The five most popular podcast episodes

I started a new podcast last spring, in part because I viewed it as a way to stay in touch with people during the pandemic. If I couldn’t meet people face to face, at least I could talk with them in the podcast. One of my early difficulties was to find a title, as at first it seemed that every possible choice was already taken. In the end, it was one of my students (Kristen Fox) who came up with the title, and it was my students last spring quarter who voted to choose it via Google Form. This was how “Dispatch 7: global trends on all seven continents” was born.

I wanted to share what have been the five most popular episodes:

Applying for graduate schools, Ep. 1. This was a fun episode for me, because I interviewed my former student, past graduate assistant, and now friend, Rosa “Rosie” David. Rosie is now in a doctoral program in Canada. In her interview she spoke about how to apply to a doctoral program. This episode was not only the first, but also has been listened to far more than any other.

The Joy of Tea with Kim Brown, Ep. 2. Kim Brown is not only my friend and colleague, and the co-author of our textbook, but also a ceaseless font of information about tea. I have had many conversations with her over the last fifteen years, in which I’ve tried to persuade her to write a book about tea. That’s failed, but at least she agreed to talk with me about tea in our second episode, which has been the second most listened to on the podcast. It will probably leave you wanting to make a trip to a tea store, as soon as this miserable pandemic is ended.

Career Opportunities in Global Studies, Ep. 9. I created this episode based on a talk that I frequently give to prospective students. I had no intention of creating my own episodes at the time; this was supposed to be a podcast based on interviews. But when the wildfires swept Oregon and California last summer, some of my scheduled interviewees faced major issues and had to delay their interviewees. So I created this episode, which I hoped would speak to International and Global Studies majors.

Indigenous Futurism with Grace Dillon, Ep. 8. This is one of my favorite episodes because of Grace’s warmth. I love to hear her laugh throughout the conversation. When I originally conceived of this podcast, I wanted it to have short episodes. But with Grace the two of us just dove into a longer conversation. I think that everyone who listens to the episode has the same reaction that I did, which was that I wanted to go to the library and pick up several of the novels that she suggested. I am grateful to Grace, who also wrote the preface to a book that I wrote about an Indigenous spirit. Of course, that preface had the same humor and brilliance as Grace had in this conversation.

¡Bienvenidxs a España- A Fulbright Story! | Ep. 4 In this episode I interviewed one of our alums, Chiara Nicastro, about her experience with the Fulbright program. Chiara is an exceptional public speaker, and her energy and humor came through. My hope is that it will inspire other graduates to apply for a Fulbright in the future. I especially appreciated that Chiara also agreed to come and join me again in my careers episode, to talk about why an MA really is required now for many jobs in the field.

I’m hard at work on the podcast still. The next episode will be an interview with Joyce Hamilla about why students should apply for government jobs, and the following one will be about Syrian refugees. I’ve loved talking with all of my guests, and want to thank all of my interviewees.

Shawn Smallman, 2020

Bioterrorism and Chocolate: an “Introduction to International Studies” lecture

Crinipellis perniciosa mushroom from
Image Number K8626-1
“Spores released from the fan-shaped basidiocarp of this inch-wide Crinipellis perniciosa mushroom can infect cacao trees and drastically reduce yields of the beans from which cocoa and chocolate products are made.” Photo Scott Bauer. Obtained from Wikipedia Commons

I’ve written before on this blog about the strange case of bioterrorism and chocolate in Brazil, and an incredible documentary on this topic. But I’ve also written a lecture on this event for my “Introduction to International Studies” class, which anyone teaching a similar class (Introduction to Latin American Studies or Brazilian history, or perhaps a class on commodities) is free to use.  In the lecture I’ve talked about my own experiences in the Amazon and Brazil, so you’ll have to make some edits. Or if you’d prefer to listen to this story, you can hear a version adapted from this lecture on my podcast Dispatch 7, global trends on all seven continents.

If anyone is interested in similar topics, you can also read my blog post about an alleged bioterrorism plan to target cocaine. 

Shawn Smallman

Bioterrorism and Chocolate


Witches Broom

Theobroma cacao





CEPLAC: Brazilian government agency charged with promoting cacao

Jorge Amado

Wade Davis, One River

Fusarium Wilt: disease of bananas; also known as Panama disease

Sea People- a book review

Lord Howe Island, which was one of the very islands in the Pacific ocean that the Polynesians may not have discovered. Image courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
One of the greatest mysteries in the history of human migrations is how the peoples of Polynesia managed to populate the greatest expanse of any culture in history, from the small islands of Micronesia to Easter Island.  The question has long fascinated people, as have the question of islands that appear to have been populated for a time, but were later abandoned.  Christina Thompson’s recent book examines how outsiders have sought to understand the mystery of Polynesian’s origins from the earliest European explorers, to the experimental archaeologists of the last few decades.

Christina Thompson has a gift for nature writing, and she describes Polynesia’s physical environment evocatively. But the core of the book is a chronological discussion of the different people who encountered Polynesians, and how they sought to understand them. Throughout, this effort is marred by the cultural chasm  between different peoples. When the great English explorer Captain Cook met a Polynesian navigator, Tupaia, he was amazed by the man’s practical skills; his counterpart even created a detailed map of a wide array of islands. But once Cook saw the map, he failed to understand it clearly enough to ask the proper questions that would allow us to interpret it. …

The most popular blog posts

Every now and then I look at Google Analytics to see what posts people typically view. And there is an interesting trend. The most popular posts tend to reflect on the meaning of International and Global Studies in some respect. For example, in November the single most popular blog post (out of approximately 490) considered the contested meanings of globalization and globalism. The sixth most popular post was ‘What is International and Global Studies?” Also in the top ten was a blog post titled International Studies versus Global Studies.

Another post that is always in the top ten -over several years- is my book review of Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe. If I had to guess years ago which posts would be popular in the future, my last choice would have been a book review of a challenging theory text, which is probably best suited to a graduate-level class. Sometimes I will spend a great deal of time on a post or a book review, and only a handful of people ever see it. And then a book review like this will remain popular for years.

I sometimes wonder if I should stop doing book reviews. In an era with GoodReads is there any point? And yet book reviews –such as my discussion of Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach- are always among the top read posts in the blog. So I will try to do one book review a month this year. I want to thank everyone who has visited and used this blog over the nearly ten years that I’ve been writing it. And please also check out my new(ish) podcast, Dispatch 7: Global trends on all seven continents.

Shawn Smallman

Edward Said and a lost Western Civilization

In my Global Studies theory class I’ve always enjoyed assigning the work of Edward Said, as a basis for talking about Orientalism and Exoticism. But I’ve usually been disappointed to find that my upper-division graduate students seem to not have as much interest in Said’s work as I do. Perhaps, I’ve wondered, it’s because his work is becoming a little dated? Or is perhaps because Said takes literature and art so seriously, in an age dominated by social media and digital globalization? To be honest, I think that the Western works that Said engages with now (Euripides? Gibbons?) might seem as distant and alien to many of my students as some contemporary Middle Eastern musicians and authors. The Age of Western Civilization courses is long gone in most liberal arts colleges. I think that my students struggle to read someone who assumes that a reader has a deep familiarity with 19th century European scholars and artists. I always have students in my classes who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, although their numbers are waning. They bring their own perspectives on the Middle East and Central Asia, which have a different framework.

The irony is that on Twitter someone just referenced (I’m very sorry that I don’t remember the name of the person who tweeted it) this 2014 article by Sadik Jalal al-’Azm. On the one hand, the author provides an effective and thoughtful critique of Said’s work. At the same time, he so concisely describes Said’s argument that this piece it also serves as an effective introduction to Said. Of course as the West has diversified, the scholars that Said refers to have receded from the curriculum. A first-generation Asian-American or Latinx student may have a very different take on Said. I still think that the idea of Orientalism and exoticism are important. But reading this article crystallized some of the problems that I found I was having teaching his work, as students themselves seemed to be struggling to express similar points. If you’re teaching Said’s work, I think that this is a great piece to assign with it.

Shawn Smallman

How quickly can you catch COVID-19?

Throughout the last several months, the US Center for Disease Control has messaged that in order to catch COVID-19 you had to be within six feet of an infected person for fifteen minutes. This was reassuring information. But sadly the US was also perhaps in a difficult place to answer detailed questions about COVID cases, because the contact tracing system has been overwhelmed. The US has also lacked a national COVID tracking app, as many other nations (Australia) have had. Realistically, this would have been a political impossibility to implement in the US, given that even masks have been highly politicized here. So, how realistic was the CDC’s guidance?

The CDC itself pointed to a case in Vermont in which a masked corrections officer was infected with COVID even though he never spent more than a single minute with infected prisoners. Instead, he spent perhaps a total of 17 minutes in a day with them over the course of multiple brief visits, all of which were captured on video. He also wore a mask, gown, and goggles. The prisoners sometimes wore their masks, and sometimes not. After this case, the CDC changed its rules to reflect cumulative exposure. Still, the fifteen minute rule still held. But would new information change these guidelines?

In Korea, contact tracing has been highly effective. It turns out that the combination of a digital tracking app with highly skilled contact tracers has been more successful than either purely digital or human tracing would be. And what Korea has learned -in a remarkable piece of scientific work- is that in one case a high school senior was infected after five minutes of exposure and from twenty feet away. The infection took place in a restaurant (which had video recording) and it turns out that an air conditioning unit was wafting air from an infected person towards the student. The quality of the data that the contact tracers obtained -and the history of how they learned it- is remarkable, and well worth reading.

There is nothing magic that happens at the six feet mark from another person. And being exposed to an infected person indoors can be risky even when the CDC’s old guidelines might make us feel safe. In this case, Korea has given us not only important information, but also let us see the quality of information contact tracing can provide. The key message is that neither six feet of distance, or avoiding more than fifteen minutes of exposure to another person, may be enough to keep you safe from infection, particularly indoors. So indoor dining is probably always unsafe.

Shawn Smallman

Do we already have a vaccine to prevent COVID-19?

Bust and Plaque at the Fighting SARS memorial, Hong Kong

A recent study published in the American Journal of Microbiology journal, MBIO, suggests that MMR 2 vaccine helps to prevent COVID-19 symptoms. It’s a study based on a small population (80), but the MMR blood titers show a very strong association with the severity of COVID-19 illness. People with high titers were all asymptomatic. Everyone who became severely ill had titers under 32. This wasn’t the first article exploring this idea of an association between MMR vaccination and COVID-19 resistance. But it’s an intriguing one that deserves more attention and research.

As a press release from the American Journal of Microbiology states, this could also explain why children don’t seem to get seriously ill. The MMR blood titers fall as you age. And the elderly may never have had this vaccine, in part because they’ve had measles or mumps. One significant point to the study was that having had the mumps doesn’t protect you. People need to have the vaccine itself. This contradicts the argument of vaccine critics who say that it’s better to have natural immunity. But in this case, the vaccine seems to give better immunity. As someone who had mumps as a child (and then gave it to my sister) I’m in favor of a vaccine-based approach to public health, rather than natural or herd-immunity.

I want to emphasize again that this study was based on the MMR blood titer results of only eighty people who had COVID-19. So this is a preliminary study. But the risks of the MMR are very low; at least hundreds of millions of people have had it since it was first introduced in 1971. Please note that this study only examined the MMR 2, not the quad vax, which also includes varicella.

Even though new COVID vaccines are coming soon, it will take months to roll the out at scale. It would be wonderful if we could use an existing vaccine with a long track record for safety to help us to buy time.

Shawn Smallman

Internships for International Studies students

I want to thank Regina Navarro-Gomez, whom I interviewed for my recent episode of my podcast, Dispatch 7. Regina has done internships not only in the United States but also abroad, and from the Oregon governor’s office to the Department of State. She spoke about diversity, job descriptions, networking, intern burnout, and many other topics. Most of all, she spoke about the opportunities internships can bring, and the importance of believing in yourself. If you are thinking about doing an internship -or perhaps supervising one- you might enjoy this episode. You can find the podcast here.

Shawn Smallman

Neoliberalism- a lecture for a Global Studies theory class

This will be the last lecture that I post for a Global Studies class. As with all the earlier materials, please feel free to adapt and use in your classes any way that is helpful. One free documentary that I think would work well to accompany this lecture would be the Spider’s Web.

Shawn Smallman

Feminism, a lecture for a Global Studies theory class

If you’ve been following this chain of blog posts, I’ve been sharing the class materials I created for a Global Studies theory class. I no longer teach it and I wanted these materials to be useful to others. Please feel free to take, use and adapt. Like all my lectures, I would have liked to have updated this piece if I were to teach it again. But I hope that there may be some passages or ideas here that may be useful still.

Shawn Smallman

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