Thursday, February 13, 2014

Best History Podcasts

With Mean Observations About Each.

I have culled the entire internet for good history podcasts, and have been shocked at the lack of them.  My only explanation for this is the way that historians often come to modernity only when forced, and often with tears and gnashing of teeth, rending of garments, etc.  Conduct an experiment: go to any children's museum in the world, and observe the technology.  Then go to any history museum.  At the children's museum, you will probably enter a room where you can test out an app that allows you to levitate while mentally texting your bff.  At the history museum, they'll hand you a walkman with foam-covered headphones that plays Wanda Landowska playing Dixie on her harpsichord.

I went to the Phoenix Art Museum with my grandma yesterday and asked if she remembered taking me to the massive exhibit of Egyptian art back in the mid 90s.  It might've been the highlight of my year, because I was still going to be an Egyptologist then.  I studied every item closely and read every line of text.  I still have the Eye of Horus pendant I bought at the gift shop.

Her memory of that day: "Remember when you wouldn't put on the headphones?"
Me: "No?"
Her: "You thought you'd get lice."


1. Backstory with the American History Guys

Covers topics in a conceptual way instead of event by event, with topics like how America came to standardize the concept of time, or how we arrived at our opinions about children.  Each of the three hosts specializes on a century: 18th, 19th or 20th.  Each has bonafide history credentials, and I think one is on the board at Monticello or something.  They are almost never annoying, which is amazing, and when their guests attempt to speak untruths, they are slapped down instantly and with vigor.  In the Civil War episode, some old Confederate enthusiast tries to explain that flying the Confederate flag is ok in contemporary times because freed slaves enlisted to fight for the south.  It's already a stupid fucking connection to make, but the guy implied that MANY freed black men did this when in reality, it was just a few, and this was made clear to him in a quietly ferocious and punctilious way.  In your face, idiot.

2. Civil War Series with Dr. James Robertson

Dr. Robertson tells short stories about the war in a familiar and sensitive way which is only made more adorable by his slight lisp.  He seems to have let the project lapse, but there are plenty of old episodes to listen to.  He covers little known topics in a way that is both brief and very interesting.  My mental image of him is a little more stylized than the reality - no muttonchops, no vest!  No replica "US" belt buckle.  Well, we like him anyway.

3. History Extra by BBC History Magazine

THEY ARE ALWAYS SELF-PROMOTING.  IT IS SO DISTRACTING.  Did you know the BBC History magazine is the best-selling history magazine in the UK and maybe the universe?  Did you know you can get it for $5?  Did you know you could learn more at the website, and buy a shirt, and subscribe, and make a donation?  Well you can.  That said, the topics and guests are very good and I have learned all sorts of interesting things that I didn't know, about things like the black plague, and Henry VIII's mom, and peasant casualwear of the 18th century.

4.  Lapham's Quarterly Podcast

I don't know.  One of the editors narrates this podcast and he has the most incredibly horrible, annoying voice.  I listened to one in which Dick Cavett was interviewed by Lewis Lapham himself, so that one was fine, but I don't know if I can listen to the others if that hideous guy is on all of them.  Lapham's is a pretty good magazine, though, so I am keeping the hope alive.  Why doesn't someone tell him his voice is so bad?  Dealbreaker material.

5. The Bowery Boys

NYC history.  These guys aren't annoying at all.  Topics are interesting and well-researched.  They make me want to go back and tour "George Washington's New York," which is something I think I made up, but is probably an actual tour.  I'm currently reading a book about GW, and all of the talk about Manhattan spots that are still there, and what a hideous little shithole he thought it was, makes me want to go stand in the same places and pretend to be a 6'7 gentle giant who can't have any fun because everyone admires him too much.

6. BBC In Our Time: History

Pretty entertaining because the host/guests are all very invested in their comments and ready to get into a heated match of words at any time.  The problem is that they do, constantly, and it starts to sound like the Jerry Springer version of a history podcast as they bicker away unintelligibly.  The topics are very intense and they get into them instantly, leaving no time for laypeople to catch up.  If you are not at least semi-familiar with the incident they'll be discussing, then forget it.

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