The making of my podcast marathon on Civilizations

I have just released episode 55 of the Burning Archive podcast. This episode is about the concept of civilization, in both the legendary game Civ I-VI and in the traditions of history-writing.

Civilization, the game, is soon to be released in its 7th edition. In this episode of The Burning Archive I respond to a listener question from Isaac Rich, an avid and top-class player of Civ, that was prompted by this game that puts the player in the shoes of all manner of leaders of civilizations. What is meant by the phrase ‘cradle of civilization’, and how is the concept of civilization relevant to today’s multi-polar world facing climate-change?

This is part one of a four-part show exploring Civilization and history, and recreating a Civ marathon on a podcast. I am actually going to do four episodes of the show, and release them over this week coming.

Episode 55 is about the concept of ‘cradle of civilization’, and the various concepts of ‘civilization’ that were embedded in the game Civ from the historical writing used by the game designers. I am guided through this discussion by the masterful Felipe Fernandez-Armesto whose book Civilizations is a generous, insightful and brilliantly global account not of Civilization but of many civilizations in all parts of the Earth. I discuss how Felipe Fernandez-Armesto gives a new way to examine civilizations – with an emphasis on the plural and the diverse – as a process of humans adapting nature to their ideas. Then I look quickly at the traditional ‘cradle of civilization’ – the ‘Fertile Crescent’ in the South-West Asia core zone – and the Yellow and Yangtze Valleys of China, and the Eurasian steppe. Here I also use Barry Cunliffe, By steppe, desert, and ocean: the birth of Eurasia (2015), which is a brilliant and highly recommended book.

In Episode 56 I will be looking at three of the environments adapted by civilizations, using the schema in Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Civilizations. You will notice his fondness for literary allusions. These environments are:

  • The Waste Lands – Desert, Tundra, Ice
  • Leaves of Grass – Uncultivable Grasslands
  • Under the Rain – Tropical Lowlands and Post-Glacial Forests

In Episode 57 I will be looking at four more environments from Fernandez-Armesto, Civilizations. These environments are:

  • The Shining Fields of Mud – Alluvial Soils in Drying Climates
  • The Mirrors of Sky – Highlands
  • The Water Margins – Seashores
  • Breaking the Waves – Domesticating the Oceans

In Episode 58 I will look at the storylines of civilizations that we recount in histories – stories of rise and fall, organic evolution and decay, system chaos and system collapse, and, of course, the ‘clash of civilizations’ in a multipolar world.

Then in a post-script episode 59 I will resume some commentary on the Russia-Ukraine war by taking a look at Samuel Huntington, The clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order, and in particular his discussion of the conflict between Russia and NATO/USA over Ukraine.

Thanks to Civilization V for the music – ‘Three Great Rivers’ that starts episode 55.

I hope you enjoy my Civ marathon, and share the podcast with your friends and on social media.

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