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#228: New Name for an Old Ceremony

Long before the current spate of legislation aimed at transgender people—and long before 1492—people who identified as neither male nor female, but both, flourished across hundreds of Native communities in the present-day United States. Called aakíí'skassi, miati, okitcitakwe, and other tribally specific names, these people held important roles both in ceremony and everyday life, before the violence wrought by Europeans threatened to wipe them out. In his new book, Reclaiming Two-Spirits, historian Gregory Smithers sifts through hundreds of years of colonial archives, art, archaeological evidence, and oral storytelling to reveal how these Indigenous communities resisted erasure and went on to reclaim their dual identities under the umbrella term “two-spirit.”


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Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek and sponsored by the Phi Beta Kappa Society.


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More Episodes

5/13/2022

#230: Crowdsourced Clairvoyance

Have you ever had a feeling that something bad was about to happen? Has it ever come true? On October 20, 1966, a young Welsh girl named Eryl Mai Jones recounted to her mother a dream in which she went to school and found it wasn’t there. “Something black had come down all over it,” she said. The next day, Eryl and 143 other people were killed when a pile of waste at a nearby coal mine collapsed and sent an avalanche of rubble into the village of Aberfan. After learning of Eryl’s dream—and others like hers—the psychiatrist John Barker teamed up with reporter Peter Fairley to establish a Premonitions Bureau at the Evening Standard newspaper to “log premonitions as they occurred and see how many were borne out in reality.” New Yorker staff writer Sam Knight tells the story of Barker’s experiment in his new book, The Premonitions Bureau: A True Account of Death Foretold. Barker hoped that the bureau, which would receive more than 700 premonitions within 15 months (some of which proved true) might serve as a warning system for future calamities. But the gravest predictions that Barker received warned of his impending death.Go beyond the episode:Sam Knight’s The Premonitions Bureau: A True Account of Death ForetoldRead the article that started it all: “The Psychiatrist Who Believed People Could Tell the Future”For just $183.45, this first edition of John Barker’s Scared to Death could be yours!The Brits seem to have a thing for where the supernatural and the subconscious meet: listen to our interview with Kate Summerscale about The Haunting of Alma FieldingThen again, so do weTune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek.Subscribe:iTunes•Feedburner•Stitcher•Google Play•AcastHave suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes!
5/6/2022

#229: The Intelligence Gatherers

Russia and China recently agreed to be partners “without limits,” but from the 17thto the 19th century, their relationship wasn't so warm. As Georgetown historian Gregory Afinogenov writes in his recent book,Spies and Scholars,pencil-pushingRussianbureaucratsposted in China or along the borderdoubled as spies.These career apparatchiks succeeded at gathering intelligence on the Qing dynasty from their quotidian positions at diplomatic offices, religious missions, and frontier outposts, though they never seemed to get much credit for their work. The irony is that while the intelligence they shared bought Russia greater prestige among European powers, these encounters with European ideals of intellectualism also radically changed what kind of “intelligence” was considered worthwhile. This episode originally aired in 2020.Go beyond the episode:Gregory Afinogenov’sSpies and Scholars: Chinese Secrets and Imperial Russia’s Quest for World PowerItching to learn Manchu? Check out theManchu Studies Group, which includes examples ofManchu scriptFor 20th-century Russian spying,no one beats John le Carré, in life or fictionTune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek.Subscribe:iTunes•Feedburner•Stitcher•Google Play•AcastHave suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes!
4/22/2022

#227: Indiana Absurd

The late Budi Darma, one of Indonesia’s most beloved writers, spent a formative chapter of his life far from home, studying at Indiana University in the 1970s. He wrote a series of strikingly lonely short stories that would go on to form the collection People from Bloomington, first published in Indonesian in 1980. A man befriends his estranged father only to control him and ends up controlled himself. Someone steals his dead roommate’s poetry and enters it into a competition. Another character desperately tries to make contact with the old man across the street who may or may not be trying to shoot people from his attic room. With this absurd but oddly real little collection—and with his next novel, Olenka, also Indiana-inspired—Darma ascended into the pantheon of Indonesian literature, winning numerous awards, including the presidential medal of honor. Budi Darma may be barely known in the United States, but Tiffany Tsao—who has recently translated People from Bloomington for Penguin Classics—hopes that an English-language audience is ready to embrace this unparalleled Indonesian artist.Go beyond the episode:Budi Darma’s People from Bloomington, translated by Tiffany TsaoRead Tsao’s post in memory of Budi Darma, who died in August 2021Check out these other Indonesian writers mentioned in the episode: Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Umar Kayam, Chairil Anwar, Ajip RosidiWant to hear more about the art of translation? Listen to these conversations with German-English translator Susan Bernofsky, Bible translator Robert Alter, Malagasy writer Naivo and his translator Alison Cherette, and Tibetan-English translator Tenzin DickieTune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek and sponsored by the Phi Beta Kappa Society.Subscribe:iTunes•Stitcher•Google PlayHave suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes!