Recall This Book

John PlotzIn January 2019 John Plotz and an Anthropology professor, Elizabeth Ferry,  launched a podcast, Recall This Book. The podcast is built around a set of conversations between three scholars who each approach a contemporary topic with a distinctive set of ideas—and each of whom brings along a particular text as a way of unfolding those ideas. In early episodes John and Elizabeth discussed opiates and the discourse of addiction with the neuroscientist Gina Turrigiano, minimalism with sculptor Tory Fair, and the resemblance between today’s new media and the rise of older media like the telegraph and telephone.

There is plenty of room for variation in the podcast: John interviewed the writers Madeline Miller and Samuel Delany for episodes about fantasy and science fiction and  discussed the comic novel with our own Stephen McCauley. There is also an episode that contains a curated/condensed version of a Harvard Humanities Center forum about Distraction. However, at its heart the aim of the podcast  was robust interdisciplinary and multisided conversations. An English graduate student, Matthew Schratz, was involved from the beginning, and contributed the first non-podcast blog post to the RTB website.

That aim has a real resonance with what they admire about Brandeis, with its compact campus and tradition of professors and students working beyond or between traditional academic divisions.  As they put it in their founding document, “Recall This Book is a podcast exploring important books on a pressing topic. Each episode focuses on a contemporary problem or event and zeroes in on a book or books that shed light on it. We look backwards to see into the future: we can understand things about the future by choosing texts that shed a sideways light on our present situation, and attempt to shake up the terms of present debate by showing how a topic was approached in earlier times when a different version of this question had come up before. We aim to have lively barstool discussions--a warm but involved and potentially argumentative hashing-out of the best way to think through difficult present-day issues. We bring on writers to talk about their own books, or scholars to talk about the books that are helping them navigate best the world in which we live.”