Podcast – The Burning Archive

In April 2021 I launched a podcast of The Burning Archive on Anchor. Thanks Anchor! Thanks Spotify!

The Burning Archive

The Burning Archive is about all things history and culture, and talks about how the past is not dead – the past is not even past (Credit: William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun).

You can listen to The Burning Archive podcast on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, Radio Public and Pocket Casts.

Leave us a review or comment, and I promise to improve the quality over time.

The Burning Archive podcast is also on twitter (regrettably, at least for now) at @ArchiveBurning.

You can also email me comments or ideas for the show at theburningarchive@gmail.com.

Episode 1 (14 April 2021) Introducing a sense of history

In this first episode of The Burning Archive podcast, historian, writer and failed bureaucrat, Dr Jeff Rich, talks about why it is important to have a sense of history to live well in the present, and some of the big history trends shaping our lives today.

Episode 2 (23 April 2021) Empire in Denial

In this second episode of The Burning Archive podcast, Dr Jeff Rich talks about how the United States of America is an empire in denial, and how we can respond in our daily lives to the emperor high in heaven – at least those of us in the faraway provinces.

Episode 3 (4 May 2021) Empire in Denial

In the third episode of The Burning Archive podcast I ask, if America is an empire in denial, could it also be an empire in decline? In this episode of The Burning Archive podcast, Jeff Rich discusses the stories we tell about the rise and fall of empires, how America is in decline, and what that means for the rest of the world. Could a new multipolar and culturally vibrant world emerge in the outer provinces of the American empire in ruins?

Episode 4 (17 May 2021) Great State Rising

In episode 4 of the Burning Archive Podcast, Jeff Rich asks if America is an empire in decline, then is China the empire or Great State on the rise? And if so, does that mean we are condemned to war between China and America or is a peaceful multipolar world possible after the American empire crumbles?

Episode 5 (26 May 2021) Doom, Disaster and Decay

In episode 5 of The Burning Archive Podcast, Jeff Rich goes full-on pessimist to discuss Doom, disaster and decay. We take a quick tour of Niall Ferguson’s Doom: the Politics of Catastrophe and Francis Fukuyama’s ideas on political decay, and what they tell us about the responses of governments around the world to the pandemic. And the podcast asks what can we do to hold back the decline of governing institutions?

Episode 6 (4 June 2021) The true history of the bureaucracy gang

In episode 6 of The Burning Archive Podcast, we discuss the history of the bureaucracy in the UK, USA and Germany, and its relationship to political decay. And we ask, is the bureaucracy to blame for our republics in distress?

Episode 7 (15 June 2021) The ordinary virtues of governing well

In episode 7 of The Burning Archive podcast, Jeff Rich discusses a possible antidote to political decay; building a strong culture rooted in the ordinary virtues of governing well. Based on traditions of virtue ethics scattered from Confucius (;Kǒng Fūzǐ) and Aristotle, to Alasdair McIntyre and Michael Ignatieff these virtues can help us all curb political decay. And we ask, is culture – and simple virtues like humility, talking to strangers and the life of the mind – the best defence against republics in distress?

Episode 8 (25 June 2021) Cultural decay and the meaning of the Burning Archive

Cultural decay has been a theme of cultural pessimists for centuries, and in this episode 8 Jeff Rich surveys prophets of cultural doom from Matthew Arnold, Max Weber, Stefan Zweig, and the more witty and balanced Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. Poetry makes an appearance too – with Arnold’s “Dover Beach”, Yeats’ “Second Coming”, Jeff Rich’s own reading of “The Burning Archive”, and lastly a special guest appearance of Ezra Pound reading from his Cantos. Trust me – it all makes sense in the end.

Episode 9 (3 July 2021) The Red Guards are Coming

Cultural decay can breakdown and lead to cultural revolution. Some might celebrate cultural revolution, but in this episode 9 Jeff Rich speaks of his own forebodings while watching the cultural ferment of today that we may be reliving a prequel to the Chinese Cultural Revolution. This episode tells the story of that ferment, chaos and frenzy of cultural destruction and loss. With stories of the Summer Palace in Beijing and the great film, Farewell My Concubine, this episode asks: are the Red Guards coming for us again?

Episode 10 (12 July 2021) The Parallel Polis and the Power of the Powerless

In episode 10, when faced with cultural decay and ruined institutions, what is a podcaster to do? In this episode, Jeff Rich turns for hope to the traditions of the Eastern European dissidents of 1960-90 Eastern Europe. Two great Czech dissidents – Vaclav Benda and Vaclav Havel – spoke of the Parallel Polis (Benda), as an alternative culture to build in the face of grey uniformity, and living in truth as the Power of the Powerless (Havel). In these very diverse traditions of samizdat and living authentically – that celebrate everything from Tolkien to the Plastic People of the Universe – the Burning Archive finds hope of a cultural renewal amidst our own time of troubles.

Episode 11 (25 July 2021) Social progress and social fragmentation

In this episode 11 of The Burning Archive, Jeff Rich explores the fourth large theme of the history of our times, that is social fragmentation. Life is better in so many dramatic ways. We are richer, older, healthier, better educated. But something is not quite right…. We enjoy better societies, but worry that we have lost a sense of community.  We seem beset by bitter polarization. Could it be that social progress is slowing, and its old rival, social fragmentation is going to overtake it in the marathon of history?

Episode 12 (31 July 2021) Towards the Society of Islands

In this episode 12 of The Burning Archive, Jeff Rich continues his history of our times, and the theme of increasing social fragmentation. If there is more distance between the elites and ordinary people – the 1 % vs the 99 % – then that can lead to conflict, social breakdown, even revolution. But social fragmentation can also be destructive when it occurs among the top 10 % who really, really want to be in the top 1 percent of positions of high social status. What happens to a society when the elites turn on themselves? Conflict, though is not our only choice. We can reach across the fissures of our fragmented society, and build bridges between the separated islands of our society. Along the way, this episode explores the Yellow Vest movement in France, the Occupy movement in Wall St, Jo Scarborough’s rant on American exceptionalism, Peter Turchin, Simon Schama, the French and Russian Revolutions, the atrocities of the Vendée, and even protests in London against lockdowns.

Episode 13 (14 August 2021) Change everything but change itself

In this episode 13 of the Burning Archive, Jeff Rich completes his 12 part thematic history of our times. Historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto writes about the impact of accelerating change on society over the last 50 years: “Under the surface of political and economic change lurks fear of instability in the most precious sources of identity.” He puts his finger on the change the Burning Archive has been describing as social fragmentation: Social Change + Identity Impacts + Technological Amplification + Cultural Viruses = profound uncertainty about who we are. In this episode, the Burning Archive asks: What happens to a society when we change everything, even change itself? Can we cope with the accelerating pace of change?

Episode 14 (17 August 2021) Afghanistan and the end of America’s 43 Year War

In this special episode 14, The Burning Archive makes some fast history, and reflects on the meaning of the capitulation of the American Empire in Afghanistan. There are eight quick takes

  • the humanitarian crisis – is this Saigon 1974 or  Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947?
  • the end not of a 20 year war but a 43 year American-Afghan Wars
  • the unwinding of America’s geopolitical strategy and Zbigniew Brzezinski’s shame
  • Military and strategic failure of the American Empire
  • The weakness of the leadership class in America
  • How will the Taliban and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan act?
  • The shift to regional security – without America – in Eurasia
  • Will America’s ultimate humiliation be that Afghanistan develops more successfully under this Eurasian wing?

Episode 15 (25 August 2021) Imperial Crisis in Afghanistan and the World Island, Part I

In episode 15, America’s capitulation in Afghanistan has provoked an humanitarian disaster, an imperial crisis, and a change in the balance of power between great states in Eurasia. The crisis threatens not only American prestige in the world but some of the basic historical and strategic ideas undergirding American geostrategy for the last fifty years. The Burning Archive explains the persistence in America’s disastrous Afghanistan adventure of the ideas of Halford Mackinder about the “World Island” of Eurasia and and of former USA National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski about the imperatives for America to control Central and West Asia.

Episode 16 (5 Sept 2021) Imperial Crisis in Afghanistan and the World Island, Part II

America’s capitulation in Afghanistan has provoked an humanitarian disaster, an imperial crisis, and a change in the balance of power between great states in Eurasia. The crisis is still unfolding but has revealed the growing connections and interests of the Eurasian states in a new world order, separate from Atlantic domination. This episode 16 of The Burning Archive Podcast examines how Afghanistan’s neighbours and the great states of Eurasia are responding to the situation, and how it shows the Silk Roads are rising again.

Episode 17 (10 September 2021) Letter to America: you are not the captain now

America’s defeat in Afghanistan has provoked an imperial crisis. This imperial crisis is not just a geostrategic or diplomatic game. It is a crisis of the ideas driving the empire – American culture, society and politics – its core belief that it is the exceptional nation. In Kabul America unwittingly surrendered not only as occupier of Afghanistan, but its claim to be leader of the so-called free world. Will Afghanistan teach America to be humble again or at last? That is the question for episode 17 of the Burning Archive, when Jeff Rich discusses the American response to its humiliation in Afghanistan.

Episode 18 (18 September 2021) After Kabul, the Task Ahead for Australia

In episode 18, the fall of Kabul has raised questions for Australia about the reliability of its alliance with the United States of America. For Australians this capitulation evokes comparisons with another decisive imperial humiliation, the fall of Singapore in 1942. The conquest by Japan of the fortress of the British Empire in South East Asia in the weeks following the attack on Pearl Harbour, led the then Australian Prime Minister to turn decisively from the declining British Empire that could not longer secure Australia’s defence to the rising American Empire. Will the fall of Kabul and the rise of Eurasia provoke the same questioning of foreign policy by Australia?

Episode 19 (26 September 2021) Vaclav Havel’s Letter to a Locked Down World

Vaclav Havel was a Czech writer and dissident who later became, after the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the President of his country. This episode 19 of The Burning Archive podcast explores how his writing, ideas and the model of his way of living in truth remains meaningful to us today. This episode sets out the main events of Havel’s life and the ideas of his political essays. It looks in depth at the “Letter to Gustav Husak” (1975), and its uncanny evocation of aspects of our lives today in a locked down world.

Episode 20 (1 October 2021) Six Asides about the Powerless

Vaclav Havel was a Czech writer and dissident who later became, after the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the President of his country. This episode continues the The Burning Archive podcast’s commemoration of his writing, ideas and the model of his way of living in truth remains meaningful to us today. This episode looks at the essays, “The Power of the Powerless” (1978), “Six Asides about Culture” (1984), and “Politics and Conscience” (1984), the memoir, To the Castle and Back, and Havel’s work for a better world after leaving the Czech Presidency in 2003.

Podcast 21 (7 October 2021) Special on 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature

Join the The Burning Archive Podcast on Apple or Spotify and other platforms for a special feature on the 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature, and learn not only about the hushed excitement of the winner (sshh no spoilers), but the history of the prize, favourite winners, best losers, and most contentious scandals. Congratulations to Abdulrazak Gurnah, and thanks to nobelprize.org.

Podcast 22 (15 October 2021) A Canon of One’s Own

This episode of The Burning Archive podcast features a special guest – young lawyer, Freya Rich, who speaks to the Burning Archive about the questions and topics from history and culture that her generation would like to know more about; what from the past is not past for her; and what might become A Canon of her Own. Podcast 21 (7 October 2021) Special on 2021 Nobel Prize for LiteratureThis episode of The Burning Archive podcast features a special guest – young lawyer, Freya Rich, who speaks to the Burning Archive about the questions and topics from history and culture that her generation would like to know more about; what from the past is not past for her; and what might become A Canon of her Own. Check out the podcast at Apple or Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Podcast 23 (22 October 2021) The Eight Hour Working Day

How did the eight hour working day come into being, and is it still relevant to us today? In this episode the Burning Archive Jeff Rich will talk about how the eight hour day emerged in response to the industrial revolution, and what it means in the stressed out contemporary world after the “fourth industrial revolution”. Episode 23 of the Burning Archive podcast is out and available on SpotifyApple and other platforms of your choice.

Podcast 24 (30 October 2021) – The decline and Fall of Rome, Part I

Did the fall of Rome then also the birth of Europe, Christendom and Western civilisation? In episode 24 of The Burning Archive answers – What was the Roman Empire? What was it like before it fell? Why was it significant and still matters to us today. In Part I Jeff Rich sets out the story arc of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, and sets the scene for a more detailed discussion of why it fell and its legacy in Part II.

Podcast 25 (31 October 2021) – The decline and Fall of Rome, Part II

In episode 25 The Burning Archive discusses explanations of the fall of Rome, how historians cast the story of the fall of Rome, and the enduring legacy of Rome, including in the discipline of history, even in the image of the Burning Archive itself.

Podcast 26 (6 November 2021) – Beowulf

In October 1731 there was a fire in the Ashburnham House residence of the Keeper of the King’s libraries in Westminster London. The fire threatened the one and only manuscript of the Old English poem, Beowulf. It was rescued by the librarian and others leaping from the window, clasping manuscripts. Singed but intact, Beowulf was literally saved from a Burning Archive.

Beowulf would then be studied as the great artefact of early medieval culture of Britain, Scandinavia and Northern Germany. But in time its imagery and story became buried underneath arcane arguments about the text. 200 years later in 1936 an English scholar of Beowulf sought to recover the poem and artistry of Beowulf from the dead hand of arid historical scholarship. Look at the imagination of the poet, he said. So was launched the modern recovery of Beowulf as a masterpiece of the rediscovered culture of the Dark Ages.

That scholar was JRR Tolkien. One year later he began to write Lord of the Rings. Episode 26 asks: would we have had the Lord of the Rings if we did not first have Beowulf?

Podcast 27 (13 November 2021) – Silk Worms. Silk Trade. Silk Roads.

Episode 27 of the Burning Archive podcast on Spotify and Apple Podcasts asks: How did the Byzantine Empire acquire the secrets of silk production from China, and what does it tell us about the history of silk, the diffusion of silk trade across the world, and the Silk Roads of Eurasia?

Podcast 28 (20 November 2021) – The Crusades Part I

Episode 28 of The Burning Archive podcast is about The Crusades, and is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. What were the crusades and how did they give birth to modern European nations? What made the crusaders and their opponents believe faith justified violence, that they fought a just war, a holy war, a jihad?

Podcast 29 (26 November 2021) – The Crusades Part II

Episode 29 on Spotify and Apple Podcasts discusses the leading characters and events of the Crusades, and their legacy including on troubadors, literature and silly love songs.

Podcast 30 (4 December 2021) – Three Faiths. One Holy Land.

Podcast 30 of the Burning Archive discusses the claims of Judaism, Christianity and Islam on the State of Israel and the Universal City of Jerusalem. Listen at Spotify and Apple or wherever you get your podcasts.