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The history and future of the New England Forest

Note: an audio version of this interview was broadcast by the WGBH affiliate WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR station, and by KPIP in Missouri.

The forests of New England are, remarkably, a success story. They’ve recovered from attack after attack. The early settlers hacked them down, by hand, for houses, fences and firewood. Later on, the insatiable sawmills of a more industrial age ate up the lumber needed for our expansion.
Today, the forests contend with acid rain, invasive plants and exotic beetle infestations — evidence of our ever more global economy. And the future of these forests? Going forward, that’s a story that’s largely ours to shape, and narrate.

If only these trees could talk … Well, we have the next best thing – Donald Pfister, the Dean of Harvard Summer School, curator of the Farlow Library and Herbarium, a fungologist (the more erudite word is mycologist), and the Asa Gray Professor of Systematic Botany at Harvard University.
In this Faculty Insight interview, produced in partnership with ThoughtCast and Harvard Extension School, he tells the tale of the New England forest from as far back as the glacial Pleistocene era.
To help illustrate this tale, we’ve made grateful use of high resolution images of some dramatic landscape dioramas, which are on display at Harvard’s Fisher Museum, in Petersham, Massachusetts.
And finally, for an audio version of this story, click here: to listen (9:47 mins).

Posted on September 3, 2012 in Economics, Environment, Faculty Insight, Harvard Luminaries, History, Science
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The Mau Mau rebellion — a revisionist history

How does history get rewritten? How do victimizers become victims, and the valiant turn into villains? As Harvard history professor Caroline Elkins has learned, this process can be a hazardous one. The Pulitzer prize-winning author of Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya devoted many years to the study of the Mau Mau uprising in the early 1950s, and the British response,  a model of counter-insurgency technique — or so she thought.

The Mau Mau were a group of native Kenyans who turned to violence and terror to drive out their colonial British masters, but as Elkins discovered, they weren’t the only ones to use such tactics.  Now a court case will decide where the truth actually lies, as you will hear in this Faculty Insight interview, produced in partnership with ThoughtCast and  Harvard Extension School.

For an audio version of this story, click here: to listen. (6:50 mins).

Posted on November 1, 2011 in Faculty Insight, Front Page, Harvard Luminaries, History
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Tales from Donegal, told in Kenny’s Bookshop

Note: This interview was broadcast on KUT-FM, an NPR station based in Austin, Texas.
Charles McGlinchyIn 1861 in Clonmany, on the Inishowen peninsula in the far north of County Donegal Ireland, Charles McGlinchy was born.  His was a windblown, rough world, wracked with beauty and hardship. A weaver by trade, and a bachelor, in his old age he realized he was the last of the McGlinchys, the last of his name. Night after night, he told his tale to an old neighbor, the schoolmaster Patrick Kavanagh, who wrote it all down. Patrick’s son Desmond found these copybooks after his father’s death, and offered them to Brian Friel, the renowned Irish playwright, who then edited the manuscript into a book called The Last of the Name.
This same book is what Desmond Kenny, of Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway, chose to discuss in our interview. When asked to pick a piece of writing that’s had a tremendous impact on him, he wandered the rich shelves of the shop, musing over all the books he’s known and loved, until he lighted upon this one, and knew it was the right choice. We spoke after hours in the family run book shop, which recently celebrated its 70th anniversary.
Click here: to listen to this ThoughtCast interview (18 minutes).

Posted on September 8, 2011 in History, Literature
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Honor and Fair Play in Homer’s Iliad

Note: the audio version of this interview was broadcast on the WGBH sister stations WCAI/WNAN, and also on KUT in Austin, Texas!

In this fifth installment of Faculty Insight, produced in partnership with Harvard University Extension School, ThoughtCast speaks with the esteemed Harvard classicist Gregory Nagy about one of the earliest and greatest legends of all time: Homer’s epic story of the siege of Troy, called The Iliad. It’s a story of god-like heroes and blood-soaked battles; honor, pride, shame and defeat.
In this interview, we dissect a key scene in The Iliad, where Hector and Achilles are about to meet in battle. Athena is also on hand, and she plays a crucial if underhanded role, with the grudging approval of her father, Zeus.
And Nagy is of course the perfect guide to this classic tale. He’s the director of Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington DC, as well as the Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard.

We spoke in his office at Widener Library.

Click here: to listen to a longer audio version of this interview! (9 minutes)

Posted on July 12, 2011 in Faculty Insight, Harvard Luminaries, History, Literature, Poetry
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James Carroll Takes On Jerusalem

This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series Talks@Harvard Book Store

In this ThoughtCast, noted author James Carroll talks about his latest book, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem”, at the Harvard Book Store, in Cambridge Massachusetts. The city of course serves as both holy ground and flash point for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and at times during their tumultuous histories, these three monotheistic religions have turned their city into not a place of peace and prayer, but a violent battleground.

Carroll is also the author of the highly regarded book “Constantine’s Sword”, which examines the shocking tale of Christian anti-Semitism from the time of Christ through Nazism and the Second Vatican Council. Carroll’s personal fascination with religion has led him to be both a believer and a skeptic, a critical historian and a man of faith, which is an interesting combination in these unsettling times.

Posted on March 27, 2011 in History, Politics, Religion
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Faculty Insight: Islam in the West – a clash of civilizations?

Note: This interview was broadcast on WGBH radio, Boston’s NPR station for news and culture, on April 17, 2011!

Faculty Insight is produced in partnership with ThoughtCast and Harvard University Extension School. This third interview of the series is with Jocelyne Cesari, a level-headed yet astute specialist in contemporary Islamic society. Muslims who live in the Western world today face multiple challenges — suspicion, isolation, ignorance, fear. And post-9/11, of course, they carry the weight of that violent attack. So how are we to move forward, in an enlightened, inclusive manner? How ought we to apply our secular, humanist and individualistic values at such a time?

For starters, let’s listen to Jocelyne Cesari. She might not have all the answers, but as the director of the inter-faculty Islam in the West Program, she’s clearly the right person to ask. She is also an associate at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the Center for European Studies at Harvard, and teaches in Harvard’s Department of Government, its Divinity School and its Extension School. This video of our interview is only an introduction, so….
Click here to hear the entire conversation! (16 minutes)

Posted on December 17, 2010 in Faculty Insight, Harvard Luminaries, History, Politics, Religion
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