Introduction to Thin End of the Wedge: transcription

Hello! And welcome to the Thin End of the Wedge. My name’s Jon Taylor. I fell in love with the history of the ancient Middle East as a teenager, and I’ve been lucky enough to make a career out of it ever since. I’d like to introduce you to something that I hope will spread a little happiness in a troubled world.

In Thin End of the Wedge, experts from around the world share new and interesting stories about life in the ancient Middle East. Each episode I talk to friends and colleagues, and get them to explain their work in a way we can all understand.

There are many wonderful stories we can tell about the people who lived in the ancient Middle East, their communities, the gritty reality of their lives, their hopes, fears and beliefs. We can do that through studying the objects they left behind and the cities where those people once lived. We focus on the cultures that used “cuneiform” writing, so mostly on ancient Iraq, from about 3000 BC to about 100 AD. But it’s not all about cuneiform texts. We talk about everything from excavation, museums, research, conservation, education, and heritage management.

Thin End of the Wedge brings you expert insights and the latest research in clear and simple language. We’ll also look at how we know things, why what we know is always changing, and why it’s important today. Everyone I talk to will be a world expert on their topic. We won’t talk to you like you’re stupid. But you won’t need any special training to understand what we’re talking about. This is not a training course. You can drop in and out as you please.

This is an independent production by me as an individual. It’s not supported by my employer or any other organisation I’m involved with. I want to hear, and share, what my guests think. Their views are of course their own.

So you might be wondering ‘Why Thin End of the Wedge? And why now?’

Let’s face it: 2020 is a year that most of us will want to forget. And we’re not out the other side of it yet. One of the few good things I can say about this hell-scape is that it’s shaken me out of my routine. I’ve had plenty of time to think about how things are, and how they should be.

Not so long ago, the highlight of my week was queuing to get into a supermarket in the hope that this time I might get a bag of pasta or some eggs. Online talks brought me a welcome distraction from that. These talks were on all sorts of subjects I knew very little about. I really appreciated that the speakers explained things in a way I could follow without getting a headache.

When it came to my own field, everything was being cancelled. Almost everything. By far the brightest light in the darkness was the series of talks being arranged by colleagues in the Middle East. I’m thinking in particular of the talks organised by Jaafar Jotheri at the University of Al-Qadisiyah.

It was impossible not to be struck by several things: 1) that they organised so much, so effectively, when better resourced institutions around the world did not; 2) that they took the effort, and had the kindness, to make their events available to both local and foreign audiences; these events were bilingual; 3) over the course of 2 months, I heard more talks by Iraqis than I had in the previous 2 years. Easily. And I’m in a relatively privileged position.

Now that’s not my fault; I take opportunities where I can. It’s certainly not their fault either. For as long as I’ve been in this field, it’s been anywhere between difficult and impossible for Iraqis to get the visas to give talks in the way that western scholars take for granted.

So here we are. I’ve been thinking about starting something like this for a while. But I’ve always had reasons why I couldn’t do it yet. 2020 has stripped those away one by one, and given me the opportunity and inspiration to make it happen.

Thin End of the Wedge provides a platform for experts to share their knowledge and passion widely. I hope that colleagues, and especially students, will find it interesting. But I also want people who don’t do this for a living to enjoy it too.

Now, professors at prestigious universities have no shortage of opportunities to talk about their work. They do have interesting things to say, so I will talk to them. But there are many other colleagues whose work is no less important or interesting. They’re given fewer chances to have their voice heard, so I want to focus on them. That includes colleagues who work at institutions that are less internationally recognised, early career scholars, or those who have experience and expertise, but don’t have full-time academic jobs.

Most of all, I want to help the voices of Middle Eastern scholars be heard more loudly. That’s relatively straightforward. I also want the knowledge generated about the ancient Middle East to be more easily accessible in the Middle East. Here’s where I need your help. I want to make this podcast available in Arabic and other Middle Eastern languages. That takes money that I simply don’t have. If you like what we do, please support our work. You can support us on Patreon for the price of a cup of coffee every month.

You can also help in other ways:

  • Subscribe to the podcast
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  • Check out the website:
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  • Follow us on Twitter: @wedge_pod

You can find all the links in the show notes and on the website.

Finally, I’d like to give a big thank you to everyone who has helped me start this podcast. For all the helpful advice, for allowing me to use the lovely things you created, for all the support and kind words. It really meant a lot. Thanks in particular to my first guests, who gave up their time to help me get this off the ground. I had a lot of fun talking to you.

And thank you for listening. Thin End of the Wedge launches on Monday 5th October 2020. I hope you’ll join us.