"You don’t hate history, you hate the way it was taught to you in high school." - Stephen Ambrose
I have only just recently discovered the joy of podcasts. Late to the game doesn’t even cover it. As silly as it may sound I just never seemed to find the time for them whilst I was flitting between books, movies and TV shows – how could I possibly slot anything else in during my day! How naïve I was.
The podcast: a brilliant invention and it is no wonder that they have come to be the forerunner for many people’s chosen escape. It is believed (or so I have read) that they started to generate real following and accolade all the way back in 2004 because of an MTV personality. A man called Adam Curry who was affectionately nicknamed the “Podmaster”. Over time the podcast has flourished, covering all matters of topics from history to celebrity features, to comedy. There really is something for everyone and quite frankly it’s mind-boggling. An article by Vanity stated,
“Apple podcasts feature more than 500,000 active podcasts, including content in more than 100 languages.”
This makes the task of choosing which one to listen to next a truly difficult endeavor. Similarly to most streaming services (Netflix, I am looking at you), there are mountains upon mountains of options to climb through. As a particularly indecisive person myself, it can be quite daunting trolling through the plethora of choices on iTunes (my personal podcast retreat haven), whilst knowing full well that tomorrow you will find a multitude of new podcast additions to throw into the mix. But, it is exciting and I take comfort in the fact that there will always be something for me to listen to, dependent on my fancy during any day of the week.
The podcast: an outlet with so many pros that they outweigh the con of having to make one’s mind up on where to go next. A podcast brings so many positives to the table. A significant bonus for me is that they can become a nice addition or accessory to another task you may be doing. Going for a run? Do it with a podcast. Washing the dishes? Suppress the ensuing boredom with a podcast. Shower time? Pause the personal concert and swap out for an episode of your latest podcast. Tired of listening to the conversations on a Zoom conference call that do not even concern you? They will be none the wiser - podcast. The countless possible situations where you can immerse yourself into an audible series are endless and the ease in which you can slip your ear buds in (apple pods for you hip millennial types) is far to tempting to ignore. Saying that, I would like to share with you my top 5 podcasts at the moment. I have found myself gravitating towards ye olden days and have taken to traveling to different centuries through a variety of history podcasts, some serious, some not so. I have found that history podcasts in particular truly do pull you in, and so many of them skillfully paint such vivid tableau's of significant events, inspirational people and so much more. If you wouldn’t usually opt in for what may seem like a snore-fest of a series, take a moment to reconsider. The history podcast is a category all on its own, and reflective of such dedicated time and craftsmanship by their hosts. Such podcasts are wholly entertaining, funny and you won’t even realize that you have just learnt something new – bonus!
1) Stuff You Missed In History Class
Listen to this if you like history, but in a fun way.
I am starting off with my current top favourite and one that I always subconsciously play when my ears have nothing else to listen to. I have devoured a sizeable chunk of their episode repertoire and my appetite cannot be satisfied. The two hosts, Holly and Tracy, expertly deliver their commentary on a range of topics from The Making of the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland, to the daring and dubious travels of Annie Londonderry. With such a wide breadth of topics to dive into, you cannot and will not get bored of what they have to offer. Having recently discovered this (at the beginning of my time in quarantine) I have been working my way through their archives, sampling everything I can in this historical buffet of a podcast series. Although still very much serious in delivering the hard hitting facts and figures, they perfectly balance this out with amusing anecdotes and far fetched (and somewhat saucy) hearsay that didn’t quite seem suitable for your history books at school.
2) Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
Listen to this to get totally absorbed and momentarily forget about time and space.
This one will give you a shiver down your spine because this is not your average lighthearted history podcast. This is hardcore history and not one for the faint of heart. For fear of contradicting myself already, this is not the podcast you want to have on when you are multi-tasking (cooking up dinner or colour coding your wardrobe). This series calls for your undivided attention, and entirely deserves this and more. When you press play, you are exposed to the deep and intense articulations of Dan Carlin (he certainly merits a place in that category of iconic voices that house figures like Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones). You will find yourself journeying with him into worlds that sound fictitious and mythical. But, lest you forget, everything discussed is indeed based on true historical events. Although the episodes are usually an hour long, sometimes slightly under, I assure you time will be momentarily suspended due to the talks being so completely and utterly engaging. There are a multitude of threads that weave together to create this podcast. From personal stories, minute details and broad themes, all of these components make for a special historical indulgence that you will want to savor.
Listen to this instead of Beyoncé’s girl power anthem Single Ladies.
Brought to life by Tribeca Studios in partnership with iHeartMedia, this podcast is slightly more niche and defined. With a dedicated mission to bring to life, “the fierce women to whom history has not given due weight” this is a podcast with a firm and admirable focus. Without venturing to far into this subject matter, I am very much a traditional feminist at heart (old school if you will) championing the strength of both women and, indeed, men. Without both, the system just does not work. With this in mind, I highly commend the delivery of this finely tuned podcast as they introduce a range of female characters that have played significant roles in the making of our historical makeup, but sadly not our textbooks. Admittedly, and perhaps rather ashamedly, I had only heard of a meager handful of the vibrant and powerful personalities that were steadily introduced to me by the host, best selling author, Jo Piazza. My first and favourite episode so far is her account of Cheng I Sao, one of the fiercest pirates the South China Seas had the pleasure of entertaining (Blackbeard meet your maker). Cut throat and ruthless her story was a fiery narrative, and one that I couldn’t quite fathom as being real. I would venture as far to say it could be comparable to an episode of Game of Thrones, but bloodier and far more thrilling. With each episode, Jo brings on a modern day (female) equivalent (a tenuously linked equivalent might I add, no modern day pirates on this show!) to talk about her struggles and triumphs to round each episode off. In spite of myself, I always find my inner fire sparked when I listen to one of these episodes and can’t help but think: if Mulan listened to podcasts, this would have to be her go to.
4) You’re Dead to Me
Listen to this if you don’t like history.
Now this one is a barrel of guaranteed laughs, chock full of wry, witty commentary without stepping into the danger zone of nonsensical, childish tomfoolery. You may find yourself thinking, there’s something oh so nostalgic about this, and you are exactly right. If you were a fan of (who am I kidding, of course you were) that glorious series, Horrible Histories, you may recognize the leading man, Greg Jenner. Armed with a unique panel of hosts and guests (what happens when a comedian and a historian walk into a bar?) this is one you can sink your teeth into without having a natural affinity for all things past.
5) Hidden Histories with Helen Carr
Listen to this if you want to get off the beaten (history) track.
Last but not least, Helen Carr will take your hand and whisk you away to sites of historical significance in a mater of minutes. Taking unexpected turns and revealing hidden locations that you may have walked past without noticing, this is a podcast that delves into hidden details that were otherwise swept under the rug. Accompanying you on these mini excursions are a variety of recognized best selling authors and historians looking to impart their knowledge and leave you in a state of awe. At times you may have to grin and bare it, as certain parts can be rather gruesome (beware of the likes of Jack the Ripper). It can also be challenging and raw (take caution when listening to the Women of the Tower of London). Nevertheless, this is a podcast worth listening to, and one that takes you off the beaten track into lesser-explored regions of the historical landscape. https://www.helenhcarr.com/podcast
There are so many more I could have brought to the table, but I will leave these unearthed, shining gems to you for now. Just think, once you’ve listened to a few episodes here and there, you will be in prime shape for the next pub (Zoom) quiz:
“History round, you are mine for the taking!”
Bye for now,
P.S: Share the podcasts that have been keeping you company during your quarantine walks in the comments below!