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Dead Ideas: The History of Extinct Thoughts and Practices

B. T. Newberg and history nerd friends



We explore ideas and practices once believed to be true but no longer. Each dead idea is explored in all its glorious eccentricity. For example, discover miasma, the theory that plague comes from stinky air; or the medical diagnosis of hysteria, which holds that women's wombs wander around their bodies causing trouble. Join us on a fun romp through the history of ideas that didn’t quite stand the test of time.

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We’re trying something new here on Dead Ideas. We have a sizeable back-catalog of episodes, many of which new listeners may never have heard, and which long-time listeners may have forgotten. So, we’re reprising classic episodes that are among the best of the best. One of my personal favorites is the finale episode from our cuneiform series. It’s a mash-up juxtaposing the story of the Sumerian hero Gilgamesh with the cyberpunk feel of the thriller Ghost in the Shell. See, one of the things I loved about studying the Sumerians, world’s oldest known city-building culture, is how surprisingly modern they feel. Thanks to the preservation of cuneiform tablets, we know more about them than, say, the Vikings or the Mongols. We even have their letters, giving us their most intimate thoughts and feelings, and that makes them feel strikingly recent – hence the futuristic cyberpunk elements. If you want more on the history of the Sumerians, by all means go back and listen to our full cuneiform series, which still stands as one of our best, but today’s episode stands on its own as a complete self-contained story. The oldest of the old meets the newest of the new in this Cyber-Sumerian retelling of the world’s most ancient epic. Enjoy. Featuring a haunting soundtrack by Belgian industrial band Militia. Be sure to support the show at to get your portrait drawn! Maps, pics, references, and more at Music and graphic design by Rachel Westhoff. Map by Adam McKithern.
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