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Context with Brad Harris

Brad Harris, Historian

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Context with Brad Harris
Context with Brad Harris

Context with Brad Harris

Brad Harris, Historian

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Followers
5.8K
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About Us

What led to the rise of the modern world? How have we made so much progress, and what are its consequences? What are humanity's best ideas? Join award-winning historian Brad Harris as he engages these fundamental questions and interprets the biggest historical forces that shape their answers, from the rise of civilization and the development of modern science to the spread of disease and the growth of globalization.

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Welcome to Context.  I'm Brad Harris.

I earned my PhD at Stanford University in the history of science and technology.  Poised to become a university professor, however, I grew concerned about certain aspects of academia....  

The scholarly emphasis at universities has become esoteric and even cynical.  Big ideas, such as the rise of modern science, democracy, and globalization are overshadowed by narrower studies of things like the politics of emotion and cultural constructions.  Too many professors dwell on what humanity has done wrong at the expense of understanding what is good and what is true in the work of civilization.  Furthermore, I worried that, as a professor, I would spend most of my time influencing only small, privileged groups of university students and colleagues, even while our society as a whole seems in need of historical perspective more than ever.

Podcasting liberates me to engage more inspiring historical ideas with a much wider audience, and Himalaya liberates me to connect with you much more directly.

We all want to navigate toward greater prosperity, and we can argue over politics and values all day in the effort, but unless we understand our historical context our discourse will be bloated with bad assumptions and progress will stall.  We owe it to our future to be better historians.

I am deeply grateful to have a growing community of people who value these ideas as much as I do.

Thank you so much,
Brad

Latest Episodes

What If Our Ignorance Outgrows Our Potential?

Ad-free AvailableThere is an overlooked rule in history: far more is lost and forgotten than is preserved and remembered. Humanity knows more and is more powerful than ever. But, are we getting wiser? What if our ignorance outgrows our potential? What happens when rich and powerful societies lose their wisdom and forget what made them great in the first place? It's happened before, and there is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Stephen Greenblatt that tells the tale: The Swerve: How the World Became Modern.

35 MINAUG 5
Comments
What If Our Ignorance Outgrows Our Potential?

BONUS: What is Liberal Democracy?

Exclusive EpisodeToday, I'd like to share my thoughts about another podcast series I listened to last week, which I highly recommend: The Daily's "The Battle for Europe," guest-hosted by Katrin Bennhold.As well done as this 5-part series was, I think it left some core concepts ill-defined.I summarize the 2.5 hour series in about 20 minutes before offering my own defense of the value of Liberal Democracy.Thank you for your support, and I hope you enjoy!~Brad

29 MINJUL 30
Comments
BONUS: What is Liberal Democracy?

BONUS EPISODE: A Conversation with Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, Intellectual Historian

Exclusive EpisodeAs a follow up to my review of Allan Bloom’s book, The Closing of the American Mind , I wanted to bring in the perspective of Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen; she’s a historian I really admire and she’s an expert on much of the intellectual history that Allan Bloom engaged. Jennifer and I discuss Allan Bloom’s book and it’s influence on academic culture, we talk a lot about the ideas of the 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, given how important Nietzsche has been to America’s intellectual history, and we discuss some of the problems in higher education, especially academics’ resistance to engaging with the public beyond their narrow specialties. It was a fascinating conversation, and a real privilege to connect with Jennifer, and I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.I recommend her books:The Ideas that Made America: A Brief HistoryAmerican Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His IdeasThank you all for helping to make these conversations possible.~Brad

53 MINJUL 30
Comments
BONUS EPISODE: A Conversation with Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, Intellectual Historian

A Conversation with Robert Proctor, Historian of Science

Exclusive EpisodeI’m happy to deliver another bonus episode to you today; my conversation with historian of science Robert Proctor from Stanford University. Robert was my PhD advisor while I was at Stanford. He’s a unique thinker and has produced some brilliant scholarship on the history of science, scientific controversy, and constructions of ignorance. His books include Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes What We Know About Cancer, The Nazi War on Cancer, Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition, and Packaged Pleasures: How Technology and Marketing Revolutionized Desire. I hope to discuss at least one of these books on the show at some point. In this conversation, we talk about the intersection between political and scientific belief, how the tobacco industry wrote the playbook on manufacturing scientific doubt, and how ignorance is at least as important as knowledge in the history of the modern world. Thank you for making Context possible. I hope you enjoy!...

42 MINJUL 30
Comments
A Conversation with Robert Proctor, Historian of Science

The Intractable Cigarette Filter Problem, by Brad Harris

Exclusive EpisodeI'm happy to be releasing another bonus episode to all of you who support my work, thank you so much.I hope this proves to be an interesting supplement to my most recent episode discussing Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. As I mentioned in that episode, I spent almost two years reading through tens of thousands of tobacco industry documents released through litigation as part of research for a paper I published in the peer reviewed medical journal, Tobacco Control. It revealed how the tobacco industry responded to the emergence of lung cancer fears in the 1950s by trying to design safer cigarettes using filter tips. I read that paper here.Just a warning: I dive deep and get into the weeds of the engineering history to show how complicated, and ultimately how twisted, the industry's efforts were. In the end, they couldn't design a safer cigarette, and filters became just another fraudulent marketing plo...

41 MINJUL 30
Comments
The Intractable Cigarette Filter Problem, by Brad Harris

Bonus Episode: A Conversation with Daniele Bolelli

Exclusive EpisodeDaniele Bolelli, fellow historian and host of the very successful History on Fire podcast, has an impressive background in martial arts as well as scholarship and podcasting. History on Fire was one of the top new history podcasts of 2015, Bolelli has been on the Joe Rogan Podcast a few times, and he's collaborated with the great Dan Carlin, host of Hardcore History. Daniele Bolelli is someone I’ve looked up to, he exudes a lot of wisdom, and it was a real privilege to have him on the show. We muse about an assortment of topics I hope you find interesting.Thank you all so much for your support.~Brad

38 MINJUL 30
Comments
Bonus Episode: A Conversation with Daniele Bolelli

A Battle Against Medieval Barbarism

Ad-free AvailableToday, we explore the origin of the modern concept of a fact. We take facts for granted, but they represent an invaluable intellectual technology less than 400 years old, which was forged in a fight between two of history’s brightest thinkers battling over the best way to rescue their society from the madness of medieval barbarism. We review a book that gives us a front row seat to that fight:Leviathan and the Air Pump, published by the historians of science Steve Shapin and Simon Schaffer.

36 MINJUL 1
Comments
A Battle Against Medieval Barbarism

What's True?

Ad-free AvailableToday I'm speaking with Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, a historian from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It would be hard to find a scholar better equipped to enhance our historical perspective on how we decide what's true. Jennifer and I challenge each other's thinking on whether ideas about natural rights were discovered or created, whether or not the distinction between objective truth and pragmatic truth really matters, how we reconcile timeless values with scientific disruption, and more.

86 MINJUN 3
Comments
What's True?

The Closing of the American Mind, by Allan Bloom

Ad-free AvailableAllan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind became one of the most influential books of the last 50 years, instigating a battle over the soul of the American university that’s been raging ever since.  It became a powerful weapon in Bloom's fight against a morally and intellectually crippling form of relativism infecting America’s educational system by reminding us that the goal of education is not to become open to all ideas, but to cultivate the search for the best ideas.

70 MINMAY 2
Comments
The Closing of the American Mind, by Allan Bloom

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, by Joseph Ellis

Ad-free AvailableIn this episode, we witness the birth of the most powerful idea in history and how it came to define the meaning of America. This is the idea that argument represents the best path to progress and to justice for all, and that to institutionalize this via a Constitutional right to freedom of speech is the best way to preserve a prosperous society.Joseph Ellis captures the story behind this idea in Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, which won the Pulitzer Prize in history.

38 MINAPR 4
Comments
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, by Joseph Ellis

Latest Episodes

What If Our Ignorance Outgrows Our Potential?

Ad-free AvailableThere is an overlooked rule in history: far more is lost and forgotten than is preserved and remembered. Humanity knows more and is more powerful than ever. But, are we getting wiser? What if our ignorance outgrows our potential? What happens when rich and powerful societies lose their wisdom and forget what made them great in the first place? It's happened before, and there is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Stephen Greenblatt that tells the tale: The Swerve: How the World Became Modern.

35 MINAUG 5
Comments
What If Our Ignorance Outgrows Our Potential?

BONUS: What is Liberal Democracy?

Exclusive EpisodeToday, I'd like to share my thoughts about another podcast series I listened to last week, which I highly recommend: The Daily's "The Battle for Europe," guest-hosted by Katrin Bennhold.As well done as this 5-part series was, I think it left some core concepts ill-defined.I summarize the 2.5 hour series in about 20 minutes before offering my own defense of the value of Liberal Democracy.Thank you for your support, and I hope you enjoy!~Brad

29 MINJUL 30
Comments
BONUS: What is Liberal Democracy?

BONUS EPISODE: A Conversation with Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, Intellectual Historian

Exclusive EpisodeAs a follow up to my review of Allan Bloom’s book, The Closing of the American Mind , I wanted to bring in the perspective of Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen; she’s a historian I really admire and she’s an expert on much of the intellectual history that Allan Bloom engaged. Jennifer and I discuss Allan Bloom’s book and it’s influence on academic culture, we talk a lot about the ideas of the 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, given how important Nietzsche has been to America’s intellectual history, and we discuss some of the problems in higher education, especially academics’ resistance to engaging with the public beyond their narrow specialties. It was a fascinating conversation, and a real privilege to connect with Jennifer, and I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.I recommend her books:The Ideas that Made America: A Brief HistoryAmerican Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His IdeasThank you all for helping to make these conversations possible.~Brad

53 MINJUL 30
Comments
BONUS EPISODE: A Conversation with Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, Intellectual Historian

A Conversation with Robert Proctor, Historian of Science

Exclusive EpisodeI’m happy to deliver another bonus episode to you today; my conversation with historian of science Robert Proctor from Stanford University. Robert was my PhD advisor while I was at Stanford. He’s a unique thinker and has produced some brilliant scholarship on the history of science, scientific controversy, and constructions of ignorance. His books include Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes What We Know About Cancer, The Nazi War on Cancer, Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition, and Packaged Pleasures: How Technology and Marketing Revolutionized Desire. I hope to discuss at least one of these books on the show at some point. In this conversation, we talk about the intersection between political and scientific belief, how the tobacco industry wrote the playbook on manufacturing scientific doubt, and how ignorance is at least as important as knowledge in the history of the modern world. Thank you for making Context possible. I hope you enjoy!...

42 MINJUL 30
Comments
A Conversation with Robert Proctor, Historian of Science

The Intractable Cigarette Filter Problem, by Brad Harris

Exclusive EpisodeI'm happy to be releasing another bonus episode to all of you who support my work, thank you so much.I hope this proves to be an interesting supplement to my most recent episode discussing Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. As I mentioned in that episode, I spent almost two years reading through tens of thousands of tobacco industry documents released through litigation as part of research for a paper I published in the peer reviewed medical journal, Tobacco Control. It revealed how the tobacco industry responded to the emergence of lung cancer fears in the 1950s by trying to design safer cigarettes using filter tips. I read that paper here.Just a warning: I dive deep and get into the weeds of the engineering history to show how complicated, and ultimately how twisted, the industry's efforts were. In the end, they couldn't design a safer cigarette, and filters became just another fraudulent marketing plo...

41 MINJUL 30
Comments
The Intractable Cigarette Filter Problem, by Brad Harris

Bonus Episode: A Conversation with Daniele Bolelli

Exclusive EpisodeDaniele Bolelli, fellow historian and host of the very successful History on Fire podcast, has an impressive background in martial arts as well as scholarship and podcasting. History on Fire was one of the top new history podcasts of 2015, Bolelli has been on the Joe Rogan Podcast a few times, and he's collaborated with the great Dan Carlin, host of Hardcore History. Daniele Bolelli is someone I’ve looked up to, he exudes a lot of wisdom, and it was a real privilege to have him on the show. We muse about an assortment of topics I hope you find interesting.Thank you all so much for your support.~Brad

38 MINJUL 30
Comments
Bonus Episode: A Conversation with Daniele Bolelli

A Battle Against Medieval Barbarism

Ad-free AvailableToday, we explore the origin of the modern concept of a fact. We take facts for granted, but they represent an invaluable intellectual technology less than 400 years old, which was forged in a fight between two of history’s brightest thinkers battling over the best way to rescue their society from the madness of medieval barbarism. We review a book that gives us a front row seat to that fight:Leviathan and the Air Pump, published by the historians of science Steve Shapin and Simon Schaffer.

36 MINJUL 1
Comments
A Battle Against Medieval Barbarism

What's True?

Ad-free AvailableToday I'm speaking with Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, a historian from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It would be hard to find a scholar better equipped to enhance our historical perspective on how we decide what's true. Jennifer and I challenge each other's thinking on whether ideas about natural rights were discovered or created, whether or not the distinction between objective truth and pragmatic truth really matters, how we reconcile timeless values with scientific disruption, and more.

86 MINJUN 3
Comments
What's True?

The Closing of the American Mind, by Allan Bloom

Ad-free AvailableAllan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind became one of the most influential books of the last 50 years, instigating a battle over the soul of the American university that’s been raging ever since.  It became a powerful weapon in Bloom's fight against a morally and intellectually crippling form of relativism infecting America’s educational system by reminding us that the goal of education is not to become open to all ideas, but to cultivate the search for the best ideas.

70 MINMAY 2
Comments
The Closing of the American Mind, by Allan Bloom

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, by Joseph Ellis

Ad-free AvailableIn this episode, we witness the birth of the most powerful idea in history and how it came to define the meaning of America. This is the idea that argument represents the best path to progress and to justice for all, and that to institutionalize this via a Constitutional right to freedom of speech is the best way to preserve a prosperous society.Joseph Ellis captures the story behind this idea in Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, which won the Pulitzer Prize in history.

38 MINAPR 4
Comments
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, by Joseph Ellis

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