In Review

Podcasts of the week: armchair travel, science and royal scandal

Featuring The Rest Is History, Kerning Cultures, and The Big Fib

One of the great joys of podcasts is their ability to immerse the listener in unfamiliar cultures and worlds, said Courtney Yusuf in The Guardian. If that is what you are looking for, I recommend Kerning Cultures. Produced in the United Arab Emirates, and now in its sixth year, it tells “stories from the Middle East and North Africa, and the spaces in between”, using a “combination of first-person-led investigations, expert witnesses, rigorous research, and beautiful sound design”. Its approach to the region is a side-ways one: the latest series looks at Kuwait’s Indian commu-nity, explores why K-pop has so many Arab megafans, and asks, “Who can determine where Jewish-Egyptian artefacts really belong today?” For a “haunting” episode from a previous series, seek out Zabelle, about the Armenian-American singer Zabelle Panosian. 

Many families have got into podcasts lately as a resource for home-schooling, said Hattie Garlick in The Times. Here are two that are excellent for encouraging critical thinking in primary age children. The Big Fib (20 minutes per episode, ages 7-11) is a “game show-style” podcast aimed at helping children cope in an age of “fake news”. Each week a child interviews two adults on a particular subject, and has to deduce which is the expert and which the fibber. “An impertinent robot co-host keeps things light.” The lively ethics podcast Short & Curly (25 minutes per episode, ages 6-10) explores tricky dilemmas in a way that children find intriguing. Is it fair for a teacher to punish the whole class if a wrongdoer won’t own up? Should parents ever lie to their kids? Should robots replace humans? Made in Australia, and now in its 13th series, it uses humour and contributions from children to make sure each episode is “fun and engaging”. 

I gave Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook’s podcast The Rest Is History an “ecstatic” review when it began last year, said James Marriott in The Times. So I’m thrilled that (“presumably wafted along by my encouraging words”) it has since become a “must-listen” for “everyone I know”. Not many history podcasts are nimble enough to release “emergency” episodes in response to breaking news, but the special Rest Is History episode on Meghan Markle and the history of royal scandal was a cracker. Anybody fearing that “unique humiliations” are being heaped upon our present queen should listen to the two historians discussing Caroline of Brunswick, who was barred from the coronation of her estranged husband, George IV, by bayonet-wielding soldiers, and died a few weeks later. She was so popular, there were riots at her funeral, and two people were killed. “This rather knocks Oprah into a cocked hat.”

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