History Unplugged Podcast
History Unplugged Podcast
About History Unplugged Podcast
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.
King Arthur. The search for the historical figure behind what is arguably the most famous cycle of legends ever has been relentless over the centuries. Many think he was a Romano-British military commander in the 5th/6th centuries who fought the Anglo-Saxons and saved Britain in its infancy. But other historians put the real-life Arthur at a much earlier date, arguing that the man whose story started the traditions of Arthur was a soldier name Lucius Artorius Castus who lived at the end of the second century A.D. There are enough historical clues to reconstruct Castus’s extraordinary, which career took him from one end of the Roman Empire to the other, bringing him into contact with tribespeople amongst the Steppe nomads – in particular the Sarmatians. For several decades the Sarmatians have been thought to be the inspiration behind Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, among other British tales. Today’s guests are John Matthews and Linda Malcor, authors of “Artorius: The Real King Arthur.” We focus on Castus’s career, not only commenting on the parallels with the Arthurian tradition but also providing details about the Roman Empire of the second century A.D. along the way.
In 19th century America, no science was more important than botany. Understanding plants meant more productive plantations, more wealth extracted from cash crops, and more money flowing into the United States. The science of botany became weaponized, fueling ideas of Manifest Destiny and other programs of political expansion was used for political ends. But other authors and thinkers believed that nature could teach humanity different lessons. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s struggles in his garden inspired him to write stories in which plants defy human efforts to impose order. Radical scientific ideas about plant intelligence and sociality prompted Emily Dickinson to imagine a human polity that embraces kinship with the natural world. Frederick Douglass cautioned that the most prominent political context for plants remained plantation slavery. Today’s guest is Mary Kuhn, author of “The Garden Politic: Global Plants and Botanical Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century America.” We explore how politicians of the 19th century used agriculture as a vehicle for power politics, but the same branch of science contained the seeds of alternative political visions.
In the late 1830s a young black man was born into a world of wealth and privilege in the powerful, thousand-year-old African kingdom of Borno. But instead of becoming a respected general like his fearsome father (who was known as The Lion), Nicolas Said’s fate was to fight a very different kind of battle. At the age of thirteen, Said was kidnapped and sold into slavery, beginning an epic journey that would take him across Africa, Asia, Europe, and eventually the United States, where he would join one of the first African American regiments in the Union Army. Nicholas Said would then spend the rest of his life fighting for equality. Along the way, Said encountered such luminaries as Queen Victoria and Czar Nicholas I, fought Civil War battles that would turn the war for the North, established schools to educate newly freed black children, and served as one of the first black voting registrars. Today’s guest is today’s guest Dean Calbreath, author of“The Sergeant, a biography of Said. Through the lens of Said’s continent-crossing life, Calbreath examines the parallels and differences in the ways slavery was practiced from a global and religious perspective, and he highlights how Said’s experiences echo the discrimination, segregation, and violence.
What do Italian unification, Pinocchio and pizza have in common? In this episode preview from History of the Papacy, host Steve Guerra dives in! The Risorgimento was a period of political and social upheaval in Italy that lasted from the early 19th century to the mid-20th century. The movement aimed to unite the various states and regions of Italy into one unified nation. Pinocchio, the beloved children's story written by Carlo Collodi, can be seen as a metaphor for Italian unification through the character's journey from a wooden puppet to a real boy. And last but not least, let's talk about pizza. Italy's most famous export, pizza, is a symbol of the country's rich cultural heritage and culinary traditions. Whether you're a fan of traditional Margherita or a more unconventional topping, there's a pizza for everyone. To continue listening to History of the Papacy, check out: Apple Podcasts: https://apple.co/3L4IzN9 Spotify: https://spoti.fi/3ZtqsEd Parthenon: https://www.parthenonpodcast.com/history-of-the-papacy-podcast
November 4, 1791, was a black day in American history. General Arthur St. Clair’s army had been ambushed by Native Americans in what is now western Ohio. In just three hours, St. Clair’s force sustained the greatest loss ever inflicted on the United States Army by American Indians—a total nearly three times larger than what incurred in the more famous Custer fight of 1876. It was the greatest proportional loss by any American army in the nation’s history. By the time this fighting ended, over six hundred corpses littered an area of about three and one half football fields laid end to end. Still more bodies were strewn along the primitive road used by hundreds of survivors as they ran for their lives with Native Americans in hot pursuit. It was a disaster of cataclysmic proportions for George Washington’s first administration, which had been in office for only two years.<i></i> <i> </i> Today’s guest is Alan Gaff, author of <i>Field of Corpses: Arthur St. Clair and the Death of the American Army</i>. We look at the first great challenge of Washington’s presidency, a humiliating defeat that the United States needed to strengthen its military or die. It’s a war story that emphasizes individuals and small units rather than grandiose armies and famous generals, making St. Clair’s defeat all the more immersive and personable.
Rudolf Ivanovich Abel was one of the most integral agents of the KBG, the Soviet Union’s most renowned spy network during the Cold War of the 1950s. He may have infiltrated Los Alamos labs and fed critical intelligence back to Moscow through the use of cloak-and-dagger techniques like sneaking microfilm in hollowed- out coins and dropping bundles of cash at lamppost hideaways. He kept it up until his cover was blown by an incompetent colleague who wanted to defect to the United States. This lead resulted in a frenzied search by the FBI to discover the identity and whereabouts of the spymaster. The month long stake out of his hotel in Manhattan leading to his eventual arrest and transfer to a Texas deportation facility where he was put under extensive interrogation. His three-month trial and guilty verdict for violating U.S. espionage laws resulted in 30 years in prison rather than the electric chair. The exchange for his freedom several years later involved the American Spy Francis Gary Powers. To discuss this story is today’s guest Cecil Kuhne, a prominent litigator, who has long been interested in the world of Cold War. He is the author of <i>KGB Man: The Cold War’s Most Notorious Soviet Agent and the First to be Exchanged at the Bridge of Spies.</i>
In 1848, a year of international democratic revolt, a young, enslaved couple, Ellen and William Craft, achieved one of the boldest feats of self-emancipation in American history. They escaped slavery through daring, determination, and disguise, with Ellen passing as a wealthy, disabled white man and William posing as “his” slave. They made their escape together across more than 1,000 miles, riding out in the open on steamboats, carriages, and trains that took them from bondage in Georgia to the free states of the North. Along the way, they dodged slave traders, military officers, and even friends of their enslavers, who might have revealed their true identities. The tale of their adventure soon made them celebrities and generated headlines around the country. Americans could not get enough of this charismatic young couple, who traveled another 1,000 miles crisscrossing New England, drawing thunderous applause as they spoke alongside some of the greatest abolitionist luminaries of the day—among them Frederick Douglass and William Wells Brown. But even then, they were not out of danger. With the passage of an infamous new Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, all Americans became accountable for returning refugees like the Crafts to slavery. Then yet another adventure began, as slave hunters came up from Georgia, forcing the Crafts to flee once again—this time from the United States, their lives and thousands more on the line, and the stakes never higher. Today’s guest is Ilyon Woo, author of “Master, Slave, Husband, Wife: An Epic Journey From Slavery to Freedom.” We look at this story of escape, emancipation, and the challenges of Antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction America.
The December 7, 1941, surprise attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the United States into World War II. Just six months later in May 1942, flying new C-47 transport aircraft, the 60th Troop Carrier Group led the way as the first U.S. TCG to deploy to England and the European Theater of Operations in World War II. Leading the way to victory, the 60th TCG’s first mission—dropping U. S. paratroopers outside of Oran, North Africa—was not only the first combat airborne mission in U.S. Army history, but also the longest airborne mission of the entire war. This drop spearheaded Operation TORCH, also known as the Invasion of North Africa, by taking key Axis airfields just inland from the amphibious landing zones. The 60th TCG went on to fly some of the first combat aeromedical evacuation missions and the first combat mission towing CG-4A “Waco” gliders during Operation HUSKY—the Invasion of Sicily. As the new airborne, air land, aeromedical evacuation, and glider missions matured in World War II, the 60th TCG continued to play a major role, paying in blood for valuable lessons learned in the school of hard knocks. The group later flew dramatic missions into Yugoslavia, supporting Partisans as part of the secret war in the Balkans, an episode of World War II history still all but unknown today and dropped British paratroops in the airborne invasion of Greece. The Group was inactivated at the end of the war. Today’s guest is Col. Mark C. Vlahos, author of “Leading the Way to Victory: A History of the 60th Troop Carrier Group 1940-1945.” We look at the group’s battles, adversity, hardships, and triumphs from inception through the Allied victory in Europe.
Growing up in New York as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, Nina Siegal had always wondered about the experience of her mother and maternal grandparents living in Europe during World War II. She had heard stories of the war as a child from her mother and grandfather, and read Anne Frank’s diary in school, but the tales were crafted as moral lessons — to never waste food, to be grateful for all you receive, to hide your silver — while the details of the past went untold to make it easier to assimilate into American life. When Siegal moved to Amsterdam as an adult, those questions came up again, as did another horrifying one: Why did seventy five percent of the Dutch Jewish community perish in the war, while in other Western European countries the proportions were significantly lower? How did this square with the narratives of Dutch resistance she had heard so much about? Siegal decided to get into the archives and look at wartime diaries of Dutch citizens from all walks of life and eventually wrote “The Diary Keepers World War II In The Netherlands, as Written by the People Who Lived Through It.” Siegal joins us to discuss<b> </b>a part of history we haven’t seen in quite this way before. We look at stories of a Dutch Nazi police detective, a Jewish journalist imprisoned at Westerbork transit camp, a grocery store owner who saved dozens of lives, and several others into a braided nonfictional narrative of the Nazi occupation and the Dutch Holocaust, as individuals experienced it day by day.
There are countless ways Shakespeare has made his way into unexpected corners of American life. It starts at the top with our presidents. Shakespeare is a longtime ally of America’s Commanders-in-Chief: Thomas Jefferson took a pilgrimage to his house, John Adams took lessons from King Lear about child usurpers, and JFK thought that the Bard spoke so directly to the U.S.’s Cold War challenges that he was more American than British. But Shakespeare speaks to many other classes of people. In 1849, a riot broke out in New York between working class and aristocratic theatre fans over which actor did the best Hamlet, and 31 were left dead. Today’s guest is Barry Edelstein, a seasoned director of Shakespeare and host of the new podcast Where There’s a Will: Finding Shakespeare. . From a Henry V performance in a maximum security prison to a look at how Shakespeare assists children on the autism spectrum, we explore why the Bard’s works permeate our history and culture, and what that says about him, and about our society.
Some remember Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency as a time of peace and prosperity, but in reality, it was an era of constant global crises. In this episode preview from This American President, host Richard Lim explores how Eisenhower skillfully navigated the perils of the Cold War. To continue listening to This American President, check out: Apple Podcasts: https://apple.co/3RNJS4j Spotify: https://spoti.fi/3jTClEj Parthenon: https://www.parthenonpodcast.com/this-american-president Hear more episodes of This American President: Theodore Roosevelt and the Pursuit of Greatness: https://apple.co/3IgUAx9 / https://spoti.fi/3E0zoZv Zachary Taylor, America's Only Homeless President: https://apple.co/40OuGaW / https://spoti.fi/3DUzzFB The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland: https://apple.co/3xdIUER / https://spoti.fi/3ltBmLF
In 1861, just as the Civil War began, the leaders of the Confederacy soon realized they were outmatched when it came to military might, especially in terms of Naval power. (For example, the U.S. Navy had 42 commissioned ships as of the start of the year—the Confederacy had 1.) And the Northern states had much more industrial might in order to get more ships built. With such a stark advantage, the Union was able to form a naval blockade that could choke the Confederacy militarily, and also economically. The leaders of the Confederacy realized that the only way to outfit a strong navy was to receive support from aboard—namely, from the still-neutral Great Britain. Neutral though its leaders claimed to be, public sentiment in Britain at the time leaned toward the Confederacy. The Southern leaders dispatched the charming and devious Captain James Bulloch to Liverpool to lead the way to clandestinely acquire a cutting-edge fleet of ships (and weapons) that would break President Lincoln’s blockade of Confederate ports, sink Northern merchant vessels, and drown the U.S. Navy’s mightiest ships at sea. The profits from gunrunning and smuggling cotton—Dixie’s notorious “white gold”—would finance the scheme. Opposing him was the American consul named Thomas Dudley, a resolute Quaker lawyer and abolitionist. Knowing that the state of the Union was at stake, he was determined to stop Bulloch by any means necessary in a spy-versus-spy game of move and countermove, gambit and sacrifice, intrigue and betrayal. If Dudley failed, Britain would likely ally with the South and imperil a Northern victory. The battleground for these spy games was the Dickensian port of Liverpool, whose dockyards built more ships each year than the rest of the world combined, whose warehouses stored more cotton than anywhere else on earth, and whose merchant princes, said one observer, were “addicted to Southern proclivities, foreign slave trade, and domestic bribery.” To tell this story is today’s guest Alexander Rose, author of “The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy.”
One of the lowest points of World War 2 for the Allies was autumn 1943, when bombing runs from England to Germany were ramping up. Hundreds of B-17s flew out to strike military targets, but they flew unescorted due to being the only planes with enough range (fighters could only make it from England to Belgium and back) and were sitting ducks for German fighters. Losses were as high as 25 percent. Flight crews were grounded and murmured mutiny. But what change everything was the revolutionary P-51 Mustang fighter. It had a top speed of over 400 mph and fly over 2,000 miles – outrunning and outlasting any other fighter in the war. But not many know the story of how it gained its reputation—how it nearly didn’t make it to the skies at all. Today’s guests are David and Margaret White, author of “Wings of War: The World War II Fighter Plane that Saved the Allies and the Believers Who Made It Fly.” We discuss how the P-51 Mustang airplane was not only used in the war, but how it was created, the roadblocks that almost prevented it from taking flight against the Luftwaffe, and how it ultimately won the war.
No British General of the Revolutionary War has been written about more than John Burgoyne. That’s because of his surrender of his army at Saratoga, New York in 1777, widely seen as the turning point in the Revolutionary War. He is considered a reckless lout, and there’s plenty in his life story to support this characterization. He gambled heavily and possibly had to flee England as a young man to escape his debtors. His father-in-law eventually paid Burgoyne’s debts and got him another commission in the army, just in time for the 7 Years War. There he served admirably and became a war hero. But 300 years after his birth, the many lives of Burgyone -- dashing cavalry colonel of the Seven Years War, satirical London playwright, reformer Member of Parliament, gambler in the clubs on St James’s Street – have been forgotten. Today’s guest is Norman Poser, author of From the Battlefield to the Stage: The Many Lives of General John Burgyone. We look not only at the Saratoga campaign, but also elements of Burgoyne’s eventful life that have never been adequately explored. He was a socialite, welcome in London’s fashionable drawing rooms, a high-stakes gambler in its elite clubs, and a playwright whose social comedies were successfully performed on the London stage. Moreover, as a member of Parliament for thirty years, Burgoyne supported the rule of law, fought the corruption of the East India Company – he was a sworn enemy of Clive of India whom he denounced with all his might – and advocated religious tolerance.
"How might the British have handled Hitler differently?” remains one of history’s greatest "what ifs." Many fault the Neville Chamberlain administration of the 1930s with trying to appease the Fuhrer by any means necessary. But they failed, still got a war, and earned a reputation for cowardice. Or as Winston Churchill said to Chamberlain, “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war.” But what if we haven’t given Britain enough credit for trying to stave off the war in ways that weren’t dishonorable? It turns out they did, and they got very creative. One method involved using a handful of amateur British intelligence agents who wined, dined, and befriended the leading National Socialists between the wars. With support from royalty, aristocracy, politicians, and businessmen, they hoped to use the recently founded Anglo-German Fellowship as a vehicle to civilize and enlighten the Nazis. At the heart of the story are a pacifist Welsh historian, a World War I flying ace, and a butterfly-collecting businessman, who together offered the British government better intelligence on the horrifying rise of the Nazis than any other agents. They infiltrated the Nazi high command deeper than any other spies, relaying accurate intelligence to both their government and to its anti-appeasing critics. Having established a personal rapport with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, they delivered intelligence to him directly, paving the way for American military support for Great Britain against the Nazi threat. To tell this story is today’s guest, Charles Spicer, author of “Coffee With Hitler.” His book is based on eight years of research among letters, intelligence reports, and other primary sources, many of which have been lost or overlooked by historians. While these men didn’t succeed in their goal, they did feed critical intelligence to the British Establishment and gave them a very clear understanding of the threat that Hitler posed. That’s why when war did finally break out, Britain wasn’t caught asleep at the switch. It had spent years arming itself and training for the outbreak of hostilities. More could have been done – and that’s always the case when it comes to total war – but we have these men to credit for trying to avoid and neutralize an enemy that was unavoidable and immovable.
What if one book could contain the sum of mankind’s knowledge? Scholars and chroniclers have tried to write this book since antiquity, penning several so-called universal histories (perhaps the best was Rashid al-Din’s “Compendium of the Chronicles” that was commissioned by a Mongol Empire daughter state in 14th century). This goal was reached in 1768 with the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica was published in Scotland by Enlightenment thinkers who believed that human thinking could be categorized. It became a fixture of American households in the 19th century and occupied the bookshelves of every library and school in the United States until very recently. Today’s guest is Jill Lepore's show, host of the show “The Last Archive,” about the US's post-truth crisis -- of how we know what we know and why it seems lately as if we can't agree on anything at all. She both reckons with the present moment through her historical expertise and also presents solutions that are forward and current.
How far can a single leader alter the course of history? Thomas Carlyle, who promoted the Great Man Theory, says that talented leaders are the primary – if not the sole – cause of change. This view has been challenged by social scientists who understand that leaders are not only constrained by their societies, but merely products of them. Whatever this interplay between a personality and his society, it raises the question of whether dictators are as unconstrained as they seem, and if so, how do they attain that power? Today’s guest is Ian Kershaw, author of Personality and Power. We look at an array of case-studies of twentieth-century European leaders – some dictators, some democrats – and explore what was it about these leaders, and the times in which they lived, that allowed them such untrammelled and murderous power, and what factors brought that era in Europe to an end?
The most disruptive and transformative event in the Middle Ages wasn’t the Crusades, the Battle of Agincourt, or even the Black Death. It was the Mongol Conquests. Even after his death, Genghis Khan’s Mongol Empire grew to become the largest in history—four times the size of Alexander the Great’s and stretching from the Pacific to the Mediterranean. But the extent to which these conquering invasions and subsequent Mongol rule transformed the diverse landscape of the medieval Near East have been understated in our understanding of the modern world. Today’s guest is Nicholas Morton, author of “The Mongol Storm: Making and Breaking Empires in the Middle East.” We discuss the overlapping connections of religion, architecture, trade, philosophy and ideas that reformed over a century of Mongol rule. Rather than a Euro- or even Mongol-centric perspective, this history uniquely examines the Mongol invasions from the multiple perspectives of the network of peoples of the Near East and travelers from all directions—including famous figures of this era such as Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, Ibn Khaldun, and Roger Bacon, who observed and reported on the changing region to their respective cultures—and the impacted peoples of empires—Byzantine, Seljuk and then Ottoman Turks, Ayyubid, Armenian, and more—under the violence of conquest.
On January 16, 1944, the submarine rescue vessel USS Macaw ran aground at Midway Atoll while attempting to tow the stranded submarine USS Flier. The Flier was pulled free six days later but another three weeks of salvage efforts plagued by rough seas and equipment failures failed to dislodge the Macaw. On February 12, enormous waves nudged the ship backward into deeper water. As night fell and the Macaw slowly sank, the twenty-two sailors on board—ship's captain Paul W. Burton, his executive officer, and twenty enlisted men—sought refuge in the pilothouse but by the following afternoon, the compartment was almost entirely flooded. Burton gave the order to open the portside door and make for the foremast. Three men succeeded but most of the others were swept overboard. Five of them died, including Burton. Three sailors from the base at Midway also lost their lives in two unauthorized rescue attempts. Today’s guest is Tim Loughman, author of A Strange Whim of the Sea: The Wreck of the USS Macaw. He traces the ship's service from its launch on San Francisco Bay to its disastrous final days at Midway. It tells a war story short on combat but not on drama, a wartime tragedy in which the conflict is more interpersonal, and perhaps intrapersonal, than international. Ultimately, for Burton and the Macaw the real enemy was the sea, and in a deadly denouement, the sea won. Highlighting the underreported role auxiliary vessels played in the war, A Strange Whim of the Sea engages naval historians and students alike with a previously untold story of struggle, sacrifice, death, and survival in the World War II Pacific.
Some anthropologists once believed that humanity lived in a peaceful state that lacked large-scale warfare before the arrival of large civilizations and all its wealth inequality and manufacture of weapons. But archeological findings have shown over and over that warfare dates back as far as homo sapiens themselves (such as the Bronze Age Battle of Tollense River, about which we known nearly nothing, save that 5,000 soldiers fought each other with primitive weapons). Throughout history, warfare has transformed social, political, cultural, and religious aspects of our lives. We tell tales of wars—past, present, and future—to create and reinforce a common purpose. Today’s guest is Jeremy Black, author of “A Short History of War.” We examine war as a global phenomenon, looking at the First and Second World Wars as well as those ranging from Han China and Assyria, Imperial Rome, and Napoleonic France to Vietnam and Afghanistan. Black explores too the significance of warfare more broadly and the ways in which cultural understandings of conflict have lasting consequences in societies across the world.
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