History podcasts do what high school history class couldn’t; they make it fun.
I am a history major, so it goes without saying that I love history. I recognize that this isn’t the case for a lot of you here on campus. Some of you may even outright hate history.
As a future history teacher, I lament the way such an essential subject is often taught. From a purely entertainment perspective, history can be a wonderful source of escapism that gives even the best fiction a run for its money.
More importantly, there are two crucial lessons that are taught from history. Firstly, that egalitarian values really are best in the long run, it really is in our best interest to make room for one another. Secondly, our collective lifetimes are merely the current chapter in the book of human history. We have a crucial responsibility to write our pages well. The laws of the future are based on the actions of the present.
If you ever have been interested in brushing up on your history, but don’t have time in your schedule to take a class, or if you are like me and are an avid fan always looking to dig deeper, well now is a great time to check out some of the many quality history podcasts.
If you don’t know where to start, here are a few of my favorites from over the years.
Mike Duncan is an absolute giant in the tiny, niche world of history podcasting. Way back in 2007, Duncan set the standard for what a history podcast should be with his award-winning “The History of Rome.”
I will always love “The History of Rome” as it was the first podcast I ever listened to. Yet objectively, “Revolutions” is the better show by any measure.
In “Revolutions,” Duncan takes his listeners on a journey through the Age of Revolutions and beyond. Our famous revolution was only one of many that occurred in the late 18th to 19th centuries. By the late 18th century, the collective consciousness of the common and downtrodden came to realize that the world had changed, and that their selfish and ineffective rulers needed to change as well, or else.
From the depths of despair, poverty and illness, the will of the people sprang forth. A raging inferno of anger swept the old world of the Middle Ages away, and laid the groundwork for the modern, egalitarian age we know today. Many concepts we take for granted like citizenship, trial by jury, separation of powers and equality before the law were forged in this inferno.
The story begins with somewhat of a prequel, the English Civil War of 1640 to 1660. From there it follows the revolutionary spirit to the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and many more until finally ending nearly three centuries later with the Russian Revolution of the early 20th century.
Duncan is an excellent storyteller, his writing and narrative style are superb, and following this amazing story of western history is truly a delight. More importantly, this story shows just how hard people fought for the rights we take for granted today, and just how fragile they can be.
The Age of Napoleon:
This excellent podcast by Everett Rummage is best to start after you finish the French Revolution section of Mike Duncan’s “Revolutions” as you cannot tell the story of the French Revolution without Napoleon. In fact, Napoleon wouldn’t have been the Napoleon we know today without the French Revolution.
Duncan’s narrative on Napoleon is limited to the direct role he plays in the French Revolution, which is only a brief glimpse of the man. By contrast, Rummage’s story is very much a biographical and personal overview of the entirety of Napoleon’s life.
From episode one on, Rummage’s listeners get to experience the full breadth of Napoleon’s “Breaking Bad”-esque character arc. Napoleon began his career as an idealistic and starry-eyed revolutionary. A firm defender of egalitarianism and devoted to the Revolution’s “Jacobin” cause, early Napoleon can almost be described as a proto-socialist. It is a remarkable journey, to follow Napoleon’s evolution episode by episode.
Much like Walter White from “Breaking Bad,” Napoleon begins to taste power and respect, and initially with good intentions, he takes the first steps toward the feared, respected and hated man he would become.
A current graduate student at the University of North Texas, Rummage is a lifelong Napoleon fan and is working to become a professional Napoleonic historian. As a result, his narrative can be a bit on the academic side from time to time. His style is structurally very good, but it could use a little more personality if you ask me. However, that is the only criticism I can offer, everything else is outstanding.
The History of England:
This excellent podcast by David Crowther is my absolute favorite. This man is a delight. I have never felt the personality of a podcaster as much as when I listen to Crowther. He is no professional historian, just a highly dedicated amateur, or as he often says “Just a bloke in a shed, who likes a bit of a cast now and again.”
In his own unique and humble way, Crowther has accomplished what so many historians fail at. He makes history fun, he makes it personal, and he makes it engaging. Professional historians may have better academic credentials, but I have never experienced anyone accomplish what Crowther has in quite the same way.
The story of the podcast is the story of England from the final days of the Roman occupation in the 400s, and is currently in the 1600s just before the English Civil War. It is a very fascinating story, especially the Wars of the Roses of the 1400s which many of you may already know, was George R.R. Martin’s inspiration for the “Game of Thrones” series.
Crowther may not be the most efficient storyteller when compared to Duncan or Rummage, but he is by a long shot the most enjoyable one I have come across. If you are a fan of old-timey English slang, this podcast is a treasure trove. His dry English humor is hilarious. He often interrupts the narrative to tell some self-deprecating joke about what a fat, incompetent middle-aged Englishman he is.
So, the next time you are driving to work or doing some dishes, instead of putting on an album, tune into one of these stories. After all, it is your story, it’s the story of us, and it’s a pretty good one to boot.