Podcasts and History

I came late to the world of podcasts. I still have not listened to Serial. In some ways I am an unusual podcast fan. The selection of radio stations in my hometown of Custer, SD was minimal. On the other hand, my parents and I took many car trips to Minnesota and Colorado and along the way we listened to amazing tape recordings by The Mind’s Eye: children’s classics from Heidi to Treasure Island along with the Baby Snooks Show. We also listened to tape recordings of A Prairie Home Companion.

Friends have given me titles of a variety of religious podcasts but I rarely find myself listening to them. They sound interesting but I spend so much time reading and thinking about theology that when I go to the Nampa Recreation Center or head out in my car, I want to think less about work, if at all possible. (The three church-related podcasts I listen to are are Kate Bowler’s Everthing Happens, Luther Seminary’s Working Preacher’s Sermon Brainwave and the ELCA’s Three Sides.

Turns out that I turn to my first love–history–when I indulge in podcasts. Here are my favorite podcasts right now.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History, in which Gladwell takes an event in history and pulls on the thread until you have learned something you had no idea was so important, relevant, and interesting. I have always loved history and this podcast refueled that love for me. If I could only recommend one podcast episode to everyone it would be General Chapman’s Last Stand. It could transform how you understand what is happening at our southern border.

Lillian Cunningham’s Presidential. My sister-in-law Peggy told me about this one, now a few years old but still incredibly interesting. Before the most recent presidential election, Cunningham, a reporter with the Washington Post, produced a podcast a week on each of the United States presidents, starting with George Washington. I was a history major in college and though I studied political history, the classes I loved the most focused on social history (the lives of ordinary people). I love this podcast because even though her subjects are United States presidents, Cunningham still focuses on social history–telling the stories of the individual men and their contexts. Cunningham does a masterful job interviewing librarians at the Library of Congress, historians, biographers, and, in the later episodes, other reporters. Her second season is Constitutional. I have not listened to it yet.

Stay Tuned With Preet by Preet Bharara, former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Kudos to my nephew Joe for telling me about this podcast. Not surprising if you have read this far, the interviews I am usually most interested in are those that address history, as when he interviewed Bryan Stevenson and talked about the history of incarceration in the United States or when he interviewed Christiane Amanpour and talked about journalism in the bast three decades. Bharara’s podcast has been very well received and he has some incredibly smart and interesting people on. I always learn something new and usually add a book to my Goodreads want-to-read list after listening.

If you are new to podcasts, here is my one and only guarantee–there is something out there for you! Fans of jazz, gardening, good stories, healthy-living, liturgy, the Enneagram, athletics, nature, and accounting can all find a podcast.

What is your favorite podcast and why?

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