peter rojas

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My History Podcast Finds for 2017

It's been almost exactly a year since I shared the list of my favorite history podcasts. It was an extensive list, but if you thought having so much to listen to meant that I'd stopped my search for new shows, well, you were sorely mistaken, because I found a bunch more this past year that I loved. Here are my favorite history podcast finds for 2017:

Tides of History

Tides of History started out as The Fall of Rome, a podcast exploring the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, but after a name change morphed into something bigger and more ambitious by tackling not just why Rome fell, but also how urban society got back on track in Europe a thousand years during the late medieval and early modern era. Host Patrick Wyman does a masterful job of weaving together strands from history, archaeology, sociology, religion, politics, and even climate change in order to tell a remarkably nuanced and complex story that can tell us a lot about why the world we live in today is the way it is.

Hardcore History Addendum

If you're a fan of history podcasts you already know Dan Carlin, host of the insanely great Hardcore History. Hardcore History Addendum is a spin-off where Dan plans to fit in episodes that don't have the ambitious scope of a regular Hardcore History episode, which are now usually several hours long and part of multi-episode series. His first episode was an extended tangent from his series on World War I, and the second was an interview with History of Rome and Revolutions host Mike Duncan, having those two legends on a podcast together was sort of like when Al Pacino and Robert Deniro finally appeared in a movie together.  


I sort of have a conflict here, since betaworks ventures is an investor in Gimlet, the podcast network which produces Uncivil, but I hope it's clear that given my insatiable appetite for history podcasts I'd be listening to this anyway. Anyway, Uncivil is a show about the American Civil War that busts persistent myths about the conflict as well as uncovers little-known stories that I'm embarrassed I didn't know before.

Heaven's Gate

A ten-part series on the Heaven's Gate cult, which committed mass suicide outside of San Diego back in 1997. I was initially reluctant to dive into this one, I remembered this when it happened and questioned whether there was enough there for more than an episode or two. Not only was I wrong -- the story of Heaven's Gate is deeper and more nuanced than I'd thought -- but host Glynn Washington (who also created and hosts the excellent Snap Judgment podcast) grew up in an apocalyptic cult himself, giving the series added depth. (There's a fascinating episode where the show's producer interviews Glynn about his own experiences.)

The Grift

A podcast by New Yorker writer Maria Konnikova, The Grift goes deep into the stories of con artists, hoaxers, art forgers, and impostors. My favorite episodes have been the ones that go a little further back in time, like the one about Cassie Chadwick, who convinced people she was the illegitimate daughter of Andrew Carnegie.

The History of Exploration

The History of Exploration is a hidden gem of a podcast tracing the history of our earliest voyages into the known, so far covering ancient explorers like Hanno the Navigator, Pytheas, and Polybius. Last update to the series was this past May, so it's unclear whether it will continue, but the episodes that have been released so far have been excellent.

Slow Burn

Slow Burn is a show from Slate that isn't just about Watergate, it tries to convey just what it was like to experience the scandal as it was unfolding, when no one knew it would bring down Nixon's presidency (and yes, the echoes of our own time are intentional). This is another area of history that I thought I already knew decently well (or at least thought I did after having read All the President's Men), but turns out there was SO much more going on that I'd known nothing about.

What Really Happened?

Hosted by Andrew Jenks, What Really Happened? picks an event, usually from the past few decades and tries to figure out whether the story we're told is the one we should believe. Episodes range from an incident in 1981 where Muhammad Ali supposedly talked a man out of committing suicide, Michael Jordan's first retirement from basketball, and the death of Princess Diana.

The Heritage Podcast

Ok, The Heritage Podcast isn't just about a history -- host Will Webb's goal with this show is to offer a comprehensive liberal arts education and as such also covers philosophy, literature, and anthropology (with more topics to be included I'm sure as he works his way to them). It's a great resource for learning about all sorts of things that used to be a mandatory part of a person's education, like the differences between Plato and Aristotle, I wish I'd had this around twenty years ago (I'm only just now reading The Iliad, for example).

Other history podcasts I added to my list this past year, but haven't listened to yet:

The Assassination - A BBC series about the assassination of Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto

Cults - A series about, you guessed it, cults. They have a two-part episode on Heaven's Gate that I'm going to check out soon.

The History of the Early Church

The Thread - Season one of this show promises to "connect the dots between John Lennon's murder and Vladimir Lenin's revolution 63 years earlier."

The History of the Mongols

Kingdom, Empire, and Plus Ultra - "Conversations on the history of Portugal and Spain, 1415 - 1898."