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19 Fantastic Podcasts for History Buffs

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When it comes to my podcast diet, I generally prefer shows that teach me something. By their nature, history-themed podcasts get the job done—and, hey, if they can entertain me as well, that’s icing on the danish.

Below are a few of my favorite history podcasts, from the intense to the whimsical to the quick ‘n’ tidy. For more recommendations—including roundups of my favorite TV, food, music, and comics podcasts—head to the archive.

JUST GETTING STARTED? SAMPLE THESE.

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Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

Let’s start with a show many consider to be the history podcast, one that boasts some of the highest production values—and longest runtimes. Carlin’s epic explorations of world history are fascinating and impeccably researched. He approaches episodes as if they’re high-quality audiobooks, so there’s often a long wait for new ones, but the tales are so dense they may warrant repeat listens.

Stuff You Missed in History Class

In this popular show from HowStuffWorks.com, hosts Holly Frey and Tracy Wilson share their research and enthusiasm for all sorts of topics, from narcolepsy to carousels. The podcast is true to its name and a lively mixed bag of trivia you’ll want to share at the workplace.

BackStory

This radio program often uses current events as jumping-off points to delve into treasured stories from the past. Hosted by historians dubbed the “American History Guys,” I’m often impressed by their interviews and angles. (On a fun time-themed episode, for example, they explained the origins of basketball’s shot clock.)

The History Chicks

From Josephine Baker to Frida Kahlo to Queen Victoria, each episode of this podcast delves deeper into notable women’s lives than your high school history books ever did. Short on time? The Chicks also release “minicasts” that are just as jam-packed with info.

Footnoting History

This clever show has a revolving door of hosts, which lends itself to a variety of topics ranging from politics to popcorn.

POLITICS AND AMERICAN HISTORY

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Slate’s Whistlestop

At a time when 2016 presidential campaigns are starting to dominate the news, you may want to venture over to this podcast, which examines the history of presidential campaigning. You’ll hear about past candidates’ smartest and silliest moves and can judge for yourself how far campaigning has come (or not).

Revolutions

Hosted by history buff Mike Duncan, each ep takes a closer look at political revolutions. Mike likes to spend dozens of episodes per revolution. After tackling the American Revolution, he’s now elbows-deep in the French Revolution.

Ben Franklin’s World

If early American history is your wheelhouse (or you want it to be), sample this show, which features historians and experts on specific, thoughtful topics. While BFW does delve into politics, I like when it veers into more personal stories, like the history of stepfamilies or the story of two women who lived as an openly married couple in the early 19th century.

1001 Heroes, Legends, Histories & Mysteries

John Hagedorn is so psyched about history that this show feels more like a storytelling podcast. Episodes focus on notable and forgotten folks; highlights include his “Who killed Superman?” ep about actor George Reeves and the ongoing “America’s Best Twenty Years” series, in which Hagedorn reminisces about growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

HISTORY WITH A TWIST

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The Bowery Boys

As a former New Yorker, I have particular interest in hearing Greg Young and Tom Meyers “romp down the back alleys of New York City.” But I think their approach would appeal to anyone, perhaps even prompting listeners to visit the Big Apple themselves. Recent shows have delved into Billie Holiday’s New York and the Rockettes, though they’re unafraid of more serious topics like the 1904 General Slocum disaster and the Civil War draft riots.

You Must Remember This

I love this podcast from Karina Longworth, in which she beautifully recounts tales of old Hollywood. I’ve enjoyed her episodes about Mia Farrow and the “many loves of Howard Hughes,” though her “Star Wars” series about celebrities’ experiences during wartime is particularly outstanding.

Lore

This relatively new podcast focuses on the history behind scary stories. A recent ep explored how insane asylums became such popular locations in fiction; don’t listen before bedtime!

The International Spy Museum SpyCast

This show about the history of espionage will help tide you over until the next season of The Americans. Episodes include interviews with intelligence experts, historians, authors, and others privy to little-known facts about spies.

History of English

Obsessed with etymology? This show reveals the history of the English language, a few words at a time. Eps blend facts with illuminating stories, like the one about the first known poet in the English language.

History of Pirates

This podcast is less than 10 episodes in, but that’s still a lot more than I expected to learn about pirates. Host “Captain Craigbuddy” offers a rather serious look at swashbucklers; what History of Pirates may lack in delivery it makes up for with information.

QUICK NUGGETS O' HISTORY

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15-Minute History

Produced by students and faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, this podcast offers insight into American and world history in a tidy span of time. If you hear about a topic you want to explore further, the website offers suggested readings, photos and more.

The Writer’s Almanac

If you can only spare five minutes, try Garrison Keillor’s daily public radio feature, in which he shares a classic poem and literary “day in history” events.

Radio Diaries

This show uses interviews and archival recordings to create vivid portraits of the past. Start with any ep, though I particularly enjoyed this piece about songwriter Rose Marie McCoy, a woman who penned hundreds of tunes for Elvis Presley, James Brown and others and never became a household name.

The Memory Palace

Producer Nate DiMeo puts his stamp on unique, oft-forgotten bits of American culture. This summer he plans to post a new episode each week, and I can’t wait—much like This American Life, I appreciate the tone as much as the tales.

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12 Solid Facts About New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain
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On May 3, 2003, the craggy rock face known as New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain tumbled to the ground in spectacular fashion. For a landmark that had been in the state's DNA for generations, its collapse was like a death in the family to some. The day after it fell, people left flowers at the base of Cannon Mountain in Franconia Notch State Park as a sort of funeral tribute, and plans were immediately launched to create a longer-lasting memorial. So what was so great about the Old Man of the Mountain, pre- and post-crumble? Read on for the stone-cold facts.

1. THANKS TO NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE, THE OLD MAN WAS ALSO KNOWN AS “THE GREAT STONE FACE.”

Although not explicitly named, it’s widely believed Hawthorne based his 1850 short story "The Great Stone Face"—which was set in an anonymous state that happens to look like New Hampshire—on the Old Man. At that time, the mountainous figure was already a tourist draw to the Granite State. Hawthorne described it as an “enormous giant, or a Titan,” with a “broad arch of the forehead,” a long-bridged nose, and having “vast lips.” Eventually Hawthorne’s nickname stuck, along with other loving titles like “Old Man” and “the Profile.”

2. THE "FACE" WAS ACTUALLY A SERIES OF LEDGES.

These granite cliff ledges, 40 feet tall and 25 feet wide, when viewed from the north at certain angles looked like a jagged face. Hawthorne corroborated this, writing in “The Great Stone Face”: “If the spectator approached too near, he lost the outline of the gigantic visage, and could discern only a heap of ponderous and gigantic rocks ... Retracing his steps, however, the wondrous features would again be seen; and the farther he withdrew from them, the more like a human face, with all its original divinity intact, did they appear."

3. HE COULD HAVE BEEN 12,000 YEARS OLD.

An 1856 postcard of The Old Man of the Mountain
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The Old Man was first discovered and recorded in 1805 by road surveyors Francis Whitcomb and Luke Brooks, which put the landmark at nearly 200 years old by the time it fell. But it likely first formed when water inside cracks in the granite bedrock froze and thawed following the retreat of glaciers about 12,000 years ago. (This freezing and thawing process was what hastened its eventual collapse.) According to geologist Brian Fowler in a research report by the Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund, the lower ledge—or chin—of the Old Man is assumed to have fallen first. Once that support was gone, the rest of the rock fell in formation.

4. CANNON MOUNTAIN WAS SO NAMED BECAUSE IT LOOKS LIKE ANTIQUE ARTILLERY.

The Old Man jutted from a cliff in Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, within Franconia Notch State Park. Originally named Profile Mountain, it took on a new name since its granite dome resembles a cannon from select vantage points. There are even three sub-peaks, nicknamed “The Cannon Balls.”

5. SOME OF THE STRONGEST SURFACE WINDS EVER IN THE U.S. WERE RECORDED ON TOP OF CANNON MOUNTAIN.

The gusts measured 199.5 mph on April 2, 1973. While impressive, they were likely even higher since 199.5 mph was the limit of what the researchers' instruments could record at the time. The highest surface wind gust in the U.S. still belongs in-state, though, with New Hampshire's Mount Washington recording 231 mph winds in 1934.

6. A SERIES OF TURNBUCKLES AND IRON TIES WERE PLACED WITHIN ITS FACE TO KEEP IT TOGETHER.

By 1916, as it became clear the Old Man might not live forever, the first efforts to protect the rock formation were made. By the 1920s, a crack in the Old Man’s "forehead" was clearly noticeable, and residents who were worried about its safety used chains, turnbuckles, and iron ties to keep the crack from separating. Many of those metal rods used to hold the Old Man together were still attached to the mountain years later.

7. THE STATE EVENTUALLY SPENT A SMALL FORTUNE TRYING TO SAVE IT.


Julius Hall, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1957, the New Hampshire state legislature passed a $25,000 appropriation for the necessary repairs to slow the Old Man's deterioration. These steps included quick-drying cement and steel rods meant to fill in and fortify cracks. The rocky Band-Aids were maintained every summer.

8. THE CARETAKERS’ MAINTENANCE ROUTINES WERE METICULOUS.

One longtime caretaker, Niels Nielsen, took great pains to keep the Old Man clean since 1965. Nielsen would spray bleach on the rock face and in its cracks, then carefully remove moss and lichen in an effort to prevent cracks from spreading further. He would even clean out the Old Man’s ear with a garden hoe. When Nielsen retired, he passed the job on to his son, David. The face continued to be groomed until its collapse.

9. NIELS NIELSEN SAW THE OLD MAN AS A GIFT FROM GOD.

According to Yankee Magazine, Nielsen was rather enchanted by the rock formation. “I had sailed around the world as a merchant seaman, yet I had never seen anything like the Old Man," he said. "I don’t believe anyone can be up there and not feel the presence of God."

10. BUT EVEN NIELSEN KNEW IT MIGHT FALL SOME DAY.

Nielsen was asked by Yankee what would happen if the Old Man ever fell. “The Lord put him here, and the Lord will take him down," Nielsen replied. Research concluded its collapse was natural—that the freezing-thawing process and subsequent erosion over time caused its downfall.

11. YOU CAN STILL "SEE" THE OLD MAN.


Rob Gallagher, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The image of the Old Man has lived on as a state emblem since 1945, appearing on highway signs, on the back of drivers licenses, and on the reverse of the state quarter. But residents weren’t done with honoring the now-deceased rock face. At Old Man of the Mountain Profile Plaza and Historic Site in Franconia, special viewfinders and steel “profilers” at vantage points near Profile Lake offer a glimpse of what the formation used to look like.

12. THERE’S EVEN AN OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN FLOWER.

Old-Man-of-the-Mountain, or tetraneuris grandiflora, is found in the Intermountain Regions and Rocky Mountains in states like Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho. It’s sometimes called an alpine sunflower and got its common name from the wooly hairs that cover its leaves.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Take a Closer Look at the $17 Billion 'Holy Grail of Shipwrecks'

Feast your eyes on these new images of the treasure among the wreckage of the Spanish ship San José, often called the "holy grail of shipwrecks." When it sank on June 8, 1708, it was carrying gold, silver, jewels, and other precious cargo worth roughly $17 billion today. Now, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is revealing the major role it played in the 2015 expedition to find the San José.

The three-masted, 62-gun Spanish galleon exploded and sank at the hands of the British during the War of the Spanish Succession. It was carrying its riches to the Colombian city of Cartegena to finance the war. Archaeologists had been trying to find the San José for decades before it was finally located on November 27, 2015, during an expedition organized by Colombia, Maritime Archaeology Consultants (MAC), and WHOI. The multibillion-dollar treasure, which still sits nearly 2000 feet below the surface of the ocean near Cartegena, is just now being revealed.

WHOI's autonomous underwater vehicle REMUS 6000 was responsible for finding the elusive wreck. REMUS has been with the project since the beginning: The machine created the first side-scan sonar images of the site. After that, REMUS journeyed to a point 30 feet above the site and captured high-resolution photos of the ship's distinctive bronze cannons, which are engraved with dolphins. REMUS's documentation of this defining feature allowed scientists to positively identify the wreck as the fabled San José. (Thanks to whoever had the idea to put dolphins on the cannon in the first place.)

WHOI also released REMUS's photos of the wreckage, which show details of the horde, including ceramics and those famous cannons. "This constitutes one of the greatest—if not the biggest, as some say—discoveries of submerged patrimony in the history of mankind,” Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said back when the treasure was discovered.

The San José's treasure is the subject of a legal battle for ownership between Colombia and U.S. salvage company Sea Search Armada, which helped look for the wreck. In 2011, four years before the San José was even found, the court ruled that the booty belongs to Colombia, but the dispute is ongoing. Because of the legal drama, the exact location of the wreck remains a government secret.

Below, check out the newly released pictures for a closer look at cannons, teacups, and other ceramics.

cannons from the San Jose
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

pots from the San Jose
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

teacups from the San Jose
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

REMUS 6000
REMUS 6000
Mike Purcell, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution


A mosaic of images taken by the REMUS 6000 depicts the whole site.
A mosaic of images taken by the REMUS 6000 depicts the whole site.
Jeff Kaeli, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

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