Do you listen to podcasts?
I have never made a habit of them. They have always been a brief means of exploring topics and information I wouldn’t normally come across in my day to day life.
I am discovering that a well written and researched podcast series can offer all the major points of interest of a topic, without the need for sourcing and reading 10 respected books on a subject.
My partner is Italian, and as well as learning his mother-language, I felt that learning something of Italian history would be a good way to understand the culture and politics of his country.
My school education taught me about the Roman Empire, and touched on parts of Italy’s part in both World Wars, but that knowledge alone is not enough to understand modern Italy. The unification of Italy, took a collection of kingdoms and states from a geological description, to a unified republic with a national identity. Since this unified nation has been in place for less than 150 years, the Republic of Italy is younger than the United States, therefore the fact of, and the journey to its unification affects its shape today. This is how I came to discover the Talking History podcast on the Italian Unification.
The Talking History podcast is produced by two brothers who are studying for Chemistry PhDs. Their presentation is very well structured, and detailed. The first section of the series is dedicated to explaining the political and societal history which laid the foundations for unification to happen. This starts with the Roman Empire, its fall, the Middle Ages, the Austrian Empire, Napoleon, and the events that happened elsewhere in Europe that are integral to the story. They explain the lack of national identity that was felt between the various states and kingdoms of Italy, and the path of events which led towards (and sometimes away from) unity.
There is a lot of information, names, places, and dates to take in, but Ben and Adam are very good at flagging the parts of the story which are there to illustrate a social or political mood, and those pieces of information which are worth memorising in order to make better sense of the coming events. Major events and figures are examined in higher detail, and contributing curiosities are not indulged for longer than they hold interest.
Each episode is roughly an hour long, and so far I have listened as far episode 33 (Mazzini at the Helm). Episode 24 is where the background detail truly ends and, after so much imparting of information, episode 25 is sensibly given over to a summarising of events so far. The series currently runs to 44 episodes, with the latest posted on 24th November 2015.
At the point I’ve reached, the various states and kingdoms of Italy are experiencing revolutions, and their leaders are realising that reforms and compromises are required for progress and civil peace. Not all leaders are working to do much more than retain their positions of power, but a sense that cooperation between states and kingdoms would be a strengthening move has lead to a unification of the north of Italy.
Sometimes the length of a long and complicated story can be overwhelming, to the point of losing interest in the outcome, but here that is not the case. Each episode has been structured sufficiently to stand alone, whilst at the beginning and end of each episode Ben and Adam take the time to explain where this story fits into the larger story, and what is to come next.
I often listen to this podcast whilst doing other things: knitting, gardening, cooking, cleaning, etc., and often binge-listen. It is difficult to maintain optimum concentration when listening like this, but well-thought-out and timely summaries are provided to help keep you on track.
It is fascinating to realise how interlinked the history of every nation is, and how the narrative of one portion of one nation’s history contains so many captivating stories, which themselves would make interesting further reading. I’ve never had more than a passing interest in history, finding it informative, but nothing more. Discovering this podcast had awakened me to the idea that I can find engrossing stories not just in literature, but in well-told history too.
What are you listening to at the moment? What topics intrigue you?