James Baldwin debates William F Buckley

59 minutes

Mary Beard: women and power

5 minutes

Julian Barbour: what is time?

8 minutes

The driver is red

15 minutes

Making an agate teapot

7 minutes

The legendary debate that laid down US political lines on race, justice and history

In 1965 at the University of Cambridge, two of the foremost American intellectuals were challenged with the question: ‘Has the American Dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?’ From William F Buckley’s highly stylised posturing and pointing, to James Baldwin’s melodious rhetorical flourishes and memorable scowls, what’s become known as the ‘Baldwin-Buckley Debate’ now stands as one of the archetypal articulations of the dividing line between US progressives and conservatives on questions of race, justice and history. Baldwin, the famed African-American writer, whose reputation as a progressive social critic and visionary Civil Rights activist has only risen in the intervening decades, argues that the very foundation of US society is built on the dehumanisation of its African-American population. Meanwhile, Buckley, the leading US conservative intellectual of the period, argues that African Americans would be best served by exploiting their country’s many freedoms and opportunities, rather than pointing a collective finger at discriminatory structures and institutions. In both cases, their positions presage contemporary divisive debates in the US, though one wonders whether such an event could happen in today’s political environment.

While usually reduced to short clips, the full hour-long debate – presented here in its entirety – is a remarkable historical document in its own right. Conducted in front of a large, almost entirely white and predominantly male audience at the Cambridge Union, the encounter offers a sense of campus intellectual life in the mid-1960s through the atmosphere in the room, the things that made people laugh, and the particular references made by the debaters. After the always eloquent Baldwin evokes his personal experience to describe a perpetually disorienting and demeaning existence for African Americans, Buckley responds with facts and figures – as well as an ad hominem shot at Baldwin’s speaking voice – to argue that there’s an American Dream available to all those who would pursue it. In the end, Baldwin prevailed, earning an ardent standing ovation and a landslide victory in the Union’s vote on the motion raised.

Website: The Cambridge Union

Audio restoration: Adam D’Arpino

Why Medusa lives on – Mary Beard on the persistent legacy of Ancient Greek misogyny

‘To be men, they have to learn to silence women. I don’t think we’ve entirely got over that.’

From philosophy and politics to literature and art, the Western world has inherited much from Ancient Greece. But one disturbing cultural legacy is the enduring view of women as lesser beings who should shut up and stay out of the public intellectual sphere. Our social media is rife with examples of this persistent misogyny, which casts vocal women as stupid, shrill or some combination of the two. As the classicist Mary Beard of the University of Cambridge argues, nearly every leading female politician has been at some point depicted as Medusa – that beautiful woman of Ancient Greek myth who was transformed into a hideous beast as punishment for her own rape. In this video, commissioned by the Getty Museum on the occasion of Beard receiving their 2019 Getty Medal for contributions to the arts, she elaborates on the telling similarities between Ancient Greek depictions of women and those in our own times.

Director: Matthew Miller

Producers: Ways & Means, Christopher Broyles

From sky charts to atomic clocks, time is a mysterious story that humans keep inventing

The standardisation and accuracy of human timekeeping has improved by leaps and bounds over the millennia – from tracing the stars, to the invention of timepieces, to the atomic ‘clocks’ of today. But for all our efforts, the concept of time, including whether it’s little more than an illusion of human psychology, remains deeply puzzling. In this interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn for the PBS series Closer to Truth, the independent British physicist Julian Barbour endeavours to distinguish between our experience of time and its scientific underpinnings, including what has and hasn’t changed about our conception of time since we first looked to the skies to measure it.

Video by Closer to Truth

A spy thriller for an era in which the Holocaust risks being forgotten

‘The noose that had hung his friends after the war for what they had done, the noose that he thought he had escaped, had found him.’

In the wake of the Second World War, former SS officials and Nazi collaborators fled Europe, hoping to evade prosecution and knowing that South American governments were sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Adolf Eichmann, the chief ‘architect’ of the Holocaust, was the highest ranking member of the Third Reich to escape to the continent, where he made Buenos Aires his new home and ‘Ricardo Klement’ his new name.

The US artist Randall Christopher’s animation The Driver Is Red follows the Israeli mission that captured Eichmann on 11 May 1960, forcing him to finally stand trial for his crimes. With the pace and tension of a spy thriller, the short documentary frames the fervour for justice as a tribute to those who committed themselves to tracking down Nazi war criminals long after the Second World War’s end. Now that very few people with memories of Nazism’s rise are still alive, Christopher made the film freely available online, warning of the ominous spectre of ‘extreme nationalism, open racism, attacks on the press [and] reckless talk of war’ in our own era.

Director: Randall Christopher

Producers: Jared Callahan, Randall Christopher, Spencer Rabin

Website: The Driver Is Red

How do you bring an 18th-century ceramic teapot to life? An artist puzzles it out

Agateware is a distinctive style of ceramics that became popular in England during the 18th century. Crafting it calls for an intricate process of moulding and layering clay materials, culminating in a marbleised, multicoloured glow on each piece after glaze firing. In this short video from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Michelle Erickson – an American ceramic artist who was a ceramics resident there in 2012 – attempts to recreate an 18th-century agateware teapot from the museum’s collection. Combining historical expertise with educated guesswork and artistic dexterity, she works out how to duplicate the original. While her final product is an impressive display of artistic mimicry, the true marvel of her work is the way that her thinking shapes and is shaped by the act of her making.

The legendary debate that laid down US political lines on race, justice and history

In 1965 at the University of Cambridge, two of the foremost American intellectuals were challenged with the question: ‘Has the American Dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?’ From William F Buckley’s highly stylised posturing and pointing, to James Baldwin’s melodious rhetorical flourishes and memorable scowls, what’s become known as the ‘Baldwin-Buckley Debate’ now stands as one of the archetypal articulations of the dividing line between US progressives and conservatives on questions of race, justice and history. Baldwin, the famed African-American writer, whose reputation as a progressive social critic and visionary Civil Rights activist has only risen in the intervening decades, argues that the very foundation of US society is built on the dehumanisation of its African-American population. Meanwhile, Buckley, the leading US conservative intellectual of the period, argues that African Americans would be best served by exploiting their country’s many freedoms and opportunities, rather than pointing a collective finger at discriminatory structures and institutions. In both cases, their positions presage contemporary divisive debates in the US, though one wonders whether such an event could happen in today’s political environment.

While usually reduced to short clips, the full hour-long debate – presented here in its entirety – is a remarkable historical document in its own right. Conducted in front of a large, almost entirely white and predominantly male audience at the Cambridge Union, the encounter offers a sense of campus intellectual life in the mid-1960s through the atmosphere in the room, the things that made people laugh, and the particular references made by the debaters. After the always eloquent Baldwin evokes his personal experience to describe a perpetually disorienting and demeaning existence for African Americans, Buckley responds with facts and figures – as well as an ad hominem shot at Baldwin’s speaking voice – to argue that there’s an American Dream available to all those who would pursue it. In the end, Baldwin prevailed, earning an ardent standing ovation and a landslide victory in the Union’s vote on the motion raised.

Website: The Cambridge Union

Audio restoration: Adam D’Arpino

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