Episode 86: Rethinking the Agricultural “Revolution”

Host: Christopher Rose, Department of History
Guest: Rachel Laudan, independent scholar

Thousands of years before recorded human history, anthropologists have traced the evolution of human society from a nomadic hunter-gatherer phase to the rise of agricultural practices, which allowed people to stay settled in one place, form complex societies, and ultimately early civilizations. This transition, it is said, was so momentous that it has become known as the Agricultural Revolution. A few decades ago, however, a scholar posited that humans lost leisure time in the process, becoming virtual slaves to their new agricultural lifestyles that required hours of maintenance daily. This counterargument declared that the Agricultural Revolution was nothing less than the greatest disaster to ever befall mankind.

Not so fast, says our guest this week. Rachel Laudan, a renowned food historian and author of Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History, argues that this thesis, which has found a champion in Jared Diamond’s best-selling Guns, Germs & Steel, fails to take food preparation into account. Our interview offers a different perspective and raises some new questions about the social impact of the beginnings of agriculture.

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Episode 79: Fishmeal—The Superfood That Never Was

Host: Christopher Rose, Center for Middle Eastern Studies
Guest: Kristin Wintersteen, Department of History, University of Houston

After World War II, governments and international aid agencies were looking for a way to ameliorate the widespread hunger and malnutrition that populations faced in areas devastated by war, poverty, and other ‘natural’ disasters. They found an unlikely suspect in fishmeal, and with it, lit up the economies of South America along the Humboldt Current. But the fish, as it turned out, had other ideas.

Guest Kristin Wintersteen has worked on the history of industry subject to the temperaments of on-again off-again current cycles in the Pacific, and how the boom and bust of one of the first superfoods has led to new discussions about global nutrition.

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Episode 42: The Senses of Slavery

Host: Joan Neuberger, Editor, Not Even Past and Professor, Department of History
Guest: Daina Ramey Berry, Associate Professor, Department of History

Slavery marks an important era in the history of the United States, one that is often discussed in terms of numbers and dates, human rights abuses, and its lasting impact on society. To be sure, these are all important aspects to understand, but one thing that is often given relatively short shrift is what it was like to actually be a slave. What were the sensory experiences of slaves on a daily basis? How can we dig deeper into understanding the lives of slaves and understand the institution as a whole?

Guest Daina Ramey Berry has given this question serious thought. In this episode, she discusses teaching the “senses of slavery,” a teaching tool that taps into the senses in order to connect to one of the most important eras in US history and bring it to the present.

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