For history lovers who listen to podcasts, History Unplugged is the most comprehensive show of its kind. It’s the only show that dedicates episodes to both interviewing experts and answering questions from its audience. First, it features a call-in show where you can ask our resident historian (Scott Rank, PhD) absolutely anything (What was it like to be a Turkish sultan with four wives and twelve concubines? If you were sent back in time, how would you kill Hitler?). Second, it features long-form interviews with best-selling authors who have written about everything. Topics include gruff World War II generals who flew with airmen on bombing raids, a war horse who gained the rank of sergeant, and presidents who gave their best speeches while drunk.
Here's the Latest Episode from History Unplugged Podcast:
On the eve of the 1948 election, America was a fractured country. Racism was rampant, foreign relations were fraught, and political parties were more divided than ever. Americans were certain that President Harry S. Truman’s political career was over. “The ballots haven’t been counted,” noted political columnist Fred Othman, “but there seems to be no further need for holding up an affectional farewell to Harry Truman.” Truman’s own staff did not believe he could win. Nor did his wife, Bess. The only man in the world confident that Truman would win was Mr. Truman himself. And win he did.
How did he do it? A confluence of factors that resemble those of today. According to A.J. Baime, today's guest and author of Dewey Defeats Truman, 1948 was a fight for the soul of a nation. We discuss some of most action-packed six months in American history, as Truman not only triumphs, but oversees watershed events—the passing of the Marshall plan, the acknowledgment of Israel as a new state, the careful attention to the origins of the Cold War, and the first desegregation of the military.
Not only did Truman win the election, but he also succeeded in guiding his country forward at a critical time with high stakes and haunting parallels to the modern day.
Most confrontations, viewed from the wide angle of history, are minor disputes, sparks that quickly die out. But every now and then, someone strikes a match that lights up the whole planet.
That idea applies to Henry Every, the seventeenth century’s most notorious pirate. The press published wildly popular—and wildly inaccurate—reports of his nefarious adventures. The British government offered enormous bounties for his capture, alive or (preferably) dead. But today’s guest Steven Johnson argues that Every’s most lasting legacy was his inadvertent triggering of a major shift in the global economy. He's the author of the new book "Enemy of All Mankind," which focuses on one key event—the attack on an Indian treasure ship by Every and his crew—and its surprising repercussions across time and space. It’s the tale one of the most lucrative crimes in history, the first international manhunt, and the trial of the seventeenth century.
Johnson uses the story of Henry Every and his crimes to explore the emergence of the East India Company, the British Empire, and the modern global marketplace: a densely interconnected planet ruled by nations and corporations. How did this unlikely pirate and his notorious crime end up playing a key role in the birth of multinational capitalism?
Ludwig II of Bavaria was a dreamer, above all. The king famously built fairy-tale style castles that adorned the Alps but were completely useless for defensive or social reasons (the king held large balls there where he was the only attendee and dined alone, maintaining conversations with his imaginary friends, Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette).
Lesser known about him, but equally odd, he went on high-speed midnight sleigh rides through the Alps, with him and his party dresses in full costume. His nocturnal behavior became legend among Alpine villagers. He woke up each evening at seven o'clock, lunched at midnight, ate his supper in the early morning, and went on strange adventures in the interim. Ludwig sometimes spent the entire night riding around the Court Riding School in Munich. At the halfway stage he would dismount and have a picnic, even in the foulest weather. Once he stopped in the middle of a blizzard, telling his servants that they were in fact at an ocean resort beneath the shining sun. Other times he dressed as French King Louis XIV, wore the state crown, and carried a scepter. The party then continued until reaching whatever goal existed in his imagination.
Americans might have been tempted to schadenfreude after learning the fate of British King George III. The villain of the American Revolution spent the final years of his life insane, having long arguments with imaginary figures who had died long ago (and often losing those arguments). He experienced five extended bouts of madness in his life, with the final one lasting until his death in 1820. They consisted of anxiety, hallucinations, insomnia, and manic and depressive periods. During this time George suffered from poor medical care designed to cure his madness but only worsened it. Medicine was in a primitive state at the time, and his physicians did not know that treatments such as blistering, binding him in a straight jacket, chaining him to a chair, or prescribing high doses of arsenic would damage his mental state.
Ottoman Sultan Ibrahim (1616-1648) believed he was the sort of ruler that came out of legend, so he ordered a massive tax to fund the decoration of his palace in sable fur. He also preferred full-figured women and commissioned his advisers to find for him the largest woman in his realm. Such a woman was found; she weighted over three hundred pounds, an enormous size in the seventeenth century. How did somebody like this become sultan? Because he was born a prisoner.
Ibrahim spent the first two decades of his life in “The Cage,” a harem quarter of the palace designed to imprison Ottoman princes and prevent them from scheming to capture the sultanate. Ibrahim never left the palace grounds until he became sultan himself in his twenties. In both periods of his life the fear of political assassination relentlessly haunted him. Paranoia and seclusion damaged his sanity, which broke completely when he ascended the throne. As a narcissistic hedonist who put his own pleasure before the needs of the empire, the harm that Ibrahim caused in his eight-year reign drained state coffers, alienated the military and political classes, led to a disastrous war with the rival Republic of Venice, and nearly brought down the House of Osman, the dynasty that had ruled the Ottoman Empire for over three hundred years.
King Charles VI of France (1368-1422) suffered from a particular disorder called "The Glass Delusion." He believed himself to be made of glass and could shatter at any moment. Advisors were told to tiptoe toward him and not wear shoes. He refused bathing for extended periods so as not to fracture.
Fate was unkind to Charles VI. He began well; the king was known in his early reign as le Bien-Aimé (the well-beloved) for his generous and affable character. He cared for the welfare of France's commoners and even allowed non-aristocrats among his counselors. But France experienced the worst decades in its history during his reign. During his forty years as king, the Hundred Years War raged on, and France continually lost battles and land holdings to England; his subjects killed in massive numbers through war, disease, and civil disorder. Forced to cede power to the English, and even to members of his family, Charles managed to survive multiple assassination attempts, but many of his advisors were not so fortunate. France's decades of decline culminated in its disastrous defeat to the English at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and the Treaty of Troyes in 1420, which named an English king as the rightful successor to the French throne. Suffering through all this hardship, his sanity finally cracked and broke. No longer called le Bien-Aimé, after his death Charles was referred to le Fol (the mad).
When Salvador Dali set out to paint a depiction of the infamous Roman Emperor Caligula in 1971, he chose to depict the thing nearest and dearest to the emperor's heart: his favorite racehorse, Incitatus. The painting “Le Cheval de Caligula” shows the pampered pony in all his royal glory. It is wearing a bejeweled crown and clothed in purple blankets and a collar of precious stones. While the gaudy clothing of the horse is historically correct, the Spanish surrealist artist managed perhaps for the only time to understate the strangeness of his subject matter.
Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (Caligula) was born in 12 A.D. and reigned from 37-41. He was the first emperor with no memory of the pre-Augustan era, that is, before emperors were deified—and had no compunction about being worshipped as a god. As the object of a cultus, the boy emperor believed in his own semi-divine status and saw no reason not to follow whatever strange desire entered his mind, such as treating his horse better than royalty. The Roman historian Suetonius writes that he gave the horse eighteen servants, a marble stable, an ivory manger, and rich red robes. He demanded that it be fed oats mixed with flex of gold and wine delivered in fine goblets. Dignitaries bowed and tolerated Incitatus as a guest of honor at banquets. Caligula repeatedly mocked the system of imperial decorum in Roman upper crust society in incidents such as these. His actions led to his violent death at the hands of political rivals.
Few mixtures are as toxic as absolute power and insanity. When nothing stands between a leader's delusional whims and seeing them carried out, all sorts of bizarre outcomes are possible.
This is the beginning of a series launch in tandem with Scott's new book "History's Nine Most Insane Rulers." We will look at the lives of the nine most mentally unbalanced figures in history. Some suffered from genetic disorders that led to schizophrenia, such as French King Charles VI, who thought he was made of glass. Others believed themselves to be God’s representatives on earth and wrote religious writings that they guaranteed to the reader would get them into heaven, even if these leaders were barely literate.
Whether it is Ottoman Sultan Ibrahim I practicing archery on palace servants or Turkmenistan president-for-life Akhbar Turkmenbashi renaming the days of the week after himself and constructing an 80-foot-tall golden statue that revolves to face the sun, crazed leaders have plagued society for millennia.
While such stories are amusing, this book also contemplates the addictive nature of power and the effects it has on those who cling to it for too long. It explores how leaders can undertake the extraordinarily complicated job of leading a country without their full mental faculties and sometimes manage to be moderately successful. It examines why society tolerates their actions for so long and even attempts to put a facade of normalcy on rulers, despite everyone knowing that they are mentally unstable. The book also explores if insane rulers are a relic of the age of monarchs and will die out in the age of democracy, or if they will continue to plague nations in the twenty-first century.
Finally, as many armchair psychologists question the mental health of Donald Trump and other populist politicians in the United States and Europe, all but diagnosing them with mental illness, this book sets to show that truly insane rulers are categorically different in the ways they endanger their population.
In 1942, the Allies were losing, Germany seemed unstoppable, and every able man in England was on the front lines. To “set Europe ablaze,” in the words of Winston Churchill, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), whose spies were trained in everything from demolition to sharpshooting, was forced to do something unprecedented: recruit women. Thirty-nine answered the call, leaving their lives and families to become saboteurs in France.
I’m talking with Sarah Rose, author of, D-Day Girls about the stories of three of these remarkable women. There’s Andrée Borrel, a scrappy and streetwise Parisian who blew up power lines with the Gestapo hot on her heels; Odette Sansom, an unhappily married suburban mother who saw the SOE as her ticket out of domestic life and into a meaningful adventure; and Lise de Baissac, a fiercely independent member of French colonial high society and the SOE’s unflappable “queen.” Together, they destroyed train lines, ambushed Nazis, plotted prison breaks, and gathered crucial intelligence—laying the groundwork for the D-Day invasion that proved to be the turning point in the war.
After World War II the German economy was a smoldering ruin. Scorched-earth policies destroyed 20-70% of all houses. Factories, hospitals, and schools were bomb craters. Germans only ate 1,000-1500 calories a day. There was no food in the stores because price controls disincentivized shop keepers and farmers to sell anywhere except the black market.
But something happened in 1948 that changed everything. Revolutionary market changes were introduced by Minister of Economics Ludwig Erhard that overnight caused stores to re-open, factories to fire up, and delivery trucks to clog the streets. In a year, food production and domestic output skyrocketed. By 1950, journalists spoke of a Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle). By the 1960s, West Germany’s economy was envied by most of the world and had surpassed struggling Great Britain.
In today’s episode, we look at how economies manage to rebuilt after total devastation. How do you rebuild a factory when the roads are blown up, there are no materials available to make it, and hyperinflation has made the money so worthless that nobody will hire you? How do you restart a nation’s economic engine when there are no parts? The example of Western Germany is a good answer to many of these questions.
Delving into your family history can reveal many surprises, but for Russian-American author Alex Halberstadt, it meant learning about his grandfather's experience as Joseph Stalin's bodyguard.
As the last living member of Stalin's security revenue, his grandfather, who lives in Ukraine, spoke of the fear of coming to work every day with the possibility you could be executed in a purge. Halberstad also revisits Lithuania, his Jewish mother’s home, to examine the legacy of the Holocaust and the pernicious anti-Semitism that remains largely unaccounted for. And he returns to his birthplace, Moscow, where his grandmother designed homespun couture for Soviet ministers’ wives, his mother consoled dissidents at a psychiatric hospital, and his father made a dangerous living by selling black-market American records
His book, Young Heroes of the Soviet Union, is an investigation into the fragile boundary between history and biography. As Halberstadt revisits the sites of his family’s formative traumas, he uncovers a multigenerational transmission of fear, suffering, and rage. And he comes to realize something more: Nations, like people, possess formative traumas that penetrate into the most private recesses of their citizens’ lives.
One of the most mysterious submarine disasters in history was the sinking of the HL Hunley, a Confederate Civil War submarine. This 40-foot-long tin can was the first to successfully attack another ship—but the results were as disastrous as they were historic. Shortly after its torpedo exploded, the Hunley disappeared off the coast of Charleston. The mystery of what happened to the Hunley and its crewmembers persisted for over a century, until the sub was finally recovered in 2000. But the discovery of the sub only led to a more puzzling mystery—the skeletons of all eight crew members were found in the cramped interior, each seated at their stations with no indication they ever tried to escape.
Those mysterious deaths piqued the interest of today’s guest Rachel Lance, the leading underwater blast trauma specialist in North America, who found the case so fascinating that she banked her PhD career on solving it. Lance, the author of the new book In the Waves, provides a definitive answer to what happened to the submarine and its crew on that fateful night. During three years of investigation, she went through archives, delved into previously unknown aspects of blast and shock science and built her own mini-submarine and explosives.
After the massive devastation and scorched earth wartime methods of the Civil War, America tried to rebuild itself. This era was known as Reconstruction and lasted from 1865 to 1877. Many hoped at the beginning that the South would peacefully re-enter the Union, slaves would enjoy full liberty as American citizens, and the United States would emerge stronger.
It didn’t. Reconstruction showed that many of the divisions in the United States were as wide as ever. Thousands of freed slaves were not accepted anywhere and arrested on charges of vagrancy. Others died of disease or starvation. Radical Republicans sought citizenship full legal equality of black Americans, while Southerners sought segregation and white supremacy.
But despite the challenges, many former slaves said all that mattered was freedom. Rachel Adams of Georgia summed up the feeling of many formerly enslaved people when she said she could “live on just bread and water as long” as she was free. The men, women, and children who emerged from bondage built schools, developed communities and “made a way out of no way.”
Join Lindsay Graham, the host of Wondery’s show American Scandal as he dives deep into the heart of the most shocking moments of fraud and deception in American history.
In this six-part series “The Hare Krishna Murders” he explores an eastern religion with pure intentions that, in the hands of its western followers, became a criminal enterprise of drug running, molestation and murder.
In 1966, America was at war and freethinkers across the country were looking for an alternative to their parents’ boring, conventional lives. An elderly swami arrived from India with a message of peace and love capturing the zeitgeist of the 1960s counterculture.
But soon rivalries broke out between devotees hoping to earn the Swami’s favor and eventually take over as leader. When he died without naming a successor, the movement took a dark turn.
You’re about to hear a clip from episode one of the Hare Krishna Murders on American Scandal. But before that, make sure to subscribe to American Scandal and other great podcasts from Wondery on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you’re listening right now.
Everyone thinks they know what happened at the Lincoln assassination… but do they? After 150 years, a multitude of unsolved mysteries and urban legends still surround the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Today's guest is Robert Hutchinson, author of the book "What Really Happened: The Lincoln Assassination." He takes a new look at the case and explores what really happened at Ford’s Theatre on the night of April 14, 1865. In those final weeks of the Civil War, Washington was boiling over with animosity and recriminations.
Among the questions Hutchinson explores are:
• Did the Confederacy have a hand in the assassination plot?
• Who were John Wilkes Booth’s secret accomplices, and why did he change the
plan from kidnapping to assassination?
• Why was it so easy for Booth to enter the president’s box at Ford’s Theatre?
Japan’s WWII development of a nuclear program is not universally known. But after decades of research into national intelligence archives both in the US and abroad, today’s guest Robert Wilcox builds on his earlier accounts and provides the most detailed account available of the creation of Japan’s version of our own Manhattan Project—from the project’s inception before America’s entry into WWII, to the possible detonation of a nuclear device in 1945 in present-day North Korea.
Wilcox, author of Japan's Secret War, weaves a portrait of the secret giant industrial complex in northern Korea where Japan’s atomic research and testing culminated. And it is there that North Korea, following the Japanese defeat, salvaged what remained of the complex and fashioned its own nuclear program. This program puts not only Japan, but also its allies, including the US, in jeopardy.
John and Jessie Frémont, the husband and wife team who in the 1800s were instrumental in the westward expansion of the United States, became America’s first great political couple.
John C. Frémont, one of the United States’s leading explorers of the nineteenth century, was relatively unknown in 1842, when he commanded the first of his expeditions to the uncharted West. But in only a few years, he was one of the most acclaimed people of the age – known as a wilderness explorer, bestselling writer, gallant army officer, and latter-day conquistador, who in 1846 began the United States’s takeover of California from Mexico. He was not even 40 years old when Americans began naming mountains and towns after him. He had perfect timing, exploring the West just as it captured the nation’s attention. But the most important factor in his fame may have been the person who made it all possible: his wife, Jessie Benton Frémont.
I’m talking with Steve Inskeep, NPR host and author of the new book Imperfect Union. He writes howvJessie, the daughter of a United States senator who was deeply involved in the West, provided her husband with entrée to the highest levels of government and media, and his career reached new heights only a few months after their elopement. During a time when women were allowed to make few choices for themselves, Jessie – who herself aspired to roles in exploration and politics – threw her skill and passion into promoting her husband. She worked to carefully edit and publicize his accounts of his travels, attracted talented young men to his circle, and lashed out at his enemies. She became her husband’s political adviser, as well as a power player in her own right. In 1856, the famous couple strategized as John became the first-ever presidential nominee of the newly established Republican Party.
Taking advantage of expanding news media, aided by an increasingly literate public, the two linked their names to the three great national movements of the time—westward settlement, women’s rights, and opposition to slavery. Together, John and Jessie Frémont took parts in events that defined the country and gave rise to a new, more global America. Theirs is a surprisingly modern tale of ambition and fame; they lived in a time of social and technological disruption and divisive politics that foreshadowed our own.
Fiction abounds with stories of Nazi Superscience: From Captain America's nemesis Red Skull to the B-movie treasure Iron Sky (which suggests the Third Reich established a moon base after the war). But the trope is based in some fact. Nazis did aggressively research cutting edge weapons to turn the tide of a war they were increasingly losing. Some weapons, such as the V2 rocket, did see production and terrorized the Allies. Others were advanced but impractical, such as 1000-ton tanks. Still others existed completely in the realm of science fiction, such as an orbital mirror that could focus enough solar energy to create a laser that could incinerate a city or fry an ocean.
With the endless talk of COVID-19, many think we are facing an unprecedented threat of the collapse of our civilization. But Dan Carlin, host of Hardcore History, doesn’t believe anything we are facing is unprecedented. He’s spent years looking at apocalyptic moments from the past as a way to understand the challenges of the future.
Dan joins us on today’s episode to discuss some of the biggest questions in history. Do tough times create tougher people? Can humanity handle the power of its weapons without destroying itself? Will human technology or capabilities ever peak or regress? Will our world ever become a ruin for future archaeologists to dig up and explore? The questions themselves are both philosophical and like something out of The Twilight Zone.
We go all over the place in this episode, from the collapse of the Bronze Age to the challenges of the nuclear era the issue, which has hung over humanity like a persistent Sword of Damocles. But just as he does on his own show, Dan manages to make the most complicated stories engaging and entertaining.
Business Wars is a weekly podcast from Wondery, and each season digs deep into some of the greatest corporate rivalries of all time. Think Facebook VS Snapchat or Nike VS Adidas. On each episode they give you an inside look at what inspired entrepreneurs to take risks that drove their companies to new heights -- or into the ground.
In this season “Starbucks VS Dunkin”, they follow these two java giants in a war that started brewing in the 1950s and is now hotter than ever. Coffee is a 100 billion dollar plus global industry with these two duking it out at the top, but their battle is about more than coffee.
You’re about to hear a clip from the new Starbucks v Dunkin season of Business Wars. But before that, make sure to subscribe to Business Wars and other great podcasts from Wondery on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you’re listening right now.
Before the 1900s, solving a murder was done using conjectural theories or flimsy psychological notions of what makes a killer a killer. That all changed with the development of forensic techniques employed at crime scenes, but few know the origin story of these now taken-for-granted methods of solving murders and other misdeeds.
It all changed with the revolutionary contributions of Edward Oscar Heinrich who pioneered many of the forensic techniques used today. Today’s guest is Kate Dawson, author of the book American Sherlock, who gives Heinrich his due with an account of his work on some of the most perplexing and notorious cases of the first half of the twentieth century. The press at the time dubbed Edward Oscar Heinrich ‘America’s Sherlock Holmes’ thanks to his brilliance in the lab, his cool demeanor at crime scenes, and his expertise in the witness chair. He invented new forensic techniques. A CSI in the field and inside the lab before the acronym existed. And he was a nascent innovator of criminal profiling fifty years before the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit invented its methodology.
Never a member of a police force, Heinrich was brought in to consult on many high profile cases, including the legendary rape and manslaughter trial of movie comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (a case the prosecution ultimately lost when the jury neglected to accept Heinrich’s finger print evidence). Bloodstain pattern analysis, ballistics, the use of UV rays to detect blood, hair and fiber evidence, handwriting analysis—all were virtually unheard of methods that Heinrich employed to bring criminals to justice. Often the cutting-edge techniques that Heinrich engaged in the lab and brought to the courtroom as an expert witness would rile the authorities, even as they galvanized the public.
Edward Oscar Heinrich quietly and unassumingly offered a revolutionary approach—the immutable proof that science and reason could provide to the thrilling, often messy world of crime solving.
A listener named Liam requested an episode looking at a deep dive into his hometown of Montreal and how it came to be a center of commerce and culture in North America. We’ll do that, but rather than talk about historical buildings and fountains (and other facts you'd find in a Frommers Guide) we’ll look way deeper and see how Montreal was a cultural powerhouse in its long history, everything from an underground railroad destination to a Prohibition-era hot spot with jazz clubs and cabarets, all the way up to its present-day status as a bilingual mecca.
Go to www.historyunpluggedpodcast.com to learn about Scott's new upcoming book "History's 9 Most Insane Rulers" and how you can get exclusive content.
The 1920s in Florida was a time of incredible excess, immense wealth, and precipitous collapse. The decade there produced the largest human migration in American history, far exceeding the settlement of the West, as millions flocked to the grand hotels and the new cities that rose rapidly from the teeming wetlands. The boom spawned a new subdivision civilization—and the most egregious large-scale assault on the environment in the name of “progress.” Nowhere was the glitz and froth of the Roaring Twenties more excessive than in Florida. Here was Vegas before there was a Vegas: gambling was condoned and so was drinking, since prohibition was not enforced. Tycoons, crooks, and celebrities arrived en masse to promote or exploit this new and dazzling American frontier in the sunshine. Yet, the import and deep impact of these historical events have never been explored thoroughly until now.
Today's guest is Christopher Knowlton, author of Bubble in the Sun. He discusses the grand artistic and entrepreneurial visions behind Coral Gables, Boca Raton, Miami Beach, and other storied sites, as well as the darker side of the frenzy. For while giant fortunes were being made and lost and the nightlife raged more raucously than anywhere else, the pure beauty of the Everglades suffered wanton ruination and the workers, mostly black, who built and maintained the boom, endured grievous abuses.
Knowlton discusses the forces that made and wrecked Florida during the decade: the real estate moguls Carl Fisher, George Merrick, and Addison Mizner, and the once-in-a-century hurricane whose aftermath triggered the stock market crash.
Quarantines are nothing new: they've been used since at least the Bronze Age to prevent the spread of leprosy. In this episode (rebroadcasted from a Facebook Livestream), we'll look at the various ways that humans rode out the plague and other disease.
Some panicked, like the Flagellators during the Black Death. But others took advantage of the time and bunkered down with friends, taking long walks, enjoying delicious meals, and each telling stories (like in the Italian Renaissance work "The Decameron"). Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV retreated to his rural estates and went on long hunting trips when the bubonic plague struck Istanbul. Shakespeare took the opportunity to write poetry, and Isaac Newton invented physics.
Hopefully this will give us plenty of ideas of what to do as we ride out COVID-19.
When people think of the American Civil War, specific images spring to mind—Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Scarlett O’Hara escaping a burning Atlanta in a hoop skirt, and blue and grey uniforms clashing on bloodied battlefields. The war is well researched, but there is still the little-known, yet still vastly important, history of the Civil War in the American West.
I’m talking today with Megan Kate Nelson, author of The Three Cornered-War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West. Both the Union and Confederacy had their eyes on the prize that was the American West; making up more than 40 percent of the United States landmass, the territory would give whoever controlled it access to gold and Pacific ports. For the North, it was also imperative to protect its interests in New Mexico in particular, since that territory was not only the gateway to Southern California, but it also shared a border with the Confederacy, making it vulnerable to invasion by pro-slavery forces. As Nelson explains, the battles that took place in the region “illuminate the ways that the Southwest became a pivotal theater of the Civil War and the center of a larger struggle for the future of the nation, of Native peoples, and of the West.”
The Western Theatre saw the complex interplay between the Civil War, the Indian wars, and western expansion, reframing this struggle as a truly national conflict. Today’s political conflicts over immigration have created chaos along the Southwest’s border with Mexico. This region has long been a site of contention, however—a place in which struggles for power have sparked armed conflict and determined federal policies regarding who, exactly, is an American.
Nearly 1,600 years after Patrick arrived on Ireland (first as a slave, then as a missionary who brought Christianity to the island), he is celebrated as the patron saint of the Emerald Isle and apocryphally believed to have eliminated snakes from the island (which he didn't, but the belief makes sense if you replace snakes with pre-Christian paganistic beliefs).
But what exactly are patron saints? Why is a deceased man or woman somebody who receives prayers related to travel, taxes, marriage, and telling a joke? To sort out these questions, we are joined by Michael Foley a three-time guest and a Professor of Patristics in the Great Texts Program at Baylor University in Texas.
But more than tell us about the history of patron saints, Michael includes his stories with mixology, making drinks dedicated to these men and women of the cloth. Michael is author of the new book Drinking with Your Patron Saints: The Sinner’s Guide to Honoring Namesakes and Protectors. Have a problem with the IRS? Pray to St. Matthew and mix up a classic Income Tax cocktail to toast the tax collector apostle. Afraid of a snake in your basement? Imbibe an Irish whiskey and ask St. Patrick for his extermination advice. Wish there were better choices for political candidates? Plead with St. Thomas More, who presides over statesmen, as you sip on cognac to honor his nobility.
COVID19, aka - the coronavirus, has triggered mass quarantines and spooked markets across the globe. To date, over 3,000 have died and over 100,000 infected. But however dangerous this virus ends up being, it doesn't belong in the same galaxy as Spanish Flu, which killed up to 100 million in 1918, which was 5 percent of the earth's population.
Today's guest is Dr. Jeremy Brown, director of emergency care at the National Institute of Health and author of Influenza: The 100-Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History. He notes that great strides have been made in medicine the last century, and whatever happens next, it won’t be a second 1918.
We discuss the quarantine methods used in the ancient and medieval worlds during epidemics and pandemics; how the Spanish Flu pandemic began; what it was it like for an average person in 1918 and whether there was an omnipresent fear of death, or were people mostly resigned to their fate; how the Spanish flu pandemic ended; and finally, lessons from 1918 we should heed today.
Here's the bottom line: with coronavirus, you will definitely have it much, much better than your great grandpappy did with Spanish flu.
“Always remember—you’re a Madison. You come from African slaves and a president”
This was Betty Kearse's family motto; a way to remember that they were descended from James Madison, but also Coreen, a slave who worked on the Montpelier plantation whom her descendants believe had a child with the fourth president.
Kearse, a pediatrician and author of the book “The Other Madisons: The Lost History of a President's Black Family” talks to us today about her family's 200-year journey from a slave-holding fortress in Ghana, to New York City to a brick walkway at James Madison’s Virginia plantation. In it she tries to reconcile a past that includes Madison, a giant of early America who authored the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, along with the abuses of slavery and rape. It's a complicated story but a critical one to hear to understand the complex origins of the United States.
The Cold War existed vaguely in a fifty-year stretch and lacked the defining moments of a major military conflict. However, there is a strong argument to be made that it defined the 20th century. While most point to World Wars One and Two as the most important events of the century, the institutions that dominate today's nations are by-products of the Cold War: the military-industrial complex, their political systems (whether capitalist, socialist, or something in between), funding for scientific research, and even space programs.
Fundamentally at stake was a question of whether the world would accept the political beliefs of Soviet Union of collectivism and communism, or the principles of economic and political democracy supported by the United States. The Cold War established America as the leader of the free world and a global superpower. It shaped U.S. military strategy, economic policy, and domestic politics for nearly 50 years.
In this episode, we recount the pivotal events of this protracted struggle and explain the strategies that eventually led to its end. This includes the development and implementation of containment, détente, and finally President Reagan's philosophy: "they lose, we win."
Some American presidents appear to do their jobs in a more organized way than others, but the White House has always been filled with ambitious people playing for the highest stakes and bearing bitter grudges. There is a myth that staffs all compromise and put aside petty differences for the greater good. But behind the scenes, staff members leaked stories to gain an upper hand in policy fights, tried to get each other fired, all while seeking the favor of the president.
Today's guest is presidential historian Tevi Troy, a former White House staffer and author of the new book Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump. We discuss the dramatic clashes within both Republican and Democratic administrations as their heavyweight personalities went head-to-head.
When Clarence Smoyer is assigned to the gunner’s seat of his Sherman tank, his crewmates discover that the gentle giant from Pennsylvania has a hidden talent: He’s a natural born shooter.
At first, Clarence and his fellow crews in the legendary 3rd Armored Division—“Spearhead”—thought their tanks were invincible.
Then they met the German Panther, with a gun so murderous it could shoot through one Sherman and into the next. Soon a pattern emerged: The lead tank always gets hit.
After Clarence sees his friends cut down breaching the West Wall and holding the line in the Battle of the Bulge, he and his crew are given a weapon with the power to avenge their fallen brothers: the Pershing, a state-of-the-art “super tank,” one of twenty in the European theater.
But with it came a harrowing new responsibility: Now they will spearhead every attack.
In this episode I'm speaking with Adam Makos, author of “Spearhead.” It's the story of an American tank gunner’s journey into the heart of the Third Reich, where he will meet destiny in an iconic armor duel—and forge an enduring bond with his enemy.
If you visit New York, your waiter, your cabbie, or the lady on the train playing Candy Crush could very well not be who they appear to be. That's because there are more spies working in New York City today than ever before, according to H. Keith Melton, the espionage advisor on The Americans, and Robert Wallace, the former chief of the CIA’s Office of Technical Service. But, as today's guests and the authors of the new book Spy Sites of New York City argue, the city has always been a hotbed of international intrigue.
From George Washington's downtown spy ring to Alger Hiss meeting his handler in a Park Slope movie theater to the hundreds of agents using the UN as a cover at this very moment. Espionage is as much a part of the city as honking horns and delayed subways. In this episode we discuss centuries of spying in the five boroughs and beyond, walking the reader through surprising meeting places, secret drop-sites, and the everyday bars, hotels, and park benches where so much shadowy history has been made.
In July 1881, Lt. A.W. Greely and his crew of 24 scientists and explorers were bound for the last region unmarked on global maps. Their goal: Farthest North. What would follow was one of the most extraordinary and terrible voyages ever made.
Greely and his men confronted every possible challenge―vicious wolves, sub-zero temperatures, and months of total darkness―as they set about exploring one of the most remote, unrelenting environments on the planet. In May 1882, they broke the 300-year-old record, and returned to camp to eagerly await the resupply ship scheduled to return at the end of the year. Only nothing came.
250 miles south, a wall of ice prevented any rescue from reaching them. Provisions thinned and a second winter descended. Back home, Greely’s wife worked tirelessly against government resistance to rally a rescue mission.
Today I’m speaking with Buddy Levy, author of “Labyrinth of Ice: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition.” We look at this story and what came after: Months passed, and Greely made a drastic choice—he and his men loaded the remaining provisions and tools onto their five small boats, and pushed off into the treacherous waters. After just two weeks, dangerous floes surrounded them. Now new dangers awaited: insanity, threats of mutiny, and cannibalism. As food dwindled and the men weakened, Greely's expedition clung desperately to life.
We discuss the story of the heroic lives and deaths of these voyagers hell-bent on fame and fortune―at any cost―and how their journey changed the world.
Hannibal ad portas! The phrase was enough to terrify anyone in the Roman Republic and became an adage for parents to scare their children at nights: “Hannibal is at the gates.” The Carthaginian commander nearly destroyed Rome in the 3rd century BC and posed the republic's greatest threat until the empire collapsed in the fifth century AD. What made the general such a formidable foe? His genius for military strategy, willingness to use any level of violence necessary (Hannibal's religion called for child sacrifice), and clever use of resources.
Many people think the Negro Leagues as a sad, somber part of America's legacy of racial division. In many ways it is, says Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro League Baseball Museum. But on the 100th anniversary of its founding, he stresses that it is moreover a triumphant story about what came out of segregation, and the result was a much richer, stronger country.
It was the Negro Leagues that introduced baseball to Japan and Latin America when black players played in exhibition matches at those places (they went on a goodwill tour to Japan in 1927, years before Babe Ruth and others came, winning the hearts of locals). And, he says, it was the Negro League that kickstarted the Civil Rights Movement by its players breaking the baseball color barrier of the Major Leagues with Jackie Robinson in 1947. This was years before the Birmingham Bus Boycott (1956) or the Freedom Riders (1961).
Today I'm speaking with Kendrick about the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues, which were formed on February 13, 1920, in Kansas City, Missouri. For the next several decades, black players competed on Negro League teams every bit as competent as their white counterparts (Hank Aaron got his start in the Negro Leagues; Joe DiMaggio called Satchel Paige “the best and fastest pitcher I have ever faced.”)
We discuss legends of the sport, such as Buck O'Neil, a first baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs, who became the first black scout for Major League Baseball and was a major player in establishing the museum itself (he was also a fixture on Ken Burns' documentary on baseball).
“The Hands of the King are the Hands of a Healer” -- this phrase appears in the Lord of the Rings, referring to how Aragorn was identified as the king of Gondor by his healing powers. Tolkien likely based this ability on an actual ceremony in England and France where thousands would gather to be touched by the king and be healed of their illnesses.
From the eleventh to nineteenth centuries, it was believed that a monarch could heal scrofula – called “The King's Evil” – by laying hands on the infected area. The belief of the Royal Touch began in the Middle Ages but survived, and even thrived, well into the Protestant Reformation, when other types of sacramental ceremonies were erased. It was enormously popular with the public. Charles II touch nearly 92,000 during his reign – over 4,500 a year. So many wanted the royal touch that officials demanded the afflicted produce a certificate to prove they had not already received it and were coming back for seconds.
The ritual persisted through very different eras and religious periods because kings and queens all used it to claim that God supported their reign.
The 1949-50 City College Beavers basketball team were incredible underdogs who experienced an incredible rise and subsequent fall from grace. At a time when the National Basketball Association was still segregated, the Beavers team was composed entirely of minority players – eight Jews and four African Americans. In 1950 the City College Beavers became the only basketball team in history to win both the NIT and NCAA tournaments in the same year. But one year later the team’s star players were arrested for conspiring with gamblers to shave points. Overnight the players went from heroes to villains.
Today's guest is Matthew Goodman, author of the book “The City Game.” He argues these players were actually caught in a much larger web of corruption that stretched across major social institutions from City Hall to the police department, sports arenas, and even the universities themselves. It’s a historical story of duplicity and cynicism that’s all too relevant to big-money college sports today.
But it's also a story of redemption, particularly Floyd Layne, one of the players implicated in the scandal. Floyd Layne was raised by a single mother in the Bronx, an immigrant from Barbados. He was a popular, talented, cheerful kid who loved basketball and jazz. Time and again he resisted the urgings of his teammates to take money from gamblers, but finally he relented because he wanted to buy his mother a $110 washing machine for Christmas. After he was arrested, he and the other players were blacklisted from the NBA – but unlike the other players, Floyd spent years trying unsuccessfully to join the league. Eventually he gave up and began coaching youth basketball in the Bronx, where his mentees included the future Hall of Famer Nate “Tiny” Archibald. In 1975 the job of head basketball coach of City College became available, and Floyd applied and got the job – after a quarter century, he was back at City College.
Civil War historians have asked if the South could have won the Civil War (or at least fought to a stalemate) since 1866. If they would have won, then what then? What would a divided states of America have looked like? Would a USA and a CSA have a happy peace and maintain a cooperative co-existence, like North and South Dakota, or maintain a cold war that threatened to go hot at any moment, like North and South Korea?
In this episode, we look at an alternate timeline of the Confederate States of America, whether emancipation would have happened, which foreign alliances would be forged, and how the two Americas would react to World War Two and the rise of Hitler. Suffice it to say, in the infinite timelines that exist, there is a large number that includes the CSA, and nearly all of them are bad.
Today's episode features a special guest, James Stavridis, a four-star U.S. Navy Admiral and former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. He joins us to discuss the ten greatest admirals in history and looks at their examples of leadership and resourcefulness. Case studies include Themistocles, English Sea Captain Francis Drake, Chinese explorer Zheng He, Horatio Nelson, WW2 Pacific Theatre Commander Chester Nimitz, and Rear Admiral Grace Hopper.
Most of all, we get at what it's like to look down on a carrier strike group (made up of 7,500 personnel, an aircraft carrier, at least one cruiser, a flotilla of six to 10 destroyers and/or frigates, and a carrier air wing of 65 to 70 aircraft) and know that you have absolute command over the fates of everyone and everything below you and how that feeling would affect the lives of these people.
Could one American diplomat have prevented the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor? The answer might be yes. America’s ambassador to Japan in 1941, Joseph Grew, certainly thought so. He saw the writing on the wall—economic sanctions were crippling Japan, rice was rationed, consumer goods were limited, and oil was scarce as America’s noose tightened around Japan’s neck. Japan and the U.S. were locked in a battle of wills, yet Japan refused to yield to American demands.
In this episode, I speak with Lew Paper, author of "In the Cauldron: Terror, Tension, and the American Ambassador’s Struggle to Avoid Pearl Harbor." He describes how the United States and Japan were locked in a cauldron of boiling tensions and of one man’s desperate effort to prevent the Pearl Harbor attacks before they happened.
Through "In the Cauldron," Paper reveals new information—mined from Grew’s diaries, letters, official papers, the diplomatic archives, and interviews with Grew’s family and the families of his staff—to present a compelling narrative of how the militaristic policies of Imperial Japan collided with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s determination to punish Japanese aggression in the Far East.
We look at Pearl Harbor attack inside the ambassador’s perspective through Paper’s revelation of:
• Grew’s personal diaries detailing the events leading up to the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor
• Personal interviews with Grew’s family and staff, giving the inside look into Grew’s struggle to prevent the attacks
• Detailed accounts of the correspondence between Grew and other State Department officials about the warning signs leading up to the Pearl Harbor attacks
• An in-depth look into the fast-depreciating lives of the Japanese people and how their struggles and cultural ideology contributed to the fatal attacks
On October 15, 1950, General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of UN troops in Korea, convinced President Harry Truman that the Communist forces of Kim Il-sung would be utterly defeated by Thanksgiving. The Chinese, he said with near certainty, would not intervene in the war.
As he was speaking, 300,000 Red Chinese soldiers began secretly crossing the Manchurian border. Led by some 20,000 men of the First Marine Division, the Americans moved deep into the snowy mountains of North Korea, toward the trap Mao had set for the vainglorious MacArthur along the frozen shores of the Chosin Reservoir. What followed was one of the most heroic--and harrowing--operations in American military history, and one of the classic battles of all time. Faced with probable annihilation, and temperatures plunging to 20 degrees below zero, the surrounded, and hugely outnumbered, Marines fought through the enemy forces with ferocity, ingenuity, and nearly unimaginable courage as they marched their way to the sea.
Today I'm speaking with Hampton Sides, author of the account On Desperate Ground a soldier's eye view of this conflict that chronicle of the extraordinary feats of heroism performed by the beleaguered Marines, who were called upon to do the impossible in some of the most unforgiving terrain on earth.
You don't have to read the ancient folklore of China, Sumeria, or anywhere else long before you encounter a dragon. Sometimes they guard treasure. Sometimes they kidnap local maidens. Sometimes they are the primary antagonist for a hero to conquer. Mostly they perform all three roles. But the problem is they never existed. Outside of a handful of cryptozoologists, nobody argues that they are real. So why do cultures that had no contact with each other produce remarkably similar myths?
This episode looks into the theories of the spread of dragon myths. Perhaps there was an Ur-myth in Egypt or Mesopotamia that slowly spread across the world. Or it's an anthropological reaction to the fear that most humans have of lizards. More exotic theories claim dragons are the genetic memory of dinosaurs. Even more exotic theories claim they are the embodiment of rainbows (we'll explain that last one in more detail).
For more than one thousand years, Christians and Muslims lived side by side, sometimes at peace and sometimes at war. When Christian armies seized Jerusalem in 1099, they began the most notorious period of conflict between the two religions. Depending on who you ask, the fall of the holy city was either an inspiring legend or the greatest of horrors.
In this episode I’m speaking with Dan Jones, author of Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands. In Crusaders, Dan Jones interrogates the many sides of the larger story, charting a deeply human and avowedly pluralist path through the crusading era.
Expanding the usual timeframe, Jones looks to the roots of Christian-Muslim relations in the eighth century and tracks the influence of crusading to present day. He widens the geographical focus to far-flung regions home to so-called enemies of the Church, including Spain, North Africa, southern France, and the Baltic states. By telling intimate stories of individual journeys, Jones illuminates these centuries of war not only from the perspective of popes and kings, but from Arab-Sicilian poets, Byzantine princesses, Sunni scholars, Shi'ite viziers, Mamluk slave soldiers, Mongol chieftains, and barefoot friar
Once the Nazi Party took power in Germany, they managed to end democracy and turned the nation into a one-party dictatorship, launching an endless propaganda campaign to mobilize the public for war. Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda arranged book burnings, lists of banned literature, and the release of films that exalted Aryan values and demonized Jews.
Before the rise of the Nazis, Germany was the most educated society on Earth, producing the finest literature, film, and university programs of any advanced nation. How did it succumb to such a simplistic propaganda program? The answer has to do with the ancient story of propaganda and how the masses swallow almost any message if it's repeated enough and speaks to their deepest fears.
Two years before the Civil War, Congressman Daniel Sickles and his lovely wife Teresa were popular fixtures in Washington, D.C. society. Their house sat on Lafayette Square across from White House grounds, and the president himself was godfather to the Sickleses’ six-year-old daughter. Because Congressman Sickles is frequently out of town, he trusted his friend, U.S. Attorney Philip Barton Key—son of Francis Scott Key—to escort the beautiful Mrs. Sickles to parties in his absence. Revelers in D.C. were accustomed to the sight of the congressman’s wife with the tall, Apollo-like Philip Barton Key.
Then one day Daniel Sickles received an anonymous note suggesting his wife's infidelity. It sets into motion a tragic course of events that culminated in a shocking murder in broad daylight in Lafayette Square.
Today's guest is Chris DeRose, author of the book Star Spangled Scandal, about the biggest media sensation in Civil War America. The press couldn't get enough of the trial, which had a play based on the events hit the stage as the trial was in progress. The trial introduced the concepts of the insanity defense, challenged ideas of chivalry and masculinity, and ensconced ideas of an unwritten law, where “honor crimes” were tolerated by judges for nearly a century after the trial.
There are few events that would shake the world order like the success of the American Revolution. Some changes would be felt immediately. English traditions such as land inheritance laws were swept away. Other changes took longer. Slavery would not be abolished for another hundred years. Americans began to feel that their fight for liberty was a global fight. Future democracies would model their governments on the United States'.
Spycraft was seen as a treacherous craft, but it was necessary to win a war. Washington knew this, as his early attempts to gather intelligence on British-occupied New York led to an execution of Nathan Hale, a young school teacher. More sophisticated networks developed, particularly the Culper Spy ring, which involved a farmer, a whaleboat captain, a tavern owner, and a slave.
After Yorktown, a truce was declared in America, although some skirmishes did break out until final peace was negotiated in Paris in 1783. In this episode, Scott and James looks at what happened to the British and American generals and politicians involved in the war.
On October 14, 1781, Washington and French General Comte de Rochambeau attacked on October 14th, capturing two British defense. British Gen. Cornwallis surrendered two days later.
The Battle of Yorktown sealed the fate of the Revolutionary War. In late 1781, American and French troops laid siege to the British Army at Yorktown, Virginia. First, a bit of backgroun. The partisan warfare that kept occurring in the upcountry of the Carolinas made it impossible for the British to obtain supplies from there. This in turn made it necessary for Cornwallis to keep his army relatively close to the coast. Greene kept his army far enough from Cornwallis to avoid a major pitched battle while constantly trying to lure Cornwallis away from the coast. Greene’s strategy was (in Allen Guelzo’s words) “dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” In this, he was assisted by a cavalry commander named Col. Henry (“Light Horse Harry”) Lee, as well as Francis Marion and Daniel Morgan. Skirmishers of the two armies occasionally fought each other, but the main armies never met.
The Battles of King's Mountain and Cowpens were fought in 1781, between the Continental Army under Brigadier General Daniel Morgan and British forces under Lieutenant Colonel Sir Banastre Tarleton, as part of the campaign in the Carolinas. Daniel Morgan, who had been sent south by Washington, joined Nathanael Greene’s army. Greene decided to send Morgan with a force of militia and cavalry westward. This dividing of his army was risky, but Greene wrote “It makes the most of my inferior force for it compels my adversary to divide his.”
In 1788, the battle lines of the Revolutionary War moved from New England to the southern colonies. Lord George Germain, the British secretary responsible for the war, wrote to Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton that capturing the southern colonies was "considered by the King as an object of great importance in the scale of the war" Germain and the king believed that the majority of southern colonists were loyalists and that if the British army could take key parts of the South, Loyalists would rise up to join the British and at the very least, the southern colonies could be brought back into the empire. In September 1778, the Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Lincoln as the commander of Continental forces in the South. In November of that year, British forces conducted several raids into Georgia. The next month, a force of about 3000 British regulars under Archibald Campbell arrived and captured Savannah on December 29. They took Augusta a month later but soon withdrew due to the presence of American forces nearby.
Plus, we look at Benedict Arnold's treason.
The Battle of Rhode Island (also known as the Battle of Quaker Hill and the Battle of Newport) took place on August 29, 1778. The battle was the first attempt at cooperation between French and American forces following France’s entry into the war as an American ally.
After the setbacks of 1777 and 1778, other American officers angled to take Washington's position as leader of the Continental Army. A conspiracy called the Conway Cable tried but failed to force him out. Washington shored up his support after victory at the Battle of Monmouth.
The Philadelphia Campaign of 1777-8 was a British attempt to capture Philadelphia, then capital of the United States and seat of the Continental Congress, led by Gen. William Howe. They did capture the city, but British disaster loomed north in the Saratoga campaign, threatening any British gains.
Correction: The Schuylkill River was pronounced "Sky-Kill", but it is actually pronounced "School - Kill."
The Battle of Saratoga was incredible turn of fortunes for the United States. British , Gen. John Burgoyne thought he would cut off New England from the rest of the colonies. Instead, he lost the battle and was forced to surrender 20,000 troops. Saratoga was also Benedict Arnold's finest hour. He loathed American commander Horatio Gates, who relieved Arnold of his command. Nonetheless, at the Battle of Bemis Heights on October 7, 1777, Arnold took command of American soldiers whom he led in an assault against the British. Arnold’s fierce attack disordered the enemy and led to American victory. The decisive Patriot victory compelled France to enter the war as an ally with the United States.
It's no coincidence that the bird we eat for Thanksgiving and a Middle Eastern country are both called Turkey. One was named after the other, and it all has to do with a 500-year-old story of emerging global trade, mistaken identity, foreign language confusion, and how the turkey took Europe by storm as a must-have status symbol for the ultra-wealthy.
The Saratoga campaign gave a decisive victory to the Americans over the British during the American Revolutionary War. The battle also saw great heroics by Benedict Arnold.
Washington and his men had their work cut out for them after crossing the Delaware River. Over the next ten days, they won two battles. First, the Patriots defeated a Hessian garrison on December 26th. They then returned to Trenton a week later to draw British force south, then launched a night attack to capture Princeton on January 3rd. With the victory, New Jersey fell into Patriot hands.
On July 4, 1826, as Americans lit firecrackers to celebrate the country’s fiftieth birthday, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were on their deathbeds. They would leave behind a groundbreaking political system and a growing economy—as well as the glaring inequalities that had undermined the American experiment from its beginning. The young nation had outlived the men who made it, but could it survive intensifying divisions over the very meaning of the land of the free?
In today's episode, I'm speaking with Holly Jackson about her new book American Radicals, which looks at this new network of dissent—connecting firebrands and agitators on pastoral communes, in urban mobs, and in genteel parlors across the nation—that vowed to finish the revolution they claimed the Founding Fathers had only begun. They were men and women, black and white, fiercely devoted to causes that pitted them against mainstream America even while they fought to preserve the nation’s founding ideals: the brilliant heiress Frances Wright, whose shocking critiques of religion and the institution of marriage led to calls for her arrest; the radical Bostonian William Lloyd Garrison, whose commitment to nonviolence would be tested as the conflict over slavery pushed the nation to its breaking point; the Philadelphia businessman James Forten, who presided over the first mass political protest of free African Americans; Marx Lazarus, a vegan from Alabama whose calls for sexual liberation masked a dark secret; black nationalist Martin Delany, the would-be founding father of a West African colony who secretly supported John Brown’s treasonous raid on Harpers Ferry—only to ally himself with Southern Confederates after the Civil War.
Though largely forgotten today, these figures were enormously influential in the pivotal period flanking the war, their lives and work entwined with reformers like Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Henry David Thoreau, as well as iconic leaders like Abraham Lincoln. Jackson writes them back into the story of the nation’s most formative and perilous era in all their heroism, outlandishness, and tragic shortcomings.
Do historical “villains” like Benedict Arnold, Vidkun Quisling, and Emperor Caligula deserve their terrible reputations, or are they victims of biased accounts? In this rebroadcast of a live event in the History Unplugged Facebook Page, Scott gets into what makes somebody a true bad guy in the past (unsurprisingly, Hitler makes this list), somebody best described as misunderstood, and somebody who deserves a rehabilitation.
Ulysses S. Grant arrives to take command of all Union armies in March 1864 to the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox a year later. Over 180,000 black soldiers in the Union army. And most of all, William Tecumseh Sherman launches his scorched-earth March to the Sea. Other events include the rise of Clara Barton; the election of 1864 (which Lincoln nearly lost); the wild and violent guerrilla war in Missouri; and the dramatic final events of the war, including the surrender at Appomattox and the murder of Abraham Lincoln.
Today I'm talking with S.C. Gwynne, author of Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War. We discuss unexpected angles and insights on the war. Ulysses S. Grant is known for his prowess as a field commander, but in the final year of the war he largely fails at that. His most amazing accomplishments actually began the moment he stopped fighting. William Tecumseh Sherman was a lousy general, but probably the single most brilliant man in the war. We also meet a different Clara Barton, one of the greatest and most compelling characters, who redefined the idea of medical care in wartime. And proper attention is paid to the role played by large numbers of black union soldiers—most of them former slaves. They changed the war and forced the South to come up with a plan to use its own black soldiers.
Up until the recent past, if a soldier was wounded in battle, he remained in the field where he had fallen without hope of rescue. Maybe a comrade would drag him to safety, but more likely he would remain there for days, hoping for aid (or, barring that, death). Not that ancients knew nothing of combat medicine. Alexander the Great had tourniquets applied to soldiers with bleeding extremity wounds. Stretchers made of wicker were used in medieval battles. Triage was used in the Napoleonic corps.
It was not until the Civil War that something like an ambulance service developed. Everything change in 1862 when Dr. Jonathan Letterman developed a three-tier evacuation system still used today. First was the field dressing station near the battlefield. The second was the field hospital (or MASH units). Finally a large hospital for those needing prolonged treatment.
Today, death rates in battle have plummeted, thanks to the work of combat medics, who keep soldiers from dying at their most vulnerable time.
The Confederacy won the early battles of the Civil War, led by brilliant generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee (to name a few) against blundering Union commanders like the endlessly dithering George McClellan. The war only turned after Lincoln found the right generals such as Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. This Civil War narrative—that Union generals improved while Confederate ones worsened—is popular and well-supported. Is it accurate, or did circumstances of the war bring out the true character of each general?
The answer isn't a simple 'yes' or 'no' but Scott will do his best to explain what makes a Civil War general a good one and how they improved or worsened over the course of the war.
History Channel documentaries and pop historians have argued that when Constantine converted to Christianity in the fourth century, he was merely following the religious demographic trends of the Roman Empire and thought paganism to be a political dead end. The idea makes sense at first glance. But the story of Constantine's conversion—and later the entire empire's—goes far beyond political opportunism (although there is plenty of that).
Constantine did not choose his new religion to chase after changing demographics in the Empire; Christianity was a lower-class religion disfavored by the pagans who overwhelmingly made up the Roman army and cavalry—the exact people that an emperor really needed to appease to hold onto power. Plus, recent studies on Constantine argue that Christianity would have spread regardless of the emperor's choice, although it would have happened at a later date.
The Roman Catholic Church did drape itself in Roman symbolism and forged fictional lines of continuity between itself and the empire, but only after the sixth century, when the Western Roman Empire had completely collapsed and become a ghost that haunted Europe throughout the Middle Ages. Any resemblance between the empire and the church came after the former collapse and was largely coincidental.
Most Americans are unclear about their country’s contribution to victory in World War I. They figure we entered the conflict too late to claim much credit, or maybe they think our intervention was discreditable. Some say we had no compelling national interest to enter the Great War; worse, our intervention allowed Britain and France to force on Germany an unjust, punitive peace that made the rise of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party inevitable. Had we stayed out of the war, the argument goes, the Europeans would have been compelled to make a reasonable, negotiated peace, and postwar animosity would have been lessened.
In this episode, we explore whether American involvement in World War One led to needless slaughter or served the purpose of creating a better future for Europe and the United States than would have been the case if Germany's Second Reich had dominated the continent.
Hans Kammler was among the worst of the Nazis. He was responsible for the construction of Hitler’s slave labor sites and concentration camps. He personally altered the design of Auschwitz to increase crowding, ensuring that epidemic diseases would complement the work of the gas chambers. So pleased was Hitler by his work that he put him in charge of the Nazi rocket and nuclear weapons programs. At the end of the war he had more power than SS chief Heinrich Himmler. Even among the SS he was feared for his brutish nature.
So why has the world never heard of him? Today I'm speaking with Dean Reuter, author of the new book “The Hidden Nazi: The Untold Story of America’s Deal with the Devil” he and collaborators Colm Lowery and Keith Chester spent a combined decades tracking down Kammler's trail. Long believed to have committed suicide, they discovered that he may have escaped exposure and justice through a secret deal with America.
At the end of 1776 George Washington was in a desperate situation. The Continental Army had retreated completely out of New York after losing Long Island to British General William Howe. Many of his soldiers' contracts were set to expire at years end. He needed a dramatic victory, and fast. An opportunity arose when intelligence revealed Hessian forces camped in Trenton, New Jersey that were vulnerable to a sneak attack.
The New York Campaign ended in decisive victory for the British and terrible defeat for the Continental Army, which barely escaped destruction. It was completely driven out of New York fro the rest of the war, and the British used it as a base of attack against other targets for years to come.
Correction: It was claimed the Turtle (the words first submersible sea vessel) was unmanned. In fact, it was manned by a pilot named Ezra Lee, who steered it toward its destination then got out of it prior to trying to detonate it.
When the British left Boston, George Washington realized that their eventual destination would be New York City. He quickly traveled to NYC to oversee the building of defenses, organized the Continental Army into divisions, and prepared for the invasion. What happened next was the largest battle of the entire war and (if not for a miraculous stroke of good luck in the form of fog) the near-total defeat of the Patriots.
In the background of the opening battles of the Revolutionary War, an assembly of colonial statesmen issued a document announcing their formal separation from the British Empire. How did this document come about, what did the British make of it, and how revolutionary were these ideas to an eighteenth century audience?
The Battle of Quebec, fought on December 31, 1775, marked the end of American offensive operations in Canada. General Richard Montgomery was killed, Arnold wounded, and Daniel Morgan and more than four hundred American soldiers taken prisoner. Returning forces of the Continental Army arrived ragged and nearly starved.
The Continental Army thought they could rally the French-speaking residents of Canada in their uprising against the British. Such thinking led to the Quebec Campaign. Although a major defeat for the Americans, it showed the dogged determinism of American commander Benedict Arnold, who also showed his bravery in the Battle of Saratoga before defecting to the British.
"Dont' fire till you see the white's of their eyes!" -- famous words, and smart strategy for using terribly inaccurate muskets, but what were the conditions that gave arise to that advice? Find out in this episode, as the Battle of Bunker hill wraps up.
With the Revolutionary War turning from cold to hot, the British made plans to send troops from Boston to break the Colonials' siege of that city and occupy the surrounding hills. About one thousand militiamen fortified Breed's Hill to prepare for the coming onslaught. It was the first serious battle that pitted the fiery but inexperienced colonists against the battle-hardened British.
The Continental Army and the British Army were significantly different in their organizational structure, levels of experience, and funding. The Continental Army was an undisciplined, unprepared fighting force with makeshift uniforms and sloppy tactics (at least at the beginning of the war). The British Army was the world's elite fighting force and fresh of victory of the globe-spanning Seven Years War against France and her allies. What caused the Continental Army to prevail in the Revolutionary War?
The Battles of Lexington and Concord were of minor military significance but of world-historical importance in the modern era. They were the first military engagements of the Revolutionary War, marking the outbreak of armed conflict between Great Britain and its thirteen colonies on the North American mainland. Fought on April 19, 1775, the battles of Lexington and Concord ruin British political strategy of ending colonial opposition to the Intolerable Acts and seizing weapons of rebels. Revolutionary leaders such as John Adams considered the battle to be a point of no return: “The Die was cast, the Rubicon crossed,” he said.
Correction: Concord was pronounced "Con - cord," but locals pronounce it as "Con - Curd"
Our series is picking up steam as we jump to the years immediately prior to the Shot Heard 'Round the World. James and Scott discuss the interregnum between the French-Indian War and the Revolutionary War, the Sugar Act (1764), the Stamp Act (1765), then Townsend Acts (1767), the Boston Massacre (1770), the Tea Act (1773), and the Coercive Acts (1774).
Grab your musket and your portion of rum, Yankee, because we have a war to fight! James Early returns to the History Unplugged Podcast to kick off a massive series called Key Battles of the Revolutionary War. We get in-depth into the battles that determined the outcome of one of the most consequential wars in history. But we also go deep into the background of social, political, cultural, and theological aspects of the of the 18th century.
Scott and James kick off this episode by talking about the global-level changes in society that made the Revolutionary War possible in the 1770s, and almost impossible anytime earlier. They have to do with changes in warfare and weapons, government/society, political philosophy, British governing policy, and the American colonies themselves.
Grab your tricorne hat and musket because next week we are kicking off a massive series called Key Battles of the Revolutionary War.
In 2017, over 47,000 Americans died as the result of opioid overdoses, more than died annually in this country during the peak of the AIDs epidemic, and more than die every year from breast cancer. But despite the unprecedented efforts of regulators, activists, politicians, and doctors to address the overdose epidemic, it has only become more deadly, the legion of quick fixes often falling into the very same traps that have foiled humans attempting to tame the scourge of opium addiction for centuries. To understand and combat the overdose crisis, we must understand how it came to be.
Today I'm speaking with Dr. John Halpern and David Blistein, authors of the new book “Opium: How an Ancient Flower Shaped and Poisoned Our World.” The story begins with the discovery of poppy artifacts in ancient Mesopotamia, and goes on to explore how Greek physicians forgotten chemists discovered opium's effects and refined its power, how colonial empires marketed it around the world, and eventually how international drug companies developed a range of powerful synthetic opioids that led to an epidemic of addiction.
Opium has played a fascinating role in building our modern world, from trade networks to medical protocols to drug enforcement policies.
Dwight Eisenhower inaugurated the US. Interstate System, which now boasts more than 50,000 miles of roads. The idea came to a young Eisenhower in 1919 when he spent 62 days with a military convoy snaking across America on its primitive road system. But the idea for a trans-continental road network go back much further than Eisenhower. George Washington talked of the need for a vast system of roads to stitch together the nation.
But the true genesis of the U.S. Interstate system is the Roman Empire's road network. The empire in the first century constructed a network of 50,000 miles of paved roads, connecting its capital to the farthest-flung provinces. This fostered trade and commerce but most importantly allowed the Roman army to march quickly. The United States built its network for largely the same reasons.
On August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon became the first and only U.S. president to resign from office—to avoid almost certain impeachment. Utterly disgraced, he was forced to flee the White House with a small cadre of advisors and family. Richard Nixon was a completely defeated man.
Yet only a decade later, Nixon was a trusted advisor to presidents, dispensing wisdom on campaign strategy and foreign policy, shaping the course of U.S.-Soviet summit meetings, and representing the U.S. at state funerals—the model of an elder statesman. Kasey Pipes, author of “After the Fall: The Remarkable Comeback of Richard Nixon,” tells us about surprises like this:
-- How Nixon’s advice on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) shaped Ronald Reagan’s negotiations with Gorbachev— and changed history
-- How Nixon traveled to China after Tiananmen Square to help preserve the U.S.-Chinese relations that he had opened up years earlier
-- The Saturday morning presidential radio address: a Nixon idea
-- Nixon’s surprising friendship with Bill Clinton
From Vikings and African queens to cross-dressing military doctors and WWII Russian fighter pilots, battle was not a metaphor for women across history.
But for the most part, women warriors have been pushed into the historical shadows, hidden in the footnotes, or half-erased. Yet women have always gone to war—or fought back when war came to them. They fought to avenge their families, defend their homes (or cities or nations), win independence from a foreign power, expand their kingdom's boundaries, or satisfy their ambition. They battled disguised as men. They fought, undisguised, on the ramparts of besieged cities. Some were skilled swordsmen or trained snipers, others fought with improvised weapons. They were hailed as heroines and cursed as witches, sluts, or harridans.
In todays episode I'm speaking with Pamela Toler, author of the book Women Warriors. She uses both well known and obscure examples, drawn from the ancient world through the twentieth century and from Asia and Africa as well as from the West. Looking at specific examples of historical women warriors, she considers why they went to war, how those reasons related to their roles as mothers, daughters, wives, or widows, peacemakers, poets or queens—and what happened when women stepped outside their accepted roles to take on other identities.
Dracula Untold has absolutely no right being as historically accurate as it is. Made in 2014, this was Universal Studio's first attempt to use the intellectual property of their 1930s monster movies and turn it into a Marvel-esque cinematic universe. As a result, it is full of X-men type superpowers, CGI, and what Scott calls "supernatural shenanigans." Despite all this, the film accurately describes Ottoman forms of imperial expansion in the fifteenth century, shows us period accurate costumes, and even has actors speaking in passable Turkish! Why on earth did this film do its history homework when other so-called serious historical dramas not even bother?
In the final two episodes of this mini-series, Steve and Scott talk about movies that actually do a good job of conveying history, or at least as much as possible when handled by Hollywood producers enslaved to suggestions from marketing research reports. The first film is the Alamo (2004).The purported goal of the filmmakers was to have this movie be as historically accurate as possible, or at least more so than the John Wayne Alamo film of 1960. It stars Dennis Quaid as Sam Houston, Billy Bob Thornton as Davy Crockett, Patrick Wilson as William Travis, Jason Patric as Jim Bowie, and Jordi Molla as Juan Seguin.
Demi Moore did not win any Academy Awards for her portrayal of 17th-century Puritan Hester Prynne. But she did succeed in transforming Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous moral drama into a Cinemax movie that also features Indians, deadly fights, burning buildings, flaming arrows, and a rousing speech in which Dimmsdale calls for sexual freedom. Dear listeners, this is not a good film.
In our second John Wayne film, we watch the Duke put on a fake fu manchu mustache and yellow face makeup to play the role he was born NOT to play: Genghis Khan. Scott and Steve discuss the infamous film that, in addition to featuring the worst casting choice in Hollywood history, has hundreds of anachronisms and, worst of all, may have killed dozens of the cast and crew from radiation poisoning due to being filmed near a nuclear test site. The sins of this movie are many and we do our best to chronicle them all.
John Wayne was 62 years old when he tried to portray a fit Vietnam War Green Beret colonel, but the obvious age gap isn't the only head scratcher in this film. Released in 1968, the film was Lyndon B. Johnson-approved attempt to shift American opinion on the Vietnam War. Listen to this episode to see if it worked.
Based on Dan Brown's mega best-selling instructional manual on how to write terrible English, Scott and Steve discuss "The Da Vinci Code," the 2006 Ron Howard film that dares to ask the question: Has the secret life of Jesus been hidden by the Catholic Church and heroically uncovered by half-baked conspiracy theorists who have an extremely poor understandings of the gnostic gospels? The answer will shock you!
In the second episode of this series, Stephen tells us everything he doesn't like about the 2009 film Agora, which is a lot. The movie stars Rachel Weisz (maybe the only good thing about the film) as Hypatia, a real-life 4th/5th-century philosopher in Alexandria killed by political infighting among politicians and clergy. Her actual story is very interesting and tells us much about late Roman civic life, but this movie turns her into a genius that is one part Isaac Newton, two parts Tony Stark, ready to discover a heliocentric solar system a thousand years before Copernicus; however, an ignorant mob kills her and burns her scrolls before she has the chance. To put it very mildly, the film takes liberties with the truth.
This episode is the first in a mini-series that Scott is doing with fellow history podcaster Stephen Guerra (History of the Papacy, Beyond the Big Screen) about some of the most historically inaccurate movies that have ever appear. We kick off this series with Ridley Scott's 2005 Crusader epic Kingdom of Heaven. Scott really did not like this movie. He considers it the worst example of screenwriter wish fulfillment to go back in time and teach horribly intolerant historical figures how to live by 21st-century values, even though they make no sense in context. The movie is so anachronistic that Orlando Bloom's knight character might as well wear a "Coexist" T-shirt during the entire film.
(originally broadcasted on Beyond the Big Screen)
Next week an eight-part mini-series called Hollywood Hates History launches. Scott co-hosts with fellow history podcaster Steve Guerra to look at some of the most historically inaccurate movies ever made. Offenders include "The Scarlet Letter," the 1995 Demi Moore atrocity; "The Conqueror," a Genghis Khan biopic starring John Wayne; and "Kingdom of Heaven," in which Legolas the Elf successfully creates universal religious harmony in the 12th century Middle East.
Americans and Europeans are confused by much about each other, especially their respective governmental systems. Europeans are baffled by American elections, the powers of the president, and most of all, the electoral college (how again is the popular vote winner not the president?). Americans are even more baffled by parliamentary politics, especially how the prime minister and even the entire ruling party can be removed before election time by this mystical tool of government called a “vote of no confidence.”
What on earth does that mean? Scott's first encounter with this term was, sadly, in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, in which Natalie Portman's Queen Amidala removes the current chancellor for power for his failure to stop the Trade Federation's invasion of Naboo by such a vote. Getting beyond bad filmmaking and Jar Jar Binks, what does a vote of no confidence actually mean? Where does it come from? And how has it been used in the past?
This episode goes over much more, especially the main differences with the British House of Commons vs. the American House of Representatives. Moreover, it looks at the differences between politicians being loyal to the nation vs. being loyal to their political party.
George Washington is nearly as famous for his character as he is a general and statesman. In this episode we look at his famed attributes for leadership and doing such things as keeping together the fragile Continental Army in the hungriest, coldest days of the Revolutionary War.
But perhaps the rarest quality of Washington was his ability not to seize power when he could. Many conquering generals – such as Napoleon – rode into the capital after great victories and took the throne. Washington was the opposite. He only assumed the presidency under great reluctance and refused to serve more than two terms – creating a status quo that lasted 150 years.
This episode of History Unplugged is unlike any we've ever done. Scott interviews Joakim Brodén, lead singer of Swedish heavy metal band Sabaton, whose new album “The Great War” is a concept record focused on World War 1. The album features songs about the introduction of tank warfare and poisonous gas, the Battle of Bellau Woods, U.S. Marine Alvin York, and Canadian hero Francis Pegahmagabow, a First Nation activist and sharp shooter. Interspersed in their discussion are numerous song clips from the album, which presents World War 1 in a way you've definitely never heard before.
In 1587, 115 men, women, and children arrived at Roanoke Island on the coast ofNorth Carolina. Chartered by Queen Elizabeth I, their colony was to establish England's first foothold in the New World. But when the colony's leader, John White, returned to Roanoke from a resupply mission, his settlers were nowhere to be found. They left behind only a single clue—a "secret token" carved into a tree. Neither White nor any other European laid eyes on the colonists again.
What happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke? For four hundred years, that question has consumed historians and amateur sleuths, leading only to dead ends and hoaxes. However, Andrew Lawler thinks he might have found the answer.
Lawler, author of the book “The Secret Token,” talked with an archeologist working on one of the supposed destinations of the colonists and discovered that solid answers to the mystery were within reach. He set out to unravel the enigma of the lost settlers, accompanying competing researchers, each hoping to be the first to solve its riddle. In the course of his journey, Lawler encountered a host of characters obsessed with the colonists and their fate, and tried to determine why the Lost Colony continues to haunt our national consciousness.
Albert Einstein’s rise to fame was not instantaneous and easy. Rather, Einstein’s celebrity was, in large part, not his own doing. His grand ideas (ideas that would change physics forever) were formulated during a time of worldwide crises. The Great War quickly escalated into an industrialized slaughter that bled Europe from 1914 to 1918. Einstein was a victim of that war, even though, as a pacifist, he never held a rifle. Trapped behind enemy lines in Germany, Einstein suffered from wartime starvation and found himself unable to communicate with his most trusted colleagues abroad. But perhaps the most damaging crisis Einstein faced was the war against science. As enemy lines were etched deeper, the worldwide science community became fractured and prejudiced. German scientists were scorned by the Allies, Einstein included. Even in Germany, Einstein was regarded as an outsider for resisting against German nationalism.
Today I'm speaking with Matthew Stanley, author of the new book Einstein's War: How Relativity Triumphed Amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War I. As Einstein struggled to make his theory whole, his communication with anyone outside of Germany was a dangerous affair. The fact that his theory was on track to debunk Isaac Newton’s conception of the universe made things even more difficult. So, despite the fact that Einstein’s country was at war and he was separated from his closest confidants by barbed wire and U-boats, his unlikely partnership with the Quaker astronomer A. S. Eddington proved to be the most important alliance of his lifetime. Despite the fact that other scientists seeking to confirm Einstein’s ideas were being arrested as spies, Eddington believed in Einstein and his theories and was willing to risk everything to prove their truth. He fought to showcase Einstein’s ideas to scientists around the world.
The serendipitous partnership of Einstein and Eddington, two pacifist scientists a world apart, came to fruition in May of 1919, when Eddington led a globe-spanning expedition to catch a fleeting solar eclipse that offered the rare opportunity to confirm Einstein’s bold prediction that light has weight, thereby confirming his Theory of Relativity. It was the result of this expedition that put Einstein on front pages around the world. Now, precisely one hundred years later, the eclipse is a celebration of how bigotry and nationalism can and should be defeated in the name of science.
Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1968 seemed like it should have been an open-and-shut case. Many people crowded in the small room at Los Angeles’s famed Ambassador Hotel that fateful night and saw Sirhan Sirhan pull the trigger. Sirhan was also convicted of the crime and still languishes in jail with a life sentence. However, conspiracy theorists have used inconsistencies in the eyewitness testimony and alleged anomalies in the forensic evidence to suggest that Sirhan was only one shooter in a larger conspiracy, a patsy for the real killers, or even a hypnotized assassin who did not know what he was doing (a popular plot in Cold War–era fiction, such as The Manchurian Candidate).
In this episode I speak with Mel Ayton, who profiles Sirhan and argued that his political beliefs and hatred for RFK motivated the killing. Ayton, author of the book The Forgotten Terrorist – Sirhan Sirhan and theAssassination of Robert F Kennedy, examines Sirhan’s extensive personal notebooks, revisits the trial proceedings, and argues Sirhan was in fact the lone assassin whose politically motivated act was a forerunner of present-day terrorism. Overall, we reexamine the assassination that rocked the nation during the turbulent summer of 1968.
In this episode we look at all U.S. presidents who served as fighter pilots or in any sort of military combat role. We also look at the first president to fly (it was in a rinky-dink Wright Bros. flyer), the development of Air Force One, and the theory that aviators make better leaders.
If a list were constructed of the most important Virginians in American history, George Mason would appear near the top. His influence on public policy, the Revolution, and the Constitution was far greater than his modern, meager reputation allows. His close friendships with Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Henry, and many others from his state allowed him to influence the direction of state and federal politics.
So why doesn't anyone remember him?
In this episode I'm talking with William G. Hyland Jr, author of George Mason: The Founding Father Who Gave Us the Bill of Rights. Hyland discusses little-known facts about this forgotten Founding Father that made him a powerful contributor to the new nation.
In this episode we are looking at ancient Greek cryptography and the Roman frumentarii, a group of wheat sellers who turned into the empire's premier intelligence outfit in the second century.
In the fourth century BC, Aeneas Tacticus wrote “How to Survive Under Siege.” He goes into considerable detail on cryptography and steganography—the art of concealing a message. Methods of steganography included writing on strips of papyrus and hiding them either on the body of a person or on a horse. The strip could be hidden in a soldier’s tunic or cuirass, or under a horse’s bridle. More creative methods included a message placed on the leaves that were used to bind a wounded soldier’s leg. Most inspectors would not be so thorough in their investigation that they would want to look upon an infected wound or tear away layers of bloodied bandages.
We will also explore the Roman Frumentarii, originally collectors of wheat (frumentum), who also acted as the secret service of the Roman Empire in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The organization was founded by Emperor Hadrian. He pictured a large-scale operation and turned to the frumentarius, the collector of wheat in a province, a position that brought the official into contact with enough locals and natives to acquire considerable intelligence about any given territory. Hadrian put them to use as his spies, and thus had a ready-made service and a large body to act as a courier system.
Spycraft is as old as civilization and just as essential to running a government as taxes, roads, armies, or schools. Sun Tzu devoted an entire chapter to spy craft in his 2,600-year-old treatise The Art of War and understood that critical intelligence was impossible to gather without espionage.
This episode is the first in a two-part series on spy craft in the ancient world. We will explore the origins of spies, the ways they were used, and similarities and differences between—say—Greek or Roman spies and their 21st century counterparts. We will also look at the Old Testament narrative of the Israelite spites who scouted out Jericho and the promised land in the thirteenth century BCE. While many scholars doubt this story ever really happened in the way it was described in the Pentateuch, the story was compelling enough for the CIA to use in the 1970s as a case study of effective intelligence gathering.
If you were a middle schooler in the United States anytime after 1985 and had a study hall with an Apple II, there is a very high chance you played Oregon Trail. After setting out from Independence, Missouri, you led your pixelated wagon across the frontier, hunting bears, fording rivers, and more likely than not, dying of dysentery.
The real Oregon Trail sprang up in the 1830s, when America was going through the worst economic slump it would see until the Great Depression. A mixture of financial urgency and a sense of destiny--Manifest Destiny--convinced tens of thousands of Americans to trek over 2,000 miles from Missouri’s western edge to Oregon Country.
But how can families cross the desert? Or the Rocky Mountains? Or descend the Columbia River? And what about the British HBC’s hold on Oregon Country? Many tried this dangerous path, including fur traders, missionaries, explorers, and early wagon trains that dared to blaze this trail before its heyday of the 1840s-1860s.
Joined with us today to talk about the Oregon Trail is history professor and podcast Greg Jackson. He's the host of the show History That Doesn't Suck
More than 12 million immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island during its years of operation from 1892 to 1954. Those that came typically spoke no English and fled religious persecution, famine, or epidemics in their homeland.
But what was it like to actually get processed through Ellis island? In some senses it was more tolerable than we expect. Interpreters were on hand to accommodate you in almost any language. Few were turned away for medical reasons. Processing typically only took a few hours And contrary to folk legend, inspectors did not force anyone to change their name to something Anglicized.
Nevertheless, some faced challenges entering America. Two percent were held up for physical or mental illness; some were detained for weeks or months in Ellis Island's medical ward. If a child were not admitted, parents faced the unbearable choice of returning with them across the ocean or sending them back alone to live with extended family.
But for the vast majority of immigrants, they walked through the doors of Ellis Island to begin their new lives in America. Today, over 100 million are descended from immigrants who passed through this immigration checkpoint. Learn about its legacy on immigration and political life in this episode.
Go to www.ottomanlives.com to check out my new show about the people who made the Ottoman Empire run. The Ottoman Empire lasted for six hundred years and dominated the Middle East and Europe, from Budapest to Baghdad and everything in between. The sultans ruled three continents. But they didn't do it on their own. This podcast looks at the cast of characters who made the empire run: the sultan, the queen mother, the peasant, the janissary, the harem eunuch, the holy man, and the outlaw.
George Armstrong Custer had a storied military career—from cutting his teeth at Bull Run in the Civil War, to his famous and untimely death at Little Bighorn in the Indian Wars. But what was his legacy? Was he a brilliant desperado sadly cut down too early in his life or a foolish glory seeker who needlessly led his men to death, getting a just end for his brutal treatment of Indians?
Custer, having graduated last in his class at West Point, went on to prove himself again and again as an extremely skilled cavalry leader. But Custer’s undoing was his bold and cocky attitude, which caused the Army’s bloodiest defeat in the Indian Wars. We will look at all these aspects of his character in this episode.
“Colored people aren’t accepted as airline pilots.” The “negro type has not the proper reflexes to make a first-class fighter pilot.” These were the degrading sentiments that faced eighteen-year-old Lt. Col. Harry Stewart Jr. as he journeyed in a segregated rail car to Army basic training in Mississippi in 1943. But two years later, the twenty-year-old African American from New York proved doubters wrong when he was at the controls of a P-51, prowling for Luftwaffe aircraft at five thousand feet over the Austrian countryside.
Lt. Col. Harry Stewart Jr. is one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. In this episode I talk with him about his early life, training, and combat missions, including the mission in which he downed three enemy fighters.
He also discusses the injustices he and his fellow Tuskegee Airmen faced during their wartime service and upon their return home. Unlike white pilots, Stewart and other Tuskegee flyers faced the extra danger that if they were shot down over enemy territory they could not hide in plain sight with the population or expect to live. Tragically, one of Stewart’s friends was shot down, captured, and lynched by a racist mob. Stewart and his fighter group defied racially-prejudice expectations and won the first postwar Air Force-wide gunnery competition for propeller-driven fighters. Stewart obtained honorary captain status from American and Delta Airlines after being denied piloting jobs with those airlines’ legacy carriers (TWA and Pan Am) 50 years ago because of his ethnicity.
Vampire lore goes back to the ancient world (revenant legends abound from Rome to China) but vampire mythology doesn't come into its own until at least the Renaissance period. Was the inspiration for it all the bloodthirsty Wallachian ruler Vlad Tepes, the ruler who impaled tens of thousands in the 1400s? Was he the direct inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula? Partially yes, but it's not as clear cut as most think. In this episode we will sink our fangs into vampire lore, the reign of Vlad Tepes, and where Bram Stoker got his ideas for his most famous novel.
In 1942, as World War II was raging, the Gestapo sent out an urgent message: “She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her.” That spy was Virginia Hall, a young American woman who—rejected from the Foreign Service because of her gender and prosthetic leg—talked her way behind enemy lines in occupied France and went on to become one of the greatest (and most unlikely) spies in U.S. history.
Today I talk with Sonia Purnell, author of the book "A Woman of No Importance." Virginia quickly established a network of spies to blow up bridges and track German troop movements; she recruited and trained guerrilla fighters, arming them with weapons she called in from the skies. As “the limping lady of Lyon” and later “the Madonna of the Mountains,” she became legend. Eluding the Nazis hot on her tail, her face covering WANTED posters throughout Europe, Virginia refused orders to evacuate. Finally—her cover blown and her associates imprisoned or executed—she escaped in a grueling hike over the Pyrenees into Spain. But, adamant that she had “more lives to save,” she dove back in as soon as she could, helping lay the groundwork for the Allied liberation of France.
What is Judaism? What does it mean to be Jewish? Is it an ethnicity (being one of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), a religion (following the tenets of the Torah, Mishnah, and Talmud) or a cultural experience (a common experienced developed through millenia of being ostracized, otherized, and demonized by majority groups in their homelands).
Today I tackled this enormous question by first looking at the origins of the Jewish people. There's not universally accepted answer to this question. Some say the Old Testament account of the patriarchs, the Exodus from Egypt, and the deportations into Assyria and Babylon tell the story. Others say the Jewish people were an offshoot of the Canaanites who developed into their own culture. We then look into the creation of the Jewish diaspora across the Mediterranean world and how Jewish identity shifted as the circumstances of this religious group changed from the ancient world to the medieval and early modern periods. There is no clear answer to all these questions, but this episode will hopefully provide plenty of historical context.
For rare-book collectors, an original copy of the Gutenberg Bible—of which there are fewer than 50 in existence (and which can sell for $100 million)—represents the ultimate prize. One copy, Number 45, passed through the hands of Johannes Gutenberg, monks, an earl, billionaires, bibliophiles, the Worcestershire sauce king, and a nuclear physicist before arriving at its ultimate resting place, in a steel vault in Tokyo. Estelle Doheny, the first woman collector to add the book to her library and its last private owner, tipped the Bible onto a trajectory that forever changed our understanding of the first mechanically printed book.
In today's episode I'm speaking with Margaret Leslie Davis, author of The Lost Gutenberg: The Astounding Story of One Book's Five-Hundred-Year Odyssey. She focuses on two protagonists in her story: the copy of the Gutenberg Bible itself and Doheny, a California heiress who emerged from scandal to chase it. We discussed the value we place on rare books, and the shifting wealth and power of those who hunt them.
Erwin Rommel, a German field marshal in World War Two, was probably more respected and feared than any other figure in the Wehrmacht. He issued early defeats against the British in North Africa against vastly superior forces using a mix of cutting-edge tactics with combined arms assaults and classic Napoleonic military strategy. But who was Erwin Rommel? War hero or war criminal? Hitler flunky? Military genius or just lucky?
In this episode I talk with Samuel W. Mitcham Jr. a military historian and author of the new book Desert Fox: The Storied Military Career of Erwin Rommel—offering a look at the Allies’ most well-respected opponent of WWII. He explores the complexities of the controversial Nazi leader through his improbable and spectacular military career, his epic battles in North Africa, and his fraught relationship with Hitler and the Nazi Party.
One year after the Civil War ended, a group of delusional and mostly incompetent commanders sponsored by bitterly competing groups riddled with spies, led tiny armies against the combined forces of the British, Canadian, and American governments. They were leaders of America’s feuding Irish émigré groups who thought they could conquer Canada and blackmail Great Britain (then the world's military superpower) into granting Ireland its independence.
The story behind the infamous 1866 Fenian Raids seems implausible (and whiskey-fueled), but ultimately is an inspiring tale of heroic patriotism. Inspired by a fervent love for Ireland and a burning desire to free her from British rule, members of the Fenian Brotherhood – a semi-secret band of Irish-American revolutionaries – made plans to seize the British province of Canada and hold it hostage until the independence of Ireland was secured.
When the Fenian Raids began, Ireland had been subjugated by Britain for over seven hundred years. The British had taken away Ireland’s religion, culture, and language, and when the Great Hunger stuck, they even took away her food, exporting it to other realms of the British Empire. Those who escaped the famine and fled to America were inspired by the revolutionary actions of the Civil War to fight for their own country’s freedom. After receiving a promise from President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward not to interfere with any military plans, the Fenian Brotherhood - which included a one-armed Civil War hero, an English spy posing as French sympathizer, an Irish revolutionary who faked his own death to escape capture, and a Fenian leader turned British loyalist – began to implement their grand plan to secure Ireland’s freedom. They executed daring prison breaks from an Australian penal colony, conducted political assassinations and engaged in double-dealings, managing to seize a piece of Canada for three days.
Today I'm speaking with Christopher Klein, author of the book WHEN THE IRISH INVADED CANADA: The Incredible True Story of the Civil War Veterans Who Fought for Ireland’s Freedom. He brings light to this forgotten but fascinating story in history.
The received idea of Native American history--as promulgated by books like Dee Brown's mega-bestselling 1970 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee--has been that American Indian history essentially ended with the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. Not only did one hundred fifty Sioux die at the hands of the U. S. Cavalry, the sense was, but Native civilization did as well.
Today's guest David Treuer has a different take on this history. Growing up Ojibwe on a reservation in Minnesota, training as an anthropologist, and researching Native life past and present, Treuer argues strongly against this narrative. Because American Indians did not disappear--and not despite but rather because of their intense struggles to preserve their language, their traditions, their families, and their very existence--the story of American Indians since the end of the nineteenth century to the present is one of unprecedented resourcefulness and reinvention.
FDR launched the New Deal immediately after his 1933 inauguration, but it was not universally popular. Some hated it bitterly. Critics from the right thought it was part of a long-term plan to push America into Soviet-style socialism. Critics from the left like Louisiana Governor Huey Long thought it didn't go far enough. Long pushed the “Share Our Wealth” plan, demanding that Congress confiscate individual earnings over $1 million, using those funds for health care and college tuition. He called anyone who refused to endorse his plan “damned scoundrels” that were fit for hanging.
Perhaps the strangest episode in opposition to the New Deal came from a group of financiers and industrialists, who in 1934 allegedly plotted a coup d’état to prevent FDR from establishing what they feared would be a socialist state. Though the media regarded it as a tall tale, retired Marine Corps major general Smedley Butler testified before a congressional committee that the conspirators had wanted Butler to deliver an ultimatum to FDR to create a new cabinet officer, a “Secretary of General Affairs,” who would run things while the president recuperated from feigned ill health. If Roosevelt refused, the conspirators had promised General Butler an army of five hundred thousand war veterans who would help drive Roosevelt from office.
What are the oldest known tombs that can reliably be traced to a person? These are surprisingly tricky to track down. While archeologists constantly find human remains at an excavation site, there are almost never any identifying marks about the person. This is particularly true in the ancient world. Other than massive sites like the pyramids, we have little knowledge about the final resting places of famous figures. We don't even know the burial site of Alexander the Great -- the biggest celebrity in antiquity.
In this episode we talk about ancient tombs, crypts, mausoleums, and burial mounds. But more broadly, we look at how humanity's understanding of life, death, and commemorating those who passed away left behind more than tombs. It may be the reason for the rise of civilization itself.
From 1941 to 1945, Joseph Stalin exchanged more than six hundred messages with Allied leaders Churchill and Roosevelt. The correspondence ranged from intimate personal greetings to weighty salvos about diplomacy and strategy, and they reveal political machinations and human stories behind the Allied triumvirate.
Today's guest is David Reynolds, author of a new book about the correspondence between the three. He helped edit a volume based on the correspondence among the Allied triumvirate, which illuminated an alliance that really worked while exposing its fractious limits and the issues and egos that set the stage for the Cold War.
In the summer of 1940, Germany sent armadas of bombers and fighters over England hoping to lure the RAF into battle and annihilate the defenders. Day after day the RAF scrambled their pilots into the sky to do battle up to five times a day. Britain's air defense bent but did not break. All that stood between the British and defeat was a small force of RAF pilots outnumbered in the air by four to one. After pushing back the armada, Winston Churchill declared: "Never before in human history was so much owed by so many to so few."
But how did they do it? The answer is effective tactics, plenty of bravery, and a change in German strategy that squandered all their gains.
Why were there no printing presses in the Middle East until four centuries after Europe? Did it have to do with Islam prohibiting this technology? Was the calligraphy lobby too strong? Or is the answer more complicated?
The global spread of the printing press began with the invention of movable type by Johannes Gutenberg in 1439. A few decades later there were millions of books in Europe. But there were few printing presses in the Ottoman Empire until the 1800s. Some historians say this has to do with lack of interest and religious reasons were among the reasons for the slow adoption of the printing press outside Europe. The story goes that the printing of Arabic, after encountering strong opposition by Muslim legal scholars and the manuscript scribes, remained prohibited in the Ottoman empire between 1483 and 1729, initially even on penalty of death.
However, we will see in this episode that scholars and sultans had no problems with the printing press. The real reason for the printing press's slow spread was twofold: First, the thousands of calligraphers made hand-copied books so cheap that printing presses were not needed. Second, Arabic letters are more difficult to render than Latin ones, meaning that the printing press had to become more technologically advanced before it could cheaply and easily churn out Arabic, Turkish, and Persian texts.
In the final episode in this series, Veronica and Scott discuss the enduring legacy of the Titanic and why a disaster that happened 107 years ago still captures our imaginations.
The Titanic was filled with medical professionals either working as ship personnel or traveling in a non-professional capacity. There were also plenty of con artists aboard, hoping to worm their way into the wills of wealthy widows. Learn about their stories in this episode.
The musicians of the Titanic famously continued playing as the ship went down, a testimony to practicing one's craft until their dying breath. But did it really happen like this?
Varying accounts exist as to whether the band played until the end and also about what the band was playing. We will explore the accounts in this episode.
Many Titanic passengers were known for setting the styles. In this episode we will profile the two Luciles: famed fashionistas Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon and Lucile Polk Carter. We will also look at John Jacob Astor IV, perhaps the world’s richest man at the time. He founded hotels that were ground-breaking in their day and continue to set trends long after the eponymous founder's death.
Mr. Rogers once said, “When there is a disaster, always look for the helpers; there will always be helpers.
Many died on the night of the Titanic's sinking, but many more would have died if not for the heroic efforts of such helpers as the “unsinkable” Molly Brown and Benjamin Guggenheim, a millionaire who acted with utter calm as he gently assisted women and children to lifeboats, knowing he would die within the hour. Other helpers personally swam infants to lifeboats, using every last breath to help others before they themselves perished.
The cooks and other support staff of the Titanic “drowned like rats” due to not being assigned a clear place in the pecking order of escapees. One who did survive was French cook Paul Mauge, who used his extraordinary wits to survive. This episode chronicles how cooks like Mauge arrived on the Titanic, how they survived (or didn't), and what it was like for the service personnel on the night the ship went down.
Code Names. Deception. Gadgets. It might seem like something out of the movies, but these
are just some of the essential components of being a spy.
ESPIONAGE tells the stories of the world’s most incredible undercover missions, and how these
covert operations succeeded...or failed
Espionage is a Parcast Original podcast from the same storytelling team behind hit shows like
Unexplained Mysteries, Serial Killers, and Conspiracy Theories.
Call to Action: This is the first part of the first Espionage episode. To hear the remainder
of this episode, search for and subscribe to Espionage wherever you listen to podcasts
or visit Parcast.com/espionage to start listening now.
The sinking of the Titanic is memorable for its countless stories, and the reason that so many of them have found their way down to us today was the many writers that were onboard the ship. The first draft of history about the Titanic was written by man prominent writers. We will focus on six in this episode: Paul Danby, Adolphe Saalfeld, Edith Rosenbaum Russell, William Stead, Jacques Futrelle, and Lawrence Beesley
One legendary fixture on the Titanic was a gregarious popcorn vendor known as Popcorn Dan (Coxon). He was one of America's first food truck operators and a highly successful purveyor of popcorn. He was lost on the Titanic and his body was never recovered, although a NY Times article claimed it was him when it wasn't.
Coxon lived an interesting life. He resided in a Queen Anne house on the Wisconsin river, which people thought was haunted. He dressed in a fur-lined coat and loved to maintain a flashy appearance.
But he was still a working-class man. For that reason, our culinary spotlight on him is a staple of laborers in the early 20th century (now it's a delicacy)—Tripe and Onion Soup
In this episode we are looking at the life of Charles Joughin, a colorful character who has appeared in both film version of the Titanic. After the sinking, Joughin claimed he knew it was an iceberg that struck the ship because he saw a polar bear— and it waved to him (although, it should be noted, he told this story to nieces and nephews largely to mask the horror of that last night aboard the Titanic).
At around 12:15 a.m. Joughin began rousing his kitchen staff. Six of his men were already working, and the others he got up out of their beds. “All hands out. All hands out of your bunks.” He directed each of them to take four loaves up for the life boats, fifty-two loaves in all. Joughin’s staff consisted of ten bakers, two confectioners, and a Vienna baker. Of the fourteen of them, ten had worked on the Olympic, the Titanic’s sister ship, and many of them had worked together.
On the night of April 14, 1912, in the last hours before the Titanic struck
the iceberg, passengers in all classes were enjoying unprecedented luxuries. Innovations in food, drink, and decor made this voyage the apogee of Edwardian elegance.
This episode is the first in a series I'm doing with Titanic historian Veronica Hinke called "Last Night on the Titanic." In it we look at individual accounts of tragedy and survival from the figures that made up the passengers and crew of the ship. They include millionaires, artists, fashionistas, bakers, cookers, musicians, doctors, and con-men.
To recreate the experience of what it was like to be on the Titanic before disaster was on anyone's mind, Veronica also goes into detail of the food and drink consumer on the ship, from tripe soup eaten by a third-class passenger to the fancy dessert eaten by a Edwardian lady.
An announcement for a forthcoming series coming to the History Unplugged Podcast called "Last Night on the Titanic."
The history of the American Revolution is written by and about the victors like Washington, Jefferson, and Adams. But separating the heroes from the villains is not so black and white.
So how should we remember a man like Major General Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee III—the father of Robert E. Lee— who rose to glory, helped shape the fabric of America, but ultimately ended his life in ruin? He is responsible for valiant victories, enduring accomplishments, and catastrophic failures.
Today I'm speaking with Ryan Cole, author of the new book Light-Horse Harry Lee: The Rise and Fall of a Revolutionary Hero
We discuss how he was a...
Brilliant cavalryman who played a crucial role in Nathanael Greene’s strategy that led to Britain’s surrender at Yorktown
Close friend of George Washington—he gave the famous eulogy of “first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen” which is widely quoted today
Strong supporter of the Constitution—his arguments led Virginia, the most influential colony in the soon-to-be country, to ratify it
Victim of a violent political mob—he was beaten with clubs, his nose was partially sliced off, and hot wax was dripped into his eyes
"A student dunce went swimming and almost drowned. So now he swears he'll never get into water until he's really learned to swim." That was a decent dad joke to be sure. But it's not a joke your dad came up with. Nor your grandfather. Rather, it was a great-great- great(x)50 grandfather joke that dates back at least to the Roman Empire.
In this episode we will explore humor in the ancient world. What were the gags and jokes that made Mesopotamians, Greeks, and Romans laugh? Did they have higher or lower brow humor than us? While the argument can be made for low-brow humor (the oldest written joke has to do with a Sumerian wife farting on her husband), the humor also got arcane and sophisticated (like a New Yorker cartoon of the ancient world).
In particular we will looked at the Philogelos (meaning "Laughter Lover"), a Greek anthology of more than 200 jokes from the fourth or fifth century. From gags about dunces to jests at the expense of great thinkers, we see what made people laugh in the ancient world.
How did two brothers who never left home, were high-school dropouts, and made a living as bicycle mechanics figure out the secret of manned flight? The story goes that Wilbur and Orville Wright were an inseparable duo that were equally responsible for developing the theory of aeronautics and translating it into the first workable airplane.
Today's guest William Hazelgrove argues that it was Wilbur Wright who designed the first successful airplane, not Orville. He shows that, while Orville's role was important, he generally followed his brother's lead and assisted with the mechanical details to make Wilbur's vision a reality.
What happens to a city when its demographics change completely in the space of a few years? To explore this question, we will take a look at the case of Danzig (modern-day Gdańsk) in northern Poland. The city's population was almost entirely German from its origin in the Middle Ages to World War 2. After the war, the population became Polish. To explore this question we will zoom out and look at these big issues: 1) The centuries-long eastern movement of Germans, who spread throughout central and Eastern Europe; 2) The establishment of the Free City of Danzig by Napoleon in 1807 after he dissolved the Holy Roman Empire; 3) Why Hitler wanted to capture Danzig immediately after invading Poland in 1939, even though it held no strategic value; 4) The expulsion of Danzig's German population after World War Two and how the city transformed with the importing of Polish residents, who renamed it Gdańsk. This episode is based on a question from listener Melissa, who wanted me to talk about the history of the city/city-state of Danzig before, during, and after World War II.
In the 1760s, the American colonies were completely incapable of organized resistance. One's loyalty was to their state, as the idea of being an “American” was nearly empty. Few clamored for democracy, as Europe and the rest of the world believed that the highest form of government was monarchy. And most Americans considered themselves British – or at least part of the British Empire.
But in 1776 the United States formally declared itself as a new nation in which all men were equal. They formed a continental army. And within a few years they defeated the world's best military force.
How did so much change in 10 years? To discuss this topic is today's guest Michael Troy, host of the American Revolution Podcast. His show is a chronological history of the Revolutionary War, and he gets deep into details (at the time of this recording the show was 75 episodes in and only up to the year 1775).
Neutrality is not the same thing as passivity. Just ask the many nations who had to walk an extremely thin tightrope during World War 2 to stay out of the war (in which they saw nothing for themselves to gain) but not get invaded by a more powerful neighbor.
Some nations tried merely not to get invaded. Portugal had to keep up its client relationship with Britain but not anger Hitler by helping them too much. Britain claimed the right to use Portuguese ports under the terms of a 14th century treaty. But Portugal had to refuse Britain the right to use the Azores Islands as an airbase until years into the war.
Other nations profited heavily from World War Two thanks to its neutrality. Switzerland was the finance hub of 1940s Europe, as both Axis and Allied powers deposited their valuables in Swiss bank accounts and safety deposit boxes. But in recent years some have called Switzerland's actions war profiteering, especially as Switzerland laundered hundreds of millions of dollars in stolen assets, including gold taken from the central banks of German-occupied Europe. At the war's end, Holocaust survivors and the heirs of those who perished met a wall of bureaucracy and only a handful managed to reclaim their assets. Some of the dormant accounts were taken by the Swiss authorities to satisfy claims of Swiss nationals whose property was seized by Communist regimes in East Central Europe.
Turkey was still devastated by the endless Ottoman wars from 1911-1922 and sat out World War Two. But they held vast reserves of chromite, necessary for making steel, which they happily sold to Axis powers. All the while Turkey held out the hope that Britain could use its islands to invade Europe from the Balkans in return for advanced aircraft. Turkey only entered the war in 1945 (and only to get a seat at the forthcoming United Nations) but profited well from the massive conflict.
This episode is based on a question from listener Chris Wentworth. He asked me why some nations like Turkey, were so involved with World War One but took a backseat during World War Two, which arguably did more to create our modern world than any other event.
In early 1942, while most of the American military was in disarray from the devastating attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, a single USAAF squadron advanced to the far side of the world to face America's new enemy.
Based in Australia with poor supplies and no ground support, the pilots and crew faced tropical diseases while confronting numerically superior Japanese forces. Yet the outfit, dubbed the Kangaroo Squadron, proved remarkably resilient and successful, conducting long-range bombing raids, armed reconnaissance missions, and rescuing General MacArthur and his staff from the Philippines.
Today I speak with Bruce Gamble, author of Kangaroo Squadron: American Courage in the Darkest Days of World War II. He was inspired to write this story by his uncle, a navigator in the squadron. A footlocker contained his military papers and other memorabilia, including a handwritten dairy filled with day-to-day details of his tour.
And an artifact from this story lives on today to honor its veterans. When a B-17E bomber crashed in a swamp on the north coast of Papua New Guinea in February 1942, the nine-member crew survived, escaped to safety, and returned to combat. But until 2006, the bomber nicknamed “Swamp Ghost” remained submerged in water and tall grass. It has been restored and is now a main attraction in the Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor.
The Crusades are typically bookended between Pope Urban II's call to reclaim the Holy Land in 1095 and the fall of Acre and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1291. But two of the most notable religious figures of the 1400s—Pope Pius II and John of Capistrano—show that the lines between these periods were considerably blurred. Take the example of Pope Pius II’s famous 1461 letter to Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II, which he wrote following the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks. The humanist scholar-turned-pope called on Mehmet to convert to Christianity.
Yet behind his back Pope Pius denigrated Mehmet as barbarous due to the same Asiatic pedigree and for destroying classical Greek civilization. He simultaneously worked furiously to promote a crusade against the Ottomans. This fifteenth-century project did not come to pass, but scholars in the last two decades have shown that there was no reason to see a discrepancy between Renaissance intellectualism and Holy War. In fact, Pope Nicholas V issued a papal bull on September 30, 1453 (four months after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople) to urge Christian rulers to launch a crusade to save Constantinople and restore the fallen Byzantine Empire. They were called to shed their blood and the blood for their subjects and provide a tithe of their revenue for the project.
No such crusade was launched that year, but the call launched a final period of European crusading fervor that lasted until the end of the fifteenth century, what many historians consider an end point for the Middle Ages
The Middle Ages was not a thousand-year period of technological stagnation between the fall of Rome and Leonardo da Vinci. It was an incredible period of invention and scientific innovation that saw major technological advances, including gunpowder, the invention of vertical windmills, spectacles, mechanical clocks, water mills, Gothic architectural building techniques, and clocks so sophisticated it took years to cycle through their full calculations, resembling an early mainframe computer more than a timekeeping device.
At the height of the witch burning craze, thousands people, largely women, were falsely accused of witchcraft. Many of them were burned, hanged, and executed, typically under religious pretense. But this phenomena largely didn’t happen in the Middle Ages, and if so it only occurred at the very end of this period.
Witch burnings did not begin en masse until the Renaissance period and did not peak until the Enlightenment period in the eighteenth century. Although executions by being burn at the stake were somewhat common in the Middle Ages, they were not used on “witches”—only heretics and other disobeyers of Catholic teachings received this ignominious death. Witch trials and their accusations of weather manipulation, transforming into animals, and child sacrifices, have no documented occurrence before 1400.
Was it really possible to buy your way out of hell in the Middle Ages? If so, how much did it cost? And what did the Catholic Church do with all this money? In this second episode in our five-part series on the misunderstood Middle Ages, we will explore all these issues and more.
Additionally, you will find out that indulgences still exist today, although not in the way that you think.
The popular view of the Middle Ages is a thousand-year period of superstition and ignorance, punctuated by witch burnings and belief in a flat earth. But the medieval period, more than any other time in history, laid the foundations for the modern world. The work of scholars, intellectuals, architects, statesmen and craftsmen led to rise of towns, the earliest bureaucratic states, the emergence of vernacular literatures, the recovery of Greek science and philosophy with its Arabic additions, and the beginnings of the first European universities.
This episode is the first in a five-part series to explore a revisionist history of the Middle Ages, starting with the Roman Empire’s collapse in the fifth century. We will march through the accounts of Charlemagne’s reign, the Black Plague, the fall of Constantinople, and everything in between. It explores social aspects of the Middle Ages that are still largely misunderstood (i.e., no educated person believed the earth was flat). There was also a surprisingly high level of medieval technology, the love of Aristotle in the Middle Ages, and the lack of witch burnings (those were not popularized until the Thirty Years War in the Renaissance Period).
The Middle Ages were not a period to suffer through until the Renaissance returned Europe to its intellectual and cultural birthright. Rather, they were the fire powering the forge out of which Western identity was forged. The modern world owes a permanent debt of gratitude to the medieval culture of Europe. It was the light that illuminated the darkness following the collapse of Rome and remained lit into the world we inhabit today.
The American Civil War brought with it unprecedented demands upon the warring sections—North and South. The conflict required a mobilization and an organization of natural and man-made resources on a massive scale.
In this episode I talk with Jeffry Wert, author of the new book Civil War Barons, which profiles the contributions of nineteen Northern businessmen to the Union cause. They were tinkerers, inventors, improvisers, builders, organizers, entrepreneurs, and all visionaries. They contributed to the war effort in myriad ways: they operated railroads, designed repeating firearms, condensed milk, sawed lumber, cured meat, built warships, purified medicines, forged iron, made horseshoes, constructed wagons, and financed a war. And some of their names and companies have endured—Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Deere, McCormick, Studebaker, Armour, and Squibb.
The eclectic group includes Henry Burden, a Scottish immigrant who invented a horseshoe-making machine in the 1830s, who refined the process to be able to forge a horseshoe every second, supplying the Union army with 70 million horseshoes during the four years. John Deere’s plows “sang through the rich sod, portending bountiful harvests for a Union in peril.” And Jay Cooke emerged from the war as the most famous banker in America, earning a reputation for trustworthiness with his marketing of government bonds.
2016 was the first election in which a woman won the nomination of a major political party to be president of the United States. But women have been legally running for president as far back as 1872, decades before they could even vote. Since then several dozen women have run for president, almost all of them long shots with nearly no chance of winning. But these long odds do not negate their story and their campaigns tell us much about the times in which they lived.
In this episode I talk with Richard Lim, host of This American President Podcast. We look at the lives of these fascinating figures
-- Victoria Woodhull, the 1872 candidate who ran a brokerage firm through the patronage of Cornelius Vanderbilt. She was as a 31-year-old spiritualist, radical communist, and possible former prostitute with a remarkably canny ability to reinvent herself
-- Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican from Maine and the first woman to serve in both houses of the U.S. congress (she was Senator for 24 years). Smith was an early critic of McCarthyism and a 1964 presidential candidate who fashioned herself as the female Eisenhower.
-- Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress, a 1972 presidential candidate, and an unlikely friend of George Wallace(!)
-- Edith Wilson, the First Lady who essentially acted as de facto president following the stroke of her husband Woodrow Wilson in 1919 until March 1921.
Did you know that in World War Two there were “para-dogs,” or dogs that parachuted along with paratroopers in anticipation of D-Day? Or that carrier pigeons were dropped into France in their bird cages so that French Resistance members could find them and attach messages so they'd be delivered to Allied command in Britain?
America’s highest military award, the Congressional Medal of Honor, was awarded to four-hundred-forty deserving members of “The Greatest Generation” that served in World War II. But in 1943, before the war was even over, Allied leaders realized they needed another kind of award to recognize a different kind of World War II hero-animal heroes.
Founded in 1943, the prestigious PDSA Dicken Medal is the highest award an animal can achieve for gallantry and bravery in the field of military conflict. It was given to fifty-five animals who served valiantly alongside the members of the Greatest Generation.
In War Animals, national bestselling author Robin Hutton (Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse) tells the incredible, inspiring true stories of the fifty-five animal recipients of the PDSA Dicken Medal during WWII and the lesser-known stories of other military animals whose acts of heroism have until now been largely forgotten.
These animal heroes include:
G.I. Joe, who flew 20 miles in 20 minutes and stopped the planes on the tarmac from bombing a town that had just been taken over by allied forces, saving the lives of over 100 British soldiers
Winkie, the first Dickin recipient, who saved members of a downed plane when she flew 129 miles with oil clogged wings with an SOS message that helped a rescue team find the crew
Chips, who served as a sentry dog for the Roosevelt-Churchill conference; Ding, a paradog whose plane was hit by enemy fire on D-Day, ended up in a tree, and once on the ground still saved lives
With the election of America's first African-American president in 2008, many feared that the presidency of Barack Obama would bring out the most reactionary elements in society and end his life in assassination. Did Obama's eight years as president bring out more assassination attempts than other presidents or merely those of different ideological stripes? Find out in the final part in this series on presidential assassination attempts.
Many tried to kill Bill Clinton during his presidency, including former military officers, white supremacists, and a little-known militant named Osama bin Laden. Most famously, Frank Eugene Corder crashed a Cessna onto the White House lawn. Learn about other attempts on the life of the 42nd president in this episode.
After his presidency, a deranged man broke into Ronald Reagan’s California home and attempted to strangle the former president before he was subdued by Secret Service agents. This attempt on his life came on the heels on many other attempts on Reagan, the final president to serve his entire presidency during the Cold War.
The only president to be assassinated in the last century was John F. Kennedy. What caused this failure in the Secret Service's typical protection procedures? Was it a perfect storm of bad luck, a lapse in judgement in the protection detail, or something far more nefarious, as conspiracy theorists have insisted for five decades?
In American history, four U.S. Presidents have been murdered at the hands of an assassin. In each case the assassinations changed the course of American history.
But most historians have overlooked or downplayed the many threats modern presidents have faced, and survived. In this podcast series we will be looking at the largely forgotten—or never-before revealed attempts to slay America’s leaders.
Such incidents include:
How an armed, would-be assassin stalked President Roosevelt and spent ten days waiting across the street from the White House for his chance to shoot him
How the Secret Service foiled a plot by a Cuban immigrant who told coworkers he was going to shoot LBJ from a window overlooking the president’s motorcade route
How a deranged man broke into Reagan’s California home and attempted to strangle the former president before he was subdued by Secret Service agents.
In early 1992 a mentally deranged man stalking Bush turned up at the wrong presidential venue for his planned assassination attempt
The relationships presidents held with their protectors and the effect it had on the Secret Service’s mission
In the first episode of this series, we will look at assassination attempts against Franklin Roosevelt. He received thousands of threats on his life during his four presidential terms. The danger only increased in the World War 2 years, with his protection detail fearing an Axis assassin would take him out. There were several near-misses, with a would-be killer's bullet coming with in two feet of his head, or a torpedo nearly sinking his ship while going to the Yalta Conference to meet Churchill and Stalin.
How did an initially small religious movement envelope such enormous areas of the world? That is precisely what the community of believers under Muhammed did, conquering the Persian Empire and crippling the Byzantine Empire in a matter of decades, two global powers who were unable to do this to each other despite their best efforts. This episode looks at the rise of Islam, the most historically significant event of the early Middle Ages, through the perspective of military and social history.
For decades after its founding, America was really two nations – one slave, one free. There were many reasons why this nation ultimately broke apart in the Civil War, but the fact that enslaved black people repeatedly risked their lives to flee their masters in the South in search of freedom in the North proved that the “united” states was a lie.
The problem of the 1850s - how (for southerners) to preserve slavery without destroying the Union, or (for northerners) how to destroy slavery while preserving the Union – was a political problem specific to a particular time and place. But the moral problem of how to reconcile irreconcilable values is a timeless one that, sooner or later, confronts us all.”
My guest today, Andrew Delbanco, author of The War Before The War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War discusses this topic at depth in this episode. We begin in 1850, with America on the verge of collapse, Congress reached what it hoped was a solution – the notorious Compromise of 1850, which required that fugitive slaves be returned to their masters. But the Fugitive Slave Act, intended to preserve the Union, instead set the nation on the path to civil war.
One person's psychosis can be easily dismissed, but how do we account for collective hysteria, when an entire crowd sees the same illusion or suffer from the same illness? It's enough to make somebody believe in dark magic and pick up their pitchfork, ready to hang an accused witch.
Sadly, such paranoia has led to many witch hunts in the past. In today's episode we look at some of the most notorious historical cases of mass hysteria and moral panics. But these cases don't only extend to Puritan-era witch panics. We will also look at cases that hit closer to home—such as economic bubbles and the housing market crash of the early 2000s.
This episode includes such cases of mass hysteria as
-- Dancing mania, in which German peasants in 1374 spent weeks dancing in a fugue state, with some toppling over dead from utter exhaustion
-- The cat nuns of medieval France, where the sisters became to inexplicably meow together, leaving the surrounding community perplexed
-- The Salem Witch trials, where 19 were executed due to claims of sorcery
-- The Jersey Devil Panic, in which dozens of newspapers claimed in 1909 that a winged creature attacked a trolley car in Haddon Heights
How would you react if you discovered that your family were deeply embedded within the Third Reich? Today I'm talking with Brazilian-born American Julie Lindahl about her journey to uncover her grandparents’ roles in the Nazi regime and why she was driven to understand how and why they became members of Hitler’s elite, the SS.
In a six-year journey through Germany, Poland, Paraguay, and Brazil, Julie uncovers, among many other discoveries, that her grandfather had been a fanatic member of the SS since 1934. During World War II, he was responsible for enslavement and torture and was complicit in the murder of the local population on the large estates he oversaw in occupied Poland. He eventually fled to South America to evade a new wave of war-crimes trials.
As she delved deeper into her family’s secret, Julie also found unlikely compassion from strangers whose family were victimized and ways to understand a troubled past.
He was known simply as the Blind Traveler. A solitary, sightless adventurer, James Holman (1786-1857) fought the slave trade in Africa, survived a frozen captivity in Siberia, hunted rogue elephants in Ceylon, helped chart the Australian outback—and circumnavigated the globe, becoming one of the greatest wonders of the world he so explored.
Today I'm talking with Jason Roberts, author of one of my all-time favorite history books: A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler. We get into all the impossible-to-believe stories that come from Holman's life, including:
-- Holman retraining his senses to use echolocation to “see” the world around him through sight and touch
- -Summiting Mt. Vesuvius as it was on the brink of eruption
-- Riding horses at full gallop
-- Negotiating peace between the British navy and islanders in Equatorial Guinea
History is often looked at through the perspective of a very high-up official. We look at military history through the eyes of a general. We look at political history through the eyes of a president or prime minister.
But what if we look at history through the perspective of drugs? Specifically, what if we look at history through the perspective of marijuana?
This isn't as gonzo of an idea as you might think. In my days as an Ottoman historian I knew someone doing his thesis on opium smuggling in Interwar Turkey and Beyond. The Opium Wars and the massive trade in opium between South Asia and China over the nineteenth century attest to the prominent role of opium within the history of colonialism and globalization.
Today I'm talking with David Bienestock, host of the Great Moments in Weed History about how hashish arrives in Europe via the Napoleonic invasion. In 1798, Napoleon invaded Egypt in a failed attempt to install colonial rule. French soldiers did succeed in enthusiastically adopting the local custom of consuming hashish, a practice with a long, storied history in the Islamic world. When the occupation ended, they brought a taste for cannabis home that lead directly to the formation of Paris’s famed Club des Hashischins, where Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, and Charles Baudelaire drank coffee laced with marijuana.
In particular we discuss:
-- How the origin of the word “assassin” has to do with authorities looking down on consumers of hashish
-- Humanity's 10,000-year history with marijuana
-- How Europe first discover hashish during the Napoleonic occupation of Egypt
Two weeks ago we finished the 25-part series on the 10 most important battles in the Civil War. Some of you had follow-up questions. We ran a poll to so which ones were the most popular. In a recording of a live-streaming Q&A session, James and Scott answer the following questions:
How many civilians died due to battles getting close to population centers (e.g., the Gettysburg battle site is close to the town)?
What was going on with John Wilkes Booth during the Civil War?
Were people at the time aware of events like Harriett Tubman's involvement in the raid on Combahee Ferry? Did that effect public perception?
For various generals (both sides), was there any correlation between how well they did in West Point and how well they did as leaders in war?
Please describe POW camps in more detail.
What do you think about the removal of the statues and the renaming of places that have been named after Confederate soldiers?
Ever wondered what cocktail a fourth-century bishop from Asia Minor would order? That would be an obscure question to ask if the bishop in question weren't the historical basis for the Santa Claus myth. But since we are dealing here with Nicholas, bishop of the Greek City of Myra, we will delve into the question of what would be the favored drink of a cleric who gave gifts in secret while also getting into fistfights with followers of Arianism.
In this special Christmas episode I'm talking with patristics professor Michael Foley. He is the author of the book "Drinking with Saint Nick." In it he compiles holiday drink recipes; beer, wine, and cider recommendations; and instruction on how to pair them with legends of medieval saints.
What is the greatest extent of classical European reach, and how did they affect or influence the culture of the known world in that period?
In today's episode I answer this question—which was submitted by Karl, a listener from Norway. Greek and Roman civilization got much further afield than it had any right to. Forget about Alexander's Hellenistic Revolution reaching all the way to India in the fourth century BC. There's evidence of ancient fleets circumnavigating Africa, Greek explorers whom the Ptolemy's commissioned to travel to Scandinavia, and even Roman jewelry ending up in fifth-century Japanese tombs.
Learn how a tangled web of traders, explorers, and diplomats created the first age of globalization, fueled by commerce and transmitted by the Silk Road.
George Custer, if he is remembered at all, is a cautionary tale of hubris. He grossly underestimated Sitting Bull's forces at the Battle of Little Big Horn and he was killed in one of the American military's worst defeat in its history. This defeat clouds his legacy, which up until then was quite remarkable. During the Civil War he was known as a daring and highly successful cavalry officer. Called the "Boy General" of the Union Army, he whipped the Union army's cavalry corp into shape at the age of 23. A man loved by all, he attended the wedding of a Confederate officer (a friend from West Point) during the Civil War, dressed in Union Blues. He liked the Southerners he fought against, and appreciated his Indian scouts.
This all begs the question of what if Custer survived the Battle of the Little Bighorn? What if he became a gun-for-hire? And what if he joined forces with a troupe of cancan dancers, Chinese acrobats, an eyepatch-wearing rebel cardsharp, and a multilingual Crow scout?
These questions are answered by today's guest Harry Crocker III who is author of a new alternate history book called Armstrong.
Eager to clear his name from the ignominy of his last stand - but forced to do so incognito, under the clever pseudonym Armstrong - Custer comes across evildoings in the mysterious Montana town of Bloody Gulch, which a ruthless Indian trader runs as his own personal fiefdom, with rumors of murder, slavery, and buried treasure.
Harry and I get into Old West Frontier life, how to write in the voice of your subject, and everything else about the glorious complexities of late nineteenth century American life.
In this very final episode, James and Scott discuss the lasting effects of the Civil War and why it is the single most important event in the history of the United States. The Revolutionary War may have answered the question of whether America would become an independent nation, but the Civil War answered the question of what kind of nation it would be.
In this epilogue episode James and Scott talk about the Union and Confederate generals whom we've gotten to know so well after the war finished. They became presidents, professors, bankrupt businessmen, assassination victims, and everything in between.
The Civil War is now finished but our series is not. Scott and James discuss an aspect of the Civil War that for the most part didn't tie into our main discussion: the naval war. Learn how battles occurred on American Rivers, gulfs, shorelines, and even as far away as Alaska.
As the Civil War came to an end, a big question remained for the North and eventually the reunited United States. What would become of its African-American residents? Would they be given full legal rights or only partial? This question was largely answered by the contributions of African-Americans in uniform. Scott and James talk about their story in this episode.
We're nearing the end of our Civil War series. It's 1864. Lincoln is re-elected, and Sherman's March to the Sea obliterated the Confederacy's industrial base. But work remains for General Grant. He must contend with his greatest foe, Robert E. Lee. Now that Grant was directing the operations of the Army of the Potomac, Northern expectations were high. Southern expectations were also high. Grant had three objectives: 1) Tie Lee down (Grant told Meade “Wherever Lee goes you will go also.”); 2) Bleed Lee’s army as much as possible; 3) Take Richmond.
From November to December 1864, Gen. Sherman led over 60,000 soldiers from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia in a scorched earth campaign to completely demoralized the Southern war effort. Sherman explained that they needed to “make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.”
It's no coincidence that the bird we eat for Thanksgiving and a Middle Eastern country are both called Turkey. One was named after the other, and it all has to do with a 500-year-old story of emerging global trade, mistaken identity, foreign language confusion, and how the turkey took Europe by storm as a must-have status symbol for the ultra wealthy.
In the fall of 1864, the Union Army now had full momentum against the Confederacy, pushing deeper into the South than ever before. General Sherman overwhelmed forces led by John Bell Hood. With the fall of Atlanta, Lincoln nearly assured his re-election in 1864.
Following Union defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga, Union forces retreated to the railroad junction of Chattanooga, Tennessee. From November 23-25, 1863, Union troops routed the Confederates at the battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionaries Ridge; the victories forces the Confederate troops back into Georgia, ending the siege of Chattanooga and creating the groundwork for Sherman's Atlanta campaign and March to the Sea in 1864.
The Battle of Chickamauga marked the end of Union Maj. Gen. William Rosencran's offensive into southwestern Tennessee and northwestern Georgia and the most significant Union defeat in the Western Theatre. More died here than in any other battle, save Gettysburg. After the battle Union forces retired to Chattanooga while Confederates besieged the city by occupying the surrounding heights.
The 1863 Battle of Gettysburg stopped Robert E. Lee's second invasion of the North. It was the deadliest battle of the Civil War, with over 50,000 casualties during the three day battle, a scale of suffering never seen before or since in America. The Union won victory and had new life injected into its war effort. The Confederacy saw its best chance at striking a deadly blow against the North and demoralizing them slip away.
In the late summer of 1918, a division of Massachusetts militia volunteers led the first unified American fighting force into battle in France, turning the tide of World War I. Meanwhile, the world’s deadliest pandemic—the Spanish Flu—erupted in Boston and its suburbs, bringing death on a terrifying scale, first to military facilities and then to the civilian population. At precisely the same time, amidst the surrounding ravages of death, a young pitcher named Babe Ruth rallied the sport’s most dominant team, the Boston Red Sox, to a World Series victory—the last the Sox would see for eighty-six years.
In this episode I I talk with Google executive Skip Desjardin about September 1918, a moment in history almost too cinematic to be real.
Historical biopics perform a great service. These movies remind the world of people that would have otherwise fallen into obscurity: Oscar Schindler (Schindler's List), John Nash (A Beautiful Mind), and Solomon Northup (12 Years a Slave).
In this episode I am going to talk about six people from history that deserve their own movie. Joining me in this discussion is Jon Hagadorn, host of 1001 Heroes, Legends, Histories & Mysteries podcast.
We present to you...
A sixteenth-century spymaster
A blind explorer
A Russian royal
A plane crash survivor who hiked weeks through the Amazon
A World War One ace-turned jazz club owner-turned French Resistance fighter
Today's guest is Stephan Talty, author of the new book, SAVING BRAVO, which comes out October 30. Talty tells the never-before-told story of one of the greatest rescue missions not just of the Vietnam War, but the entire Cold War.
In 1972, the Vietnam War was a lost cause. Public support in the US had cratered; the soldiers and airmen who returned home were called “mercenaries” and their cars were keyed on Air Force bases. Nixon was searching for a way to leave the battlefield, but thousands of Americans were still fighting for their lives, grasping for some meaning to their service.
At the time, few American airmen were more valuable than Lt. Colonel Gene Hambleton. He carried highly classified information and knew secrets about cutting-edge missile technology that didn’t just concern Vietnam but could change the course of the Cold War itself. When Hambleton was shot down behind enemy lines amid North Vietnam’s Easter Offensive, he was left to lie and wait to be rescued in the middle of one of the fiercest ground battles since WW2.
With time running out on the hallucinating and half-starved American, his fellow airmen would have to find a way to extract him from a flood of 30,000 North Vietnamese soldiers. It was a rescue mission that, for a moment, put a halt to the US’s futile fight in the war.
Vietnam was for many a war without heroes. But the eleven men who went after Hambleton gave their lives for a higher cause. Drawing from access to unpublished papers and interviews with the families of those lost in the mission—many of whom are still waiting for the remains of their loved ones, and answers they feel the government owes them—Talty reveals a remarkable story of bravery, compassion, and humanity, one that will speak to all of us struggling to make sense of an anxious and uncertain time. In addition to its release in October, the book has also just been optioned for film by 20th Century Fox.
Welcome to the second part in our episodes on the Vicksburg Campaign, one of the most consequential Civil War battles in the Western theatre and what many historians consider to be the turning point of the war.
Grant's Vicksburg campaign is considered one of the most brilliant of the war. With the loss of Pemberton’s army at Vicksburg and later Union victory at Port Hudson five days later, the Union now controlled the entire Mississippi River. The Confederacy was now split in half. Grant's reputation soared, which led to him being appointed as General-in-Chief of the Union armies
In the next two episodes Scott and James will discuss the Siege of Vicksburg. In the summer of 1863, Grant’s Army of the Tennessee came to Vicksburg, located on a high bluff converged on Vicksburg, a Mississippi town on the same river. Union occupation of the town was critical to control of the strategic river. If it fell then the Confederacy would completely lose access to critical supply lines in Texas and Mexico.
Grant's six-week campaign began in June. His army came to Vicksburg, which was defended by Confederate General John C. Pemberton's men, who built a series of trenches, forts, redans, and artillery lunettes surrounding the city. Grant's army surrounded Pemberton and outnumbered him two to one. Trapped for six weeks, the residents of Vicksburg were forced to dig caves and eat rats to survive. But, due to Pemberton's diligence and resourceful mind, they continued to trust his command despite dire circumstances.
The Battle of Chancellorsville is considered Robert E. Lee’s masterpiece. His reputation as a military genius was sealed by fighting an incredibly successful offensive battle despite being outnumbered 2-to-1 and launching attacks on multiple fronts.
After another humiliating Union defeat at Fredericksburg, On January 26, Lincoln replaced Gen. Ambrose Burnside with Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker as the new commander of the Army of the Potomac, with 120,000 troops. Hooker's plan was to send his cavalry on a raid behind Lee to cut off Lee’s communication with Richmond. He would leave 40,000 troops in front of Lee near Fredericksburg, and Hooker himself would march up the Rappahannock River and try to go around Lee’s left. If he didn’t defeat Lee at that time, he would at least force Lee to retreat. But Lee managed to achieve victory despite splitting up his forces into vastly inferior numbers and fighting the Union on multiple fronts. The outcome was 17,000 Federal casualties to 13,000 Confederates
Following McClellan's disastrous Union loss at Antietam, Lincoln replaced him with Ambrose Burnside, who planned to march to the city of Fredericksburg, getting there before Lee and possibly marching all the way to Richmond. But once they confronted the Confederacy at the battle of Fredericksburg the Federals made 14 total charges that were all repulsed. One Federal general wrote “It was a great slaughter pen. They may as well have tried to take Hell.”
The entire point of the Civil War was to end slavery, right? Not exactly, and definitely not at the beginning of the War. The North went to war strictly to save the Union and had little interest in abolishing slavery in the South. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 only came about due to a complex convergence of political, social, and cultural interests, which we will address in this episode.
The Battle of Antietam—an 1862 clash between Robert E. lee's Army of Northern Virginian and George McClellan's Army of the Potomac—was the deadliest one-day battle in American history, with a total of 22,717 dead, wounded or missing. It came after Lee thwarted McClellan's plans to lay siege to the Confederate capitol of Richmond and tried to seize the momentum by crossing north into Maryland.
Union General George B. McClellan, who led 100,000 men and moved as fast as an iceberg, attempted to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond in a series of six different battles along the Virginia Peninsula from June 25 to July 1, 1862). Confederate General Robert E. Lee drove back McClellan’s Union forces from a position 4 miles (6 km) east of the Confederate capital to a new base of operations at Harrison’s Landing on the James River.
In early 1862 the Union Army launched a major operation in southeastern Virginia, the first large-scale offensive in the Eastern Theater. Lincoln replaced McDowell with George B. McClellan as commander. He reorganized the army, whipped it into shape, and also renamed it the Army of the Potomac. The goal was to roll over the Confederacy. The Rebels were not about to let that happen.
The Battle of Shiloh was a battle in the Western Theater fought April 6–7, 1862, in southwestern Tennessee. On the first morning, 40,000 Confederate troops struck Union Soldiers at Pittsburg Landing. They were under the command of Major General Ulysses S. Grant. The Confederate Army of Mississippi, under the command of General Albert Sidney Johnston, launched a surprise attack on Grant's army from its base in Corinth, Mississippi. Johnston was mortally wounded during the fighting; Beauregard took command of the army and decided against pressing the attack late in the evening. Overnight, Grant was reinforced by one of his divisions stationed further north and was joined by three divisions. The Union forces began an counterattack the next morning which reversed the Confederate gains of the previous day.
In the summer of 1861, four slave states had still not seceded. If even two or three joined the Confederacy, the Union would be in big trouble. Lincoln was determined to keep all four in (Maryland, Kentucky, Delaware, and Missouri). We will look at these developments, along with the The War in the West, April 1861 - April 1862, where many famous Civil War figures emerge, such as Ulysses S. Grant.
Abraham Lincoln believed that the Civil War would be over in a few months, with the Union Army marching on Richmond by late 1861. Both sides hastily assembled armies and Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell led his unseasoned Union Army across Bull Run against the equally inexperienced Confederate Army of Brig. Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard. The Confederates won a surprise victory, particularly due to the efforts of Stonewall Jackson, and routed the Union. Both sides dug in their heels for a long war ahead.
The origins of the Civil War go back decades, even before the United States became an independent nation The federal union had always been precarious, ever since the framing of the Constitution, with the institution of slavery led to two distinct cultures and societies. In this inagurual episode of the History of Civil War in 10 Battles, Scott and James discuss the main social and political issues that sparked the Civil War
The Civil War pitted brother against brother and divided a nation. It also featured the most epic—and deadliest—battles in American history. From Shiloh to Vicksburg to Gettsburg, these battles resulted in higher casualty rates than any other armed conflict the United States has ever faced.
But beyond that the Civil War did more to define and change the United States than any other event. It determine what kind of nation the United State would be.
Next week we will begin a massive multi-part series on the ten most important battles of the Civil War. We are joined once again by history professor James Early to get into the military history of the Civil War, whose effects are still being felt in the United States and the rest of the world today.
The Russian Siege of Kazan in 1552 and the conquest of Kazan and Astrakhan by Muscovy can be seen as the birth of a Russian Empire. It had profound consequences for the steppe region and beyond, allowing Russian expansion eastwards, eventually as far as the Pacific.
Today's guest is Carl Rylett, host of A History of Europe—Key Battles Podcast. He has put together a battle history podcast that shows how so much of the history of Europe was shaped by military forces.
Alexander Hamilton had a nemesis… and it was not Aaron Burr. After Hamilton enacted a wide-scale spending program to build up America's military and infrastructure, and thus send it into debt, newly-elected President Thomas Jefferson chose a Secretary of the Treasury to dismantle his system—Albert Gallatin.
Considered a “foreigner, a tax rebel, and a dangerously clever man,” the Geneva-born Gallatin was despised by Hamilton and the Federalists. During their political careers, these two economic masterminds were locked in a battle to surmount the other’s financial system for the new nation.
During his twelve years as Secretary of the Treasury, Gallatin overcame his predecessor by
-- Repaying half of the national debt
-- Containing the federal government by restraining its fiscal power
-- Abolishing internal taxes in peacetime
-- Slashing spending
Today I'm talking with Gregory May, author of the new book Jefferson’s Treasure: How Albert Gallatin Saved the New Nation from Debt.
We discuss Gallatin’s rise to power, his tumultuous years at the Treasury, and his enduring influence on American fiscal policy.
Learn about cultures that came to America long before Columbus, suggesting that trans-oceanic voyages could be accomplished well back into the Bronze Age.
Welcome to part two on our series on the greatest lost civilizations in history. Today we are looking at three groups: The Egytian Pyramid Builders, the Nabateans, and the Aksumites. These three groups are particularly beloved by believers in extra-terrestrials and religious myths.
They ask questions like these: Did the builders of the pyramids handy craftsmen, whose method of transporting massive stones are still unexplainable, simply disappear or were they part of an advanced alien race? Did the Nabateans hide the Holy Grail? Was the Kingdom of Aksum really the keeper of the Ark of the Covenant, and did this lead to their downfall?
Learn why these myths persist today in this episode.
A stock trope of literature is the king who believes that his kingdom will last forever, only to see it collapse under his own hubris (Exhibit A is Percy Bysshe Shelly's Ozymandias). But the trope is based on historical fact. Many great civilizations vanished without a trace, and why their disappearance still haunts us today.
This episode is the first in a three-part series that will look atf the greatest lost civilizations in history. Some were millenia ahead their neighbors, such as the Indus Valley Civilization, which had better city planning in 3,000 B.C. than any European capital in the 18th century. Others were completely myth-based, such as Plato's lost city of Atlantis, a technological advanced utopia that sank into the ocean "in a single day and night of misfortune"
Whatever the nature of their disappearance, these lost civilizations offer many lessons for us today -- even the greatest of societies can disappear, and that includes us.
This is the third in our three-part series on the most powerful women in the Middle Ages. To wrap things up we will explore the lives of two female rulers — one very famous, the other almost unknown. They are Elizabeth I of Tudor and Ottoman Queen Mother Kösem Sultan.
Elizabeth I(1533-1603) is, with little debate, the greatest monarch in England's history. She is a key figure in the island's transition from the medieval to the early modern era. In her 45-year reign Good Queen Bess transformed her nation from a mid-level European power into the dominant commercial, naval, and cultural force of the Western world. She was a patron of exploration and supported Sir Francis Drake's expedition to circumnavigate the globe. Elizabeth also funded Sir Walter Raleigh's exploration of the New World. She forged a powerful English national identity by securing peace and stability, allowing the arts to flourish and famous figures such as Edmund Spencer, Francis Bacon, and William Shakespeare to produce their most renowned works.
Ottoman Valide Kösem Sultan (1590-1651) was a harem slave who ruled through three sultans. She was born a Greek Christian, sold into slavery to the imperial Ottoman harem when she was fifteen, and showed up in Istanbul without knowing Turkish. In in the years to come she managed to attract the attention of the Sultan, bear him a son, and become a Queen mother – a matriarch of the Sultan. She also manipulated two weak sons and a weak grandson to name her the official regent of the empire. The former slave girl was now in command of a transcontinental superpower.
Female rulers dominated the Middle Ages. But it wasn't just the queens or empresses who wielded enormous power. This episode is the second of a three-part series at the lives of the most powerful women in the Middle Ages, and we will first look at the life of Catherine of Siena, the Catholic Mystic who almost single-handedly restored the papacy to Rome in the 1300s and navigated the brutal and male-dominated world of Italian politics. Then we will explore the life of
Catherine was the 23th child of a poor family and unable to write until three years before her death at 33. She spent years as a low-ranking member of a religious order and primarily spent her days in solitude and prayer. However, by the end of her life Catherine had travelled throughout the Italian peninsula as a diplomat and negotiated peace between princes.
She wrote dozens of letters to Pope Gregory and convinced him to restore the papacy in Rome. She authored “The Dialogue,” a treatise on a fictional conversation between a saint and God, which influenced theologians and the lay religious for centuries. She was named a joint Patron Saint of Italy along with Francis of Assisi in 1939 and a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970.
In addition to Catherine, we will also explore the life of Queen Isabella I of Castile and Leon (1451-1504), the reformer, Catholic monarch, and inquisitor. Isabella became Queen of Castile as a politically inexperienced 23-year-old caught in a political tug-of-war between her half-brother and the Spanish nobles. Upon her death in 1504, she had successfully united Spain's kingdoms, completed the Reconquista, stabilized the economy, and commissioned an idealistic Genoese sailor to find a shorter sea route to India by crossing the Atlantic in 1492.
Funding such trips to the New World was a significant reason that Spain became a global power in the next century. These brighter moments are contrasted by the darker ones in her 28-year reign. She and her husband Ferdinand compelled all Jews and Muslims to convert to Christianity, expelling those who refused. This policy laid the legal infrastructure for the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition in the coming century.
The idea of a powerful woman in the Middle Ages seems like an oxymoron. Females in this time are imagined to be damsels in distress, trapped in a high tower, and waiting for knights to rescue them, all while wearing traffic-cones for a hat. After rescue, their lives improved little. Their career choices were to be either a docile queen, housewife, or be burned at the stake for witchcraft.
But what if this image of medieval women is a complete fiction?
It turns out that it is. Powerful female rulers fill the Middle Ages. Anglo-Saxon queen Aethelflaed personally led armies into direct combat with Vikings in the 900s and saved England from foreign invasion. Byzantine Empress Theodora kept the empire from falling apart during the Nika Revolts and stopped her husband Justinian from fleeing Constantinople. Catherine of Siena almost single-handedly restored the papacy to Rome in the 1300s and navigated the brutal and male-dominated world of Italian politics.
In this episode, part 1 of a 3-part series, I look at the lives of three extraordinarily powerful women in the Middle Ages. In particular I look at the lives of Empress Theodora of Byzantium, Aethelflaed of the Mercians (a proto-English kingdom), and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the most powerful landholder in Europe in the 12th century.
We will explore how they managed to ascend the throne, what made their accomplishments so notable, and the impact they had on their respective societies after their deaths.
“Traitor!” “Failure!” “Bungling fool!”
Southern newspapers hurled these sentiments at Confederate General John C. Pemberton after he surrendered the fortress of Vicksburg—the key to controlling the Mississippi River during the Civil War. But were they justified in their accusations?
Today I'm talking with Dr. Samuel Mitcham, author of Vicksburg: The Bloody Siege that Turned the Tide of the Civil War. He argues that these newspapers—and history itself—have wrongly marred Pemberton’s legacy.
Some of the myths he argues against are that Pemberton’s indecisiveness delayed the aid Vicksburg needed, when in fact he had been urgently requesting reinforcements, stationed nearby, but his commanding general repeatedly ignored him due to a petty grudge.
The Confederate Army fought an exhaustive battle to defend the fortress of Vicksburg from the spring of 1862 until its surrender on July 4, 1863. Trapped for six weeks, the residents of Vicksburg were forced to dig caves and eat rats to survive. But, due to Pemberton’s stalwart character and resourceful mind, they continued to trust his command despite dire circumstances.
Long before Thanos snapped his fingers in Avengers: Infinity War, another villain successfully killed half of humanity.
Malaria is a simple parasite, transmitted by a mosquito bite. But this deadly disease, which has been around as long as homo sapiens, has killed more than all wars and natural disasters combined. It has wiped out cities, destroyed empires, ruined colonies, and may be responsible for 50 billion deaths, among them Alexander the Great and Marcus Aurelius (allegedly).
Malaria's role in history is perhaps more under-appreciated than anything else. Here's two examples: Many historians believe America won the Revolutionary War due to malaria depleting the ranks of infected soldiers. Some think it caused Rome's downfall.
When the malaria parasite was discovered in the 1800s it led to containment efforts. But the real game changer was the deployment of DDT in World War Two. Deadly swamp lands (like much of the United States) were now safe for human habitation. Even South Pacific islands were no longer death traps.
However, the fight against malaria took a different turn in the 1960s with the publication of Silent Spring, a book that argued pesticides could permanently damage earth's ecological balance.
Malaria is not the killer it once was but it still plays a massive role in public affairs debates today.
In August 1862, two Union soldiers were gravely wounded at the Battle of Second Manassas. They were brought to a field hospital, though both died as a result of their injuries. Their bodies were laid to rest in a shallow burial pit, intermixed with amputated limbs from other soldiers wounded in the battle. Then they were lost to history.
But in 2014, the National Park Service (NPS) first encountered the remains during a utility project. With help from the Smithsonian Institution, the NPS was able to identify the remains as Union soldiers, and worked with the Army to give these soldiers an honorable final resting place.
Beneath the surface, they found two nearly-complete human skeletons, and several artifacts including buttons from a Union sack coat, a .577 Enfield bullet, three pieces of .31 caliber lead buckshot, and an assemblage of eleven arms and legs. The discovery was something incredibly rare: a battlefield surgeon's burial pit. In fact, this was the first time such a burial pit had ever been excavated and studied at a Civil War battlefield.
Today I'm talking with archeologist and Manassas National Battlefield Park Superintendent Brandon Bies about the discovery, what it can tell us about Civil War combat medicine (when doctors did their best despite having little else but a saw an chloroform) and the new light this sheds on the horrific nature of warfare in the 19th century.
You've heard it before: American politics have never been nastier or more divisive than they are today. Just witness the recent words of one recent front-runner candidate, who told told the media his opponent was a hermaphrodite, because he was too weak to be a man but too ugly to be a woman. The front-runner's hatchet men counter-attacked. They called his opponent a nasty low-life who was the vile offspring of a mulatto and an Indian. He was a bloodthirsty war-monger who wanted to trigger a war with America's enemies, leading to a national orgy of “rape, incest, and adultery.” The slurs kept piling up. The front-runner was called a criminal and fascist. The opponent was called an atheist cowardly weakling. Does this sound like words passed between the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton campaigns in 2016? They weren't— these were insults traded between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in the 1800 election. Jefferson's camp described Adams as having a “hideous hermaphroditical character.” Adams' men called Vice President Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” As you can see, American elections have always been vicious. To dive into this topic, I have on the show David Severa, host of the podcast called Early and Often – the History of Elections in America. We talk about the history of voting in the United States, all the way from the earliest colonial days to the present.
Slavery predates European entry into the Atlantic world in the Age of Exploration, but the system that developed during the 16th and 17th centuries was an arguably more inhumane and racially tinged institution than anything that had previously existed before. The first English colonists in the Americas believed they could become wealthy through mutual trade with Native Americans. This system failed and was replaced by chattel enslavement of Africans to work on cash-crop plantations. American slavery grew and metastisized until it swallowed up over 10 million lives in the Atlantic Slave Trade.
This episode explores the origins of New World slavery (originally based on the Iberian enslavement of Muslims), the miseries that Africans experienced on slave ships, auction blocks, and plantation life, and the establishment of laws in early America that made slavery a cornerstone of the young nation's economy.
As the trans-Atlantic slave trade from sub-Saharan Africa to the Americas flourished in the 1500s, there was another slave trade that operate on an even larger scale. It was the capture of Europeans by north-African Muslims. Barbary Pirates enslaved an estimated 1 million Europeans in the period from 1500 to 1800.
Enslavement was a real possibility for anyone who traveled in the Mediterranean or who lived along the shores in places like Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, and even as far north as England and Iceland. For example, in 1632, pirates captured the Irish city of Baltimore. They and others were snatched from their homes, taken in chains to the slave markets of Algiers and sold to the highest bidder. Some spent the rest of their lives rowing galleys. Others toiled in quarries or on farms. Attractive women were sent to harems and became a pasha's concubine.
This episode looks at a little-known chapter in the history of slavery. Although few know the stories of these captives, the threat of piracy on the Mediterranean had a huge impact on the Western World. Thomas Jefferson developed the U.S. navy to eliminate the Barbary Threat. Miguel de Cervantes spent years in North Africa. Even John Smith of Pocahontas fame was a slave in Istanbul.
Learn about this disturbing period in history and how it all came to an end in the early 1800s.
The image of the slave trade is a white slaver capturing African tribesmen, packing them like corkwood into a ship, selling them in the Antebellum South, and having a plantation owner work them to death. All of this took place on a scale of millions in the African slave trade to the New World.
But such massive levels of slavery did not begin with European discovery of the New World. In the Middle Ages, Vikings went on numerous slave raids of England and Eastern Europe, selling those capture on Volga slave markets. Most of all, Arab slave traders purchased millions of Africans and sent them to the Middle East to work on cotton and sugar cane plantations in Iraq.
Middle Eastern intellectuals argued that Africans were at a lower mental level than Arabs and thus of a suitable condition to be enslaved (to be fair, they thought the same of Scandinavians). Slaves were humiliated at markets in Cairo where they were stripped naked to be examined by potential buyers. And Africans were taken from their homeland where they would be shipped East to Cairo, Syria, Iraq, India, and even all the way out to Indonesia.
Find out how slavery is much older than we think but sadly universally cruel.
When asked “what is slavery,” most Americans or Westerners would respond with a description of an African slave in the antebellum South, picking cotton and suffering under the whip of a cruel master. But if you asked an Irishman in 1650, he would have answered differently. He would recount the horrors of Barbary Muslim pirates invading the town of Baltimore, dragging his kinsmen off to the slave markets of Algeria. A medieval Arab would have still answered differently. He would talk about the African slave trade, albeit the one that went east to Arabia instead of the one that went west to the New World. A Roman would have described slavery as the Greek in his household that tutored his children.
Slavery goes back to the beginning of the agricultural revolution. It is universal yet localized to the particular conditions in the society that enslaves others. Some researchers think slavery is common across history in that it leads to the social death of a slave. Others think that slaves were treated rather well in the ancient world, and it was only the weaponized racism of recent centuries that turned the chattel slavery of Africans brought to the New World into such a cruel institution.
This episode is the beginning of a five-part series on slavery. We are looking at the origins of the practice, why it began, the work that slaves did, what was the “best” sort of work, and how they revolted. By looking into the past we will have a better understanding of this practice, and how much it resembles slaver in the modern world.
America has a strange relationship with alcohol. Certain drinks represented the darkest parts of the national psyche. Rum was once associated with slavery because sugar cane plantations that made rum were only profitable with chattel slavery. Whisky and hard cider were omnipresent in the 19th century, turning able-bodied men into drunkards who couldn't support their families and left them to starve.
But it was Prohibition that is strangest of all. America successfully outlawed alcohol, the first and only modern nation to do so. The unintended consequences were enormous: from physicians falsifying alcohol's positive effects so they could write prescriptions for “medicine” and make a handsome profit, to record numbers of men converting to Judaism so they could administer alcohol in rabbinical ceremonies.
Here to untangle the Gordion knot of alcohol in America's past is Cody Wheat from the Shots of History Podcast.
Welcome to an anthology episode where I ask six short questions about the Middle Ages from you, the listener. Here they are in order of appearance:
What Did People Eat in the Middle Ages?How Did You Conquer a Castle?Could You Tell Me About Harold Hardrada?Why is Thomas Becket Still So ImportantDid Rome Fall Because Christianity Made it Soft?Did Any African Explorers Come to Europe or Asia in the Middle Ages?
Cable news pundits tell you everything is “breaking news.” TV pundits discuss politics in a vacuum. But in nearly every case, the politics of today have long roots in history. This includes media celebrities winning elections by manipulating the press and lobbing gross insults (Huey Long in the 1920s), breakdowns in the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico (the 1840s Mexican-American War) and fears of presidential executive overreach (the 1780s with George Washington).
In this episode I talk with Bruce Carlson, host of the My History Can Beat Up Your Politics podcast about how nearly every issue in U.S. politics has an analogue in the past. He uses history to elevate the discussion of today's politics.
The © symbol (or "Copyright") is a completely forgettable character ignored by all but lawyers. It is buried at the bottom of legal notices that your brain reflexively skips over. But this little symbol represents a war that has raged for centuries between authorities that want to restrict dangerous information, publishers that want to profit by it, artists that want to stop plagiarists, and open-information activists that want to make everything public domain.
In this episode I look at the history of copyright, the battle over how much information should cost. What is the line between protecting the rights of publishers and artists so they can make a living, and depriving society of crucial information and sentencing them to ignorance and illiteracy?
The battle includesVenetian Printer Aldus Manutius, who invented Italic font in 1500s Venice. He complained of French plagiarists, who copied his techniques in order to trick book buyers, even though “[t]he lettering, upon closer inspection, betrays a certain Frenchiness” and were “produced on foul paper, ‘with [a] strange odor.”Miguel Cervantes, who battled unauthorized sequels to Don Quixote by inserting those characters into his actual sequel and mocking them.England's Statue of Anne, the first copyright law that inadvertently led to a cartel of London book publishers who artificially limited production and drove book prices through the roof.America's lax prosecution of illegal printers of British literature, leading to a boom in education.Aaron Swart'z 2010 hack of MIT's network in order to illegally download five million academic articles and “liberate” them to the Internet
A century-long blood feud between two Cherokee chiefs shaped the history of the Cherokee tribe far more than anyone, even the reviled President Andrew Jackson. They were John Ross and the Ridge. Today I'm talking with John Sedgwick about the fall of the Cherokee Nation due to the clash of these two figures.
The Ridge (1771–1839)—or He Who Walks on Mountains—was a Cherokee chief and warrior who spoke no English but whose exploits on the battlefield were legendary. John Ross (1790–1866) was the Cherokees’ primary chief for nearly forty years yet spoke not a word of Cherokee and proudly displayed the Scottish side of his mixed-blood heritage. To protect their sacred landholdings from American encroachment, these two men negotiated with almost every American president from George Washington through Abraham Lincoln. At first friends and allies, they worked together to establish the modern Cherokee Nation in 1827. However, the two founders eventually broke on the subject of removal; the Ridge believed resisting President Jackson and his army would be hopeless, while Ross wanted to stay and fight for the lands the Cherokee had occupied since long before the white settlers’ arrival.
The failure of these two respected leaders to compromise bred a hatred that led to a bloody civil war within the Cherokee Nation, the tragedy of the Trail of Tears, and finally, the two factions battling each other on opposite sides of the Civil War. Sedgwick writes, “It is the work of politics to resolve such conflicts peacefully, but Cherokee politics were not up to the job. For a society that had always operated by consensus, there was little tradition of compromise.” Although the Cherokee were one of the most culturally and socially advanced Native American tribes in history, with their own government, language, newspapers, and religion, Sedgwick notes, “The warrior culture offered few gradations between war and peace, all or nothing.”
Norman Borlaug and Robert Noyce aren't household names. But these two Iowans influenced the 20th century more than anyone else on Planet Earth. Borlaug created drought and disease-resistant varieties of wheat that thrived in poor soils throughout the planet. Because of him, billions in the developing world avoided starvation (they probably only missed it by about a decade). Noyce invented the integrated circuit and founded Intel. He is the father of Silicon Valley, the digital revolution, and the Internet economy that connects the world.
Both men owe their success to their farm roots in Iowa.
Learn how to get access to bonus episodes of History Unplugged (including a multi-part series on Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in WW2), the entire History Unplugged back catalogue, and even shout-outs at the end of each episode. Learn more by going to https://patreon.com/unplugged
What happened to Jews after they were liberated from concentration camps? Some tried to return to their homes, only to find them occupied by neighbors who thought them dead and refused to give up their new dwellings. Others went on to build lives in the United States, but never truly found a place to call home. They wanted to tell their new compatriots about their experiences, but were silenced. “You’re in America now, put it behind you” is what they were told.
Today I'm speaking with Jon Kean, director of the new documentary After Auschwitz, a “Post-Holocaust” documentary that follows six women after their liberation from Nazi concentration camps. The women Kean follows became mothers and wives with successful careers, but never fully healed from the scars of the past. His film captures what it means to move from tragedy and trauma towards life.
This is an anthology episode that looks at the experiences of Winston Churchill and Gen. George S. Patton before and during World War Two. Specifically this episode will explore
Patton's experiences in World War One as a tank commanderChurchill's wilderness years in the 30s in which many thought his career was overPatton's theatrical entrance into German in 1945America's (and FDR's) first reaction to the Pearl Harbor bombing
Remember when we did the 44-episode series on this show called Presidential Fight Club that imagined what would happen if every president fought each other one-on-one? Now it has been re-released as its own podcast, and you can find it on https://presidentialfightclub.com. Please rate and review it on Apple Podcasts!
Falling comrades, savagery of war, and the intense will to prevail in battle faced young Bill Chapman when he stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. For the following eleven months Chapman served in the most hazardous duty in the Army—dodging Nazi captures and fighting for his and his brothers-in-arms’ survival.
To talk about Bill's story on today's episode of History Unplugged is his son, retired infantry officer and author Craig Chapman. Craig reveals his father’s first-hand account of the horror, fear, and danger from the front lines of WWII’s most momentous events, from his mortar unit's landing at Utah Beach on D-Day, through the brutal fighting in southern Germany against SS holdouts and Nazi extremists in the spring of 1945, to VE Day.
The D-Day landing of June 6, 1944, ranks as the boldest and most successful large-scale invasion in military history.
On June 6, as Operation Overlord went forward, roughly 160,000 Allied troops crossed the English Channel, supported by seven thousand ships and boats, and landed on the coast of Normandy.The seaborne invasion included nearly 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers. They established a beachhead from which the Germans were unable to dislodge them. Within ten days, there were half a million troops ashore, and within three weeks there were two million.
In this episode I take a comprehensive look at the largest amphibious assault in history
Benjamin Franklin was a world traveler, consummate learner, and a polymath extraordinaire; the Founding Father was a printer, scientist, inventor, diplomat, postmaster general, educator, philosopher, entrepreneur, library curator, and America's first researcher to win an international scientific reputation for his studies in electrical theory. He even made contributions to knowledge of the Gulf Stream.
But he was just as much a product of his extraordinary world as he contributed to it. Neither Colonial North America nor the embryonic United States developed apart from the rest of the world. They were active participants in the politics, economics, and culture of the Atlantic World. The events in Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, and South America affected the way North Americans lived, dressed, worshipped, conducted business, and exercised diplomacy.
Today's guest is Elizabeth Covart, host of Ben Frankin's World podcast. She is here to talk about how Benjamin Franklin took an active part in the Atlantic World. He helped found the United States and influenced technological developments after his death.
In a remarkably short span of time, American children went from laboring on family farms to spending their days in classrooms. The change came from optimistic reformers like Horace Mann, who in the early 1800s dreamed of education, literacy, and science spreading throughout all levels of American society. But other supporters of universal education had darker motives. They feared the influx of Irish Catholic immigrants and thought they'd bring their papist ideas to the young republic. Only compulsory education could break these European children of their Catholic ways and transform them into obedient, patriotic Americans with a Protestant outlook in their worldview if not in their theology.
This episode explores the origins of compulsory education, from the Protestant Reformation (and how it was used as a weapon in the religious arms races of sixteenth-century Europe), Prussia's role as the first nation with universal schooling, how America adopted compulsory K-12 education, and whether modern-day schools are actually based on a factory from the 1800s.
According to medieval accounts, a woman named Joan reigned as pope, 855-857 A.D., by disguising herself as a man. The story is widely thought to be fiction, but almost everyone took it as fact in the Middle Ages, up to the point that the Siena Cathedral featured a bust of Joan among other pontiffs.
Where did the story of Joan come from, what is the purpose of creating this legend, and what narrative function does it fulfill? Moreover, is it even possible that this story is true?
Joining us to dig into the incredibly messy history of the medieval papacy is Stephen Guerra, host of the History of the Papacy podcast. We find out whether a woman ever did wear the papal tiara.
This is Part 2 of an exploration of the live of the most productive people in history. We will look at the life, times, and work habits of medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas (the most prolific writer before the invention of the word processor), composer Georg Philipp Telemann (who produced thousands of music compositions), sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov (who wrote 500 books in nine out of the 10 major categories of the Dewey Decimal System) and Thomas Edison, who had over 1,000 patents to his name.
They never knew how he did it. Few composers write more than one or two symphonies in their lifetimes. Beethoven spent a year on his shorter symphonies but more than six years on his 9th Symphony. But Georg Philipp Telemann composed at least 200 overtures in a two-year period. Over his lifetime Telemann's oeuvre consists of more than 3,000 pieces, although “only” 800 survive to this day.
He was not the only person whose productivity defied all reason. Greek scientist Archimedes discovered mathematical phenomena that weren't confirmed for 17 centuries. Isaac Newton invented classical physics and was one of the inventors of calculus. Benjamin Franklin wrote, published, politicked, invented, experimented, and humored, sometimes all at the same time.
This episode is part one of two that explores the lives of the most productive people in history. We will look at the cultures into which they were born and see the methods that they used to achieve such sweeping results.
The Civil War is called the war in which brother fought against brother. But few knew of the
“Gettysburg Rebels”: the five privates from that very town who moved south to Virginia in the 1850s,
joined the Confederate army, and returned home as foreign invaders for the great battle in July 1863.
I talk about this story with Tom McMillan, author of Gettysburg Rebels: Five Native Sons Who Came
Home to Fight as Confederate Soldiers. It is the story of Gettysburg’s five native sons who abandoned
their hometown ties to join the Southern cause. But that's not to say they forgot their families
altogether. At least one of these soldiers receive a leave of absence to cross enemy lines at night and
visit his family...while in full Confederate uniform.
Willing to relinquish familial ties, Henry Wentz, Wesley Culp, and the three Hoffman brothers kept
their hometown connections hidden from Confederate leaders—a decision that would ultimately
determine the fate of the Confederacy.
Lieutenant George W. Starks' worst fear came true when his B-17 was shot down over Nazi-occupied
France. Earlier that morning, the boyish 20-year-old and his crew were assigned to the most exposed
section of the bomber formation: the “coffin corner.” Now, scattered across the countryside of
Champagne, each of the B-17’s ten American crew members discarded his parachutes and began a
wartime trek. Some were hidden by heroic civilians, a few were saved by the French underground,
others fell into the hands of the Nazis, but all miraculously survived.
Carole Engle Avriett, joins me on the podcast today. She is author of the book Coffin Corner Boys:
One Bomber, Ten Men, and Their Harrowing Escape from Nazi-Occupied France to tell these
stories. She worked with Captain George W. Starks—now ninety-four years old—to bring them to
How was Switzerland able to remain neutral in the two world wars? Why was a tiny mountainous nation of watch-makers, bankers, and chocolateers able to dictate their own fate at a time when nobody else could? In this episode I answer this listener question and three others, and they all have to do with critical events in European history that could have changed the continent's fate. The other three questions I answer are as follows.What if Spain had become disunified after the War of Spanish Succession?Could German Unification have taken place without Otto von Bismarck?What is the largest massacre still denied today?
Mignon Fogarty has spent years helping others sort out the extremely peculiar grammar of the English language. But in the course of her research on how to navigate the weirdness of English, she learned the why of the weirdness of English.
Did you know that egregious once meant outstandingly good? Or that the sport badminton comes from an English manor with a love of peculiar sports? Or that many of the words in the Oxford Dictionary of English got there from the suggestions of a serial killer?
But the strangeness doesn't stop there. In today's interview Mignon tells us such stories asThe same person who came up with the rule that we shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition also said we shouldn't refer to children as "who" because they aren't rational beingsNoah Webster's first failed dictionary went too far with spelling reform. He included "wimmen" for "women" and "tung" for "tongue" and everybody hated it.The origin of certain phrases (run of the mill, beyond the pale, by the wayside)
Few mixtures are as toxic as absolute power and insanity that comes from megalomania or severe mental illness. When nothing stands between a leader's delusional whims and seeing them carried them out, all sorts of bizarre outcomes are possible.
Whether it is Ottoman Sultan Ibrahim I practicing archery on palace servants and sending out his advisers to find the heaviest woman in the empire for his wife or Turkmenistan President Turkmenbashi renaming the days of the week after himself and constructing an 80-foot golden statue that revolves to face the sun, crazed leaders have plagued society for millenia.
In this episode we look at mentally unbalanced rulers who made the lives of their subjects miserable. Some suffered from genetic disorders that led to schizophrenia, such as French King Charles VI, who thought he was made of glass. Others believed themselves to be God’s greatest prophet and wrote religious writings that they guaranteed to the reader would get them into heaven, even if these “prophets” were barely literate.
Whatever their background, these rulers show that dynastic politics made sure that a rightful heir always got on the throne – despite that heir's mental condition – and that power can destroy a mind worse than any mental illness.
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (Pico for short), was the wunderkind of the Renaissance. In 1486, at the age of 23 he proposed to defend 900 theses on religion, philosophy, natural philosophy, and magic against all comers, for which he wrote the Oration on the Dignity of Man, which has been called the “Manifesto of the Renaissance.”
Today we are going to talk to Professor Matthew Gaetano about this remarkable figure. Pico was called a great genius, even in his own time. He defend 900 contested theses drawn from the Greeks, Scripture, rabbis, from Persians, and from Islamic scholars into a syncretic drawing together of learning and culture from all across the then-known world.
There were also odd aspects of Pico's thought system— he defended magic and mysticism. But his complex life is an inspiration for us moderns today.
Everybody imagines the World's Most Interesting Man to be a fictional grey-haired lothario who drinks Mexican beer and boasts of his legendary exploits. But what if a man like this really lived?
It turns out he did. He is Richard Francis Burton, a Victorian-era explorer who learned 29 languages, went undercover as a Muslim on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and wrote 50 books on topics ranging from a translation of the Kama Sutra to a manual on bayonet exercises.
In this episode I explore Burton's life and his incredible achievements. He nearly discovered the source of the Nile with his expedition partner, John Hanning Speke. He had a massive facial scar that came from a Somali tribesman throwing a spear that passed through both his cheeks. He travelled 1,500 miles in a solo canoe expedition down Brazil's São Francisco River, discovering a jungle tribe and deciphering their language.
Adventures aside, Burton is best known today for translating the Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra into English. He was the most educated explorer of the Victorian age, a time when only men of rough disposition set out to discover foreign lands, in stark contrast to the landed gentry, who were uninterested in international travel, unless it was in the comfort of a steamship to go administer a colony for the sake of the Crown or as a military officer deployed to extend the global landholdings of the British Empire.
Burton published over three dozen volumes, ranging from such topics as linguistics, ethnology, poetry, geography, fencing, and travel narratives. He spoke Greek, Arabic, Persian, Icelandic, Turkish, Swahili, Hindi, and a host of other European, Asian, and African tongues.
Learn about Burton's extraordinary life, and how a beer pitchman could never hope to live up to it.
The aftershocks of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor were felt keenly all over America—the war in Europe had hit home. But nowhere was American life more immediately disrupted than on the West Coast, where people lived in certain fear of more Japanese attacks.
Today I talk with Bill Yenne, author of “Panic on the Pacific.” He describes how from that day until the end of the war, a dizzying mix of battle preparedness and rampant paranoia swept the states. Japanese immigrants were herded into internment camps. Factories were camouflaged to look like small towns. The Rose Bowl was moved to North Carolina. Airport runways were so well hidden even American pilots couldn’t find them.
We talk about the panic on the Pacific coast and fear the Japanese were coming. As a result the most notorious events of World War Two in America—namely the internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry—took place. It is a cautionary tale about how hysteria can cause leaders to seize on political issues in the name of public safety that may cause much more harm than good.
In this anthology episode I answer questions from the audience all centered around one theme. Today's theme is about alternate history and alternate theories to historical questions. Well, three of the questions have to do with this (the ones about the Confederacy, the Titanic, and an American Indian in Iceland). The other two are about quack doctors in the American frontier and the influence that Zoroasatrianism had on Christianity and Islam.
Here are the questions answered in today's episode:
How would America's economy be different today if the Confederacy had won the Civil War?Are there alternative explanations to an iceberg sinking the Titanic?Did a Native American woman come with Vikings to Iceland 1,000 years ago?Tell me about quack doctors and snake oil salesmen in early America.What influence did Zoroastrianism have on Christianity and Islam?
In American history, four U.S. Presidents have been murdered at the hands of an assassin. In each case the assassinations changed the course of American history.
But most historians have overlooked or downplayed the many threats modern presidents have faced, and survived. In this episode I talk with Mel Ayton , author of the book Hunting the President: Threats, Plots and Assassination Attempts—From FDR to Obama, who has looked at the largely forgotten—or never-before revealed—malicious attempts to slay America’s leaders.
We talk about the profiles of a typical would-be assassin and what they think they have to gain by slaying the U.S. president. Mel also has many stories, including:How an armed, would-be assassin stalked President Roosevelt and spent ten days waiting across the street from the White House for his chance to shoot himHow the Secret Service foiled a plot by a Cuban immigrant who told coworkers he was going to shoot LBJ from a window overlooking the president’s motorcade routeHow a deranged man broke into Reagan’s California home and attempted to strangle the former president before he was subdued by Secret Service agents.The relationships presidents held with their protectors and the effect it had on the Secret Service’s mission
Prostitution, often known as the world's oldest profession, can be traced throughout recorded history. This cliché is so often repeated it remains completely unexamined. Is prostitution really a natural by-product of human society or does it only appear in circumstances where human sexuality is limited or curtailed?
In this episode we dive deep into the history of prostitution, from ancient Sumeria and its temple prostitutes to Old Testament Israeli sex workers, to Ottoman Istanbul, and finally to the red-light districts of Amsterdam. In particular we will look at
Herodotus' account of the Mesopotamian ritual of sacred prostitution in which Babylonian woman had to attend the temple of Ishtar and agree to sex with any male that askedOld Testament prostitutes from Rahab—heroine of Jericho—to Gomer, a harlot whom the prophet Hosea married as an analogy of Israel's unfaithfulness to YahwehCivic brothels that existed in every medieval European cityOttoman prostitutes who used Islamic law about widows and temporary marriage to cheat the tax codeThe 19th century question over whether prostitution should be legalized and regulated to reduce syphilis or made illegal to reduce public immorality
What if People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” assassinated a U.S. President? John Wilkes Booth has been despised as a traitor, hailed as a martyr, and dismissed as a lunatic. But in the 1860s he was considered the “handsomest man in America”? Before cementing his name in history by assassinating President Lincoln, this actor extraordinaire was the Leonardo DiCaprio of the 1860s. Women packed the audiences wherever Booth played, pawed him for autographs, and tore at his clothes for souvenirs.
Women could not resist him—nor could he resist them.
Today on the show I am joined by E. Lawrence Abel, author of the new book John Wilkes Booth and the Women Who Loved Him. He discusses stories of stories of infatuation, flings, and heartbreak that Booth interwove throughout his theatrical career and assassination plot. We specifically discussHow Actress Henrietta Irving attempted to kill him in a jealous rageThe “Star Sisters” broke up their act after a jealous falling-out over himPhotos of five women were found on Booth’s body, and only one was of his fiancée
Booth’s life was as dramatic as any play. Actor, lover, and assassin, Booth was a complex man whose shocking crime changed the course of American history and cast him forever in the role of an American villain.
Ever since the end of the Civil War, a mythology of Robert E. Lee's military genius was developed by Confederate veterans as a way to support the idea that the South was defeated only because of the Union's overwhelming advantages in men and resources. Known as the “Lost Cause” interpretation of the Civil War, it provided a sense of relief to white Southerners who feared being dishonored by defeat.
In this episode, I explore the research of the late Civil War historian Edward Bonekemper, who wrote many books challenging this thesis. He argues that Grant—far from being a bloodthirsty drunk who won by brute force alone—was the most successful Union or Confederate general of the war. Grant won the war by excelling in three theaters. He fought six Confederate armies, defeated all of them, and captured three of them. He succeeded for two years in the West with amazingly minimal casualties—particularly when compared with those of his foes. He conquered the Mississippi Valley and chased the Confederates out of Chattanooga and Tennessee.
Lee, in contrast, has been praised for his offensives against the Union Army of the Potomac, he was carrying out an aggressive strategy with aggressive tactics that were inconsistent with what should have been a Confederate grand defensive strategy. The Union, not the Confederacy, had the burden of winning the war, and the South, outnumbered about four-to-one in white men of fighting age, had a severe manpower shortage. Nevertheless, Lee acted as though he were a Union general and attacked again and again as though his side had the burden of winning and also had an unlimited supply of soldiers.
Foreign governments did not only start trying to influence American presidential elections in 2016. It goes all the way back to the 18th century. In this anthology episode I answer this question and three others from you, the audience. Two of the questions have to do with presidents, one of them is only indirectly related to presidents, and the last one has nothing to do with presidents, but it's an interesting question about Nazis so we'll go with it. Here they are:How long have foreign governments attempted to meddle in American elections? Does this go back before 2016? Can you tell me about presidential assassination attempts? Do they go all the way back to Washington?How did the Cold War come to an end?Why did so many Nazis flee to Argentina after the Second World War, and how did they get there?
Whether you have a BA in philosophy or have never read a book, your daily life is impacted by Aristotle. Have you ever tried to win an argument? Have you ever tried to solve a riddle? Have you tried to rationalize eating twelve doughnuts? Congratulations: you are engaging in logic, the bread-and-butter of the most impactful philosopher in history.
In this episode I talk with Lantern Jack (pseudonym of the host of Ancient Greece Declassified and graduate student in philosophy at Princeton). We get into 4th century BCE Greece, the life of Aristotle, his tutoring of Alexander the Great, and how his philosophy conquered the world.
But it's more than the life of Aristotle. Thanks to archaeology and modern scholarship, we now know more about the ancient world than we ever did before. However, the average person today doesn't have access to free, reliable, up-to-date information about ancient Greece. Unlike other fields, the Classics have remained largely confined to the ivory tower of academia. Thats why Lantern Jack started his show. The idea is to declassify the classics and help everyone know about the ideas that kicked off the modern world.
Spies have been a feature of state security and military intelligence since the beginning of warfare. Entire wars have been won or lost according to these secret activities. Today we will look at spycraft during World War Two, a golden age of espionage.
Spycraft was an essential element to the war effort as ships, planes, or weapons. At no time were military secrets so valuable. Nuclear technology was vital for both sides if they did not want to fall behind the other. Learning the troop movements of the enemy could make it possible to launch an attack on the level of D-Day, permanently crippling their war machine.
In this episode I will discuss the careers of...Richard Sorge, the German playboy based in Tokyo who stole nearly all of Japan's World War 2 plan, sent it to the Kremlin, and prevented Nazi Germany's attempt to invade and capture Moscow.Nancy Wake, a socialite in France-turned- Resistance Fighter who saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives of Allied airmen by smuggling them to the Spanish border.George Koval, the Iowa-born Soviet spy who worked on the Manhattan Project and fed all the scientific breakthroughs to Russia, accelerating their nuclear program by years
You probably know what the Underground Railroad is—you know, the network of secret routes and safe houses set up in antebellum America and used by African-American slaves (with the help of abolitionists and allies) to escape into free states and Canada. But how did it work? How far apart were these slave houses? Five miles, twenty miles, or more? And how did abolitionists help the escaped slaves? Did they provide them food and shelter and send them on their way, or did they personally guide them? And what happened if a slave or Underground Railroad “conductor” got caught? Here to tell us one of the most amazing jailbreak stories in pre-Civil War American history is Gary Jenkins, a retired Kansas City police officer. He tells us about the capture, incarceration, trial and rescue of Dr. John Doy. In 1859, twelve free African-Americans asked Lawrence Kansas leading citizens to help them flee north to escape being captured and sold into slavery. Dr. John Doy and his son, Charles Doy volunteered to go on this dangerous mission. His book, The Immortal 10, tells this exciting story of the slave trade in Missouri though the eyes of Dr. Doy.
In this anthology series I answer four listener questions. Three of them have to do with World War II, one of them has to do with the second amendment. Here they are:What are the arguments for bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki?What are the arguments against?The Second Amendment is one of the most controversial parts of the American constitution today. We always talk about the part that refers to private firearm ownership but we rarely talk about well-regulated militias, even though the amendment gives equal weight to both. What was the importance of militias in the past and when did they decline in impact?Can you tell me about the history and importance of Close Air Support?
For those who haven't studied the Middle East, the historical lives of women there can be thought to be a black hole: no information available about those who were thrown under a burkha and locked up at home or in a harem. Never mind that few women wore the clothing of modern-day Saudi Arabia in the past; women had vibrant lives there regardless of social restriction. Even in the harem, ostensibly most restrictive place in the pre-modern Middle East, women ironically could exert more power than anywhere else. In fact, if you wanted to rule an empire through your weak-minded husband or son, there was no better place to be. To discuss these issue I am joined by Marie Grace Brown, professor of history at the University of Kansas. She is a cultural historian of the Modern Middle East with a special interest in questions of gender and empire. Marie does a great job of making academic concepts about Westernization vs. modernization accessible to a non-scholarly audience. But we don't get too scholarly. At one point I ask her how she would take over the Middle East as a woman in the pre-modern world. Her award-winning book, Khartoum at Night: Fashion and Body Politics in Imperial Sudan (Stanford University Press, 2017), traces gestures, intimacies, and adornment to give a history of northern Sudanese women’s lives under imperial rule.
Chris Webster is a cultural resource management archeologist. That means when the National Registry of Historic Places is thinking about adding a mining town, Spanish mission, or Native American burial site to its list, it calls in Chris.
He has worked in all phases of contract archaeology, from literature searches and Class 1 surveys to full scale excavations and lab work.
He also has to figure out what's worth preserving and what isn't. The choice usually isn't easy.
The deadliest army on earth can't top the weather for its destructive potential. History's mightiest empires have fallen for no more of a reason than climate change leading to failed harvests and a starving population.
But you wouldn't know that from most stories of the past. History was long about diplomatic treaties, battle tactics, or the biographies of great leaders. In the last 40 years researchers have increasingly compensated by looking at climate as a major factor in the course of human civilization. They have analyzed the history of weather patterns, climate change, ocean currents, and even geology to explain why some societies thrive and others die.
In this episode we look at four civilizations that were destroyed or permanently crippled by changes in the weather. They includeThe Neo-Assyrian Empire, which was destroyed by a joint Babylonian and Median attack in 612 BC, but initially crippled by a severe drought that was so bad a priest commented that “no harvest was reaped” one year The Greenland Vikings, a one-thriving trade empire that stretched from Denmark to Newfoundland and delivered walrus tusk to medieval royalty but dissapeared suddenly in the 1400sMedieval Iran—the economic powerhouse of early Islam that grew enough cotton to change the fashion tastes of the Middle East...until a cold snap killed whole crops, leaving it weakened until the Mongols finished the job in the 1200sEurasia of the 1500s, which due to the Little Ice Age saw massive revolts, from the 30 Years War between Protestants and Catholics to the Jelali Revolts of the Ottoman Empire to civil unrest in India and China
George Washington—widely considered a man of honor, bravery and leadership. He is known as America’s first President, a great general, and a humble gentleman, but how did he become this man of stature?
My guest today is Austin Washington, a great nephew of George. He wrote a book called The Education of George Washington that answers this question with a new discovery about his past and the surprising book that shaped him.
In this episode we discuss the book that truly made George Washington who he was and little-known info about Washington’s past that explains his true model for conduct, honor, and leadership.
The Middle Ages were a terrible time to get sick. There was no sanitation inside cities and hardly any in rural areas. The common way to relieve pain amongst sick people was to inflict more pain upon them, and then hope to the stars for a bit of luck. Monks with little to no experience, aside from castrating animals and having access to a few medical books, performed surgery on human beings. The medicine was basic, and the terrible illness that plagued those times was complex.
Yet people came up with surprising ways to cope with illness in this time. In this episode I discuss...Theriac: History’s amazing wonder drug. From the 1st century A.D. to the late 19th century, one medical compound reigned supreme over all other remedies: theriac. First concocted by a Greek king worried about poisons, theriac went from being a general antidote to snake bites to an all around panacea, used to treat everything from asthma to warts, including the Black Plague.How Europe dealt with the plague: It spread from Genoa through Europe, reaching France and England by 1348. Both countries were embroiled in a devastating war that had already spanned many decades, leading many to believe that the sins of men were punishing humanity. By 1350 Germany and Scandinavia, too, had suffered deadly losses. Equally massive were the deaths in the Middle East, as 40% of the population across Egypt through the Levant, Syria, Palestine and Yemen would be lost.Where people think that illnesses came from. Most people today believethat medievals assumed all illnesses came from devilish or demonic sources, or, a variant, from some hidden sin in the sick person. It's more complicated than that. Instead, they first saw all illnesses as coming ultimately from God but also perceived and affirmed many levels of causality, and they were comfortable shifting back and forth between these levels depending on the audience and occasion of their writings.How the foundations of modern medicine were built in the Middle Ages, especially in the Islamic World. Islamic scholars and doctors translated medical texts from all over the known world, including the Greeks and Romans, Persians and Indians. They not only gathered this knowledge and translated it into Arabic (and later into Latin), they added their own medical observations and methods. Islamic doctors developed new techniques in medicine, dissection, surgery and pharmacology. They founded the first hospitals, introduced physician training and wrote encyclopaedias of medical knowledge.
From the winter of 2006 through the spring of 2007, two-hundred-fifty Marines from Echo Company, Second Battalion, Fourth Marine Regiment fought daily in the dangerous, dense city streets of Ramadi, Iraq during the Multi-National Forces Surge ordered by President George W. Bush. The Marines' mission: to kill or capture anti-Iraqi forces. Today I'm talking with Maj. Scott Huesing, the commander who led Echo Company through Ramadi, He discussing retaking the city street-by-street in the dead of night, what it was like to fight 4-5 skirmishes a day for months on end, and the challenges of asymmetrical warfare where the frontline is everyone and no enemy wears a uniform. We discuss how the military shifted tactics from Cold War-style combat to effective street fighting, why he thinks women belong in combat units, his relationship with Iraqi translators, and the battle to overcome post-traumatic stress in the years following service.
Welcome to part two in our series on Mesopotamia. The last installment covered the lives of the elites; now let's go several steps down the social ladder. We are going to be covering everyday life in Sumeria, Akkadia, Assyria, and any other civilization that rooted itself between the Tigris and Euphrates. In particular we will explore the lives of merchants and traders, farmers, women, temple priests, and prostitutes.
Bloody battles, lionhearted leaders, valiant victories, and lamentable losses—the history of the Civil War has been told time and again. Yet, one monumental component of the Civil War has gone untold… until now. Delving deep into rare Civil War memoirs and letters, today's guest, an “alco-historian,” is Mark Will-Weber, author of the book Muskets & Applejack: Spirits, Soldiers, and the Civil War. He discusses stories of the “whiskey war” to life by showing alcohol’s potency on and off the battlefield. From who drank what to how major turning points of the war happened “under the influence,” Mark sheds a unique, unconventional light on one of America’s most historic moments—and the imbibing that took place by both the Confederacy and the Union.
Welcome to the first episode in a two-part series on Mesopotamian civilization. In this episode we are going to be covering four topics: 1) The origins of Mesopotamian civilization with Sumeria, its evolution into the Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian Empires, and why education and literacy was so important (knowledge was passed down on information-dense cuneiform tablets, even though gigabyte of information on cuneiform tablets weighted nearly as much as a 747. 2) How the Epic of Gilgamesh created the genre of epic literature (or is at least the oldest such work that survives). 3) The reign of Sargon of Akkad: The King Arthur of Mesopotamia, who less known for what he actually did as much as the idea of who he was -- a symbol of justice and righteousness that people looked to in dark times. 4) Waging war the Mesopotamian way: How warfare evolved from simple infantry combat in Sumerian times to the massive siege towers and psychological warfare of the Assyrian Empire.
In the age of adventure, when dirigibles coasted through the air and vast swaths of the Earth remained untouched and unseen by man, one pack of relentless explorers competed in the race of a lifetime: to be the first aviator to fly over the North Pole. What inspired their dangerous fascination? For some, it was the romantic theory about a “lost world,” a hidden continent in the Arctic Ocean. Others were seduced by new aviation technology, which they strove to push to its ultimate limit. The story of their quest is breathtaking and inspiring; the heroes are still a matter of debate. In this episode I talk with Sheldon Bart, author of “Race to the Top of the World: Richard Byrd and the First Flight to the North Pole.” about Richard Byrd, a Navy officer and early aviation pioneer; and Roald Amundsen, Byrd’s and a hardened veteran of polar expeditions. Each man was determined to be the first aviator to fly over the North Pole, despite brutal weather conditions, financial disasters, world wars, and their own personal demons.
The Mongolian Empire has a well-deserved reputation for its brutality (it did, after all, kill 40 million in the 12th century, enough people to alter planetary climate conditions). But it's positive legacies are nearly as profound, if less well known. In this episode I talk about the lasting influence of Genghis and his descendants on world civilization. The Mongolians patronize the arts on a scale not seen since the height of Rome; the Pax Mongolica consolidated the Silk Road and kicked off a boom in trade where ideas, technologies and goods flowed freely from Europe to Asia (spices, tea, and silk headed west while gold, medical manuscripts, and porcelain headed east; and the Mongolian approach to religious tolerance was so flexible that Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians were invited to debate their ideas before the royal court in Karakorum.
One of the oldest traditions in America is trying (and failing) to set up a utopian community. French Enlightenment thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed if man could return to a state of nature – free from social conditioning that put him in conflict with his neighbor – then a new, perfect social order could emerge. This sounds like hopefully wishful thinking today, but in the context of the 1800s, a utopian community really wasn't all that far fetched. The French Revolution failed, but the equally radical American Revolution succeeded. If a country could rule itself without a king and queen, some thought, why couldn't it rule itself without any ruler at all? Many utopian thinkers asked themselves that if one Greek form of government, democracy, could be dusted off after thousands of years on the shelf, then why not try other discarded ideas? Perhaps the time had come for Plato's vision of a utopia. From the 1830s to 1850s, charismatic leaders formed groups of 50 to 100 Europeans who followed a basic ideology or religious denomination and set up communist communities across America. Widely believed by the larger public to be sinks of drug-ridden sexual immorality, the communes both intrigued and repelled the American people. The intentional communities of the 1960s era were far more diverse than the stereotype of the hippie commune would suggest. A great many of them were religious in basis, stressing spiritual seeking and disciplined lifestyles; others were founded on secular visions of a better society. In fact, hundreds of them became so stable that they survive today.
Mongols were fierce on horseback, but so were the many other steppe nomads who tried and failed to conquer the walled cities of China, Persia, and Rome.
Yet the Mongols succeeded where their predecessors failed by incorporating siege engineers into their army, taking full advantage of their light supply chain, and using shock attacks in ways no other military leader had before.
Steppe nomads plagued the ancient world with their cavalries, but nobody perfected this form of warfare like the Mongols. A horse archer had such a deep kinesthetic relationship with his steed he could feel when all four hooves were off the ground, allowing for a perfect shot. Chroniclers say they could hit the wings off birds from 50 yards and fell an enemy from 500.
Learn why the bow and the horse were the foundations of Mongolian military power.
Welcome to part one of Mongol Week(s). In this multi-part series, we will look at the Mongolian Empire from multiple perspectives, including its unprecedented level of brutality (so many died from their attacks that untended farmland returned to forrest, scrubbing the atmosphere of carbon and causing global cooling).
But we will also look at their positive contributions -- the opening up of the Silk Road, religious tolerance, and rights granted to women. We will also consider the rise of Temujin (Genghis), the importance of the Mongolian horse and bow, battle tactics, and everyday life.
Chester A. Arthur, America's 21st president, lands on the lists of the most obscure chief executives. Few know anything about him besides his trademark mutton-chop sideburns. Moreover, he fell into the position unexpectedly when Garfield was assassinated; the political pros though he would be a failure as president. Maybe Arthur did also. After all, he was a flunkey in the New York political machine who spent his nights eating, drinking, and smoking cigars with the other good ole' boys and frequently didn't show up at work in the New York Customs House until 1pm. He only got on the Vice Presidential ticket of Garfield because Republicans were desperate to get support from New York and needed a native son on the ticket. But Arthur shocked everyone by doing well as president. He went up against the very forces that had controlled him for decades. He implemented new rules requiring the federal government to hire workers based on their qualifications, not their political connections. He supported a civil rights act to bar racial discrimination, even though the public overwhelmingly supported it.
Fighting over scarce resources have fueled wars back to the Sumerian city-states squabbling over water-use rights of the Euphrates river. Did the same drive fuel America's entrance into Vietnam to take its tin? Listener Toby asks if there's any truth to the the conspiracy theory that only reason the Vietnam war was waged was for a scarce metal, not to fight the communist threat like most of us has been taught.
Some disasters hurt society (Hurricane Katrina in 2005). Bigger ones permanently alter it (the Black Death in the 1300s; Mao's Great Leap Forward). The worst of disasters completely destroy a civilization and leave behind so few they take centuries to recover (the Mongolian slaughter of Iran in the 1200s; the smallpox epidemic among Native Americans).
Today we look at the tipping points between a society being hurt and a society being mortally wounded.
The death of thirty percent of Europe's population in the fourteenth century permanently altered the medieval social order, and many scholars credit the Black Plague with ushering in the Renaissance. But this is not the whole story—after all, plagues have ravaged the ancient world throughout human history without a similar cultural flowering to show for it. We look at other factors that ran parallel to the plague to transform Europe's culture.
Fascism is loved by few, but many at least credit Mussolini's heavy-handed rule for making Italy's notoriously disastrous train system operate effectively. Was this actually true or more of Il Duce's propaganda?
Teddy Roosevelt wasn’t born as the rough riding, big-game-hunting, Amazon-exploring legend that America has come to love. So how did he become the larger-than- life character portrayed in history books? He was forged by the last vestige of the Wild West—the Badlands of the Dakota Territory. Yet this side of one of America’s most popular presidents has mostly gone unexplored
In this episode I talked with William Hazelgrove, author of the book Forging a President: How the Wild West Created Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt once stated, “I have always said I would not have been president had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.”
Faced with tremendous heartbreak and extreme adversity, Roosevelt headed West for comfort and healing. Little did he know that the ways of trappers and thieves would create his bombastic personality, and later lead him to run for president of the United States.
The origins of some cultural practices are lost to the mists of time. Not so the high five. We can trace it back to a specific day at a specific baseball game. From then on the world was never the same.
One of the most widespread and pernicious bits of common knowledge about the Middle Ages that is incorrect is the idea that everyone believed the world to be flat. This is ridiculous. Nobody thought that. Anyone who knew about astronomy (which was almost everyone), had been on a boat, or had any sort of learning whatsoever knew this to be false. Then why do make this wrong assumption today?
Which world leader or dictator had the best chance at world domination? (i.e. Hitler, Napoleon, Alexander the Great). In this episode I discuss whether such a goal is even possible, and if so, under what conditions.
Giussepe Pinetti: You might not know the name, but he's considered the guy who made magic into a respected theatrical art form. Before him, it was practiced mostly by buskers on street corners, or at private engagements for the rich, not public theaters. He single-handedly changed the persona of magician from shady trickster to consummate performer
Brian Earl from the Illusion Podcast is here to talk about the granddaddy of all illusionists. He was there 200 years before David Copperfield, Chris Angel, or Penn and Teller.
Here's some fascinating aspects of Pinetti's life that Brian and I discuss:
His career began as a professor of physics in Rome in the 1770s. He performed magic tricks in class to illustrate concepts. His classes were very popularHe eventually began performing in Germany in 1780 as Pinetti, Roman Professor of Mathematics. He would pass off illusions as genuine scientific demonstrationsHe was very successful, selling out theaters across Europe. He started to dress like a general or nobleman onstage with custom tailored suits. Pinetti arrived in Prussia in a coach drawn by 4 horses. This angered Frederick the Great, the king of Prussia, whose carriage had only 2 horses. He ordered Pinetti to leave the cityA lawyer named Henri Decremps published an expose of Pinetti, explaining how his performances were just magic tricks, not demonstrations of little-known scientific principles. Pinetti publicly discredited Decremps by hiring a shabby person off the street to pose as Decremps at a performance and cause a public disturbanceA man named Count de Grisy in Naples had begun performing some of Pinetti's tricks at private parties. Pinetti pretended to mentor deGrisy and encouraged him to perform publicly. Pinetti sabotaged the performance, which the king attended
The simple military salute is a symbol whose meaning goes back centuries earlier than most any soldier would suspect.
Did technological and social change happen fast enough in the 2,000-year period between 1000 BC and AD that a time traveller would notice he were transported from one to the other?
Why has a puny strip of sea stopped invading armies almost as effectively as the Atlantic Ocean has for America? Because staging a successful amphibious assault is extremely hard.
Learn about King Musa, the man so rich he crashed the value of gold in Egypt by giving away too many gifts while on an extended vacation.
The Korean War is widely misunderstood in the 21st century. Most have a sepia-toned nostalgia of the bravery of World War Two, or the less black-and-white nature of the Vietnam War. But not Korea. If anyone thinks of it, they might think of reruns of M*A*S*H on Nick at Nite or a barely-remembered high school history lesson on the U.S. Cold War policy of Soviet containment. For this reason, some historians have dubbed it the Forgotten War.
To explore this forgotten war, I talked with Rachel Reed, who's written a new book on the conflict. But she doesn't write about the politics or military tactics of the war. Instead, she focuses on the four-legged heroes that supported the war efforts.
Reed’s book K-9 Korea: The Untold Story of America’s War Dogs in the Korean War is an account of canines working side-by-side with servicemen to perform sentry duty on critical supply and weapons depots.
When the 8125th Sentry Dog Detachment landed in Incheon, Korea, the soldiers—man and dog— were unsure of the fates that awaited them. The human warriors soon learned that their lives depended on their canine companions for safety and strength to face unimaginable situations.
Want to conquer Europe in the Middle Ages? You need plenty of knights mounted on steeds to launch a full cavalry charge. Once they take out their enemies in pitched battle, you need engineers to launch a siege on your enemies castles.
Want to conquer Europe in 1600? Everything has changed. Cannon makes castles obsolete. Firearms and pikes have displaced knights as the dominant force on the battlefield. The scale of war has also grown from a few thousand soldiers on the battlefield to tens or even hundreds of thousands.
To explain this change is Patrick Wyman of the Tides of History Podcast. Patrick is a medievalist by training and explores how events in the far past still have influence today.
How do we separate myth from fact in ancient history? How do we do this when it comes down to one of the most beloved and well-known stories of all time: The Nativity? Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a Catholic priest from Greenville, South Carolina, is attempting to do that. He has set out on a quest to investigate whether there is a kernel of historical truth beneath the many legends of the Magi story. Now he thinks he has found it. The Magi were real, but they weren't from the “Orient.” Nor were they kings. Rather, they were a political delegation from a mostly-forgotten kingdom to the south called the Nabateans. And they set out for Israel for reasons both religious and political. It wasn't an easy project for Fr. Longenecker to research. While he was always fascinated by the nativity story, he knew that plenty of legendary embellishment had filled in the gaps. Matthew's bare bones account only speaks of “wise men from the East” who see a star and journey to Jerusalem, winding up in Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn Jesus Christ before returning to their country by a different route. There's no mention of three kings, lavish costumes, camels, nor where they came from in the biblical account. No start leads them through the desert to Bethlehem. They aren't even called kings (?!) Furthermore, most Biblical scholars outright reject that the magi were historical at all. The Catholic Bible scholar Raymond Brown in his monumental study, The Birth of the Messiah notes that it was a mark of modernist orthodoxy not to believe in the historicity of the Magi story. Fr. Longenecker found that as it turns out that because of scholars' assumption that the Magi story was a fairy tale very few scholars had taken the time to investigate thoroughly the possible identity of the wise men. His research brought him into contact with new technologies which shed light on the subject. Some fresh archeological findings and new understandings from the Dead Sea Scrolls also contributed to the quest. As it turns out, it is perfectly probable that there were wise men who had the motive, the means and the method to pay homage to Jesus Christ just as Matthew recorded. The simple truth is that Matthew’s account is factual not fictional. His book The Mystery of the Magi—The Quest for the True Identity of the Three Wise Men will be published next Advent by Regnery Press. In this episode we answer the following questions: Did the wise men ride camels? What was the star of Bethlehem? Were they really called Balthasar, Melchoir and Kaspar? Are their relics preserved in Cologne Cathedral? Where do Anthony and Cleopatra fit into the story? Why did they bring gold, frankincense and myrrh? Was there really a magical star that led them across the desert?
Being a historical consultant for movies is never easy. How do you get the period details right while keeping it contained within an interesting narrative? But being a historical consultant about one of the most recognizable figure in history is even harder. That’s why today’s guest Catherine Clinton had her work cut out for her.
For the 2012 Steve Spielberg movie “Lincoln,” Clinton—a U.S. academic historian and expert on Mary Lincoln—was consulted by filmmakers over costume details and details about the Lincolns’ lives.
In this episode we discuss
Popular misconceptions about Mary Todd that historians know is falseWhether her reputation as a hellcat or maniac is deserved, and if not, why it became distortedChallenges of portraying historical fact while cutting necessary corners for a 2-hour film narrativeWhat “Lincoln” portrayed about Abraham and Mary Todd that other film makers have missedLessons from the life of Abraham and Mary Todd we should remember today
Jazz is the most American of musical genres. But its origins are shrouded in mystery. Some like to think that Louis Armstrong and his bluesmen friends were sitting at a bar in New Orleans, when a solar eclipse and Haley's Comet occurred at the same time, causing the musical troupe to start using a swing rhythm. But musicologist Bill McKemy thinks that the origins of jazz can be traced more directly to one man. That is Nathaniel Clark Smith: The Melchizedek of Jazz. Smith was African-American musician, composer, and music educator in the United States during the early decades of the 1900s. Over the next 30 years he would lead bands in Chicago, Wichita, Kansas City, the Tuskegee Institute, and in St. Louis. He was an important educator for many of the prominent early Jazz musicians from Kansas City, Chicago, and St. Louis. And man was his life hard. To make ends meet he played in a minstrel show in the 1890s. He threatened lynching by having Tuskegee students play classical music and other forms of “non-black” music, against the wishes of Booker T. Washington. He risked his life to embrace the slowly emerging new opportunities for non-whites in the United States.
Language not only defines humans as a species, placing us head and shoulders above even the most proficient animal communicators, but it also beguiles us with its endless mysteries. For example... How did different languages come to be? Why isn't there just a single language? How does a language change, and when it does, is that change indicative of decay or growth? How does a language become extinct? In today's episode I speak with Dr. John McWhorter, a linguist from Columbia University. He, addresses these and other issues, such as how a single tongue spoken 150,000 years ago has evolved into the estimated 6,000 languages used around the world today. We go broad and deep. For the broad, we explore language families, starting with Indo-European, comprising languages from India to Ireland including English. Other language families discussed are Semitic, Sino-Tibetan, Austronesian, Bantu, and Native American. This gets us into the heated debate over the first language. For the deep, we get into pidgins and creoles. When people learn a language quickly without being explicitly taught, they develop a pidgin version of it. Then if they need to use this pidgin on an everyday basis it becomes a real language, a creole. Some people argue that Black English is a creole, and Professor McWhorter really gets into this issue.
In the wreckage of World War 1, Germany was slapped with a war reparations bill worth billions and the loss of much of its land. This and many other reasons launched the Second World War.
The reasons for the Great War go way beyond the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. Learn about the causes of one of humanity's most vicious wars.
Hannibal's crossing of the Alps with war elephants is considered one of the most daring move of the Punic Wars. But is it professionally accepted among historians that he actually crossed the Alps, and if so, is there any physical evidence?
When did the ancient Greeks stop making armies or supplying fighting men? One moment they're beating up the the Persian empire and conquering the known world, and the next, they're slave tutors for the Romans or philosophers in their major cities. Learn about why the Greeks dominated the Eastern Mediterranean in the ancient world and why their star fell against the Romans.
You and your ancestor from 1,000 years ago have almost nothing in common. Your clothes are different. Your worship rituals are different. Your thoughts about the opposite sex are definitely different. Almost the only similarity is that both of you are driven to obtain food. In fact, one could say that civilization itself began in the quest for food. Epicure Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said it best: “Gastronomy governs the whole life of man.” In this episode, Professor Ken Albala of the University of the Pacific puts the subject of food and its importance in history on the table. Ken has studied widely on the types of cuisine that would be featured at a Roman feast, a medieval banquet, or a Renaissance Italian civic celebration. He’s ground Italian flour to make the sort of bread one would eat in Pompeii. He’s made stewed rabbit in a homemade clay pot the way an Elizabethean peasant would. He hasn’t tried field-mouse-on-a-stick (a popular Roman delicacy) but probably not for lack of trying. In this episode we discuss How Roman food reflected social rank, wealth, and sophistication The Middle Ages produced some of history’s most outlandish and theatrical presentations of food, such as gilded boars’ heads; “invented” creatures, mixing parts of different animals; and cooked peacocks spewing flames. The sophistication and complexity of Renaissance-era food culture in the writings of Platina, Ficino, and Messisbugo, and the extravagance of banquets at the court of Ferrara. The aesthetics of French 17th-century cookery, based in refinement and pureness of flavors and study four Gallic cookbooks that revolutionized culinary history. In the 21st century, the phenomenon of “molecular gastronomy”—technology-enhanced food creations designed to titillate and amaze the palate.
The Electoral college is one of the most confusing—and, after the 2016 election, contentious—parts of American democracy. After losing two of the past five presidential races in the Electoral College (EC), Democrats are determined to never let it happen again. And many Americans—on both the left and the right—find it to be a confusing and antiquated system we would do well to get rid of. But others think it's an indispensible part of American democracy. One of them is today's guest, Tara Ross, a legal scholar and author of The Indispensable Electoral College: How the Founders’ Plan Saves Our Country from Mob Rule. Tara argues the EC is neither outdated nor unfair—and the stability of the United States depends on it. She argues the Founding Fathers knew what they were doing. They ingeniously balanced the will of the majority and the interests of minorities, avoiding the instability that has bedeviled every other democracy. In this interview we discuss: Why the Electoral College safeguards national unity How the Electoral College prevents political crises in tight elections How the Founders came up with the Electoral College—and why they thought it was so important Why the Electoral Colege was meant to be more important than the popular vote Why the Electoral College doesn’t favor one party over the other Why the Electoral College is inappropriately—and incorrectly—labeled a “relic of slavery” ABOUT TARA ROSS Tara Ross has spent much of her legal career studying and defending the Electoral College. She is the author of two previous books, Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College and We Elect a President: The Story of Our Electoral College and her tutorial “Do You Understand the Electoral College?” is one of Prager University’s most popular videos ever, with more than fifty million views. She has written for the National Law Journal, USA Today, the Washington Times, National Review, and the Weekly Standard. RESOURCES FOR THIS EPISODE The Indispensable Electoral College: How the Founders' Plan Saves Our Country from Mob Rule Tara Ross's website
Western scholars first encountered "Arabic" numerals in the seventh century, making mathematics and accounting much easier. But Roman numerals stubbornly stuck around until the invention of the printing press made them permanently obsolete.
The Wars of the Roses were a series of battles that were fought between the supporters of the House of Lancaster (Lancastrians) and the supporters of the House of York (Yorkists). The wars were called the Wars of the Roses because the Yorkists were represented by a white rose and the Lancastrians by a red rose.
Richard Francis Burton was an explorer, translator, and contender for the 19th-century's world's most interesting man. He was also functional in dozens of languages and translated monumental works of scholarship from Arabic and Portuguese in English.
If you’ve seen the 1960 Spencer Tracy movie Inherit the Wind, you know about the Scopes Monkey Trial. In this real-life 1925 case, John Scopes was accused of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act, which had made it unlawful to teach human evolution in any state-funded school. The case became an enormous media sensation. It was reported on like a boxing match, science vs. fundamentalism. But oddly enough, Scopes was not originally brought to trial by any fundamentalists. The trial was deliberately staged to attract publicity to the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, where it was held. Scopes was unsure whether he had ever actually taught evolution, but he purposely incriminated himself so that the case could have a defendant. In this episode Hillsdale Professor Darryl Hart discusses the Scopes Monkey Trial, the legal parameters of religion in American public life, and the larger-than-life figures of early 20th century America like HL Mencken.
Secularism, radical Islam, and nationalism all sound like buzzwords pulled straight from today’s headlines. But you might be surprised to know that 500 years ago they were at the epicenter of one of the greatest religious and political convulsions in western history—the Reformation. Today I talk with Prof. Bejamin Wiker, author of the new book The Reformation 500 Years Later: 12 Things You Need to Know. He brings to light the enduring relevance of one of the most significant events in history—and the surprising things about it you probably never learned in history class. We discuss... How Luther inspired radical reformers whom he actually despised How bad popes were even worse than you think Why nationalism was as much a force in the Reformation as religious reform was How the Catholic Church was in dire need of reform—and how it had benefited from continual reform over the course of its then 1,500-year history How the invention of the printing press both helped and harmed the Reformation Why another Reformation is inevitable—and what course it might take
Dialing 9-1-1 is a new innovation (at least in the sense of the scope of human history), but the need for emergency services goes back to the earliest settlements. How did a pre-modern civilization call for help when there were no phone lines?
A whole bunch of presidents owned slaves considering they took an oath to uphold the rights of their citizens. But how many of the pre-Civil War presidents actually owned slaves? And how did they treat them?
The Spanish conquistadors have rightly been called out for their brutal treatment and enslavement of native populations. But did they behave worse than the Aztecs?
The 19th-century historian Thomas Carlyle wrote, “The history of the world is but the biography of great men.” In a sense that's true. We have plenty of biographies of emperors, popes, kings, queens, and leaders of the ancient world. But what about those who made up 99.999% percent of the population and didn't have such illustrious lives? Professor Robert Garland has focused on the world of history’s anonymous citizens. We discuss daily life for workers, the poor, the elderly, the sick, the disabled, refugees, women, children, slaves, and soldiers. This includes a Greek soldier marching into battle in the front row of a phalanx. Or a Celtic monk scurrying away with the Book of Kells during a Viking invasion. Or celebrity-worshiping Romans who all had their favorite gladiatorial contender. For Garland, The true joy of studying everyday lives lies in seeing what life was like for ordinary people—and therefore what life would have been like for most of us if we had been born in a different era. Through archaeological evidence and literary records, we try to connect with a wide range of people over the ages and experience life from their perspectives. We see that although they lived in a different world, these people, loved, lost, fought, and died much like we do today. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE Robert's course The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World Robert's faculty page at Colgate University
You can point to hundreds of factors that led to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire (which Edward Gibbon and many others have been doing for centuries). Decadence and frivolous entertainment are among the main culprits. But did bread and circuses really do in the Romans? TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
If you were transported to the ancient world, there's only one language that could be used in Roman Briton and China alike. It was Syriac: the lingua franca of the Silk Road and your best language to learn to conquer the ancient world. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
As Imperial Spain transported literal tons of gold from the New World to the motherland, hurricanes sunk much of it to the bottom of the Atlantic. Find out about the most valuable treasure that is likely still out there. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Vikings left behind nearly no writings, except for Runic scripts on rocks. New burial site excavations show they also left them behind on their bodies. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Call of Duty is top best-selling first-person shooter series based on real events, but lately it has veered into futuristic sci-fi country. Call of Duty: World War II is an attempt to go back to the games WW2 roots. And historian Marty Morgan is there to make sure they get it right. He's an expert in military history who specializes in the World Wars. Morgan is a consultant for Sledgehammer Games. He has also has led hundreds of tour groups at the battle sites of D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, and Hürtgen Forest. Marty makes sure that everything is right in the series. He focuses on which guns should be used on the Western Front or insignia on soldier's uniform. He makes sure that snipers are actually using the rifles they would have at that time (don't get him started on the erroneous use of weapons in Saving Private Ryan). He led Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey, co-founders of Sledgehammer, through the battlefields of Europe in the middle of winter to get a real feel of the soldiers' wartime experience. There they faced three or four feet of snow. There were still foxholes and trenches in the middle of nowhere. In the forest they saw a 60-ton King Tiger tank left by the Germans because it was too heavy to move. He worked with the creative team to give historical accuracy to the most Hollywood of scenes in the game. At point point the writers wanted a scene with a train. They asked Marty, 'What sort of train would be transporting important equipment in April 1944 that we could crumple?” He came up with a German military train carrying a V2 Rocket that ends in a climactic crash. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE Marty Morgan on Youtube www.martinkamorgan.com TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
A wealthy man in the 1500s wore a large flap on the front of his trousers to accentuate his "credentials," which looked like an exterior athletic cup. How did this bizarre fashion trend take off, why did it end, and will it make a comeback? TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Archeological findings have led to breakthroughs in our understand of the Roman and ancient Near Eastern worlds, but little survives from the 500s-900s. Why weren't medieval buildings made to last? TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
When Nikita Khruschev pounded his shoe on a podium, declaring "We will bury you!" many feared imminent nuclear war. Turns out a better translation of his original Russian completely changes the meaning of the phrase TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Were there any British women who fell in love with German POWs living in England in the mid-1940s? Despite the extreme cultural taboo, the answer is yes. Love always finds a way. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Like it or not, far more millennials will learn about Renaissance and medieval history through Assassin's Creed than they ever will through a history book. That can be dispiriting on the one hand —the game, after all, seems like a completely ahistorical look on the Nizaris—or Assassin's as they are known in the West—and the knights Templar. Plenty of flipping and stabbing but little in the way of fact. But what if Ubisoft, the creators of Assassin's Creed, actually take their history very seriously? What if they are providing a truly mass-scale historical education? I figured if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. So I talked to Maxime Durand, Ubisoft's in-house historian. Maxime helps to ensure the accuracy of the gameplay and story around the historical events and aspects of that time period. The games have taken in Renaissance Italy, Constantinople, Revolutionary America, Revolutionary France, the pirate-infested Caribbean, and Ancient Egypt. He tries to give cameos to real historical figures, such as the French Revolution's Babriel Riqueti, the comte de Birabeau (he was seen as the father of the revolution but at the end it was proven he was talking to the king and queen in secret). But the game also takes liberties with the past in order to tell a give story and give it license to include folk legends. An example is the The Scarlet Pimpernel or the Little Red Ghost—a paranormal inhabitant of a palace where Napoleon was based. It was said that the ghost told every king and monarch -- even Napoleon -- that they would die at a certain point. The ghost said to them he would protect them up until the point of their death. Find out how fact and fiction merge together in this interview with Maxime Durand. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE Assassin's Creed Maxime Durand TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
An inquisitor thirsty for a confession had plenty of medieval tools of torture at his disposal: the iron maiden, the judas cradle, the rack, or the brazen bull. Turns out many of these devices are fabrications from hundreds of years later made for museums that wanted to display the barbarism of the "Dark Ages." TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Learn about one of the most important events in modern Irish history. On Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, a group of Irish nationalists proclaimed the establishment of the Irish Republic. They, along with some 1,600 followers, staged a rebellion against the British government in Ireland. It all started at a modest post office in Dublin and led to a direct clash with British troops. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Thomas Jefferson once said you can't believe everything you read on the Internet. With those extremely true words in mind, let's look at other quotes that are widely believed to be authentic but totally false. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
In a remote forest clearing in Burgundy, France, a 13th-century castle is slowly being constructed using only the tools, techniques, and materials that would have been available to the builders of the day. It’s archaeology in reverse. What started out as an eccentric pipe dream is now an established enterprise, drawing in tens of thousands of visitors from around Europe every year. Learn what it took to build a castle in 13th-century France in this podcast episode. If you want to learn first-hand, go to Burgundy and check it out! TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
The Japanese military of World War Two has a nasty reputation—kamikaze pilots, baby killers, and brain-washed, honor-obsessed soldiers who threw away their lives for a lost cause. Parts of this reputation is earned but much of the stereotype has come out of World War Two films. Depicting WWII Japan fairly in film and television while humanizing its people isn't easy, but Dan King is up to the job. King is a WWII Pacific war historian who reads, writes and speaks Japanese. After returning to the US he worked on several dozen movies and historical documentaries as a technical advisor, historical & language consultant and re-enactment coordinator. He was the assistant military advisor for Tom Cruise's The Last Samurai (he had a cameo as a German officer), a researcher for Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima/Flags Of Our Fathers, and technical consultant for Nicolas Cage's Windtalkers. His passion for the subject of the war in the Pacific has also led him to seek out over 250 Japanese WWII veterans and personally interview 97 of them, in their own language. He has also been interviewed on several radio programs and has spoken to hundreds of people about Japanese aviation. Dan King was also employed by EA GAMES as the WWII Japanese technical consultant for the worldwide best selling "Medal of Honor" video game series. His basic task was to provide information to the game creators in order to make the game as accurate as possible. This included providing examples of Japanese WWII uniforms and gear; infantry weapons; tanks, large guns, ships and aircraft; Japanese language supervision during VO recording; and battle tactics and hand signals. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE Dan's Site Historical Consulting A Tomb Called Iwo Jima The Last Zero Fighter: Firsthand Accounts from WWII Japanese Naval Pilots TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Teddy Roosevelt was not afraid to tempt death. He hiked the Matterhorn during his honeymoon. He arrested outlaws on the Dakota Frontier. He hunted rhinos in Africa. But his most dangerous journey came after his failure in 1912 to retake the presidency as a third-party candidate on the Bull Moose ticket. He choose to shake off the blues in an extremely dangerous journey to South America. Roosevelt did not merely want a repeat of his African safari: a well-provisioned hunt to a foreign land that was little more than an exotic form of sight seeing. Roosevelt wanted to join the ranks of explorers who were pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge: the arctic explorers discovering the Northwest passage or the African trekkers locating the source of the Nile River. His guide, the Brazilian explorer Col. Candido Rondon, suggested they survey the River of Doubt, an uncharted capillary of the Amazon that ran through treacherous terrain of the rainforest. Many told him the journey would end in his death. Ignoring the warnings of field naturalists with experience in the Amazon, Roosevelt said, “If it is necessary for me to leave my bones in South America, I am quite ready to do so.” Learn in this episode how he almost did. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Theodore Roosevelt was hell bent on becoming president in 1912. He ran as a third-party candidate for the Progressive Party, a splinter group of Republicans dissatisfied with William Howard Taft. He was so committed to winning that he gave a 90-minute speech…immediately after being shot in the chest by a would-be assassin. How did he do it without passing out? What did his audience think as he bled out before their eyes? TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Perhaps no president has as many unbelievable stories about his life than Teddy Roosevelt. He was an amateur boxer. He was the first American politician to learn judo. He summited the Matterhorn during his honeymoon. He joined an expedition to log data about an unchartered river in the Amazon. But perhaps no story matches his pursuit of three boat thieves in the Dakotas in the 1880s. Learn how Roosevelt travelled 300 miles in the bitter cold to arrest three thieves… all to prove to other ranches that he wasn’t a week Easterner who came out to to the frontier to play cowboy. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Nothing supports the Prohibition movement like a hatchet-wielding radical ready to smash in a Midwestern saloon. Carrie Amelia Nation would know. She made a career out of physical assaulting the alcohol industry in the years before Prohibition (1920). TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Shake a family tree long enough and something embarrassing secret is sure to drop out: a felon uncle here, an illegitimate nephew there, a grandfather arrested for indecent exposure there. Genealogy can reveal all sorts of unexpected surprises. But it can also help you find second and third cousins that you didn't know were famous. To talk about the wonders of genealogy and how to do it right is Crista Cowan. Crista is the corporate genealogist for Ancestry.com. She was the indexing manager for the company and helped them archive more than 17 billion records. She has found records in libraries, archives, and courthouses. Recently she has used DNA as a powerful tool to locate and connect biological family members. Crista has been involved in family history research for more than 25 years and has been a professional genealogist since 2002. She specializes in descendancy research, Jewish Immigration, and sharing family history with the genealogically challenged. Crista regularly teaches Family History classes at her local LDS Family History Center and at conferences and genealogy societies around the country. She has been employed at Ancestry.com since 2004 and is known as The Barefoot Genealogist. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE Crista's Youtube Series: The Barefoot Genealogist TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Anyone born on American soil gets automatic citizenship. This isn't true in the rest of the world. Few other nations in the world practice jus soli (right of the soil). Rather, your parents have to be citizens. Why is this the case? It has to do with New World senses of identity and belonging. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
The Pandidakterion (University of Constantinople) was the empire's imperial school. It can trace its origins to 425 AD to Emperor Theodosius II. Learn what it was like to be enrolled in the ancient world's premier "university." TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
The first death of the Cold War quickly became an anti-communist icon and symbol of the American far right from the 1950s onward. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
George Washington was the First President of the United States. This is the most basic fact that an American school child can learn. Only it isn't true. He wasn’t the first. Nor the second. He was actually the ninth president of the United States. How can that be? It all has to do with the ad hoc, make-it-up-as-you-go nature of the United States government between the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the signing of the Constitution in 1789. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
‘Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them: there is no third’ —T.S Elliot The most towering epic poem in Western literature, save perhaps the works of Homer, is Dante's Divine Comedy. In this episode we are going to talk about the history of the poem, how it was understood across the centuries, and what it has to say to 21st man today. And our guest is perhaps the most qualified person on the planet to do so. Anthony Esolen is a literature professor and Dante scholar who released an acclaimed translation of Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. He has been praised for marrying sense with sound, poetry with meaning, capturing both the poem’s line-by-line vigor and its allegorically and philosophically exacting structure. In our interview we discuss Esolen's translation decision to ditch systematic line-by-line rhyming in favor of blank verse to retain the poem's original “meaning and music,” why Dan Brown's Inferno is so transcendentally terrible a book, and what Dante has to say to a modern world that has exchanged an authentic culture for mindless mass entertainment. ABOUT ANTHONY ESOLEN Anthony Esolen is a professor of English Renaissance and classical literature, a writer, social commentator, and translator of classical poetry. He has taught at the university level for decades and joined Thomas More College of Liberal Arts this fall. Besides Dante, he has translated Lucretius' On the Nature of Things, and Torquato Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered. Along with his academic work he has written more than 500 articles forThe Claremont Review of Books, First Things, and Touchstone magazine. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE Anthony Esolen's translation of Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise “Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture” “Dan Brown's Infernal Fiction” TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Depending on which account you hear, Columbus was either the bravest explorer of the early Renaissance or a mass murdered who subjected the indigenous population of the new world to death or slavery. Learn in this episode how Columbus was both and neither of these descriptions. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
The Knights Hospitaller were kicked out of Jerusalem following the Third Crusade, but they found a new home on the Mediterranean island of Malta. Their defense fortifications were so strong that nobody could invade, not even the might Ottoman navy in the late 16th century. Learn how this warrior order helped piracy thrive in the Eastern Mediterranean. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Marco Polo is the most famous European explorer to the Far East, but he definitely wasn’t the first. His father and uncle came there years before. And they found a small colony of Europeans who lived permanently in China. Perhaps the most famous pre-Polo European in the Far East is William of Rubruck. This plucky monk did his best to convert the Great Khan to Christianity. He made his effort by debating Muslims and Buddhists as to which religion was the true one. See how that turns out in today's episode. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Damascus swords, which were generally made in the Middle East anywhere from 540 A.D. to 1800 A.D., were sharper, more flexible and harder/stronger than other contemporary blades. According to legend, the blades can cut a piece of silk in half as it falls to the ground and maintain their edge after cleaving through stone, metal, or even other swords. However nobody knew exactly how it had been produced, and the last Damascus Steel had been produced in the early 1800s. How was the technology lost? TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
He’s the subject of a hit Broadway musical, the face on the ten-dollar bill, and one of the most popular Founding Fathers. But what do you really know about Alexander Hamilton? In this interview with author and historian Brion McClanahan, he argues that Hamilton was no American hero. Brion says that America’s beloved Hamilton actually spent most of his life working to make sure citizens and states could not hold the federal government accountable. His policies set a path for presidents to launch secret and illegal wars, and he wanted to make sure American citizens couldn’t do a thing to stop the government’s overreach. Hamilton was a duplicitous man whose personality and ambition led to an America and a Constitution at odds with the one he publicly supported in 1788 and that the American public bought as a result. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE How Alexander Hamilton Screwed Up America Brion's website TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
One of the most chilling stories of revenge is Timur the Tatar's defeat of Ottoman Sultan Bayezit and literally making him his footstool. The humiliation likely led to his death. Learn about the clash of these two Middle East titans and what drove Timur to pursue revenge so ruthlessly. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
If we were to have a battle royale with American soldiers from its different eras all duke it out, who would win? Would a Revolutionary-era soldier win due to his scrappy toughness, or would the modern soldier win with his superior training? Let's take a stab at this question (pun intended). TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
We’ve all done it in moments of anger. But why do we use our middle finger to express anger? And why do we call it “the bird.” Suggestions range from The Battle of Agincourt in 1415 to Ancient Rome. We find out the history everyone’s favorite one-finger salute in this episode. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
If you were to ask a scholar about one critical moment after which the history of the English-speaking world would never be the same again, it would undoubtedly be the year 1066. I know that because I asked Prof. Jennifer Paxton of the Catholic University of America this very question. She chose that year because during this pivotal time an event occurred that would have untold ramifications for the European continent: the Norman Conquest of England. This year matters deeply for two key reasons. It turned England away from a former Scandinavian orientation toward an orientation with mainland Europe, making the island nation a major player in Europe's political, social, cultural, and religious events. It created a rich hybrid between English and French culture that had a profound impact on everything from language and literature to architecture and law. In our discussion we talk about a world of fierce Viking warriors, powerful noble families, politically charged marriages, tense succession crises, epic military invasions, and much more. But it was the Battle of Hastings in 1066 that forever enshrined in the pages of history the name of William the Conqueror, whose military and political prowess made the Norman Conquest a success. After that England was never the same. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE Jennifer Paxton's Great Courses history course:—1066: The Year That Changed Everything ABOUT JENNIFER PAXTON, PHD Dr. Jennifer Paxton is Director of the University Honors Program and Clinical Assistant Professor of History at The Catholic University of America. The holder of a doctorate in history from Harvard University, Professor Paxton is both a widely published award-winning writer and a highly regarded scholar. Professor Paxton's research focuses on England from the reign of King Alfred to the late 12th century, particularly the intersection between the authority of church and state and the representation of the past in historical texts, especially those produced by religious communities. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Samurai were the military nobility and officer cast of feudal Japan, serving an important role of social stability until their functions ceased in the 19th century. But what did a samurai exactly do every day? Did he roam the countryside, looking to engage in a duel? Or was his life much more mundane than that? TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
You’ve seen the look in historical dramas. You laughed at the foppish dandies that appear on Masterpiece Theater. In grade school you sneered at pictures of King George with his powdered wig, adjusting it ever so slightly while drinking a cup of tea with his pinky finger extended, wondering how he further extort colonists with new taxes. You didn’t know that we call important people “bigwig” due to the aristocracy tradition of fancy wigs. But where does the powdered wig come from? Why was such a peculiar look the sign of nobility in England during the 1500s-1700s? It all has to do with syphilis, head lice, the shame of male-pattern baldness, and the fashion tastes of Louis XIV. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
The goal of this podcast is to answer any question that you have about history... and I mean anything. To prove it, I am answering a question from a listener named Raj about who had the worst flatulence in history. I hope this episode is very educational. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
There are many contenders for the strongest fortress in history (Malumat in Iran or the island fortifications of Malta to name a few). But nothing can compare to the Theodosian City Walls of Constantinople. Built in 440 AD, they repelled over a dozen invasions, from Atilla the Hun to the Umayyad Caliphate to the Avars to the Russians. And they allowed Constantinople to develop into one of the richest cities of the ancient world. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
In our interview, Prof. Paul Rahe says that a liberal democracy that guarantees the rights of all citizens needs the guarantee that no one religion is established as the official state belief system. At the same time, if a society doesn't have some sort of transcendent belief system, then politics will rush to fill the void left by religion (or any sort of communal belief) and metastasize into fascism or totalitarianism. We start with the relationship between religion and the political community in the pagan world – Sumeria, Akkad, Babylonia, the Hittite Empire, ancient Persia, Greece, and Rome. Then, we discuss how Christianity changed everything. For three centuries, it was independent of the political community and, in a sense, in opposition. Then, it became entangled with the political community under Constantine and, instead of being persecuted, it did the persecution. To this one can add that as a religion of faith it quite naturally gave rise to quarrels over doctrine, that these were bitter in late Antiquity, and that there was a second round of bitterness in the wake of the Reformation. The modern separation of church and state is a response to the violence that erupted, and it is a remarkable experiment. Finally, Rahe discusses Islam – which is a religion of holy law different in its ambitions from (orthodox) Judaism which is also a religion of holy law. Put simply, insofar as it is center on shari’a, Islam is ineluctably political – which means that it cannot easily be privatized. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE Free Hillsdale Online Course—Public Policy from a Constitutional Viewpoint American Heritage—From Colonial Settlement to the Current Day TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
The humble potato has done more for Old World peasants than any other food. Famine plagued the lower class from time immemorial. But once the potato was introduced to Europe in the 1500s and widely planted in the 1700s, it nearly wiped out malnutrition. Learn why this tuber is the hero of the modern age. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Winston Churchill is consistently ranked as the greatest leader in British History. But like any complex historical figure, he has his dark side. Most notoriously, but least well known, is his interest in chemical weapons. “If it is fair war for an Afghan to shoot down a British soldier behind a rock and cut him in pieces as he lies wounded on the ground, why is it not fair for a British artilleryman to fire a shell which makes the said native sneeze? It is really too silly.” —WSC, 1919 Churchill favored and/or used “poison gas” from World War I through World War II, notably on the Indians and Bolsheviks in 1919, and the Iraqis in the 1920s. What’s more, he wanted to “drench” German cities with gas in 1943. To discuss this issue in greater depth with us is Giles Milton. He is the host of the History Unknown Podcast and author of “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”: a book about a secret inner circle within the British government that planned all of the most audacious sabotage attacks of the Second World War. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE www.gilesmilton.com Unknown History Podcast ABOUT GILES Giles Milton is the internationally best-selling author of nine works of popular history, including Nathaniel’s Nutmeg. His books have been translated into more than twenty languages and have been serialized on both the BBC and in British newspapers. The Times described Milton as being able ‘to take an event from history and make it come alive’, while The New York Times said that Milton’s ‘prodigious research yields an entertaining, richly informative look at the past. Giles Milton's latest book, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, became a Sunday Times bestseller in the first week of publication. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
I was honored on this episode to interview Dan Carlin, whose podcast Hardcore History is the biggest history podcast in existence. It regularly features shows of 5-6 hours in length covering everything from the Mongol invasions to doomsday prophets of the Reformation. I met up with Dan at the Podcast Movement conference in August 2017. Since he had a six-part series on World War 1 (Blueprint for Armageddon), I wanted to ask Dan about a comment he made in the podcast, that Germany's army in World War 1 was superior to its army in World War 2. He elaborated in this episode, and as always, brings the goods. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Everyone's favorite code (it's not a language) has quite a storied history. Learn how Pig Latin became the fastest, most convenient way to sound intelligent when you didn't know any ancient languages. It goes back to Shakespeare, like much does, but Pig Latin as a concept can be found in languages across the world. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Richard Nixon left the White House over 40 years ago, yet he remains embedded in American pop culture like no other ex-president. He was the body-less leader of Earth in Futurama, the five-time president in Alan Moore's Watchmen, and arguably the most awkward guest star in Laugh-In's history. Part of the reason is that he is thought to represent America's political id: the dark, paranoid side of politics that keeps an enemies list and never forgives. After all, Watergate was the biggest political scandal of the 20th century, leading to the only presidential resignation in American history. But what if Nixon was innocent? That's exactly the point that today's guest, Geoff Shepard, argues. He was not an outsider to Watergate: Shepard joined John Ehrlichman’s Domestic Council staff at the Nixon White House, where he served for five years, first as a staff assistant and ultimately as associate director. He also worked on President Nixon’s Watergate defense team, where he was principal deputy to the President’s lead lawyer, J. Fred Buzhardt. In that capacity, he helped transcribe the White House tapes —which run 3,400 hours—ran the document rooms holding the seized files of H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and John Dean, and staffed White House counselors Bryce Harlow and Dean Birch. Working from internal documents he recently uncovered at the National Archives, Shepard exposes what he calls judicial and prosecutorial misconduct that has remained hidden for four decades with his book, “The Real Watergate Scandal: Collusion, Conspiracy, and the Plot That Brought Nixon Down.” He describes it as the following: an aging judge about to step down. Aggressive prosecutors friendly with the judge. A disgraced president. A nation that had already made up its mind. The Watergate trials were a legal mess—and now, with the discovery of new documents that reveal what he calls shocking misconduct by prosecutors and judges alike, Shepard says the wrongdoing of these history-making trials was actually a bigger scandal than the Watergate scandal itself. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE The Real Watergate Scandal: Collusion, Conspiracy, and the Plot That Brought Nixon Down Geoff Shepard's website TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
It's one thing to conquer the known world and beyond without the benefit of modern communications like Alexander the Great did. It's another thing to supply tens of thousands of soldiers deep into hostile territory when home is half a world away. How did Alexander manage to provision his army, and how did he do so for over a decade? TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
More soldiers died in the Civil War than any other American conflict. But how did non-combatants fare? It depends on where you were and your life station. A northerner may barely know a war was going on at all if he did not read the newspaper or supply the foodstuffs to the Union army. But he definitely would if he lived in Missouri—claimed by both the Union and the Confederacy—and was subject to frequent guerilla attacks. A southerner would face impoverishment, the collapse of the regional economy, a flood of refugees, and see whole cotton crops rot. And it only got worse as the war got underway. Learn about everyday life for civilians during the Civil War in this episode. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Gutenberg’s moveable type printing press was the prime mover of the Renaissance. From his machine came millions of books, leading to the democratization of knowledge, the fall of the papacy, and the rise of reason. But what if this wasn’t Gutenberg’s goal? What if he was a happy client of the papacy? What if he worked directly with the medieval church to sell indulgences? Turns out he did. Learn more in this episode. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
The Allied Forces hoped the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would finally convince Imperial Japan to end the war. If not, they were prepared to launch Operation Downfall—the proposed plan for the invasion of Japan in November of 1945 and the spring of 1946. If Downfall had taken place, it would have been the largest amphibious operation in history. It also would have meant millions of Japanese and Allied casualties from gunfire, bombings, and suicide attacks. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan loom large in Western popular consciousness as two of history’s most fearsome warrior-leaders. Chroniclers referred to them as “The Scourge of God” and “Universal Lord” both fascinate and repel. But few people today are aware of their place in a succession of nomadic warriors who used campaigns of terror to sweep across the Eurasian steppes. They toppled empires and seizing control of civilizations. Today Professor Kenneth Harl joins us to talk about the effects of these steppe empires on world civilization. From antiquity through the Middle Ages, nomadic warriors repeatedly emerged from the steppes, exerting direct and indirect pressure on sedentary populations and causing a domino effect of displacement and cultural exchange. Dr. Harl and I discuss these turning points in history set into motion by steppe nomads: The fall of the Roman Empire can be blamed at least in part on the Huns. Christians of Asia Minor converted to Islam after the clergy fled the nomadic Turks. The Mongol sack of Baghdad destroyed the city and its role in the Muslim world. China’s modern-day Great Wall was constructed in response to the humiliation of Mongol rule. The spread of Buddhism and trade followed the Silk Road, which allowed cultural exchange between nomads and settled zones across Eurasia. Russia’s preemptive expansion into the northern regions was a reaction to the horror of being conquered by Mongols. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE Kenneth's course “The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes” ABOUT KENNETH HARL Dr. Kenneth W. Harl is Professor of Classical and Byzantine History at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he teaches courses in Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader history. He earned his B.A. from Trinity College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University. An expert on classical Anatolia, he has taken students with him into the field on excursions and to assist in excavations of Hellenistic and Roman sites in Turkey. Professor Harl has also published a wide variety of articles and books, including his current work on coins unearthed in an excavation of Gordion, Turkey, and a new book on Rome and her Iranian foes. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
There are few episodes in history that are so misunderstood as the condemnation of Galileo. His trial has become a stock argument to show the fundamental clash between science and dogmatism. Turns out the whole affair was actually a giant clash of egos, with churchmen and scientists on both sides of the argument. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
According to legends of the Middle Ages, knights used the chastity belt on their wives as an anti-temptation device before embarking on the Crusades. When the knight left for the Holy Lands, his Lady would wear a chastity belt to preserve her faithfulness to him. The metal teeth that surrounded her "credentials" would also tear to shreds the member of any would-be seducer. However, there is no reliable evidence that chastity belts existed before the 15th century. Any reference to them is likely symbolic or a satirical drawing. No actual medieval chastity belt survives, and those that appear in museums are forgeries. Were they ever in use at all? If not, how did the legend appear? TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
If you want to be a French king who is also named Louis, then you have to slap enough Roman numerals at the end of your name to look like an encrypted message. Why are so many French kings named Louis? What significance does the name have for the French people? TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Doctors love to say that eight hours of nightly rest is vital to good health. But did people in the past get this much sleep, more, or less? And how did the lack of a lightbulb affect their sleep cycles. Turns out quite a bit. People actually hit the hay very early and woke up a few hours each night—sort of a reverse midnight siesta. Important cultural activity took place during this time, including scheduled prayers, visits to neighbors, and doctors orders that children be conceived at this time. Learn more about how your ancestors slept, or didn't sleep. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Pirates are popular these days: they adorn our favorite brands of bargain-basement rum and populate beloved Disneyland rides and multibillion-dollar film franchises. But who were these men and women who actually inhabited the Caribbean of the 1700s and made a living preying off trade vessels? How much of the myth of piracy is based on fact? And how much high seas adventure, myth and magic, voodoo, and treachery were there? Joining us to discuss these topics is Matt Albers, host of the Pirate History Podcast. We will talk about the golden age of piracy and the real men and women that threatened the trade and stability of the Old World empires, the forces that led them to piracy and the myths and stories they inspired. Famous names that come up include Captain Henry Morgan, Henry Avery, Charles Vane, Mary Reed, Anne Bonny, Black Bart Roberts, Ned Low, and Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach. They rub elbows with Queens, Kings, Popes, rebellious monks, Caribbean Natives, African Slaves and notorious governors like Woodes Rogers. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE The Pirate History Podcast Matt on Twitter (@blackflagcast) TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
It's good to be as rich as a Rockefeller. John—the patriarch of the family—rose from a lowly Ohioan bookkeeper to the leader of Standard Oil, which owned 90 percent of America's petroleum until it was broken up by the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1911. He was the world's first billionaire, owning mansions in New York, Florida, and Ohio, along with several golf golf courses. But was all that money really all that great without modern conveniences? Let's look in to the conveniences of an ultra-wealthy man 100 years ago and see how they compare to an average person today. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Scientific progress has moved steadily forward across much of the world for centuries, with few examples of abatement. The Scientific Revolution is often considered to have begun at Copernicus's 1543 publication of On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres. Here moderns challenged the ideas of ancient scholars, rather than accepting them at face value. Most fault the so-called Dark Ages for this millenium-long lull in human intellectual progress lasting from the fall of Rome to the Renaissance. But why didn't Rome kick off the age of scientific discovery? What did they lack that the early modern world had? TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
This episode is fifth in our Alternate History Week series, where I look at famous books of alternate history and discuss why I think their alternate timelines aren't plausible. The Man in the High Castle is Phillip K. Dick's most chilling book and the most famous example of alternate history. It's set in 1962, fifteen years after the Axis Powers emerge triumphant in World War Two and rule over the former United States. Germany and Japan were victors in the war and divide the world between themselves. The book is fantastic, but I don't see any scenario in which Germany and Japan could control a post-war world. In fact, I don't see how the Axis had any chances of winning the war, short of an alien invasion. I explain why in this episode. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
This episode is fourth in our Alternate History Week series, where I look at famous books of alternate history and discuss why I think their alternate timelines aren't plausible. Lest Darkness Fall, written in 1939 by L. Sprague de Camp, is one of the classics of the alternate history genre. American archeologist Martin Padway gets sent back to Rome in 535 AD. He introduces new technology to the Italo-Ostrogothic kingdom, such as the telegraph, printing press, and brandy; wards off a Byzantine attack; introduces a constitution; and emancipates the serfs. Great story. It would never work. In this episode I explain why. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic. -Joseph Stalin When consider major historical events that involved millions of people— World War 2, the Great Depression, the Cold War—it's easy to forget that real people with their own stories were part of those events. Today we're zeroing in on one story. And that's the story of James Shively, an Air Force Pilot who was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967 and spent six years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton POW camp. To talk with us is Amy Shively Hawk, Jim's stepdaughter and author of the new book Six Years in the Hanoi Hilton: An Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in Vietnam. After being shot down, Shively endured brutal treatment at the hands of the enemy in Hanoi prison camps. But despite unimaginable horrors in prison, the contemplation of suicide, and his beloved girlfriend moving on back home, he somehow found hope escaping prison and eventually reuniting with his long-lost love – proving, in his words, that “Life is only what you make of it.” In this interview we discuss: How Capt. Shively was shot down, what happened when he was captured, and his fate at the hands of Vietnamese villagers What kept Captain Shively hopeful during his six years as a prisoner of war What happened to the whole prison when two fellow inmates escaped but were captured the next day How prisoners built a full prison communications system using Morse code, toilet paper, and hidden messages even though cell blocks were forbidden from speaking to each other under threat of torture About Amy: Amy Shively Hawk is the stepdaughter of James Shively, who married Amy’s mother after his release from a Hanoi prison when Amy was five years old. Amy’s background is in journalism, speaking, and advertising/marketing. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE Amy's book Six Years in the Hanoi Hilton Amy's website Headstrong: Healing the Hidden Wounds of War TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
This episode is third in our Alternate History Week series, where I look at famous books of alternate history and discuss why I think their alternate timelines aren't plausible. Today's book is Harry Turtledove's wonderful book Agent of Byzantium. In this book, Turtledove imagines that the Prophet Muhammed, instead of developing Islam, converted to Christianity and became a celebrated prelate and saint. Without the Muslim conquests, the Eastern Roman Empire remained the pre-eminent power in the Mediterranean and remains locked in a centuries-long cold war with Zoroastrian Persia to the East. I don't think Persia would have remained Zoroastrian that long. I explain why in this episode. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
This episode is second in our Alternate History Week series, where I look at famous books of alternate history and discuss why I think their alternate timelines aren't plausible. Today's book is Kim Stanley Robinson's 2002 book The Years of Rice and Salt. It explores how world history would have developed if the Black Death had killed 99 percent of Europe's population, with the Islamic world, the Chinese, and American Indians filling in the void. One section discusses China discovering and colonizing the New World. Here's why I think China would have never done so. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
This episode is the first of a five-part series in our Alternate History Week—our version of Shark Week, if you will. We are looking at famous books of alternate history, and I'm discussing why I think their alternate timelines aren't plausible. The first book in this series is 1632. Eric Flint's book imagines that a West Virginia town gets sent back to 1632 Germany, during the Thirty Years War, and gradually comes to dominate European politics of the age. I'm going to twist the premise of this book—a small group of technologically advanced soldiers conquers a much larger force—and discuss the question of whether a Marine Corps MEU take out the Roman military. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
There was an event in history worse than World War I, worse than the Mongol invasions that killed 40 million, worse than the little Ice Age that triggered famines and rebellions across the medieval world. This event was the "Dark Ages before the Dark Ages." It was the Bronze Age Collapse of 1177 BC, and it was so monumental that it inspired Homer’s ‘The Iliad’ TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Since the 1950s, many classicists and military historians have believed that an ancient Roman bloodline lives on in a Chinese village. The town of Liqian sits on the edge of the Gobi desert, and 4,500 miles from Rome. They have tried to prove that the ruddy-skinned, light-eyed, and fair-haired residents of Liqian are lost relatives of a missing Roman battalion of mercenaries that fought against the Chinese 2,000 years ago. Let's look into this theory and see if a piece of Rome still lives on in China. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Thomas Cahill argues in his best-selling book How the Irish Saved Civilization that Ireland played a critical role in Europe's evolution from the classical age of Rome to the medieval era. Is his narrative correct? Without Ireland, he argues, the transition could not have taken place. Not only did Irish monks and scribes maintain the very record of Western civilization -- copying manuscripts of Greek and Latin writers, both pagan and Christian, while libraries and learning on the continent were forever lost -- they brought their uniquely Irish world-view to the task. Let's discuss how Ireland gave more to the modern world than Guinness and Bono. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Rome and China were the two poles of the Silk Road. One sent precious porcelain, spices, and silks, the other sent out glassware and high-quality cloth. As Rome expanded into the Near East and China into Central Asia, did the two empires learn much of each other? Furthermore, did the two empires ever attempt direct contact? TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
The United States has accepted immigrants throughout its history, but America has its emigrants as well. Did you know there is a city in Brazil founded by Confederates who wanted to flee the U.S. during Reconstruction? Welcome to Americana, Brazil. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
General Curtis LeMay is perhaps the most misunderstood general of the 20th century, despite the fact that he played a major role in so many important military events of the last century: he turned the air war in Europe from a dismal failure to a great success, he helped defeat Japan without a costly land invasion, he commanded the start of Berlin Air Lift, and he was on the Joint Chiefs during the Cuban Missile Crisis. However, the LeMay legacy that has survived into the 21st century paints LeMay as a crude, trigger-happy, cigar-chomping general who joined political forces with one of the most famous racists in American history, George Wallace. Today's guest Warren Kozak argues that Lemay was an overlooked general who made the difficult but necessary decisions that eventually helped the United States win World War II and the Cold War, as well as strengthen our military forces when we needed them most. LeMay is most often remembered for two minor marks in his life: a statement he did not actually make (about bombing North Vietnam back to the Stone Age) and a brief political affiliation with George Wallace despite their deep disagreements over racial politics. Unfortunately, these parts of Curtis LeMay’s life have overshadowed many more years of military success. According to Kozak, these accomplishments include: LeMay devised the plan to use incendiary bombs over Japan that, while killing hundreds of thousands, saved millions from an impending ground invasion of Japan LeMay turned the air war over Europe around and he was the only general to lead his troops, insisting on flying the lead bomber on every dangerous mission. He championed the creation of an independent Air Force, as well as the improvement of American military planes He turned the Strategic Air Command from a dismal failure into the deadliest fighting force in history RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE Curtis LeMay: Strategist and Tactician ABOUT WARREN Warren Kozak is an author and journalist who has written for television’s most respected news anchors. Winner of the prestigious Benton Fellowship at the University of Chicago in 1993, he was an on-air reporter for NPR and his work has appeared on PBS and in the Washington Post, the New York Sun and The Wall Street Journal as well as other newspapers and magazines. Warren Kozak was born and raised in Wisconsin and lives in New York City with his wife and daughter. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Conspiracy theorists have many "reasons" for why we've never been to the moon: the Van Allen radiation belts are too deadly, the challenges are too difficult, re-entry into the atmosphere is too hot. But Jason Funk, who asked today's question, points out that the cranks have at least one point—if we did go to the moon in 1960s, why haven't we been back after five decades of technological evolution? Good question. Let's dive in. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
I had the extraordinary pleasure to talk with Captain Jerry Yellin, a 93-year-old World War Two vet who flew the final combat mission in World War Two's Pacific Theatre. Yellin piloted for the 78th Fighter Squadron and was part of the 1945 bombing campaigns that ultimately triggered Japan's surrender. From April to August of 1945, Yellin and a small group of fellow fighter pilots flew dangerous bombing and strafe missions out of Iwo Jima over Japan. Even days after America dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9, the pilots continued to fly. Though Japan had suffered unimaginable devastation, the emperor still refused to surrender. Nine days after Hiroshima, on the morning of August 14th, Yellin and his wingman 1st Lieutenant Phillip Schlamberg took off from Iwo Jima to bomb Tokyo. By the time Yellin returned to Iwo Jima, the war was officially over—but his young friend Schlamberg would never get to hear the news. Yellin joined the war efforts when he was 19 and jumped directly into action. The stench of death, the rain of bullets, and the minute-to-minute fight for survival faced young Captain Jerry Yellin when he landed on Iwo Jima in in 1945. Little did Capt. Yellin know that his life would be turned upside down during a routine flight, which turned out to be the last combat mission of WWII. Flanked by his devoted comrades, Yellin was a flight leader in the final fight for freedom—a mission that will forever leave its mark on the history of the world. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Being a Roman isn't easy. Running an intercontinental empire across hundreds of languages, customs, and ethnic groups without the benefit of telegraphs or steam power requires constant vigilance or the whole enterprise will fall apart. Let's look at the Roman borderland's with Persia to see what life was like on the periphery of the empire. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Did you know that over 400,000 German POWs were settled in the United States during World War II? Did you know that they may have built some of the stone buildings that make up your town square? Or that they were responsible for bringing in America’s harvest in the fall of 1945 when most men were still off to war? Learn about this fascinating but understudied part of America’s history. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Justinian I of Byzantium is among the most towering figure of the ancient and medieval periods. His innovations in governance, architecture, law, and welding together religion with imperial power were blueprints of governance for the next thousand years of kings and emperors. He rose to imperial power in 527 AD and reacquired Roman lands in Europe that were lost a century ago to Vandal and Ostrogothic invasions. He removed the rotting branches of his administration, replacing bureaucrats from the aristocracy with independent counselors.Justinian also rewrote the Roman law, the Corpus Juris Civilis. He gathered together legal commentaries and laws of the Roman legal system into a single text that would hold the force of law. It was composed in Latin and is still the basis of civil law in many of the empire's descendant states. To talk with us about how Justinian changed the world is Robin Pierson, host of the History of Byzantium Podcast. Here are five parts of history that Justinian irrevocably changed: Laws Hagia Sophia Christianizing culture Slavs Islam ABOUT ROBIN PIERSON Robin Pierson is from London in the UK. He writes about American TV shows at thetvcritic.org and works for his father (an actor). Robin created the show to continue the narrative established by Mike Duncan’s wonderful podcast “The History of Rome.” He uses the structure of half-hour instalments told from a state-centric perspective. He pauses the narrative at the end of each century to take time to cover wider issues to do with Byzantium RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE The History of Byzantium: A podcast telling the story of the Roman Empire from 476 AD to 1453
Like much of the United States, Texas has a large popular whose ancestors originated in Germany. But Texas takes it a step further. In the 1840s a massive immigration of Germans arrived when the Adelsverein (The Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas) organized at Biebrich on the Rhine near Mainz. It assisted thousands in coming to Central Texas and establishing such settlements as New Braunfels and Fredericksburg. So many arrived that Texas practically became an outpost of Germany. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
In mid-December 1773 a force of colonists, dressed up as Mohawk Indians, boarded the three boats and dumped 342 chests of tea into the Boston Harbor. The protest later became known as the Boston Tea Party, but many historians (and coffee afficionados) believe it also sparked an anti-tea (read anti-British) sentiment in the colonies. John Adams wrote to Abigail on July 6, 1774 that "...I have drank Coffee every Afternoon since, and have borne it very well. Tea must be universally renounced. I must be weaned, and the sooner, the better." Did Americans really ditch tea for coffee due to the American Revolution? Find out in this episode. The inspiration for this episode came from Black Rifle Coffee Company, a coffee roaster owned and operated by U.S. Veterans. Their stuff is really good; you should check it out. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Archeological evidence proves that Leif Ericsson, the Icelandic Viking, arrived in the New World centuries before Columbus. But what if he was in turn beaten by an Irish monk a full five extra centuries. St. Brendan the Navigator is celebrate for his legendary journey to the "Island of the Blessed," described in the ninth-century work Voyage of St Brendan the Navigator. It tells of how he set out onto the Atlantic Ocean with dozens of pilgrims, accidentally camped out on a whale, and may have reached New England. For centuries historians dismissed his account as fiction. But true accounts sneak here. There are factual descriptions of sheep on the Faroe Islands. Volcanos and icebergs of Iceland are observed. Some archeologists even think there is evidence of a medieval Celtic church in New England. Find out in this episode if Leif Ericsson has lost his status as the first Westerner to reach the New World. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Emperor Norton is San Francisco's original oddball. In 1859 he proclaimed himself "Norton I, Emperor of the United States." He later expanded his pretense by claiming to be "Protector of Mexico" as well. But rather than get in trouble with authorities for sedition, he became a beloved celebrity. Newspapers printed his imperial edicts. Local police paid for his uniform. He became the basis for some of Mark Twain's characters. To this day locals have petitioned to name bridges in his honor. Find out how a few delusions of grandeur can go a long way. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
For a guy that lived 1,500 years ago, King Arthur has remarkable staying power. He became a stock figure in Welsh and Latin chronicles of Britain by the 800s. His story spread to France, Germany, Scandinavia, and Iceland after the Norman conquest of England in 1066 and books on him were best-sellers there. Cathedrals across Western European featured stained-glass Arthurian scenes. In modern times Arthur has been on the big screen non-stop. They include Camelot (1967), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), the Clive Owen flick King Arthur (2004), and this year's Guy Ritchie-directed King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, dubbed by critics for its tough-guy swagger as “Excalibro.” Even the new Transformers film features Arthur fighting directly alongside the Autobots (don't ask). Arthur's ongoing legend is even more remarkable considering he may very well have never existed. Historians speak of an “Arthur-like figure” when trying to pin down his origins because they are so obscure. The Gododdin and many other later poems speak of something important that happened in sixth-century Britain, when the Saxon advance was halted by a warlord. It may have been Arthur himself. Archeological and historical evidence supports the existence of an Arthur-like figure in early Britain, most famously Cadbury Castle in Cornwall, which was the center of operations for a leader of great military and logistical skill who thwarted the Saxon invasion. But many other researches think that “Arthur” was actually succession of warlords that tried, and utimately failed, to halt the Saxon onslaught. The Celtic monk Gildas wrote extensively of the Saxon invasion in The Ruin and Conquest of Britain, citing the critical siege at Badon Hills, and makes no mention of Arthur at all. But whatever historians say about Arthur or an Arthur-like figure, they all agree that Arthur, King of the Britons, never existed. For that, we have Arthurian legend to thank. Dorsey Armstrong, professor of medieval literature at Purdue University who has published extensively on Arthur discusses with us why the Arthurian narrative—despite, or because of, its tenuous connection to historical fact—has enthralled writers, artists, and a limitless audience in countries spanning the Western world and beyond for all these centuries. With origins in the exploits of a 5th-century Celtic warrior, the legend of a noble king and his knightly cohort caught fire across Europe, spawning a vast literary tradition that reached its height in the Middle Ages, with major contributions from writers both in Britain and throughout the Continent. By the 12th century Geoffrey of Monmouth added Merlin to the legend in his History of the Kings of Britain. Guinevere first appears here also, and French poet Chrétien de Troyes added Lancelot to the canon in 1177. But the appeal of the saga far outlived the medieval era. It remained dynamically alive in folk culture and theater through the Renaissance, only to see an epic literary and artistic resurgence in the 19th century. It continues to the present day in multiple forms—from fiction writing and visual arts to film and popular culture. No other heroic figure in literature compares with King Arthur in terms of global popularity and longevity; today, each year sees literally thousands of new versions of the story appear across diverse media. What does this amazing phenomenon tell us about our culture, our civilization, and ourselves? What is it about this particular story that has so deeply gripped the human imagination for so many centuries, in so many places? Find out in this episode RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE Dorsey Armstrong's course King Arthur: History and Legend The Camelot Project Arthuriana: The Journal of Arthurian Studies The New Arthurian Encyclopedia TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
The Kurdish people are arguably the largest stateless people on Earth. An estimated 35 million live in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere, but do not have a nation to call their own. Despite this they have been critical power brokers in the military and political conflicts of the Middle East. What can we learn from the Kurdish people about nationalism and nation building even if they do not have a nation of their own? To answer this question I have called upon the help of Djene Bajalan, professor of history at Missouri State and specialist of the Kurdish regions of the Ottoman Empire. I can think of nobody who is more qualified to answer this question. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Smallpox is arguably the deadliest weapon in history. Ninety percent of some Native American tribes were wiped out by this disease when they first encountered Western explorers. But what if they hadn't been wiped out? Would Native American groups have been able to successfully repel Western powers and keep North America for themselves? Or would colonial history largely have played out the same? TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
You probably haven't heard of the Donation of Constantine. It was a fake letter that represented one of the biggest real estate scams in history. How did an anonymous medieval clergyman try to forge a letter from Emperor Constantine to Pope Sylvester justified all the land holdings of the Roman Catholic Church? Find out in today's podcast. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Nothing fascinated Europeans about the Ottoman Empire quite like the harem. Since no foreigners were permitted to enter it themselves, imaginations ran while about what sort of licentiousness happened behind the doors of Istanbul's Topkapi palace. But even though a sultan could have four wives and limitless concubines, the harem wasn't a sensual fantasy land. It was more of an imperial cadet academy, where foreign girls were turned into the wives of aristocrats and even future sultans. The harem was a large section of private apartments located on the grounds of Topkapi Palace. It consisted of more than 400 rooms. There the girls took lessons in theology, mathematics, embroidery, music, and literature. The most important lesson they gained, however, was in politics. The harem staff held enormous powerful as state administrators. They were typically eunuchs that supervised the female's quarters but also had influence on the palace. When the harem "cadets" entered the palace, they were placed at the lowest rung of a viciously competitive hierarchy in which one earned a promotion by attracting the attention of the Sultan. They began as a concubine and was not allowed to leave the palace without the permission of the Queen Mother (valide sultan), the reigning sultan's mother and a former concubine herself. If a girl managed to share a bed with the sultan, she became a gözde (the favorite). If she continued to curry his favor, then she became ıkbal (the fortunate). A woman to whom the sultan wanted a permanent union would become one of his four wives (kadın). If she birthed him a son who went on to become sultan, she became the next Queen Mother. Learn more about harem life in this episode. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Few historical figures are as infamous as Nathan Bedford Forrest. If he is remembered at all today it is for being the founder of the Ku Klux Klan in the wake of the Civil War. Many of us learned this “fact” from the opening scenes of Forrest Gump, in which our protagonist describes his namesake as “dressing up in they robes and they bedsheets and act like a bunch of ghosts or spooks or something...momma said the forrest part is to remind me that we all do things that..well...just don't make no sense” But the life of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest is far more complicated. Our guest, Sandy Mitcham, has written a book on the Civil War general called Bust Hell Wide Open that delves into his legacy. At fourteen he became the head of his impoverished family, responsible for feeding eleven on the rough American frontier. By thirty-nine he had established himself as a successful plantation owner worth over $1 million. And at forty years old, Nathan Bedford Forrest enlisted in a Tennessee cavalry regiment—and became a controversial Civil War legend. He created and established new doctrines for mobile forces, earning the nickname The Wizard of the Saddle There is even a widespread belief that Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the “Desert Fox” of World War II fame, came to America before the war to study Confederate cavalry tactics, especially those of Forrest. The legacy of General Nathan Bedford Forrest is deeply divisive. Best known for being accused of war crimes at the Battle of Fort Pillow and for his role as first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan—an organization he later denounced—Forrest has often been studied as a military genius but never before investigated as a fascinating individual who wrestled with the complex issues of his violent times. Bust Hell Wide Open is a comprehensive portrait of Nathan Bedford Forrest as a man: his achievements, failings, reflections, and regrets. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE Bust Hell Wide Open: The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Have you ever seen a picture of an old map of the world and wondered why they contained enormous serpents, giant squids, Krakken, and other terrifying creatures drawn on its edges? What is the purpose of these creatures? Obviously oceans of the past were not infested with mythological creatures in the past. What function did they serve for the artist and for the consumer? Click here to read more about this topic via an article from the Smithsonian, which inspired me to record this episode. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Many of us assume that cars, computers, and batteries are modern inventions. Before that time we lived in a technological dark age too barbaric and boring to contemplate. But what if the 21st century's most important inventions aren't all that recent? What if pioneering artisans and craftsmen created functional cars centuries earlier? What if we had batteries in the Roman empire? Find out in this episode. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Joan of Arc has one of the most incredible stories in history. Consider this: How did an illiterate peasant lead an army into victory against England in the Hundred Years War? Learn about her upbringing, her visions from God, how she learned years of military strategy in a matter of weeks, and why she convinced King Charles VII to give her command of the army even though she had no combat experience. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Eowyn, the Shieldmaiden of Rohan, is one of the best characters from the “Lord of the Rings.” But J.R.R. Tolkien didn't invent her out of thin air. Ever the scholar of Anglo-Saxon England, Tolkien based is based on a real person who lived in the war-infested realm of Mercia. Learn about Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, ruler of part of England in the 900s, and slayer of Vikings. This is the first in a two-part series on the most powerful women in the Middle Ages. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
America attempted to legislate morality in the 1920s by outlawing the production, sale, and transport of intoxicating liquors through the Volstead Act. But that didn't stop the drinks from flowing during the “dry” years. Famous organized crime networks formed to meet the demand, and we all know about the Prohibition-era mobsters like Chicago's Al Capone and New York's Lucky Luciano. But did you know about one of the darkest, most corrupt, most lawless corner of the United States at this time? That's right. Kansas City. Kansas City of the 20s and 30s was ruled with an iron fist by Tom Pendergast. He controlled the city without holding elected office. The “Pendergast Machine” ran local government and the Democratic Party in Kansas City and Jackson County, Missouri, during the Progressive Era and Great Depression. Political offices were bought. Ballot boxes were stuffed. He grew his empire by trading favors, building constituencies one precinct at a time, controlling votes, controlling politicians, and later controlling city government and the police department. His office at 1908 Main Street was called the unofficial capital of Missouri. The city's poor and working class lined out in front for several blocks, seeking help from Pendergast. He granted it like a king holding court, offering jobs or retributive justice to those who needed it. To talk with us about the Pendergast Machine is Dr. Jason Roe. He is a digital history specialist and editor for the Kansas City Library’s digitization and encyclopedia website project. But the Pendergast years weren't all bad. The libertine spirit of the city made it a magnet for artists and musicians. Jazz and other cultural milestones thrived in the “Wide Open” environment of Kansas City. Musicians such as Charlie Parker said jazz was born in New Orleans but grew up in KC. Most of all, Pendergast single-handedly launched the career of an obscure Missourian World War One vet into public office. He then orchestrated his rise to Missouri Senator. The young man then fell into the vice presidency. Then, after the death of America's longest-serving president, into the Oval Office. That man's name was Harry Truman. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE Jason's writings on the KC Public Library website Jason's project Civil War on the Western Border TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Was there a real life Dr. Frankenstein who tried to bring the dead back to life by science and alchemy? Yes there was, and his name was Johann Dippel. He lived in the transitional period between alchemy and modern science. He may have experimented on bringing dead animals back to life, but because of these daring experiments modern chemistry, biology, and even the medical sciences owes him much. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
In the early 1800s there was no English explorer greater than James Holman. He covered a distance almost twenty times farther than Marco Polo on foot or cart—almost never using trains or steamships. He travelled among 200 different cultures, charted undiscovered parts of Australia, and by October 1846 had visited every inhabited continent. He did all this despite being completely blind. How did Holman travel the world when any sort of international exploration was exceptionally dangerous? Learn how in this episode. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Few will dispute that China has one of the most ancient cultures on earth, but is there any truth to the claim—made by many residents of China—that there is a 5,000-year-long line of continuity in its culture? Would an inhabitant of present-day China from five millennia ago really have anything in common with a bullet-train-riding businessman from Guangzhou drinking a Starbucks while on his way to Beijing? The answer, as always, is tricky, but there is some truth to the claim. Or at least more truth to the claim than almost any other culture could make. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Why do Americans celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks? Are we trying to take the National Anthem as literally as possible, creating “Bombs Bursting in Air”? Or is there another reason? It turns out that much of the festival trappings of the Fourth of July date way further back than most realize. They even predate the founding of the United States. Many of the most cherished "American" traditions go back to Renaissance Italy. Some even extend back to Imperial China. However, hot dogs are still pure U, S, and A. Nothing can change that. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Probably the most contentious—and politicized—issue in history has to do with the origins of the nation of Israel. That's because the heart of the historical debate is who is the “rightful” owner of the land: The Israelis or the Palestinians? Believe me, I lived in the Middle East, and this issue can easily set people off for hours. Some say Jewish residents of Israel are recent arrivals whole stole the land from its rightful Palestinian inhabitants. Opponents say that Jewish residents have a rightful 5,000-year-old claim to the land, and opposition to Israel has its roots in anti-Semitism. David Brog has decided to tackle this issue head-on in his new book Reclaiming Israel’s History: Roots, Rights, and the Struggle for Peace. He admits to Israel’s “sins both large and small,” but argues that in any fair-minded analysis these have been far outweighed by Israel’s commitment to Western values, including freedom, democracy, and human rights. In this episode we discuss The presence of Jewish people in the Land of Israel for over the last 3,000 years and their movement to Europe and beyond How modern Jewish immigration to Palestine did not displace Arabs but instead sparked an Arab population boom The creation of Israeli and Palestinian identity in the modern-era and how national identity gets politicized What the right and left get wrong about the Israeli-Palestinian debate How lives are literally at stake based on whether the history of this region can be recovered RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE David's book: Reclaiming Israel’s History: Roots, Rights, and the Struggle for Peace TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Any fan of Shakespeare knows how much the English language has changed over the last 400 years. A student of Chauncer knows even better. A brave student of Beowulf knows almost better than anyone else. You literally have to be a scholar to read "English" of 1,000 years ago. But are there any languages that haven't changed to this degree? Languages that a normal citizen can pick up a text from a millenium ago and understand perfectly? The answer is yes. Listen to this episode to learn which one. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Rome didn’t fall in 476 when Romulus, the last of the Roman emperors in the west, was overthrown by the Germanic leader Odoacer, who became the first Barbarian to rule in Rome. Nor did it fall in 1453 when the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople. Depending on how you define ‘Rome,’ it didn’t fall until the Napoleonic Wars. Or the end of hostilities following World War I. If you visit Turkey, you might meet somebody who still calls himself a Roman. Listen to this episode to learn more. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
The horrors of the Holocaust are as vivid now as they were in 1945 when the world discovered the horrors of Nazi Germany's atrocities. But why did Hitler hate the Jews so vehemently? Furthermore, why did he shift precious resources away from the war effort and toward the eradication of an ethnic group that posed no military threat to Nazi Germany? To answer this question I called up Richard Weikart, a scholar of 20th century Europe and author of the book Hitler's Religion. Check out Richard’s book by clicking here. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Richard Weikart is a professor of modern European history at California State University, Stanislaus, and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. He has published numerous scholarly articles, as well as five previous books including The Death of Humanity: and the Case for Life (Regnery, 2016) and From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. He has appeared in several documentaries, including Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. In addition to scholarly journals, his work has been featured and discussed in the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, National Review, Christianity Today, World magazine, BreakPoint, Citizen, various radio shows, and other venues. Weikart lives in Snelling, CA, with his wife and children. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
By the late 1800s Europe's Great Powers controlled nearly 80 percent of the African continent. Much research has analyzed the brutal aspects of its colonization—particularly in the Belgian Congo—but less on why Europe colonized Africa. Were the reasons only for financial exploitation or was there another reason? Listen to this episode to learn more. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
In today's episode we are possibly going to bite off more than we can chew... by discussing the entire history of Russia. OK, maybe not the entire history of Russia. But we will discuss how invasions of Russia over the centuries have shaped its psyche today, and even explain Vladimir Putin's rationale for invading the Crimea. Thankfully we have a guest who can guide us through our figurative Siberia. He is Mark Schauss, host of the Russian Rulers in History Podcast. Mark has spent over 200 episodes looking at all rulers in Russia's history, from Rurik the Varangian Chieftan who founded Kievan Rus in the 800s to Vladimir Putin. Mark thinks that the dozens of invasions of Russian — the Viking raids of Kiev, the Mongol Raids in the 1200s, the Ottoman invasions of the 1500-1700s, the Napoleonic Invasion of the early 1800s, and Nazi Germany's invasion of 1941 — created the Russian psyche of today. That is why Russia invading its neighbors might seem aggressive to other nations but perfectly natural to a nation that spent much of its existence under threat of being swallowed up. But Mark notes that the constant flow of people in and out of Russia had good consequences as well. Catherine the Great, fearful of smallpox killing her population in the 1700s, had them inoculated on a massive scale. News of the program's success spread around the world, even reaching George Washington and prompting him to inoculate American soldiers in a similar way. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE Russian Rulers in History Podcast Russian Rulers in History podcast in iTunes ABOUT MARK Mark's podcast has been downloaded more than 2 million times. He is also an internationally known lecturer on environmental and nutritional health issues and has spoken in North America, Asia, South America, Europe and soon in Australia. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Depression is not a modern phenomenon. Take the example of Abraham Lincoln. He is an unusual psychological case study. He was both chronically melancholy, and yet among the strongest people in history. Here's a quick rundown: Lincoln lost his one true love and married Mary Todd, a mentally unstable woman who abused him. He loved his sons deeply but one died very young, and another (Willie) died at 11 in the White House. This almost broke Lincoln. But the same philosophical-psychological outlook caused Lincoln to be both depressed and incredibly strong. Learn about how depression plagued the past as much as it does the present. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
The ancients had abilities that have fallen into near-complete disuse in the modern age. Consider memorization. The average peasant of 1,000 years ago had 10x more memorized than you ever will. They cultivated the skill in the ars memoriae, who were living databases of information. Plus they were infinitely more handy than us. Can you sew your own clothing? That one is easy. What about making your own shoes, butchering an animal, removing its skin, tanning the leather, then rending the fat to make candles? If you can answer ‘yes’ to all those things, then you are merely average for a medieval peasant. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Today's question is a tricky one that has to do with global politics, colonialism, and threatens to enter the minefield of race. Why do so many African nations sit at the bottom of global development indexes? The answer has nothing to do with race—consider Botswana, one of the great economic successes of the past 50 years. After all, half a century ago people were asking why every nation run by Asians is poor. Rather, the issue has to do with harsh environmental conditions of the African continent, its lack of natural harbors that makes water transport difficult, and the growing pains that all young nation-states experience. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Did the greatest king who ever lived ever live? That's a tricky question. The fabled first king of England, the mythological figure associated with Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table, may have been based on a 5th to 6th century Roman-affiliated military leader who staved off invading Saxons. Learn how the legend of Arthur (and Merlin) grew over the centuries and became popularized by such writers as Geoffrey of Monmouth until he was practically synonymous with England herself by the High Middle Ages. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Michael Foley loves contradictions. He is a Catholic professor of patristics—a study of the lives of early Christian theologians—at a dry Baptist university. That didn't stop him from writing a book that pairs wines, beer, spirits, and cocktails with the solemnities and saints’ feast days of the Church calendar. Sadly, because he was in his office, he couldn't enjoy a cocktail himself while we were doing this interview. Michael is the author of Drinking with the Saints: The Sinner’s Guide to a Holy Happy Hour. It mixes Church history with drink recipes and adds a pinch of catechetical charisma to create a unique guide through the liturgical calendar. In addition to shedding light on the history behind each saint’s day, Foley brings to light the refined and temperate art of drinking, an art which involves a discerning palate, a sense of moderation, and a generous dose of self-knowledge. He promotes moderation and reverence, for pouring and mixing a special beverage in honor of a particular saint adds an extra note of jubilation and recognition. In this interview we discuss The Catholic origins of whiskey, tequila, sparkling wine, and much more The drinking habits of St. August, Pope John Paul II, and the disciples Tips on giving the perfect toast and on mixing the perfect drink The origin of Dom Pérignon:The méthode champenoise was invented by a Benedictine monk Perignon, who, when he sampled his first batch, cried out to his fellow monks: “Brothers, come quickly. I am drinking stars!” Original cocktails, including two for St. Augustine of Hippo: one for his sinful past and one for his holy conversion How Chartreuse, the world’s most magical liqueur, was perfected by Carthusian monks and is still made by them, even though only two monks at any time know the recipe. How the California wine industry began when Blessed Junipero Serra and his Franciscan brethren brought the first wine grapes to the region. And its rebirth in Napa County after Prohibition was thanks in large part to a chemistry teacher and LaSalle Christian Brother named Brother Timothy. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE Drinking with the Saints: The Sinner's Guide to a Holy Happy Hour https://drinkingwiththesaints.com/ Drinking with the Saints Facebook Group TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Today's question comes from Nayeli Carpenter She asks about lost civilizations: pyramid builds, Egyptians, Mayans, Incans, especially the ones where cultures disappeared mysteriously. I'm going to confine this question to everyone's favorite historical conspiracy theory—that Egypt's pyramids were so advanced and contained hidden astronomical secrets that only an advanced civilization (coughcoughalienscoughcough) could have designed them. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Today's question comes to us from Kevin deLaplante, creator of the Critical Thinker Academy and host of the Argument Ninja Podcast. Can you tell me about the 1915 Armenian Genocide and why today's political leaders (such as Barack Obama) are hesitant to describe it as such? TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Today's question comes from Jaime Martínez Bowness: Hi - here's a quick list of topics I thought of: The importance of the spice trade in Medieval times TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Today's question comes to us from Nate Finch: I would love for you to do a podcast (series?) on Mediterranean "empires" after Rome (e.g. the Catalonian "empire", which extended all the way to Italy, the empire of the Venetian merchants, etc.). Heck, you could even do a series on regional identities in Spain, France, Italy, Turkey... the possibilities are endless. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
No matter how little you know about history, you know something about Adolf Hitler. And if you want to shut down an opponent, you can claim that Hitler said/did/believed the same thing. Godwin's Law exists for a reason. But Hitler remains a persistent mystery on one front—his religious faith. Atheists tend to insist Hitler was a devout Christian. Christians contend that he was an atheist. And still others suggest that he was a practicing member of the occult. None of these theories is true, says historian Richard Weikart in his new book Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich. Delving more deeply into the question of Hitler’s religious faith than any researcher to date, Weikart reveals the startling and fascinating truth about the most hated man of the twentieth century: Adolf Hitler was a pantheist who believed nature was the only true “God.” In this episode we discuss the following: How Hitler’s Frankenstein's monster religion of pantheism, eugenics, Germanic folk belief, and even Islam served to create the most notorious monster of the twentieth century Hitler constantly lied, so if he took a dose of truth serum, what would he say about his religious beliefs Why members of Hitler's inner circle (especially SS leader Heinrich Himmler) loved the occult so much that they regularly consulted astrologers...until Hitler stamped out the practice Why Hitler went on a propaganda crusade to white-wash Christian symbolism out of old photographs How atheists and conservative Christians both misunderstand what Hitler believed How Hitler actually was intent on destroying Christianity Check out Richard's book Hitler's Religion by clicking here. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Richard Weikart is a professor of modern European history at California State University, Stanislaus, and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. He has published numerous scholarly articles, as well as five previous books including The Death of Humanity: and the Case for Life (Regnery, 2016) and From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. He has appeared in several documentaries, including Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. In addition to scholarly journals, his work has been featured and discussed in the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, National Review, Christianity Today, World magazine, BreakPoint, Citizen, various radio shows, and other venues. Weikart lives in Snelling, CA, with his wife and children. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Today's question comes from Dean Wallace: Could you tell me about the career of [World War Two] agent Zigzag? WANT ME TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION ABOUT HISTORY? Click here to learn more. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Today's question comes from James Ganong: Could you please tell me the history of oldest university? I think it is in Egypt... WANT ME TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION ABOUT HISTORY? Click here to learn more. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Today's question is about the Varangians, a group of Vikings that conquered Kievan Rus and became the first rulers of the Russian state. I'd love it if you could talk about Kievan-Rus, the Rurik dynasty, The Varangians...any of these would be great. WANT ME TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION ABOUT HISTORY? Click here to learn more. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Today's question comes from C. M. Ho: How much of history has been the figment of some power hungry person or group? Some historians or those that call themselves historians are not adhering to the truth either. The news, it is said, is also manipulated. Is this a new phenomena or has it always been like this? It scares me to think that truth is nowhere to be found. WANT ME TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION ABOUT HISTORY? Click here to learn more. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher .
There are books about presidents. There are books about cocktails. Then there are books that create and attribute a cocktail to each of the 45 U.S. presidents. Journalist and editor Mark Will-Weber has written such a book. He actually written three: Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking; Drinking with the Democrats; and Drinking with the Republicans What began as a fun exploration into Warren G. Harding's flask that he hid in his golf bag during the Prohibition years turned into a wide-ranging survey of America's love-hate relationship with alcohol...and how it affected each of its presidents. Some like George W. Bush and Donald Trump were complete tee-totalers. Others like Obama and Clinton drank in moderation. Still others imbibed so much that they gave inaugural addresses completely hammered or even went on drunk driving cruises with terrified Secret Service agents in tow. But most of all, Mark gets into America's complicated relationship with alcohol and how it transformed from the libertine years of the Founding Fathers to the alcoholic years of the Civil War to the stern years of Temperance. And he even offers suggestions for how Republicans and Democrats can use drink to get along in these divided times. In this episode we go over: Favorite libations of each president Richard Nixon's love of drunk dialing Mark's favorite cocktail: McKinley's Delight (whiskey, sweet vermouth, cherry liqueur and absinthe) RESOURCES FOR THIS EPISODE Recipe for McKinley's Delight How Gary Hart's Downfall Forever Changed American Politics George Washington's Tavern Porter from Yard's Brewing Company MARK'S BOOKS Mint Juleps With Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking Drinking with the Republicans: The Politically Incorrect History of Conservative Concoctions Drinking with the Democrats: The Party Animal's History of Liberal Libations ABOUT THE AUTHOR Mark Will-Weber, a seasoned journalist and magazine editor, is the author of Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The complete History of Presidential Drinking, The Quotable Runner, and The Running Trivia Book. He lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Today's question comes from Suzanne: I would enjoy anything about the French in North America, Canada and the US, early American History of the Michigan Territory, Seven Years War, etc. WANT ME TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION ABOUT HISTORY? Click here to learn more. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Today's question comes from August Berkshire: Is it true that the person who invented the guillotine was guillotined himself? What the story behind both events? WANT ME TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION ABOUT HISTORY? Click here to learn more. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Today's question comes from Goa Yong: Is Bloody Mary a real person? WANT ME TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION ABOUT HISTORY? Click here to learn more. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Today's question comes from Ryan: Was Leif Erikson really the first explorer of European descent to explore North America? WANT ME TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION ABOUT HISTORY? Click here to learn more. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
In the 21st century presidents can't stay out of the spotlight. Barack Obama released his NCAA tournament brackets every year on ESPN, was a regular guest on Jimmy Fallon and the rest of the late night circuit, and was the first president to use Twitter. Donald Trump has gone even further with social media, using Twitter as a permanent means to bypass traditional media channels. But they are not the first consumers, or producers, of popular culture in the White House. Throughout America’s history, occupants of the White House have interacted with and been shaped by popular culture. Our guest today, Dr. Tevi Troy, author of What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House tells us fun and informative little-known anecdotes about everyone from George Washington to Donald Trump, revealing how each one has woven popular culture into different aspects of their leadership. In this episode we learn The literary works that shaped the political philosophy of Thomas Jefferson. Why Abraham Lincoln’s love of theater prompted him to ignore advice from advisors the night of his assassination. That voracious reader Teddy Roosevelt viewed books as job training and didn’t hesitate to read at parties. That Dwight D. Eisenhower loved Westerns so much that his staff struggled to keep him in supply. How Saturday Night Live irrevocably branded Gerald Ford as a klutz, contributing to his 1976 defeat. How Ronald Reagan identified the unifying role of film and often used movie quotes to rouse support. Why Barack Obama used celebrity endorsements to sell his policies to the American people. Tevi is not only a historian of U.S. politics. He was also a high-level player. In 2007 he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He was the chief operating officer of the largest civilian department in the federal government, with a budget of $716 billion and over 67,000 employees. Basically, he controlled Medicaid and Medicaid. In light of his experience Tevi has all sorts of fascinating stories about how the George W. Bush White House used history to dictate policy—in one instance all of Bush's advisors were requried to read a book on the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic to develop public policy against disease outbreaks. In that position, he oversaw all operations, including Medicare, Medicaid, public health RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE Tevi Troy's Website What Jefferson Read, Obama Watched, and Ike Tweeted Tevi on Twitter TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Today's question comes from Melanie Padon: When did people start using last names and why? How did they come up with them? WANT ME TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION ABOUT HISTORY? Click here to learn more. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Today's question comes to us from Peter Swanson. My question is what is the history of "salting the earth" after a military victory. How would an army in the ancient world have transported tons and tons and tons of salt and spread it everywhere? Isn't that a waste of time? WANT ME TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION ABOUT HISTORY? Click here to learn more. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Today's question comes to us courtesy of Brandon. Here's his question: This is Brandon Wall, and I'm wondering what would have happened if Nixon beat JFK in the 1960 presidential election. How would the world be looking these days, for instance, if Nixon had handled the Cuban missile crisis instead? WANT ME TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION ABOUT HISTORY? Click here to learn more. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Today's question comes to us from Justin from the Generation Why Podcast. It's a true crime podcast that you should definitely check out. Here's his question: What murder or assassination through history do you think had the most impact on the world? From Cleopatra to Archduke Franz Ferdinand to JFK, which one do you think changed the world the most? WANT ME TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION ABOUT HISTORY? Click here to learn more. TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Quick – name your favorite president. You probably said Washington or Lincoln, right? C'mon. You can be more original than that. Well, Brion McClanahan is original. He gladly tells people that the greatest president in American history was John Tyler. Confused looks then follow, usually with a question of "Who was that again?" On the other hand, we all have presidents whom we think were terrible. You can point to a Jimmy Carter, a Herbert Hoover, a Warren G. Harding, or (if you're an insufferable history nerd like me) Millard Fillmore. But Abraham Lincoln? Brion McClanahan—again, being original here—makes the argument that Lincoln, far from being America's savior, may have done her irreparable harm. But he is not making this argument for the sake of being a contrarian. Rather it's a position grounded in thorough research an consideration of what the real responsibility of a president is. After all, he wrote a book called 9 Presidents Who Screwed Up America: And Four Who Tried to Save Her. I can almost guarantee that you won't be able to guess who he names as the good and bad presidents. In this episode we discuss who they were, why they were so good or bad, and whether Brion has seen Hamilton on Broadway (he has a book on him coming out later this year). McClanahan argues that... Lincoln violated the Constitution because as commander in chief he believed he had to “subdue the enemy,” no matter the collateral damage. His violations created a blueprint for more executive abuse in the future. By the time Obama left office earlier this year, Americans suffered under twenty-eight consecutive years of unconstitutional executive usurpation of power. Over a two-year period, the Obama administration delayed the implementation of the Affordable Care Act twenty-eight times, ostensibly to give employers time to comply with the law. This was a blatantly unconstitutional power grab by the executive office. History has shown that presidents tend to abuse their power in their second term, and that the best presidents tend to serve less than eight years in office. MORE ABOUT BRION Brion McClanahan is the author or co-author of four books, The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers, (Regnery, 2009), The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution (Regnery History, 2012), Forgotten Conservatives in American History (Pelican, 2012), and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Real American Heroes, (Regnery, 2012). He has written for TheDailyCaller.com, LewRockwell.com, TheTenthAmendmentCenter.com, Townhall.com, and HumanEvents.com. McClanahan is a faculty member at Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom, has appeared on dozens of radio talk shows, and has spoken across the Southeast on the Founding Fathers and the founding principles of the United States. If you would like to book Dr. McClanahan for a speaking appearance, please email him. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE Brion's website Brion's podcast Tom Woods' Liberty Classroom Brion's Book: 9 Presidents Who Screwed Up America: And Four Who Tried to Save Her TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
The story of Reckless—a pack horse in the Korean War who was a beloved household name in the 1950s and the only animal in U.S. history to officially achieve the rank of Sergeant—is one of the strangest, most inspiring, and (sadly) unknown stories of the 20th century. In battle, Reckless made 51 trips—on her own—through 35 miles of rice paddies to deliver ammunition and supplies to her fellow Marines. She was trained to step over communications lines, get down at the sound of incoming fire, and ignore the noise of battle. She carried wounded soldiers to safety and was injured twice herself during the war, earning her two Purple Hearts. Not only was Reckless a great war hero, she fit in with her comrades like any other Marine—regularly swilling beer with the other Marines and inserting herself into group activities. When Robin Hutton discovered her tale in 2006, she was so inspired by the little mare’s story that she was determined to reintroduce Reckless to the world. To rediscover the story of this heroic horse, Hutton interviewed seventy-five Marines who served with Reckless and uncovered over 200 photos, spanning her war days and beyond. Sgt. Reckless reveals heartwarming and hilarious anecdotes about Reckless’s feats and antics, bringing to life the touching story of how a young Korean man’s horse became one of the greatest Marine wartime heroes of all time. Here are other astounding facts about Reckless: In just one day of battle, Reckless made 51 trips carrying 386 rounds (almost five tons) of ammunition, walking over 35 miles through rice paddies and up steep mountains with enemy fire coming in at the rate of 500 rounds per minute. Reckless also carried wounded soldiers away from battle, and she herself was wounded twice, earning two Purple Hearts. Reckless ate anything and everything—but especially scrambled eggs and pancakes in the morning with her morning cup of coffee, along with beer in the evening with her comrades. The Marines loved Reckless so much that in the heat of battle, they threw their flak jackets over her to protect her when incoming fire was heavy, risking their own safety. On April 10, 1954, Reckless was officially promoted to sergeant—an honor never bestowed, before or since, on an animal. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE Video: Sgt. Reckless: Korean War Horse Video Robin Hutton's Sgt. Reckless Website Sgt. Reckless Facebook Page Robin's Book: Sgt. Reckless: America's War Horse TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
Welcome to the first episode of the History Unplugged podcast. We are kicking things off by exploring the US Army’s failed experiment of using camels as the military’s main pack animal in the American Southwest. Camels are more than a zoo curiosity that spits on you in front of a field trip of first-graders. They are more than the mascot of your favorite cigarette brand. Camels were the long haul-truck of the ancient world. They created the global economy and the spice road. Were you a Roman Senator you want cinnamon from Sri Lanka or nutmeg from Indonesia? It came to you by camel. Were you a Chinese emperor who wanted gold, henna, storax, frankincense, asbestos, cloth, silk gauze, silk damask, glass, and silver from Arabia? A camel brought it to you. But did you know that America almost chose the camel as its preferred method of long-distance travel in the early nineteenth century? Before railroads or long-distance trucks, some Americans dreamed of millions of camels flooding the Southwest to make desert crossings easy and safe. A Secretary of War named Jefferson Davis thought the plan would work. He dispatched an Army Officer to the Middle East to purchase several dozen dromedaries and hire a few cameleers. Thus the U.S. Camel Corps was born. RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE To listen to a country song inspired by one of the cameleers, Hi Jolly, click here. MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE HISTORY UNPLUGGED PODCAST This is the first episode of History Unplugged. It celebrates unsung heroes, mythbusts historical lies, and rediscovers the forgotten stories that changed our world. There are two sorts of episodes that we feature on the History Unplugged podcast: the call-in show and author interviews. For history lovers who listen to podcasts, it is the most comprehensive show of its kind because it's the only one that dedicates episodes to both interviewing experts and answering questions from its audience. It features a call-in show where you can ask our resident historian (Scott Rank, PhD) absolutely anything (What was it like to be a Turkish sultan with 4 wives and 12 concubines? If you were sent back in time, how would you kill Hitler?) and long form interviews with historians who have written about everything—and I mean everything—including gruff World War II generals who flew with airmen on bombing raids, a war horse who gained the rank of sergeant, and presidents who gave their best speeches while drunk. For the call-in show it features an actual history question submitted from a listener just like you. I (Scott) will answer your question in 5-10 minutes. You can submit your questions to me by going here. You can ask me anything. What did the Vikings eat? What was it like to be a Turkish sultan with 4 wives and multiple concubines? If you were sent back in time with your current knowledge, how would you conquer the Roman Empire? What would be the best way to assassinate Hitler? The second sort of episode on our podcast is the long form interview (40 minutes - 1 hour) with top history book authors. These authors have written about everything—and I mean everything—including gruff World War II generals who flew with airmen on bombing raids, a war horse who gained the rank of sergeant, and presidents who gave their best speeches while drunk. I sit down with them and go in-depth on their topics. So far I've been blown away by the stories I've heard. Here are some of our guests lined up in the next few days. Robin Hutton, author of Sgt. Reckless, America's War Horse Mark Will-Weber, author of Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking Prof. Richard Weikart, author of Hitler’s Relgion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher