Friday, February 3, 2012

New Books in History Podcast

I wanted to put in a word about the New Books in History series of book-review podcasts. Marshall Poe, who hosts each podcast, is a noted Russian historian, and I know of his work from A People Born to Slavery: Russia in Early Modern European Ethnography, 1476-1748, which would be an excellent book for me to review on this blog, especially given what I have written so far here about the reception of the West in Russia and vice-versa.

Though there are a number of historians from the various subfields of history and other allied disciplines who appear on the show to talk about their most recent monographs, as you might expect Russian studies features prominently. For example, recent podcasts have featured Rosamund Bartlett's Tolstoy: A Russian Life and Rodric Braithwaite's Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979-89

One older podcast that I enjoyed listening to featured Abbot Gleason, who is among the founding figures of American Slavic studies. It was interesting to hear him recount his interactions with such legendary figures as Martin Malia and Andrzej Walicki. The latter features very interestingly in one anecdote: apparently Gleason decided to write an undergraduate thesis on Franz Xaver von Baader, a conservative Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher who is perhaps not as famous a member of the Counter-Englightenment as someone like, say, Joseph de Maistre. Gleason clearly was embarrassed about his research topic since it was not as sexy as the projects of his peers, who were writing about things like the rise of German National Socialism and Nietzsche's critique of liberalism. However, Walicki, who was Gleason's advisor at the time, was very enthusiastic about Baader, and he applauded Gleason for picking an understudied topic to research. Walicki also encouraged Gleason to study German, Polish, Russian and other languages so that he could read the existing scholarship on Baader since there was very little in English about him at the time.

I have a vital sympathy with this approach to scholarship, since in my own plan of study I chose to research one of the most understudied corners of Fyodor Dostoevsky's output, namely his journalistic pieces that were published throughout the 1870s as The Diary of a Writer; the Diary features some of the famous novelist's more unsavory and reactionary opinions about European politics and the Russian Jews, while at the same time containing some celebrated vignettes and other fictions (such as, for example, "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man"). The lack of monographs and journal articles on the Diary (in contrast to the huge scholarly attention that Dostoevsky's major novels have enjoyed) as well as on figures like Baader may be attributed to the fact that there are always fewer scholars who are interested in studying the more reactionary aspects of intellectual history.

At any rate, the New Books series has been a satisfying way for me pass the time when I am out of the office and taking walks around the parks and other natural areas of scenic Tucson.

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