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Ada Palmer is a Professor in History researching the history of science, religion, progress, culture, and many other fascinating topics. She is also a science fiction author of the award-winning Terra Ignota series beginning with Too Like the Lightning, which explores a twenty-fifth civilization of voluntary citizenship and borderless nations. Now, this interview is over 3-hours-long and requires a lot of time and effort. However, just like her books, I believe that it is very much worth it.
During this 3h 7 min interview with Prof. Ada Palmer, we cover a variety of interesting topics such as: the 7 languages she reads or speaks; theodicy, Viking music, mythology, ethics, and metaphysics; Cosmos, the Inquisition and popular (mis)representation of history; the rejection of the presumptive authority of the past; Laws of History and Peter Urchin’s cliodynamics; if the United States is approaching a civil war; Ada’s Terra Ignota trilogy of four books; the role of the individual in history and the future; the lessons from reenacting the papal election of 1492.
My favorite quotes that I will take away from this conversation with Ada Palmer are:
We do have the power, and therefore the responsibility to act. But we don’t have control over the outcome.
Almost all victories are partial but partial victories are victories. [And progress is made of partial victories.]
Your choices aren’t: keep the world I have or make a better one. Your choices are let the world change towards the entrenchment of power […] or work to shape that change.
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Ada Palmer is a cultural and intellectual historian focusing on radical thought and the recovery of the classics in early modern Europe, especially the Italian Renaissance. An Associate Professor in the History Department with affiliations in Classics, Gender Studies, and the Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, she works on the history of science, religion, heresy, freethought, atheism, censorship, books, printing, and the networks of money and power that enable cultural production. Her current research focuses on censorship during information revolutions, and how studying the print revolution can help lawmakers and corporations make wiser choices during the digital revolution. She is also a science fiction and fantasy novelist, author of the award-winning Terra Ignota series beginning with Too Like the Lightning (Tor Books), which explores a twenty-fifth civilization of voluntary citizenship and borderless nations, written in the style of an eighteenth-century philosophical novel. She is also a composer, studies anime and manga, works as a consultant for anime and manga publishers, blogs for Tor.com, and writes the philosophy and travel blog ExUrbe.com.