Monday, May 06, 2013

Slightly potty

The BBC has quite a knack of digging out enthusiastic and slightly potty boffins to drive their distinctive brand of middlebrow edutainment. These characters seem to race around various glamorous locations in the UK, and elsewhere, talking nineteen to the dozen about their favourite idea. (Why hasn't anybody ever discovered me I wonder?) Returning home, I just had to catch up with the latest, Adam Nicholson - a historian with impeccable qualifications - who dazzled viewers with his take on literacy in  seventeenth century England. It was, or so the title goes, the century that wrote itself and he had lots of quirky examples to illustrate this idea. Although very entertaining, the major shortcoming was its rather narrow determinist view. That's the way we became modern: through literacy, through individual expression, from discovering the power of writing and so on and so forth. Major social, political and religious changes were relegated to the sidelines in these programmes- as if they were simply caused by literacy rather than intimately bound up with it. Power, and that century's particular shifts in economic and civic life were always hovering in the background: class, gender and race reared up as another version of how we became modern. Nonetheless this is better than a lot of TV, and if you're in the UK you might still catch the series on demand on iPlayer.

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