This week: a special crossover episode with Ministry of Ideas, one of our sister shows at Hub & Spoke. It's called Tomorrow, Today and it was produced by Nick Andersen, Galen Beebe, Zachary Davis, Maria McNair, and Pallavi Kotamasu, based on research by Monica Lindsay-Perez.
The episode is all about the World's Fairs and international expositions that swept Europe and the U.S. between the 1850s and the 1960s. Specifically, the episode looks at the ways marginalized groups subtly contested and subverted the vision of technological progress and Western colonialism that the fairs typically offered.
The fairs have fascinated me ever since I was in college. My senior honors thesis for Harvard's History of Science department was about the 1939 and 1964 New York World's Fairs in 1939-40 and 1964-65 and EPCOT Center, the permanent world's fair that opened in Florida in the early 1980s. I was interested in the ways the corporate sponsors of these expositions fed visitors a consumerist vision of the future, one where every kitchen featured gleaming General Electric appliances and every freeway carried streamlined General Motors cars.
That's when I first realized that the stories people tell about the future can powerfully affect what other people do and what they desire here in the present. In the podcast, I come back to that idea all the time. (For more. listen to the March 2017 episode Origin Story). And that's why this Ministry of Ideas episode felt like such a great fit here at Soonish. I wish I'd made it! But the next-best-thing was just to share it here.
The episode is (obviously) narrated by Zach and features scholars Evander Price, a PhD candidate in American Studies at Harvard; Robert Rydell, a professor of history at Montana State University and author of All the World's A Fair; and Abigail Higgins, a 2017 graduate of Harvard College. Stick around after the episode to hear a conversation I recorded with Zach about how this episode came to be, and how it relates to the themes that drive the show.
If you aren't already a Ministry of Ideas listener, you should add the show to your feeds right now! You can subscribe Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts. Host Zach Davis and his colleagues offer fresh, provocative, essayistic takes on all sorts of topics from history and politics, fleshed out by interviews with leading academics. In Tomorrow, Today they're at the top of their game, but I also love their recent episodes on cannibalism, children's literature, and the real explanation for the religious right's Trump fervor.
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Through July 31, you can get a 30% discount on additional copies of Twelve Tomorrows when you order directly from the MIT Press. Call 1-800-405-1619 or write to email@example.com and use the code SOONISH30.
Elsewhere at Hub & Spoke
Culture Hustlers: Crimson Bikes
Hi-Phi Nation: Season 2, Episode 8, Willful Acts
Iconography: The Citgo Sign and the Boston Marathon
The Lonely Palette: Episode 30: Donatello's Madonna of the Clouds (ca. 1425-1435)
The Soonish theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay.
Additional music in this episode:
"End of What Was" by Tim Beek
Joel Roston and Andrew Willis of Titlecard Music in Boston.