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15 April 2012 @ 06:52 pm
Radio Programme #2: Archive on 4  
Programme: Archive on 4 - Hobsbawm: A Life in History
Station: BBC Radio 4
Broadcast: Saturday 14th April 2012, 8.00pm
Available Until: Saturday 21st April
Website: Archive on 4 14/4/12



I heard this last night while washing up and cooking dinner (yes, in that order) and it's a fine example of one of the big reasons I love Radio 4 - its knack of having you riveted by things you had no idea you were interested in.  I've never heard of Eric Hobsbawn, and having heard a few adverts for the programme throughout the day I had no particular desire to listen to it.  But it happened to be on while I was doing stuff in the kitchen and within a few minutes I was fascinated.



It turns out that Hobsbawn is a historian, and had a pretty interesting early life moving from Vienna to Berlin as a child, campaigning for the Communist Party as a sixteen-year-old during Hitler's rise to power and then winning a scholarship to Cambridge since which he has had a distinguished academic career.  The programme consisted of Hobsbawn in conversation with the historian Simon Sharma interspersed with sound clips of him (Hobsbawn) from the BBC archives.

One thing that I learned that surprised me was that social history is apparently a relatively new discipline - one that just didn't exist before about fifty or sixty years ago.  Apparently until then the focus was entirely on leaders, wars and their chronology rather than what people ate and how they lived!  Both Sharma and Hobsbawn seemed convinced, based on the bestselling history books, that popular interest is shifting back to the leaders and wars, but I'm not so convinced.  I don't know much about the history sections of bookshops, but I'm sure over the last few years I've seen and enjoyed many television programmes exploring how people lived in the past.

Hobsbawn made a number of comments I found particularly interesting.  Firstly, that though society today has held onto the conclusions of the Enlightenment, we've forgotten the ideas behind them, particularly the importance of rational thought.  Secondly, that not enough worth is now placed on the Humanities, and that this is a mistake because they are what help us understand human beings and why they do things.  As you can imagine, the idea of the Humanities as being important is one that I rather like!

That said, I didn't warm to him as a person, particularly in one of the archive clips where he stated that the enormous number of deaths that were the result of Stalin's regime were worth it to foward the cause of communism.  It's a pretty horrific thing to say, and when the interviewer on the clip expressed similar horror to mine, Hobsbawn retorted that the second world war had also killed a large number of people, and for a cause.  The interviewer made a distinction between war and peacetime, but is war (should it be?) an exception in this way?  What makes one seem acceptable and the other not?  Hmmm.
 
 
 
shimotsuki: booksshimotsuki on April 16th, 2012 03:54 am (UTC)
Sounds very interesting indeed.

Firstly, that though society today has held onto the conclusions of the Enlightenment, we've forgotten the ideas behind them, particularly the importance of rational thought.

And it seems that the current push toward standardized testing in primary and secondary schools in the US isn't going to help with this. :(

Secondly, that not enough worth is now placed on the Humanities, and that this is a mistake because they are what help us understand human beings and why they do things.

Yep, I worry about this all the time, and not just because my job depends on it (heh). It seems that people nowadays only value topics, concepts, and ideas that have some kind of immediate "practical" (financial?) value -- but so many other things have long-term value, or value beyond the immediately or measurably practical.
katyhasclogs: Bookshelfkatyhasclogs on April 19th, 2012 12:36 pm (UTC)
And it seems that the current push toward standardized testing in primary and secondary schools in the US isn't going to help with this. :(

And ditto over here I expect. Actually, there's another programme I listened to recently that somewhat opens up the 'limits of exams' can of worms so perhaps you'll hear more on the subject in the near future!

It seems that people nowadays only value topics, concepts, and ideas that have some kind of immediate "practical" (financial?) value -- but so many other things have long-term value, or value beyond the immediately or measurably practical.

OMG yes! I keep coming across this everywhere, from the government's love of university science departments, because research = discovery = business = ecomomy boost (apparently), to ideas about whether degrees are worthwhile or value for money if they don't give you an obvious ticket to a job, to the kind of things Ofsted (school inspectors) expect of teachers like my mum and their lessons. Seriously, don't get me started!

(Maybe I ought to have done '100 rants about the state of the ecucation system' lol.)