Context with Brad Harris

A monthly History and Education podcast
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Episodes of Context

There’s a lot that’s dividing Americans right now - lots of divisive narratives that have captivated lots of people. One of those narratives features the apparent widening political divide between urban and rural culture. But, the truth is that
"Notes on Nationalism" was an essay written by George Orwell in 1945, just as World War II was ending. It caused quite a stir at the time, but most people these days have never heard of it. Nonetheless, "Notes on Nationalism" remains one of the
Like many others, I’ve begun to worry about the fate of higher education in American society. Having spent most of my professional life in academia, my instinct is to regard the university system as sacred - as Wisdom’s Workshop, to borrow the
In this episode, I invited the philosopher and author Stephen Hicks on the podcast to chat about his book, Explaining Postmodernism.  Stephen has been a Professor of Philosophy at Rockford University in Illinois for nearly 20 years, and he's pu
What’s that line attributed to Mark Twain?... "History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes." As the authors Neil Howe and William Strauss wrote in their best-selling book The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy - What the Cycles of His
Plague, political upheaval, the looming prospect of another civil war... what century are we in? To retain historical perspective, and to find inspiration in how humanity has recovered from far greater upheavals in the past, we turn to Barbara
I went slightly mad producing this episode. But then, the line between our reality and the fiction of 1984 has become far too blurry for my comfort. George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948 - a very different historical context with very different thre
"Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it." Lately, it seems like our society is attempting to replace truth with power, forgetting that all other societies that have done this have failed miserably. One of the worst features of our soc
It's hard to remember how intelligent humanity can be when we are relentlessly bombarded by bad news. Author and mathematician Steven Strogatz helps to remind us with his recent book, Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Uni
Carl Sagan was a brilliant popularizer of science.  His book, The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, helps to inspire clear thinking when chaos reigns supreme.  Here, I share my thoughts on the important themes of that work.
There is an overlooked rule in history: far more is lost and forgotten than is preserved and remembered. Humanity has made incredible progress - we know more and we’re more powerful than we’ve ever been. But, are we getting wiser?  What if our
Today, we explore the origin of the modern concept of a fact. We take facts for granted, but they represent an invaluable intellectual technology less than 400 years old, which was forged in a fight between two of history’s brightest thinkers b
Today I'm speaking with Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, a historian from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It would be hard to find a scholar better equipped to enhance our historical perspective on how we decide what's true. Jennifer and I cha
Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, published in 1987, became one of the most influential books of the last 50 years by instigating a battle over the soul of the American University that's been raging ever since. The book sold milli
In this episode, we witness the debate that raged over the birth of what is perhaps the most powerful idea in history; the idea that supports our ability to make the world a better place, and the idea that defines the meaning of America. This i
Niall Ferguson is one of the most influential historians of our generation. His professional effort extends well beyond academia to ensure that policy makers and the public better understand how to apply historical lessons to current issues. Ni
Niall Ferguson, perhaps the most famous historian of our generation, offers yet another breakthrough in his latest work, The Square and the Tower. Through groundbreaking research, Ferguson reveals how social networks, from the Freemasons of the
Is there a logic to history?  Many scholars balk at the idea of searching for such logic, insisting that each culture may only be understood on its own terms. In Why the West Rules - For Now, Ian Morris counters that if we look beyond the facad
Today, I’m speaking with Bryan Ward-Perkins, author of The Fall of Rome, and the End of Civilization.  It has become fashionable to argue that Roman civilization never collapsed, but was merely transformed by Germanic culture. Although this cou
The Two Cultures by C. P. Snow was one of the most influential lectures of the 20th century, triggering an intense epistemological debate within higher education regarding the status of science that has persisted to this day. The main theme of
Merchants of Doubt is not just a book about how illusions of scientific controversy have been constructed, it’s also about the people who constructed them, and its most shocking revelation is that the very same people used the very same strateg
If civilization collapsed, and our descendants could rediscover a single work to get humanity back on track scientifically and technologically, Peter Atkins’ Galileo’s Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science, would be a contender. If there are m
In this episode, we're shifting gears and I'll read an article that I published in 2013 in the journal American Scientist called "Evolution's Other Narrative." Here is a link to the article:
The history of disease demonstrates both the accidental nature of history and the triumph of human reason that can enable us to gain some control over our fate; most of us no longer suffer the death of half our children, among other nightmares.
In 1493, Charles Mann shows us how Europeans emerged at the center of a modern, globalized world by establishing the Columbian Exchange; a system they created but could not control, and with consequences none of them could imagine. Support Cont
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