Category Archives: Conversations with History

The CRISPR Revolution

Jennifer Doudna is a leader in the CRISPR revolution. This new technology is a gene editing tool that manipulates DNA within organisms. The editing process has a wide variety of applications including correcting genetic defects, treating and preventing the spread of diseases and improving crops.

Doudna, Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology at UC Berkeley, sat down to talk with Harry Kreisler about her life and how she came to be involved in this amazing discovery.

They also discuss how education and public advocacy can broaden insight into the ethical and policy dimensions of the biological revolution that is upon us.

Watch Unraveling CRISPR-Cas9 with Jennifer Doudna – Conversations with History

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George Packer: Politics and American Identity

8232Two new programs with New Yorker staff writer George Packer explore the association between American politics and identity. “Americans, aided by cable news and social media, have sorted themselves geographically and mentally into mutually hostile and incomprehensible worlds,” says Packer. This tribalism makes it very difficult for people to communicate or to truly listen to one another.

“None of those groups speaks to the whole country… they don’t speak to us as citizens, and they don’t find a way of being truly inclusive,” he says. “Where we cannot understand each other, we see each other as illegitimate in some ways. To even speak to someone from a different tribe is to give them a legitimacy they don’t deserve. And each tribe hopes and thinks the other will somehow disappear, either by being beaten in the polls, or by dying off, or being walled off. It’s as if they can’t acknowledge that the country is made up of more than their own tribe.”

There are many reasons for this increased tribalism, but the collapse of the institutions that have traditionally supported people economically is a contributing factor. In recent decades, fewer and fewer corporations offer job security or competitive wages, and the middle class is disappearing. “The simple answer I think,” says Packer, “is that a smaller pie, divided into less and less equal slices among people who look less and less alike, drives them towards cynical and hateful extremes.”

Watch Harry Kreisler’s interview with George Packer, Identity Politics and the Decline of American Institutions, as well as Packer’s UC Berkeley Graduate Lecture, American Identity in the Age of Trump.

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Bridging the Gap of Understanding Between Liberals and Conservatives

8232Conversations with History host Harry Kreisler welcomes Professor Arlie Hochschild, 2017 Moses Lecturer at Berkeley for a discussion of her book Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right which strives to bridge the gap of understanding between liberals and conservatives.

In 2011, Hochschild noticed a resurgence of the American right and decided to study it further in Louisiana. “I felt I was in a bubble here in Berkeley and wanted to learn more about the equal and opposite bubble.” Her goal was simple: to learn more about the conservative perspective through empathetic listening. “When listening to people who have strong opinions that differ from yours,” she explains, “it’s important to temporarily turn off your alarm system and be honest about it.”

But that’s not always easy. Hochschild advices that “when working with people to try to understand them, as sociologists do, it’s important to first create and feel comfortable within your own support system, to find your cocoon. Then, with that support, it won’t be so frightening to reach out.”

The influences that shaped her journey as a sociologist began as a child traveling extensively with her family. Because of her father’s work in the foreign service, Hochschild lived in foreign countries, not wearing the “right clothes” or speaking the language. In essence, she was the outsider… the “oddball.” Says Hochschild, “I think it’s why I’m a sociologist – I had to figure it out.” At social gatherings, she was “the little kid passing the peanuts, watching how people were interacting, people from different worlds and how they were relating to each other, the different signal systems.”

Learn more about Arlie Hochschild’s pioneering work on the sociology of emotions. Watch Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.

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Oliver Stone on Conversations with History

8232Years ago (I won’t say how many) I was sitting on the steps of a Cinemobile truck parked near a film set (I won’t say which one), practicing “hurry up and wait.” I was chatting with a grip, a veteran of countless productions with decades in the business. At one point he sighed, looked off in the distance, and said, “Just once I’d like to work on a picture that’s about something real.” Even at that tender age I understood that desire; it’s what compelled me to become a documentarian, while my fellow film students aspired to be Spielberg or De Palma.

I recently recalled that encounter while watching an episode of Conversations with History featuring filmmaker Oliver Stone, and realized that my enthusiasm for factual filmmaking also informed my interest in Stone’s work. Beginning with his sophomore film, “Salvador,” and throughout his career, Stone has incorporated elements of documentary style in heightened narratives that are often based on real people and historical events. In his pursuit of what he’s termed “emotional truth,” as opposed to literal truth, Stone has never shied away from controversy. Stone’s detractors – and they are legion – accuse him of being “undisciplined’ and “reckless” in dealing with facts, labeling him as a “propagandist” and an “amateurish would-be historian.” In fairness Stone has never claimed to be either objective or an historian in the academic sense (though his films are heavily researched); rather, he has stated that his goal is not to provide definitive accounts but to spark debate while hopefully entertaining his audience. In this he has often succeeded, and even those self-same detractors can’t deny his prowess as a filmmaker.

Stone’s work in documentary and docudrama is just one of the many topics discussed in a wide-ranging interview with “Conversations” host Harry Kreisler. Of particular interest is Stone’s discourse on the changes that have overtaken him since his last appearance on the program some twenty years earlier. He’s an older artist who’s fallen out of favor in Hollywood, and his once-prodigious output has slowed as a consequence, but Stone remains committed to his beliefs and fearless in expressing his viewpoint.

One of the consistent themes in Oliver Stone’s work is a determination to explore the complexities of character, and in this interview Stone himself emerges as a complicated figure – by turns insightful, dogmatic, worldly, parochial, passionate, and analytical; at times exasperating, but, like his films, never dull.

Browse this program and others on Conversations with History.

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Join In On Conversations With History

In these lively and unedited interviews, UC Berkeley’s Harry Kreisler welcomes distinguished men and women from all over the world to talk about their lives and their work. Interviews span the globe and include discussion of political, economic, military, legal, cultural, and social issues shaping our world. Harry recently competed his 500th interview, each an in-depth look at the guest’s life from childhood through to the present day. Check out the most recent additions to the UCTV archive.

1761The Warrior State: Pakistan in the
Contemporary World with T.V. Paul

T.V. Paul of McGill University discusses his new book, “The Warrior State: Pakistan in the Contemporary World.” He discusses how Pakistan’s search for parity in its relations with India is critical for understanding why it remains a warrior state mired in a strategic dilemma which subverts its hopes for development at home and security in its regional environment.


1761Leadership with Gro Harlem Brundtland
Gro Harlem Brundtland discusses of her lifelong commitment to public service at the national and international level. She traces her intellectual odyssey and recalls her many roles – Norwegian Prime Minister, Chair of Global Commission on Environment and Development, and Director General of the World Health Organization.


1761Political Theory and Social Criticism with Michael Walzer
One of America’s foremost political thinkers Walzer explores his childhood, education and writing. He talks about the protest movement of the 60s and looks at the 2008 economic collapse from the perspective of a social critic.


1761Understanding Human Nature with Steven Pinker
Harvard psychology professor Pinker conducts research on language and cognition. He discusses growing up in Montreal, the impact of the 1960’s and the trajectory of his research interests. He explains his early work in linguistics and how he came to write his recent work, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.”


1761Scientific Discovery with Carol Greider
Carol Greider shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase. She explores what it means to be the daughter of a physics professor and her journey to the Nobel Prize.


1761Technology and Inequality with George Packer
New Yorker staff writer George Packer discuses of the impact of Silicon Valley on society and politics. He explores the implications of technology for the status of the American worker, for American culture, and for economic inequality.


1761Reflections with General James Mattis
General James Mattis (U.S. Marine Corp. ret.), former Head of Central Command discusses his military career, the skill set and temperament required to be a marine and his battle experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also discusses the role of the military in securing peace and the contribution of the military to the policy debate.


1761History, Politics and Law with Charles McCurdy
Professor of History and Law at the University of Virginia, Charles McCurdy discusses the interactions of law and politics in the United States. Case studies discussed include: Justice Stephen Field; The Anti- Rent Era in New York Law (1830-1865); Herbert Wechsler’s article on “The Political Safeguards of Federalism;” and the Sedition Acts of the 1790’s.


1761The Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America with Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld
Amy Chua attracted a lot of attention with her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” She and her husband, fellow Yale Law School Professor Jed Rubenfeld, have written a new book, “The Triple Package” in which they explain the rise and fall of certain cultural groups, primarily, second generation recent immigrants to the U.S.


1761Congress and Foreign Policy with Congressman Howard Berman
Congressman Howard Berman discusses his 30 year career in the U.S. House of Representatives serving California’s 28th congressional district.

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