U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Lauren’s Light Listening–pre-Thanksgiving show

For your Thanksgiving holiday, some radio pieces on the origin of ideas, the writing of history, and the origin of Thanksgiving as a holiday:

The origin of ideas–an individual or a system? From Radio Lab’s Patient Zero episode

We’re left wondering, what would happen if you were to treat a good idea like an infectious disease? Could you trace it back to one individual, and one flash of insight? Jon Mooallem tells us about his quest to track down the origin of the high five–a story that starts with one of the most celebratory gestures imaginable … and ends with a choice that pits a happy ending against a more complicated reality. Lutha Davis, Greg Harrell-Edge, Nolan Smith, and Kathy Gregory all weigh in with competing explanations. And Tim Hemmes and Katie Schaffer tell a moving story about the power of their very own first high five.
All this leaves us with an inevitable, but unsettling question. A question that Jonnie Hughes helps answer with a broadminded look at the history of the cowboy hat.

Julian Barnes on Writing History from Kurt Andersen and Studio 360.

Last month Julian Barnes received the prestigious Man Booker Prize for his novel The Sense of an Ending. It’s about a middle-aged man who must reconsider events from his youth upon the death of a childhood friend. When he discovers a past that clashes with his memories, he must reconceive both his history and identity. At 163 pages, the book has been recognized for its compact simplicity, intensity, and depth.
In 2006, Kurt Andersen interviewed Barnes as part of the National Book Foundation’s “Eat, Drink & Be Literary” series at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Barnes had just published a very different kind of historical exploration, Arthur & George (also shortlisted for the Booker Prize that year).
Barnes began the event with a reading from Arthur & George, a historical fiction about Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (2:45-20:45 in the audio below). But in the conversation that followed, he told Kurt, “In a funny way, I don’t consider it a historical novel. I think with a historical novel set at that time you would imagine the reader in a deep-buttoned late-Victorian tub chair by a blazing log-fire. I want the reader to feel that they are sitting in an uncomfortable modern chair with someone’s walkman blaring in their ear.”
Listen to the full 70-minute recording here:

The History Guys analyze Thanksgiving on Backstory

When we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, we think we know what we’re commemorating. But if an actual Pilgrim were to attend your Thanksgiving, chances are he’d be stunned by what he saw there. In this episode, historian James McWilliams discusses why the Puritans would have turned up their noses at our “traditional” Thanksgiving foods. Religion scholar Anne Blue Wills reveals the Victorian  origins of our modern holiday, and one woman’s campaign to fix it on the national calendar. An archeologist at Colonial Williamsburg explains what garbage has to tell us about early American diets. And legendary NFL quarterback Roger Staubach describes what it was like to spend every turkey day on the football field.