth from Mary, the Theotò-kos, and in accordance with his promise will always be with us. And this is important: God is eternal, he is born of a woman, and he stays with us every day. In this trust we live, in this trust we find the way for our life.

— 2 —

Cyril was, of course, a theologian, engaged in discourse concerned with theological precision.

We are often told these days that such concerns are nothing but casuistry.  Theology, it is sometimes said or at least implied, is an obstacle to faith.

And it can be.

This is of course, not a new discussion, and is indeed reflective of an authentic dynamic and tension within Christian discourse since….the beginning.

But as anyone with an understanding of what it means to be Catholic in its breadth and depth understands the danger of sweeping generalizations that sweep out one side of the either/or.

Catholicism is the expression of the loving Presence of Jesus Christ in the world. But the human beings Jesus encounters are intelligent, reasonable, and seek to understand.

Precision matters.  As time goes on, the precision might harden, become brittle and lifeless, and finally crack, but that doesn’t mean that the search for the closest words and ideas – even in negation – should be scoffed at or cast aside.  The process is important, and more than that, inevitable.  You can dismiss theological discourse, you can go on and on, talking in a “pastoral” way but do you know what?

Stubbornly, the questions will be raised.

How do you know this?

Where do your words come from?

Who is God?

Why is this a sin, but this not?

Who are you to tell me all about this, anyway?

Son of God? Mother of God? What? 

Questions that deserve answers with language as precise as possible, humble and so aware of the limitations of that language.

But yes, that deserve answers.  Which is what Catholic theology is all about, and what it’s for.

We keep talking, thinking, searching, in faith, aware of our limitations but also aware of who we are as rational beings created in the image of God.

Logos and agape.

Not either, not or.

Both.

— 3 —

Some interesting reading and listening this week.  The listening first.

As I said this past week on Twitter – spend  less time on Facebook this week and listen to some good podcasts instead.  As long time readers know, my favorites are those from BBC Radio 4, particularly In Our Time.  There is simply nothing like it on American radio.  A brisk jaunt through some topic led by Melvyn Bragg and three academics.  It’s very tightly structured, and not a free-for all, but it’s always interesting and disagreements are certainly aired.

It’s also very non-American in that it’s absolutely free from PC cant or snideness when addressing issues of religion.  Historical figures’ religious faith is taken seriously and respectfully.  So refreshing.

— 4 —

This week I listened to an episode on Jane Eyre, which I confess….I’VE NEVER READ.  I have no idea how that happened, since as a teen, I read most of Austen, Hardy and even Middlemarch. 

That said, I think I’ll read it now….probably over this weekend.

The program examined Bronte’s life, particularly as it might have inspired various aspects of the book, her process of writing it, the plot and major themes, its reception and, at the end, its religious themes….as was pointed out, the last word in the novel is “Jesus.”

— 5 —

Next was an episode on the Curies.  I read a children’s biography of Marie Curie as a child and was quite inspired by it (obviously not to be a scientist, but there was a time around 5th grade when I thought I would be a doctor…so, sort of inspired, I guess).

Religion entered the discussion as the differences between Curie’s mother (observant Catholic) and father (atheist scientist) were touched on and brought back into play in the later French context.  Good discussion of the family dynamics, especially after Pierre’s death, and a clarifying section on Marie’s scientific achievements and the distinction between her chemistry and physics Nobel prizes. 

— 6 —

Speaking of 19th century women, over the past couple of days, I read a very good book called Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back by Janice Nimura.   It’s a very well-told history of five young Japanese women (really girls – ranging in age from 7 to young teens) who were sent from Japan to the United States to live and study in 1871.  Two returned fairly soon, but the three who remained ended up studying at Vassar and Bryn Mawr, Daughters of the Samuraiand each, in her own way, eventually made tremendous contributions to the cause of the education of Japanese women.

The author was blessed with fantastic resources – the women were faithful correspondents, some of which has been published, the American and eventually Japanese press covered various aspects of their lives, and they made speeches and wrote articles. 

Through the prism of these women’s lives, we learn quite a bit about late 19th century Japanese history and the sense that women in both countries had of themselves.

— 7 —

And once again….religion. And again, religion treated respectfully and honestly, since Christian faith motivated many of the women’s American benefactors, and one of the Japanese women converted to Christianity herself.  What is clear is something that anyone who has studied the history of both Protestant and Catholic Christianity both in the context of Europe and in its encounters with other non-European cultures:

Christianity elevates the status of women. And it was understood to do so.

This is one of the rarely-discussed reasons that Christianity was resisted in some traditional patriarchal cultures.  It was a profound motivator, especially for female Protestant missionaries. Everything happens within a particular context, of course.   The Japanese women of Nimura’s tale had, in our view, a “limited” understanding of what education should accomplish, and expressed

dissatisfaction with later more “radical” (in the 1910’s!) visions being expressed by younger women.  But in their own time, their work on behalf of women’s education was certainly radical in and of itself.

A really enjoyable, rich read.

 As I was pouring over this book last night, I was thinking about why historical fiction doesn’t interest me. I mean…the minute I pick up a novel and see that it has a real historical figure at its center, I lose interest. (Not necessarily events, of course, just a novel built around a particular real person.) I think part of that is because historians today have access to such rich sources, they can put their hand to it and pull out a narrative that’s as intriguing as any novel – more so.

(That said, I also resisted history that embroiders in any way – that sets up scenes not derived directly from sources or enters an historical figure’s mind. Hate that.  I thought there might be a bit of that at  the beginning of this book, but turning to the notes, I saw that she pulled the scenes I was questioning directly from correspondence. )

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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In Our Time…again

I keep nagging you about the BBC4 radio program In Our Time, and I just want to make sure you are taking me seriously.

Listen to it. 

There are hundreds of episodes from which to choose on all matters cultural, literary, historical and scientific.  It’s a far better use of  42 minutes of your time that you spend doing chores, driving somewhere or exercising than the latest episode of Ellen or some such.

In short: it’s a discussion program between host Melvyn Bragg and three academics.  There has been preparation, of course.  Melvyn has had his notes, and the program is tightly structured, but it never gives the sense of being scripted.  Real discussions and disagreements happen, and as an added treat, the podcasts now include about 5-10 minutes of post-broadcast discussion.

I’m always deeply impressed by the lack of cant and ideology, and, when it’s a factor, the fair treatment of religion.

I’ve only started listening to one episode that I just couldn’t finish, and that was on the whale.  I can dredge up enough interest in, say, the Corn Laws to forge on, but the evolutionary journey of the whale…no.  Don’t care.

So the latest:

The program on the Baroque was lovely.  I was ready to hear the Baroque dismissed as so much superficial fanciness, but I should have known better.  The discussion was quite illuminating, emphasizing that Baroque design and architecture was an expression of the meeting of heaven and earth – finding a way to let heaven burst into the earthly realm.

The microscope?  Another intriguing discussion of the impact of accumulating scientific work.

Hadrian’s Wall – Why there and how?  Also, most intriguingly to me, as always, questions of historiography and contemporary archaeology, for only a very small percentage of Hadrian’s Wall has been excavated, and new discoveries are continually being made.

The Domesday Book broadened my understanding of the Norman Conquest and gave voice to differing views on its impact, and, by extension, much food for thought on unintended consequences of historical events.

The program on the 1884 Berlin Conference in which Africa was carved up by European powers was a really bracing, enlightening romp through palm oil, Stanley and Livingston, King Leopold of Belgium, the fading Ottoman Empire, the complexity of Africa and Africans as agents, not just victims,  and more.  Really, one of the best of the series, and that’s saying  a lot. 

 

 

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