History may get a bad rap as a school subject, but almost every form of media, from books to TV to radio, has been doing an admirable job of showing us that the past is fascinating.
Whether it’s putting a new spin on old battles, or teaching you about overlooked historical figures, history podcasts are a great way to keep your gears turning while you take your morning commute or walk to class. Here’s a list of some excellent series that can take you on a journey through the past:
Stuff You Missed in History Class dissects and fills the plentiful cracks in the American public’s general understanding of the past. Stuff You Should Know writers Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey are your nerdy tour guides, hitting niche topics like the Doctor’s Riot of 1788, in which New York City doctors clashed with locals over procuring corpses, and a deeper investigation into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, including new evidence that she may have ended up marooned on an island.
Traditional readings of history might leave with you the lingering question “Where the ladies at?” Women do, after all, account for roughly half the population, but only receive the occasional historical name-check in history books. In each episode of The History Chicks, hosts Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenweider highlight a historical character, from the specific (Abigail Adams) to the more general (1950's Housewives), delivering the context, the basics, and the “juicy bits,” when deemed necessary.
Would you expect anything besides serious journalism and a classy title like In Our Time from a BBC podcast on history? In Our Time started as a radio series in 1998, but now, like most radio programs, can be easily digested in podcast form. Attracting a whopping two million people weekly, the show is hosted (with class) by current University of Leeds Chancellor and all-around prominent British intellectual Melvyn Bragg as he explores the “history of ideas.” Episode titles generally revolve around a broad one or two word topic like “The Trinity” and “Pascal,” and feature discussions with some equally brainy guests.
A kissing cousin to host Dan Carlin’s political podcast Common Sense, Hardcore History is a bit edgier than most history podcasts, but just as rigorously researched and intellectually hefty. As your tour guide, Carlin approaches well-known fragments of human history, like World War II and, with a large dose of showmanship and theater, asks you to engage in some perspective-shifting fodder and thought experiments, like “Could Alexander the Great have been worse than Hitler?” and “How has the United States balanced its image as a country of freedom revolutionaries with its imperial interests?”
While New York City-focused, The Bowery Boys use the Big Apple as a microcosm of America, spinning non-fiction tales accessible to New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers alike. One of the latest episodes, for example, asks how prominent former New York City lawyers Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, one of them sitting vice president (!), ended up in a deadly gun duel in the NYC-adjacent New Jersey town of Weehawken. Amatuer-yet-passionate historian hosts Tom Meyers and Greg Young also point out the under-the-radar historical places around the city you can still visit.