History Unplugged Podcast

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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 (Scot…

Scott Rank, PhD


    • Oct 21, 2021 LATEST EPISODE
    • weekdays NEW EPISODES
    • 38m AVG DURATION
    • 594 EPISODES

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    Latest episodes from History Unplugged Podcast

    Winston Churchill: Political Master, Military Commander

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 21, 2021 51:40


    From his earliest days Winston Churchill was an extreme risk taker and he carried this into adulthood. Today he is widely hailed as Britain's greatest wartime leader and politician. Deep down though, he was foremost a warlord. Just like his ally Stalin, and his arch enemies Hitler and Mussolini, Churchill could not help himself and insisted on personally directing the strategic conduct of World War II. For better or worse he insisted on being political master and military commander. Again like his wartime contemporaries, he had a habit of not heeding the advice of his generals. The results of this were disasters in Norway, North Africa, Greece, and Crete during 1940–41. His fruitless Dodecanese campaign in 1943 also ended in defeat. Churchill's pig-headedness over supporting the Italian campaign in defiance of the Riviera landings culminated in him threatening to resign and bring down the British Government. Yet on occasions he got it just right, his refusal to surrender in 1940, the British miracle at Dunkirk and victory in the Battle of Britain, showed that he was a much-needed decisive leader. Nor did he shy away from difficult decisions, such as the destruction of the French Fleet to prevent it falling into German hands and his subsequent war against Vichy France.To talk about these different aspects of his leadership is today's guest, Anthony Tucker-Jones, author of Winston Churchill: Master and commander. He explores the record of Winston Churchill as a military commander, assessing how the military experiences of his formative years shaped him for the difficult military decisions he took in office. He assesses his choices in the some of the most controversial and high-profile campaigns of World War II, and how in high office his decision making was both right and wrong.


    How This Union General Who Executed Guerrillas and Imprisoned Political Foes Became the Most Hated Man in Kentucky

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 21, 2021 54:55

    For the last third of the nineteenth century, Union General Stephen Gano Burbridge, also known as the “Butcher of Kentucky,” enjoyed the unenviable distinction of being the most hated man in Kentucky. From mid-1864, just months into his reign as the military commander of the state, until his death in December 1894, the mere mention of his name triggered a firestorm of curses from editorialists and politicians. By the end of Burbridge's tenure, Governor Thomas E. Bramlette concluded that he was an “imbecile commander” whose actions represented nothing but the “blundering of a weak intellect and an overwhelming vanity.”Part of what earned him this reputation was his heavy handedness to suppress attacks on Union citizens. On July 16, 1864, Burbridge issued Order No. 59 which declared: "Whenever an unarmed Union citizen is murdered, four guerrillas will be selected from the prison and publicly shot to death at the most convenient place near the scene of the outrages." He was also hated for extreme measures to ensure re-election of Lincoln by suppressing support in Kentucky for Democratic candidate George McClellan. His actions included arresting prominent persons favoring the candidate, including the Lieutenant Governor, whom he deported.Today's guest is Brad Asher, author of a new biography on Burbridge. We discuss how he earned his infamous reputation and adds an important new layer to the ongoing reexamination of Kentucky during and after the Civil War. As both a Kentuckian and the local architect of the destruction of slavery, he became the scapegoat for white Kentuckians, including many in the Unionist political elite, who were unshakably opposed to emancipation. Beyond successfully recalibrating history's understanding of Burbridge, Asher's biography adds administrative and military context to the state's reaction to emancipation and sheds new light on its postwar pro-Confederacy shift.

    The Escape of Jack the Ripper: History's Most Infamous Serial Killer, and the Cover-up to Protect His Identity

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 19, 2021 43:38

    He was young, handsome, highly educated in the best English schools, a respected professional, and a first-class amateur athlete. He was also a serial killer, the Victorian equivalent of the modern-day Ted Bundy. His name was Montague Druitt—also known as “Jack the Ripper.”Druitt's handiwork included the slaughter of at least five women of ill repute in the East End of London—an urban hell where women sold themselves for a stale crust of bread. But mysteries still remain about Druit – including his thinking behind the murders, the man behind the moniker, and the circumstances behind his demise. Exploring these questions are today's guests Jonathan Hainsworth and researcher Christine Ward-Agius, authors of The Escape of Jack the Ripper: The Truth about the Cover-up and His Flight from Justice.We discuss:How a blood-stained Druitt was arrested yet bluffed his way to freedom by pretending to be a medical student helping the poorHow Druitt confessed to his cousin, an Anglican priestHow Druitt's family placed him in a private, expensive asylum in France, only for him to flee when a nurse blew the whistleHow Druitt's identity was concealed by his well-connected friends and family, thus hatching the mystery of Jack the Ripper

    Two Revolutions and the Constitution

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 14, 2021 38:33

    The United States is fraught with angst, fear, anger, and divisiveness due to our current political climate. How did we get here? And where are we headed?Before the American Revolutionary period, Americans thought that the British constitution was the best in the world. Under the British system and their colonial charters, free Americans already enjoyed greater liberties and opportunities than any other people, including those in Britain.Once they declared independence in 1776, the former British colonies in America needed their own rules for a new system of government. They drafted and adopted State constitutions. They needed cooperation between the States to fight the British, so the new States tried a confederation. It was too weak, so eleven years after declaring independence, the Framers devised a revolutionary federal and national constitution—the first major written constitution of the modern world.The new State and federal constitutions and the system of law were deeply influenced by the British system, but with brilliant and revolutionary changes.Today's guest is James D.R. Philip, author of the book “Two Revolutions and the Constitutuion.” He describes how Americans removed the British monarch and entrenched their freedoms in an innovative scheme that was tyrant-proof and uniquely American. It was built on the sovereignty of the American people rather than the sovereignty of a king or queen.So, as well as describing the American Revolution and the development of the American constitutions that came before the final Constitution, we discuss the revolutionary development of the English system of law and government that was a foundation of the American system.

    Alfred Hubbard Was a 1920s Inventor, Bootlegger, and Psychedelic Pioneer Who Became the Patron Saint of Silicon Valley

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 12, 2021 56:12

    Not many people have heard about Alfred Hubbard but he was one of the most intriguing people from the 20th Century. His story begins in 1919 when he made his first newspaper appearance with the exciting announcement that he had created a perpetual-motion machine that harnessed energy from the Earth's atmosphere. He would soon publicly demonstrate this device by using it to power a boat on Seattle's Lake Union, though, at the time, heavy suspicions were cast about the legitimacy of his claims. From there, he joined forces with Seattle's top bootlegger and, together, they built one of Seattle's first radio stations. He was then involved in a top secret WWII operation, and even played a role in the Manhattan Project. In the 1950s, he was one of the first people to try a new drug by the name of LSD, and helped pioneer psychedelic therapy. He was known as “The Johnny Appleseed of LSD,” as he introduced the drug to everyone from Aldous Huxley to early computer engineers in what is now known as Silicon Valley. He was a fraud, to be sure, but may have also been a genius. Famous California psychiatrist Oscar Janiger once said, "Nothing of substance has ever been written about Al Hubbard, and probably nothing ever should." And yet, there is little dispute regarding the fascinating scope of his adventurous life. To explore his story is Brad Holden, author of the book “Seattle Mystic: Alfred Hubbard – Inventor, Bootlegger, and Psychedelic Pioneer”.

    The Normans: A History of Conquest

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 7, 2021 40:08

    The Norman's conquering of the known world was a phenomenon unlike anything Europe had seen up to that point in history. Although best known for the 1066 Conquest of England, they have left behind a far larger legacy.They emerged early in the tenth century but had disappeared from world affairs by the mid-thirteenth century. Yet in that time they had conquered England, Ireland, much of Wales and parts of Scotland. They also founded a new Mediterranean kingdom in southern Italy and Sicily, as well as a Crusader state in the Holy Land and in North Africa. Moreover, they had an extraordinary ability to adapt as time and place dictated, taking on the role of Norse invaders to Frankish crusaders, from Byzantine overlords to feudal monarchs. Today's guest, Trevor Rowley, author of The Normans: A History of Conquest, offers a comprehensive picture of the Normans and argues that despite the short time span of Norman ascendancy, it is clear that they were responsible for a permanent cultural and political legacy.

    Electric City: Ford and Edison's Vision of Creating a Steampunk Utopia

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 5, 2021 56:35


    During the roaring twenties, two of the most revered and influential men in American business proposed to transform one of the country's poorest regions into a dream technological metropolis, a shining paradise of small farms, giant factories, and sparkling laboratories. Henry Ford and Thomas Edison's “Detroit of the South” would be ten times the size of Manhattan, powered by renewable energy, and free of air pollution. And it would reshape American society, introducing mass commuting by car, use a new kind of currency called “energy dollars,” and have the added benefit (from Ford and Edison's view) of crippling the growth of socialism.New cities – St. Petersburg; Ankara; Nev-Sehir; Cancún; Acapulco; Huatulco; Norilsk; Vladivostok; Fritz Lang's MetropolisThe whole audacious scheme almost came off, with Southerners rallying to support what became known as the Ford Plan. But while some saw it as a way to conjure the future and reinvent the South, others saw it as one of the biggest land swindles of all time. They were all true.To tell the story of this audacious plan is Thomas Hager, author of the new book “Electric City: The Lost History of Ford and Edison's American Utopia. He offers a fresh look at the lives of the two men who almost saw the project to fruition, the forces that came to oppose them, and what rose in its stead: a new kind of public corporation called the Tennessee Valley Authority, one of the greatest achievements of the New Deal.


    Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 30, 2021 49:32

    Of all the radioactive elements discovered at the end of the nineteenth century, it was radium that became the focus of both public fascination and entrepreneurial zeal.This unlikely element ascended on the market as a desirable item – a present for a queen, a prize in a treasure hunt, a glow-in- the-dark dance costume and soon became a supposed cure-all in everyday twentieth-century life, when medical practitioners and business people (reputable and otherwise) devised ingenious ways of commodifying the new wonder element, and enthusiastic customers welcomed their radioactive wares into their homes.Lucy Jane Santos—herself the proud owner of a formidable collection of radium beauty treatments—is today's guest. She's the author of the new book “Half Lives,” which delves into the stories of these products and details the gradual downfall and discredit of the radium industry through the eyes of the people who bought, sold and eventually came to fear the once-fetishized substance.

    An Alternate History of the Lincoln Assassination Plot

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 28, 2021 42:19

    How deeply was the Confederate Secret Service involved in the plot to kill Abraham Lincoln? Did the Confederate Secret Service assassinate Abraham Lincoln?” There are some strong indications that it did, but the facts uncovered in researching this question only raise more questions than they answer. After all, we are dealing with an issue of espionage and intelligence that originated in a government that hasn't existed for 154 years.But sometimes the best way to explore unanswerable questions is with a counterfactual story, or even an outright fiction. Frequent guest Sandy Mitcham (The Death of Hitler's War Machine, Bust Hell Wide Open) is back with us today to discuss this topic by way of his new book “The Retribution Conspiracy.” Sandy has couched his book in the form of a novel because there are some missing pieces. But he still provides an eye-opening account of spycraft and subterfuge in antebellum and Civil War America.

    What if Tsarist Russia Hadn't Gone Communist? Revolutionaries Like Boris Savinkov Tried to Accomplish This

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 23, 2021 52:30

    Although now largely forgotten outside Russia, Boris Savinkov was famous, and notorious, both at home and abroad during his lifetime, which spans the end of the Russian Empire and the establishment of the Soviet Union. A complex and conflicted individual, he was a paradoxically moral revolutionary terrorist, a scandalous novelist, a friend of epoch-defining artists like Modigliani and Diego Rivera, a government minister, a tireless fighter against Lenin and the Bolsheviks, and an advisor to Churchill. At the end of his life, Savinkov conspired to be captured by the Soviet secret police, and as the country's most prized political prisoner made headlines around the world when he claimed that he accepted the Bolshevik state. However, some believe that this was Savinkov's final play as a gambler, staking his life on a secret plan to strike one last blow against the tyrannical regime. Todays' guest is Vladimir Alexandrov, author of To Break Russia's Chains: Boris Savinkov and His Wars Against the Tsar and the Bolsheviks. Neither a "Red" nor a "White," Savinkov lived an epic life that challenges many popular myths about the Russian Revolution, which was arguably the most important catalyst of twentieth-century world history. All of Savinkov's efforts were directed at transforming his homeland into a uniquely democratic, humane and enlightened state. There are aspects of his violent legacy that will, and should, remain frozen in the past as part of the historical record. But the support he received from many of his countrymen suggests that the paths Russia took during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—the tyranny of communism, the authoritarianism of Putin's regime—were not the only ones written in her historical destiny. Savinkov's goals remain a poignant reminder of how things in Russia could have been, and how, perhaps, they may still become someday.

    Reviving Lost WW2 Stories With An M1 Rifle

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 21, 2021 44:53

    You wouldn't believe how these ninety-year-old WWII heroes come alive when you put a rifle in their hands.Andrew Biggio, a young U.S. Marine, returned from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq full of questions about the price of war. He went looking for answers from those who had survived the costliest war of all—WWII veterans.His book, the Rifle: Combat Stories from America's Last WWII Veterans, Told through an M1 Garand is the answer to his questions. For two years, Biggio traveled across the country to interview America's last living WWII veterans. Thousands from our Greatest Generation locked their memories away, never sharing what they had endured with family and friends, taking their stories to the grave. So how did this young Marine get them to talk? By putting a 1945 M1 Garand rifle in their hands and watching as their eyes lit up with memories triggered by holding the weapon that had been with them every step of the war.It began when Biggio bought a 1945 M1 Garand rifle and handed it to his neighbor, WWII veteran Corporal Joseph Drago, unlocking memories Drago had kept unspoken for fifty years. On the spur of the moment, Biggio asked Drago to sign the rifle. Thus began this Marine's mission to find as many WWII veterans as he could, get their signatures on the rifle, and document their stories.With each visit and every story told to Biggio, the veterans signed their names to the rifle. Ninety-six signatures now cover that rifle. Each signature represents a person, the battles endured during the war, and the PTSD battles fought after it. These are unfiltered, inspiring, and heartbreaking stories told by the last living WWII veterans—stories untold until now.

    Hollywood Hates History: El Cid (1961)

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 16, 2021 46:30

    Eleventh-century Spain was a violent borderland of Christian-Muslim bloodshed, but on the eve of the First Crusade, the two religions cooperated as much as they warred in Iberia. And who else to capture the heart of medieval Spain than Charlton Heston himself? Based on the real-life Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, who lived from 1043 to 1099 and was protagonist of the 13th century epic The Poem of the Cid, this movie captures medieval Spain in full Hollywood Golden Age splendor. Rodrigo defeated the Almoravids in a decisive battle in the history of Spain's Reconquista, but was known for battling with both Muslims and Christians. The move – despite its extremely slow pacing and suuuuuper long takes – does a good job of capturing this age. It also doesn't hurt that few people could handle the mythopoetic language of the script like Charlton Heston (John Wayne definitely couldn't – see our review of him as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror).

    Hollywood Hates History: The Messenger – The Story of Joan of Arc (1999)

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 14, 2021 57:53

    What happens when you cast Milla Jovovich as Joan of Arc, take away her combat finesse she displayed in the Resident Evil series, but have her embody the fringe historical theory that the Maid of Orleans did not follow God's orders to liberate France but was actually a schizophrenic? Why 1999's the Messenger, of course! Guest Steve Guerra joins Scott to discuss the few accuracies and many inaccuracies of this film (and yes, there are flaming arrows).

    American Dunkirk – How Half a Million New Yorkers Were Evacuated from Manhattan Island on 9/11

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 9, 2021 48:08


    The most famous large-scale sea rescue in history is the Dunkirk evacuation. Here nearly 400,000 Allied soldiers were surrounded by the German army in 1940, and Winston Churchill said, "the whole root and core and brain of the British Army" had been stranded at Dunkirk and seemed about to perish or be captured. But they were rescued off the coast of France between 26 May and 4 June in an improvised fleet. But few know there was actually a larger evacuation that happened in America, and it happened immediately after September 11th.At 10:45 AM EST on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the United States Coast Guard issued the call for “all available boats” to assist the evacuation of Lower Manhattan. But hours before the official call went out, tugs, ferries, dinner boats, and other vessels had already raced to the rescue from points all across the Port of New York and New Jersey. In less than nine hours, approximately 800 mariners aboard 150 vessels transported nearly half a million people from Manhattan. This was the largest maritime evacuation in history—larger even than boat lift at Dunkirk—but the story of this effort has never fully been told. Todays guest, Jessica DuLong, author of the book SAVED AT THE SEAWALL: Stories from the September 11 Boat Lift, tells this story on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. She discusses how the New York Harbor maritime community delivered stranded commuters, residents, and visitors out of harm's way after the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. A journalist and historian, DuLong is herself chief engineer, emerita of the retired 1931 New York City fireboat, John J. Harvey. She served at Ground Zero, spending four days supplying Hudson River water to fight the fires at the World Trade Center. To tell the story of this marine rescue, DuLong drew on her own experiences as well as eyewitness accounts to weave together the personal stories of people rescued that day with those of the mariners who saved them.As DuLong explains, “Still today few people recognize the significance of the evacuation effort that unfolded on that landmark day. This book addresses that omission. The stories that follow are the culmination of nearly a decade of reporting to discover how and why this remarkable rescue came to pass—what made the boat lift necessary, what made it possible, and why it was successful.


    Columbus of the Pacific: The Forgotten Portuguese Sailor Who Opened Up Earth's Largest Ocean in 1564

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 7, 2021 44:54

    Lope Martín was a little-known 16th century Afro-Portugese pilot known as the "Columbus of the Pacific"--who against all odds finished the final great voyage of the Age of Discovery. He raced ahead of Portugal's top navigators in the notoriously challenging journey from the New World to Asia and back, only to be sentenced to hanging upon his return, while a white Augustine monk achieved all the glory.It began with a secret mission, no expenses spared. Spain, plotting to break Portugal's monopoly trade with Asia, set sail from a hidden Mexican port to cross the Pacific—and then, critically, to attempt the never before-accomplished return: the vuelta. Four ships set out, each carrying a dream team of navigators. The smallest ship, guided by Lope, a mulatto who had risen through the ranks to become one of the most qualified pilots of the era, soon pulled far ahead and became mysteriously lost from the fleet.It was the beginning of a voyage of epic scope, featuring mutiny, murderous encounters, astonishing physical hardships—and at last a triumphant return. But the pilot of the fleet's flagship, an Augustine friar, later caught up with Martín to achieve the vuelta as well. It was he who now basked in glory, while Lope Martín was secretly sentenced to be hanged by the Spanish crown as repayment for his services.To look at this forgotten story is Andres Resendez, author of the new book Conquering the Pacific: An Unknown Mariner and the Final Great Voyage of the Age of Discovery

    Brown Brothers Harriman: The Shadowy Investment Bank That Built America's Financial System

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 2, 2021 37:42

    Conspiracy theories have always swirled around Brown Brothers Harriman, the oldest and one of the largest private investment banks in the United States, and not without reason. As America of the 1800s was convulsed by devastating financial panics every twenty years, the Brown Brothers Harriman quietly went from strength to strength, propping up the US financial system at crucial moments while avoiding the unwelcome attention that plagued many of its competitors. Throughout the nineteenth century, the partners helped to create paper money as the primary medium of American capitalism; underwrote the first major railroad; and almost unilaterally created the first foreign exchange system. More troublingly, there were a central player in the cotton trade and, by association, the system of slave labor that prevailed in the South until the Civil War. Today's guest, Zachary Karabell, author of INSIDE MONEY: Brown Brothers Harriman and the American Way of Power is here to discuss this complex marriage of money and power in America. But it's what came after, in the 20th century, that truly catapulted the firm's influence and offers insight about their legacy and lessons for the future.In this episode we discuss: Brown Brothers Harriman's essential and largely unknown role in shaping American historyHow Brown Brothers Harriman helped create an axis of political and economic power, educated at elite schools, now known as “the Establishment”How a balanced sense of self-interest and collective good helped Brown Brothers Harriman avoid the fate of “too big to fail” firms in the twenty-first centuryThe idea of “enough” wealth or “enough” success – has it become alien in today's economy? Was it always this way?What lessons can be learned from those who stewarded the expansion of America's infrastructure in the early days of our democracy as we embark on rebuilding our infrastructure today?

    Drunk: How We Singed, Danced, and Stumbled Our Ways to Civilization

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 31, 2021 44:03


    Humans love to drink. We have a glass or two when bonding with friends, celebrating special occasions, releasing some stress at happy hour, and definitely when coping with a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. But when you consider the consequences—hangovers, addiction, physical injury, and more—shouldn't evolution have taught us to avoid it? And yet, our taste for alcohol has survived almost as long as humans have been around. So why do humans love to get intoxicated? Today's guest, Edward Slingerland (author of the book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization) shows us why our fondness for intoxication has survived so long, how our favorite vice influenced the growth of civilizations, and why society as we know it couldn't have emerged without alcohol. We discuss anecdotes and research, including: •Archeological evidence suggests that the desire for alcohol—not food—was the key driver of the agricultural revolution, and therefore civilization • When humans were forced to abstain or drink in isolation during Prohibition, new patent applications decreased by 15%, then quickly rebounded as speakeasies and other creative ways of social drinking emerged •George Washington insisted that alcohol was essential for military morale and urged Congress to establish public distilleries to keep the US Army stocked with booze •Folk beliefs about drinking and bonding are bolstered by laboratory experiments suggesting that alcohol enhances group identity, interpersonal liking, and self-disclosure. •Being a little drunk makes you a worse liar, but it also makes you a better lie detector.


    Teaser: Key Battles of WW2 Pacific - Guadalcanal, Part 1

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 27, 2021 21:43

    Listen to this full episode by searching for "Key Battles of American History" in the podcast player of your choice or going to https://keybattlesofamericanhistory.com

    Vikings Went Everywhere in the Middle Ages, From Baghdad to Constantinople to….. Oklahoma?

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 26, 2021 45:25


    Scandinavia has always been a world apart. For millennia Norwegians, Danes, Finns, and Swedes lived a remote and rugged existence among the fjords and peaks of the land of the midnight sun. But when they finally left their homeland in search of opportunity, these wanderers—including the most famous, the Vikings—would reshape Europe and beyond. Their ingenuity, daring, resiliency, and loyalty to family and community would propel them to the gates of Rome, the steppes of Russia, the courts of Constantinople, and the castles of England and Ireland. But nowhere would they leave a deeper mark than across the Atlantic, where the Vikings' legacy would become the American Dream.Today's guest Arthur Herman, author of The Viking Heart, discusses this historical narrative but matches it with cutting-edge archaeological discoveries and DNA research to trace the epic story of this remarkable and diverse people (despite myths of racial purity misappropriated by groups like Nazi ethnographers). He shows how the Scandinavian experience has universal meaning, and how we can still be inspired by their indomitable spirit and the strength of their community bonds, much needed in our deeply polarized society today.


    A Small Island in the English Channel Was the Birthplace of the Russian Revolution

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 24, 2021 46:36


    Russia's revolutionaries, anarchists, and refugees of the 19th century found an unlikely place to scheme against the Czar. These political radicals, writers, and freethinkers -- exiled from their homeland -- found sanctuary both in Britain and on the Isle of Wight during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.This tiny island off the coast of Southern England has had a surprisingly large impact on British-Russian relations. Peter the Great drew inspiration for the first Russian naval fleet from his sailing trip around the Island, and the Grand Duchess Maria, Alexander II's beloved only daughter, spent long periods at Osborne House infuriating her mother-in-law, Queen Victoria. Russian radicals such as Alexander Herzen and the writer, Ivan Turgenev, regularly visited the Island in the middle of the nineteenth century and in 1909 Cowes found itself at the heart of the Anglo-Russian political and diplomatic relationship when King Edward VII hosted a visit by the Russian Imperial family.Today's guest, Stephan Roman, author of the book Isle and Empires, tells the story of British-Russian relations, which end when the Romanov's make a failed attempt to flee to the Isle of Wight before their ultimate end. The current relationship between Britain and Russia continues to be of huge importance to both countries. And here we see the origins of this relationship and how the events described in the book have created tensions which have led to conflicting, and often distorted, perceptions.


    The Best-Selling Books in American History Include Self-Help Shams and ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People'

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 19, 2021 27:32


    Many would assume that the most influential books in American History would be the Bible or the classical works that made the reading list for the Founding Fathers, like Vergil, Horace, Tacitus, , Thucydides, and Plato. But in reality, a canon of 13 simple best-selling self-help books from the Old Farmer's almanac to Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People are what may have established archetypes for the ideal American, from the self-made entrepreneur to the humble farmer.Today's guest is Journalist Jess McHugh. She explores the history of thirteen of America's most popular books, chronologically tracing their origins in her book book AMERICANON: An Unexpected U.S. History in Thirteen Bestselling Books.From educational texts like Webster's Speller and Dictionary and The McGuffey Readers; to domestic guides such as Emily Post's Etiquette and The Betty Crocker Cookbook; to motivational and self-help classics like How to Win Friends and Influence People and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People—these texts, many of which have sold tens of millions of copies, are the books that have, often subconsciously, come to define what it means to be American. They continue to shape generation after generation, reinforcing which ideals we should fight to uphold and encouraging a uniquely American brand of nationalism that is all-too-often weaponized to shut down new ideas that could change our nation for the better.


    The Common Factors That Cause Societies To Die, From Viking Greenland to Modern Somalia

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 17, 2021 42:15

    If we do not learn from the past, we're ultimately doomed to repeat it. While our society may not be on the decline just yet, everything eventually must come to an end. Sandwich Board guys with raggedly clothes are on to something, I guess?As a professor of Sociology, as well as the Founder and First President of the American Sociological Association Section on Development, Samuel Cohn is well-versed in the mistakes of societies past. His book All Societies Die: How to Keep Hope Alive [Cornell University Press, April 2021] considers societal decline and explosions of violence in a variety of historical and contemporary settings, including the Byzantine Empire, the French Revolution and the present-day Middle East. Cohn's unique and humorous voice assesses the past and looks to the future with kind eyes, enabling readers to both accept the cycle of life our society is a part of and move forward with the knowledge necessary to preserve our society for as long as we can.In an interview, Cohn can further discuss: •The “Circle of Societal Death” – what it is, what causes it and how it connects to other societal collapses in the past and helps us understand the root causes and avoidable issues •The triggers of societal destruction – what we should be looking for and working to change in order to avoid societal collapse in the future•How crime, corruption, and violence have impacted the rise and fall of past societies •Why Big Government is essential for both prosperity and for societal survival

    America Won the Space Race Because of a Horrible Accident That Killed 3 Astronauts

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 12, 2021 42:03

    “ We've got a fire in the cockpit!” That was the cry heard over the radio on January 27, 1967, after astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee climbed into a new spacecraft perched atop a large Saturn rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a routine dress rehearsal of their upcoming launch into orbit, then less than a month away. All three astronauts were experienced pilots and had dreams of walking on the moon one day. Little did they or anyone else know, once they entered the spacecraft that cold winter day, they would never leave it alive. The Apollo program would come perilously close to failure before it ever got off the ground. But rather than dooming the space program, this tragedy led to the complete overhaul of the spacecraft, creating a stellar flying machine capable of achieving the program's primary goal: putting a man on the moon. Today's guest is Ryan Walters, author of “Apollo 1: The Tragedy That Put Us on the Moon. We discuss: •How the flawed design of the Apollo 1 spacecraft—miles of uninsulated wiring, an excess of flammable material in a pure oxygen atmosphere, and an unwieldy, three-piece hatch—doomed it from the start •• How NASA awarded the multi-billion-dollar contract to build the Apollo 1 craft to a bidder with an inferior plan and management due to political pressure •• How NASA's damaged reputation and growing opposition to spending on space exploration almost led Congress to shut down the space program after the Apollo 1 fire

    The Daring WW1 Prison Break That Required an Ouija Board and a Life-or-Death Ruse

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 10, 2021 46:48

    Today's episode focuses on the true story of the most singular prison break in history—a clandestine wartime operation that involved no tunneling, no weapons, and no violence of any kind. Conceived during World War I, it relied on a scheme so outrageous it should never have worked: Two British officers escaped from an isolated Turkish prison camp by means of a Ouija board.Yet that scheme—an ingeniously planned, daringly executed confidence game spun out over more than a year—was precisely the method by which the young captives, Harry Jones and Cedric Hill, sprang themselves from Yozgad, a prisoner-of-war camp deep in the mountains of Anatolia.To tell this story is today's guest Margalit Fox, author of Confidence Men: How Two Prisoners of War Engineered the Most Remarkable Escape in History. Using a handmade Ouija board, Jones and Hill beguiled their iron-fisted captors with a tale, supposedly channeled from the Beyond, designed to make them delirious to lead the pair out of Yozgad. If all went according to plan, their captors would personally conduct them along the road to freedom, with the Ottoman government paying their travel expenses. If their con was discovered, it would mean execution.The ruse also required our heroes to feign mental illness, stage a double suicide attempt that came perilously close to turning real, and endure six months in a Turkish insane asylum, an ordeal that drove them to the edge of actual madness. And yet in the end they won their freedom.In chronicling this tale of psychological strategy, Fox also explores a deeper question: How could such an outrageous plan ever have worked? By illuminating the subtle psychological art known as coercive persuasion (colloquially called brainwashing), she reveals the method by which a master manipulator creates and sustains faith … and the reason his converts persist in believing things that are patently false—topics with immense relevance to our own time.

    How the Broken Marriage of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln Saved the Civil War

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 5, 2021 61:12

    Abraham Lincoln was apparently one of those men who regarded “connubial bliss” as an untenable fantasy. During the Civil War, he pardoned a Union soldier who had deserted the army to return home to wed his sweetheart. As the president signed a document sparing the soldier's life, Lincoln said: “I want to punish the young man—probably in less than a year he will wish I had withheld the pardon.”To discuss the incredibly story marriage between Abraham and Mary Lincoln is Michael Burlingame, author of the book An American Marriage. We discuss why Lincoln had good reason to regret his marriage to Mary Todd. His revealing narrative shows that, as First Lady, Mary Lincoln accepted bribes and kickbacks, sold permits and pardons, engaged in extortion, and peddled influence. The reader comes to learn that Lincoln wed Mary Todd because, in all likelihood, she seduced him and then insisted that he protect her honor. Perhaps surprisingly, the 5'2” Mrs. Lincoln often physically abused her 6'4” husband, as well as her children and servants; she humiliated her husband in public; she caused him, as president, to fear that she would disgrace him publicly.Unlike her husband, she was not profoundly opposed to slavery and hardly qualifies as the “ardent abolitionist” that some historians have portrayed. While she provided a useful stimulus to his ambition, she often “crushed his spirit,” as his law partner put it. In the end, Lincoln may not have had as successful a presidency as he did—where he showed a preternatural ability to deal with difficult people—if he had not had so much practice at home.

    The Roman Brexit: How Civilization Collapsed in Britain After the Legions Withdrew in 409 AD

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 3, 2021 55:58

    Sixteen hundred years ago Britain left the Roman Empire and swiftly fell into ruin. Grand cities and luxurious villas were deserted and left to crumble, and civil society collapsed into chaos. Into this violent and unstable world came foreign invaders from across the sea, and established themselves as its new masters.Tracing this history is today's guest Marc Morris, author of The Anglo-Saxons. We discuss the turbulent history of these people across the next six centuries. It explains how their earliest rulers fought relentlessly against each other for glory and supremacy, and then were almost destroyed by the onslaught of the vikings. It explores how they abandoned their old gods for Christianity, established hundreds of churches and created dazzlingly intricate works of art. It charts the revival of towns and trade, and the origins of a familiar landscape of shires, boroughs and bishoprics. It is a tale of famous figures like King Offa, Alfred the Great and Edward the Confessor, but also features a host of lesser known characters - ambitious queens, revolutionary saints, intolerant monks and grasping nobles. Through their remarkable careers we see how a new society, a new culture and a single unified nation came into being.Drawing on a vast range of original evidence - chronicles, letters, archaeology and artefacts - renowned historian Marc Morris illuminates a period of history that is only dimly understood, separates the truth from the legend, and tells the extraordinary story of how the foundations of England were laid.

    The Dive: The Untold Story of the World's Deepest Submarine Rescue

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 29, 2021 37:46

    On August 29th, 1973, a routine dive to the telecommunication cable that snakes along the Atlantic sea bed went badly wrong. Pisces III, with Roger Chapman and Roger Mallinson onboard, had tried to surface when a catastrophic fault suddenly sent the mini-submarine tumbling to the ocean bed. Badly damaged, buried nose first in a bed of sand, the submarine and the two men were now trapped a half-mile under the ocean's surface. Rescue was three days away, with just two days' worth of oxygen. Today's guest is Stephen McGinty, author of The Dive: The Untold Story of the World's Deepest Submarine Rescue. In our discussion, he reconstructs the minute-by-minute race against time that took place to first locate Pisces III and then execute the deepest rescue in maritime history. This event show how Britain, America, and Canada pooled their resources into a “Brotherhood of the Sea” dedicated to stopping the ocean depths from claiming two of their own. Yet, the heart of The Dive is the relationship between Roger Chapman, the ebullient former naval officer, and Roger Mallinson, the studious engineer, sealed in a sunken sarcophagus. For three days they would battle against despair, fading hope, and carbon dioxide poisoning, taking the reader on an emotional ride from the depths of defeat to a glimpse of the sun-dappled surface.

    The Civil War Battle That Resembled Dante's Inferno

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 27, 2021 48:56

    In the spring of 1864, President Lincoln feared that he might not be able to save the Union. The Army of the Potomac had performed poorly over the previous two years, and many Northerners were understandably critical of the war effort. Lincoln assumed he'd lose the November election, and he firmly believed a Democratic successor would seek peace immediately, spelling an end to the Union. A Fire in the Wilderness tells the story of that perilous time when the future of the United States depended on the Union Army's success in a desolate forest roughly sixty-five miles from the nation's capital. To discuss this battle is John Reeves, author of “A Fire in the Wilderness.” At the outset of the Battle of the Wilderness, General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia remained capable of defeating the Army of the Potomac. But two days of relentless fighting in dense Virginia woods, Robert E. Lee was never again able to launch offensive operations against Grant's army. Lee, who faced tremendous difficulties replacing fallen soldiers, lost 11,125 men—or 17% of his entire force. On the opposing side, the Union suffered 17,666 casualties. The alarming casualties do not begin to convey the horror of this battle, one of the most gruesome in American history. The impenetrable forest and gunfire smoke made it impossible to view the enemy. Officers couldn't even see their own men during the fighting. The incessant gunfire caused the woods to catch fire, resulting in hundreds of men burning to death. “It was as though Christian men had turned to fiends, and hell itself had usurped the place of the earth,” wrote one officer. When the fighting finally subsided during the late evening of the second day, the usually stoical Grant threw himself down on his cot and wept. What did it show about Grant and Lee?

    X-Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 22, 2021 55:41

    The men of X Troop were the real Inglorious Basterds: a secret commando unit of young Jewish refugees who were trained in counterintelligence and advanced combat to deliver decisive blows against the Nazis. Today's guest Leah Garrett draws on extensive original research, including interviews with the last surviving members of the X Troop unit, to share this untold story of forgotten WWII heroes. She follows this unique band of brothers from Germany to England and back again, with stops at British internment camps, the beaches of Normandy, the battlefields of Italy and Holland, and the hellscape of Terezin concentration camp—the scene of one of the most dramatic rescues of the war. We discuss the story of these secret shock troops and their devastating blows against the Nazis. Other topics include:● How Winston Churchill and his chief of staff convinced these mostly German and Austrian Jewish refugees, many of whom had been held in British internment camps due to their nationality, to fight for the Brits.● The important roles these soldiers played in such major contests as D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, such as X Trooper Peter Masters' bicycle ride through occupied France, where he killed and interrogated Germany soldiers across Normandy. Nancy wake?● The details of one of the most dramatic, little-known rescues of the war, in which X Trooper Freddie Gray drove a commandeered Jeep across hundreds of miles of German territory to free his parents from Theresienstadt concentration camp.● The troubled legacy of the X Troop unit in England, where the commandos' Jewish heritage has been largely ignored—and in some cases suppressed.

    The 1919 Tour de France That Took Place in the Bombed-Out Ruins of WW1

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 20, 2021 44:07

    On June 29, 1919, one day after the Treaty of Versailles brought about the end of World War I, nearly seventy cyclists embarked on the thirteenth Tour de France. From Paris, the war-weary men rode down the western coast on a race that would trace the country's border, through seaside towns and mountains to the ghostly western front. Traversing a cratered postwar landscape, the cyclists faced near-impossible odds and the psychological scars of war. Most of the athletes had arrived straight from the front, where so many fellow countrymen had suffered or died. Sixty-seven cyclists, some of whom were still on active military duty, started from Paris on June 29, 1919; only 11 finished the monthlong tour. The cyclists' perseverance and tolerance for pain would be tested in a grueling, monthlong competition.To discuss this story of human endurance is Adin Dobkin, author of Sprinting Through No Man's Land. He explains how the cyclists united a country that had been torn apart by unprecedented desolation and tragedy, and how devastated countrymen and women can come together to celebrate the adventure of a lifetime and discover renewed fortitude, purpose, and national identity in the streets of their towns. Dobkin profiles competitors including Frenchman Eugène Christophe, whose commitment to finishing the race after he lost the lead while stopping to repair his bike's broken frame captured the country's imagination, and vividly describes arduous ascents, rubble-strewn streets, and the crowds that lined the route, waving flags and shouting encouragement. The result is an immersive look at the mythical power of sports to unite and inspire

    The Apollo Program Had a Surprising Close Relationship With 1960s Counterculture

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 15, 2021 45:17

    The summer of 1969 saw astronauts land on the moon for the first time and hippie hordes descend on Woodstock for a legendary music festival. For today's guest, Neil M. Maher, author of the book Apollo in the Age of Aquarius, the conjunction of these two era-defining events is not entirely coincidental. He argues that the celestial aspirations of NASA's Apollo space program were tethered to terrestrial concerns, from the civil rights struggle and the antiwar movement to environmentalism, feminism, and the counterculture.With its lavishly funded mandate to send a man to the moon, Apollo became a litmus test in the 1960s culture wars. Many people believed it would reinvigorate a country that had lost its way, while for others it represented a colossal waste of resources needed to solve pressing problems at home. Yet Maher also discovers synergies between the space program and political movements of the era. Photographs of “Whole Earth” as a bright blue marble heightened environmental awareness, while NASA's space technology allowed scientists to track ecological changes globally. The space agency's exclusively male personnel sparked feminist debates about opportunities for women. Activists pressured NASA to apply its technical know-how to ending the Vietnam War and helping African Americans by reducing energy costs in urban housing projects. Particularly during the 1970s, as public interest in NASA waned, the two sides became dependent on one another for political support.Against a backdrop of Saturn V moonshots and Neil Armstrong's giant leap for mankind, Apollo in the Age of Aquarius brings the cultural politics of the space race back down to planet Earth.

    Travelers & Explorers, Epilogue – What is the Point of Exploration in the 21st Century?

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 13, 2021 17:27

    What is the purpose of a dangerous journey in the twenty-first century? What is the reasonto explore when so much of the globe has been surveyed, mapped, photographed, filmed, andcatalogued? What can be gained by undertaking dangerous expeditions when little or no newinformation can be obtained and Google Earth gives instantaneous photos and video feeds?

    Travelers and Explorers, Part 8: Ernest Shackleton's Frozen March at the Bottom of the World

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 8, 2021 49:05

    Ernest Shackleton was among the last of a group of intrepid men from the Golden Age of Discovery in the Victorian era. He sought honor for England and himself in embarking on a dangerous journey to lead a team of men to cross the Antarctic continent.His story approaches the outer limits of plausibility. Few had his perseverance. When Ernest Shackleton's ship, Endurance, was destroyed by South Pole sea ice, the crew had to continue on three row boats, camp on ice sheets, and subsist on sled dogs and seal blubber. They were at sea for 497 days until landing on Elephant Island, which was completely deserted and isolated. Shackleton sailed a small lifeboat across 800 miles of violent sea to South Georgia Island to obtain a rescue vessel. He and the four men returned and rescued the 22 men left behind.

    Travelers and Explorers, Part 7: Sir Henry Stanley (1841-1904) – “Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?”

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 6, 2021 41:21


    Henry Stanley was a soldier-turned-journalist-turned explorer who charged wide swaths of the Congo. He famously searched for the source of the Nile, commanded the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition (a major expedition into the interior of Africa), and, most famously, searched and found missionary and fellow explorer David Livingstone.” He was knighted in 1899He led major expeditions there and wrote much of the early scientific literature of Sub-Saharan Africa and contributed to nearly every field of inquiry in the subject area. His accounts remained the standard work in botany, biology, zoology, geography, and anthropology of the regions treated for decades. One English writer related of his discoveries, “The fact is now generally recognized that Stanley, after Livingstone, gave greater impulse than any other man to the movement which resulted in the rapid exploration of most parts of unknown Africa.” But Stanley's legacy has its black marks, though. He was a product of nineteenth-century colonialism and the European Scramble for Africa, and as such was used by monarchs to extend their landholdings on the continent.


    Travelers and Explorers, Part 6: James Cook (1728-1797), England's Poseidon

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 1, 2021 51:47


    James Cook came from a humble village upbringing. But by the end of his career, he circumnavigated the globe several times, discovered Australia and explored its west coast, mapped much of the South Pacific, and was worshipped as a deity by some Hawaiian natives. He also made incredible contributions to science. Two botanists on his second voyage collected over 3,000plant species and presented their findings to the Royal Society. His crew included severalartists, who documented the botanists' findings and completed 264 drawings. Cook evendetermined the cause of scurvy and implemented a diet for his crew full of fresh produce. Hedid not lose a single man to scurvy on his first voyage – an unprecedented accomplishment inthe naval exploration of the eighteenth century.During the captain's 12 years of sailing around the Pacific, he gathered enough longitudinal measurements and depth soundings for mapmakers to produce accurate charts of the South Pacific for the first time. Many were still in use through the mid-twentieth century. Global sea travel would now be safe to nearly any location on the globe. Thanks to Cook, the world had become interconnected.


    Travelers and Explorers, Part 5: Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521) and His Terrifying Voyage Across an Endless Ocean

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 29, 2021 41:42

    Ferdinand Magellan was ready to conquer the natives with nothing but a few loyal soldiers. He had already discovered vast new swaths of the globe and crossed the world's largest ocean. Capturing this small island in the Philippines seemed a trifle by comparison. Magellan's confidence was supreme. He faced down the islanders of Mactan with only 60 crew members, turning down the help of 1,000 natives in battle, offered by an allied Filipino leader, in order to personally avenge an insult.It proved to be a rash call. The captain, the first to cross the Pacific and lead his crew on a voyage of starvation and death, was killed by believing that he would forever defeat the odds.Magellan's reputation has recovered over the centuries. His bravery, innovation, andperseverance are now considered unparalleled during his time. He discovered and sailedthrough one of the most dangerous waterways in the world, named the Pacific Ocean, and circumnavigated the globe, albeit posthumously. His pioneering spirit in an age of discovery lives on in geographic names such as the Strait of Magellan. Despite his poor reputation, he inspired Spanish and Portuguese sailors to open eastern Asia to trade. Magellan accelerated the Age of Discovery and laid the groundwork for European colonialism, which in turn created twenty-first-century globalization.His legacy carries influence today. New discoveries are associated with this iconic explorer. His crew first spotted the Magellanic Clouds, a cluster of galaxies visible in the night sky. NASA launched the Magellan spacecraft in 1989 to map the surface of Venus and measure the planetary gravitational field. In an unintentional homage to the Portuguese explorer, the oneton probe took the long way to reach Venus, looping around the Sun one and a half times before arriving at the gaseous planet. Craters and landmarks on the moon and Mars bear his name – a testament to a man who fearlessly forged paths into the unknown.

    Announcement: “Beyond the Big Screen” – a New Movie Podcast – Launches Next Week

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 28, 2021 17:44

    I'm please to announce that Steve Guerra is launching a new podcast called Beyond the Big Screen that comes out next week. If you member from a few years back, Steve and I co-hosted a series called Hollywood Hates History that looked at some of the worst historical epics ever put to film, including Demi Moore's The Scarlett Letter, and The Conqueror, starting John Wayne as Genghis Khan (the part he was born not to play). This new show is in the spirit of that series.To celebrate the show joining forces with History Unplugged, we are doing a giveaway of Amazon gift cards so you can rent or buy the movies feature on Steve's podcast. The first five people to enter the giveaway win automatically! Go to beyondthebigscreen.com to learn how to enter.

    Travelers and Explorers, Part 4: Zheng He -- the Admiral Who Turned the Indian Ocean Into a Chinese Lake

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 24, 2021 31:12

    What would have happened if China discovered America before Europe? Moreimportantly, what would have happened if it colonized America? It is aplausible scenario. Prior to the nineteenth century, China was the wealthiest, mosttechnologically advanced civilization in the world and dominated trade along the Pacific coast. Its navy was well funded and dwarfed its rivals. Furthermore, at the height of its power it was helmed by Zheng He, the most towering figure in 4,000 years of Chinese naval history and maritime expeditions in the pre-modern world. He led seven voyages across the Eastern maritime world. He commanded a fleet of 27,800 sailors on 62 treasure ships – each with nine masts and larger than a football field, weighing 2,000 tons. The ships ferried porcelains, silks, and exotic treasures that were sold into the markets that dotted the Indian Ocean coastline or were gifted to their rulers. Each ship was twice as large as the first transatlantic steamer, built four hundred years later. They were so massive that all the combined fleets of Columbus and Vasco da Gama could have fit on a single deck of a single vessel of Zheng He. If he had ever encountered Columbus in the Atlantic, it would be like an African black rhinoceros and a meerkat eyeing each other from opposite sides of a watering hole on the savanna.

    Travelers and Explorers, Part 3: Ibn Battuta (1304-1368) -- The Everlasting Pilgrim

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 22, 2021 43:51

    Abu Abdullah Ibn Battuta was a 14th-century Islamic scholar who spent 20 years travelling the full extent of the Islamic world, which stretched from West Africa to the Middle East to Southern Russia to Western China down to the island of Java. All of these newly-Islamicized lands needed legal experts, and Ibn Battuta's skills were in as high demand as an IBM mainframe engineer in the 1960s or a Java developer today.He made an entire life travelling on religious pilgrimages, going to wealthy courts, getting highly paid positions, finding new wives, fleeing when his life was in danger (including a memorable shipwreck off the coast of India), and repeating the process over and over again. In this way he went as far south as Tanzania, as far north as the Volga basin, as far west as China, as far southeast as Indonesia, and as far west as Mali. In all, he went three times further than Marco Polo.

    Travelers and Explorers, Part 2: Marco Polo (1254-1324) -- Opening the Door to the East

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 17, 2021 42:56

    Marco Polo's legacy is arguably the greatest of any medieval figure. While he was by no means the first European to reach China – his father and uncle did so a generation earlier, making the younger Polo's journey possible in the first place– his account, The Travels of Marco Polo, popularized knowledge of India and Asia across the continent. It was a massive bestseller in its first print run and defined ideas about China and the Orient for centuries to come; it has remained in print for centuries and a bestseller ever since. In it he discussed the fabulous wealth of China and the court of Kublai Khan.While much of his account is filled with incredible exaggerations or outright fictions – mythological animals make numerous cameos in the work – it inspired a new generation of explorers to push past the extents of the known world. His book was incorporated into some important maps of the later Middle Ages, such as the Catalan World Map of 1375, which was read with great interest in the next century by Henry the Navigator and Columbus. The effects of his journey on European intellectual and cultural life were far-reaching. Accounts of the lands in the East stimulated renewed interest in discovery and helped launch the European Age of Exploration.

    Explorers Who Pushed the Boundary of the Known World, Part 1: Rabban Bar Sauma (1220-1294) – the Reverse Marco Polo

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 15, 2021 53:48

    This is the first in a multi-part series on the most consequential travelers and explorers in history and how their discoveries, land conquests, and diplomatic negotiations shaped the modern world.Whether it is Rabban Bar Sauma, the 13th-century Chinese monk commissioned by the Mongols to travel West form a military alliance against the Islam; Marco Polo, who opened a window to the East for Europe; or Captain James Cook, whose maritime voyages of discovery created the global economy of the 21st century, each of these explorers had an indelible impact on modern society.Today's episode focuses on Rabban Bar Sauma. He and his student Rabban Markos were two Nestorian Christian monks who resided in the heart of Mongolian China. From the East, they set out on a journey of several thousand miles to reach Jerusalem. They traveled in the capacity of both holy men and official envoys from the Mongol Empire to Europe, and Bar Sauma attempted to negotiate a military alliance between Europe and Persia to fight the Mamluks of Egypt.Rabban Bar Sauma, dubbed by historians as the “reverse Marco Polo” for his journey ofdiscovery from China to the largely unknown lands of Europe, embarked on an epicpilgrimage from the Eastern region of Beijing through Rome and as far as to Gascony, aGaulish kingdom in what is known today as the Bordeaux region of France. This multi-year journey afforded Bar Sauma an East-to-West perspective. He was the first traveler from China to set food in medieval Europe and the first Asian diplomat to correspond with European monarchs and popes.

    What Egyptian Crocodile Mummies Tell us About Life, Death, and Taxes Thousands of Years Ago

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 10, 2021 54:55

    Our story begins in 1899, when two archaeologists — Arthur Hunt and Bernard Grenfell — were on an expedition in Northern Egypt in an ancient town once known as Tebtunis on a search for mummies and other ancient artifacts.This was during a growing Western fascination with ancient Egypt that was later dubbed Egyptomania. Researchers hunted all things Egyptian — especially human mummies, partly because they represented the Western obsession with bringing the dead back to life.While the team were excavating the town's cemeteries, they found something unexpected: crocodile mummies. Instead of being thrilled at the discovery, the archaeologists saw the reptilian mummies as getting in the way of what they really wanted. But a new generation of Egyptologists have a different view. They see these crocodiles as a means of understand Egyptians' views of fear, strength, pleasing their gods, and even death. But those aren't the only secrets they contain. To hold the mummies' shape, priests would stuff the mummies with waste papyri that had writing on it that people didn't have a use for anymore.This waste papyri, plus other texts that were found in Tebtunis, reveal what daily life was like for the ancient Egyptians. It's knowledge that's invaluable to social historians today.Joining the show to discuss these curiosities are Rita Lucarelli, professor of Egyptology and the faculty curator of Egyptology at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, and Andrew Hogan, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for the Tebtunis Papyri at the Bancroft Library. We discuss all the ways that the most unlikely of items can connect us to the ancient past and understand our predecessors.

    The 1911 Meeting of Albert Einstein and Marie Curie that Changed Physics Forever

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 8, 2021 55:20


    In 1911, some of the greatest minds in science convened at the First Solvay Conference in Physics, a meeting like no other. Almost half of the attendees had won or would go on to win the Nobel Prize. Over the course of those few days, these minds began to realize that classical physics was about to give way to quantum theory, a seismic shift in our history and how we understand not just our world, but the universe. At the center of this meeting were Marie Curie, already a Nobel laureate, and a young Albert Einstein. In the years preceding, Curie had faced the death of her husband and soul mate, Pierre. She was on the cusp of being awarded her second Nobel Prize, but scandal erupted all around her when the French press revealed that she was having an affair with a fellow scientist, Paul Langevin. The subject of vicious attacks in the French press, Curie found herself in a storm that threatened her scientific legacy.Albert Einstein, already showing flourishes of his enormous genius, proved a supporter in her travails. They had an instant connection at Solvay. Curie had been responsible for one of the greatest discoveries in modern science (radioactivity) but still faced resistance and scorn. Einstein recognized this grave injustice, and their mutual admiration and respect, borne out of this, their first meeting, would go on to serve them in their paths forward to making history.Today's guest, Jreffrey Orens, author of the new book the Soul of Genius describes Curie and Einsteins' relationship and uses never-before-seen correspondence and notes, revealing the human side of these brilliant scientists, one who pushed boundaries and demanded equality in a man's world, no matter the cost, and the other, who was destined to become synonymous with genius.


    Pancho Villa’s 1916 Raid on New Mexico: The Pearl Harbor Bombing of Its Time

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 3, 2021 53:52


    Before 9/11, before Pearl Harbor, another unsuspected foreign attack on the United States shocked the nation and forever altered the course of history. In 1916, Pancho Villa, a guerrilla fighter who commanded an ever-changing force of conscripts in northern Mexico, attached a border town in New Mexico. It was a raid that angered Americans, and President Woodrow Wilson ordered the Punitive Expedition in which the US Army invaded Mexico and defeated General Villa's troops, but failed to capture him. This event may have been the catalyst for America’s entry into World War One and permanently altered U.S.-Mexican border policy.Jeff Guinn, author of the new book War on the Border, joins us to discuss this critically important event in American history. The “Punitive Expedition” was launched in retaliation under Pershing’s command and brought together the Army, National Guard, and the Texas Rangers—who were little more than organized vigilantes.The American expedition was the last action by the legendary African-American “Buffalo Soldiers.” It was also the first time the Army used automobiles and trucks, which were of limited value in Mexico, a country with no paved roads or gas stations. Curtiss Jenny airplanes did reconnaissance, another first. One era of warfare was coming to a close as another was beginning. But despite some bloody encounters, the Punitive Expedition eventually withdrew without capturing Villa.Although the bloodshed has ended, the US-Mexico border remains as vexed and volatile an issue as ever.


    How a Member of Easy Company’s “Band of Brothers” Found an Unlikely Friendship with a Former Nazi

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 1, 2021 38:33

    One of the best-known screen depictions of World War 2 is Band of Brothers. This HBO miniseries followed the real-life Easy Company of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division, and their mission in World War II Europe, from Operation Overlord, through V-J Day. Today’s episode focuses on one of the members of this company, Sgt. Don Malarkey. He was a hero for his service in World War II, especially in the Battle of the Bulge, yet he came to the brink of suicide, haunted by the memories of the German soldiers he had killed. Across the ocean, Fritz Engelbert was shackled in shame for having been a pawn of Hitler—he too had fought in the Battle of the Bulge—but for the Germans. He could not find peace.Today’s guest is Bob Welch, author of Saving My Enemy: How Two WWII Soldiers Fought against Each Other and Later Forged a Friendship That Saved Their Lives. It is a rare WWII story with a happy ending. In an age when we see nothing but division in the news, the public needs inspiration from stories like this: two mortal enemies coming together after 60 years to offer each other forgiveness and reconciliation. This is the touching true story of how their unlikely friendship, forged in their 80s, dissolved six decades of guilt and shame that had pushed both men to despair.Their boyhood could not have been more different. Don grew up scrappy and happy in Oregon while Fritz was regimented and indoctrinated by the Hitler Youth Both men fought in the Battle of the Bulge; Don as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army who served a longer continuous stretch on the bloody front lines than any man in Easy Company, and Fritz as a private in the Panzer-Lerh-Division Don was welcomed home as a celebrity while Fritz returned to live years in the obscurity of a remote German village Each was plagued with immense guilt—Don for the lives he took and Fritz over his participation in the Nazi war effort They met on the 60th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. Both scarred. Both haunted. The friendship they began that day saved their lives.

    U.S. Presidents and Their 160-Year Love/Hate Relationship With the Camera

    Play Episode Listen Later May 27, 2021 45:40


    John Quincy Adams was the first president of whom we have surviving photos. His picture was taken in 1843, two decades after his presidency ended. The picture was made with daguerreotype, the first photographic technique to be made available to the public.The picture was the beginning of a stormy two-century relationship between the president and the camera. It includes Lincoln’s somber portraits, Lyndon Johnson’s swearing in, and George W. Bush’s reaction to learning about the 9/11 attacks. Photography plays an indelible role in how we remember and define American presidents. Today’s guest is Cara Finnegan, author of the book “Photographing a President: Making History from Daguerreotype to Digital.”She argues that throughout history, presidents have actively participated in all aspects of photography, not only by sitting for photos but by taking and consuming them. Technological developments not only changed photography, but introduced new visual values that influence how we judge an image. At the same time, presidential photographs—as representations of leaders who symbolized the nation—sparked public debate on these values and their implications.


    Announcement: Steve Guerra’s History of the Papacy Podcast is Joining Forces with History Unplugged – Free Giveaway!

    Play Episode Listen Later May 26, 2021 13:34

    Steve Guerra is joining forces with History Unplugged. We are pleased to announce that his show History of the Papacy is a part of our new podcast network.Steve has been on History Unplugged many times before. We discussed the myth of Pope Joan, whom legend claims reigned as pope, 855-857 A.D., by disguising herself as a man. The story is widely thought to be fiction, but almost everyone took it as fact in the Middle Ages, up to the point that the Siena Cathedral featured a bust of Joan among other pontiffs.We also did a mini-series called Hollywood Hates History and looked at some of the most historically inaccurate movies ever made. Offenders include "The Scarlet Letter," the 1995 Demi Moore atrocity; "The Conqueror," a Genghis Khan biopic starring John Wayne; and "Kingdom of Heaven," in which Legolas the Elf successfully creates universal religious harmony in the 12th century Middle East.His show History of the Papacy will detail the biographies and interesting facts of the Papacy of Rome. It will start in the beginning, but will not go straight through. There will be many side tracks and detours along the way. To celebrate him joining forces with us, we are doing a giveaway where the first five entrants win a 3-month subscription to the Great Courses. The Great Courses Plus is a streaming service brings the world’s greatest professors to millions who want to go deeper on the subjects that interest them most. No exams. No homework. No schedule. Just a world of knowledge available anytime, anywhere, via video or audio. Use this app to:• Stream any course you have purchased • Seamlessly toggle between video and audio versions of lectures• Download your lectures to enjoy later when not connectedMore than 500 courses available at TheGreatCourses.com.Go to historyofthepapacypodcast.com to see how to win.

    Lincolnomics: How President Lincoln Constructed the Great American Economy

    Play Episode Listen Later May 25, 2021 39:50


    Abraham Lincoln’s view of the right to fulfill one’s economic destiny was at the core of his own beliefs—but some believe that he thought no one could climb that ladder without strong federal support. Some of his most enduring plans came to him before the Civil War, visions of a country linked by railroads running ocean to ocean, canals turning small towns into bustling cities, public works bridging farmers to market.Today’s guest John F. Wasik, author of “Lincolnomics” tracks Lincoln from his time in the 1830s as a young Illinois state legislator pushing for internal improvements; through his work as a lawyer representing the Illinois Central Railroad in the 1840s; to his presidential fight for the Transcontinental Railroad; and his support of land-grant colleges that educated a nation. To Lincoln, infrastructure meant not only the roads, bridges, and canals he shepherded as a lawyer and a public servant, but also much more.These brick-and-mortar developments were essential to how the nation could lift citizens above poverty and its isolating origins. Lincoln paved the way for Eisenhower’s interstate highways and FDR’s social amenities. We discuss:⋅ Lincoln’s championing of the Transcontinential Railroad and pivotal public works preceding it, including the Illinois Central Railroad and the Illinois & Michigan Canal;⋅ How infrastructure both hindered and enabled the Confederate and Lincoln-led UnionArmies during the Civil War;⋅ Lincoln’s support for land-grant colleges, the foundation for today’s public universities across the country; and⋅ Lincoln’s true dedication to infrastructure, among them the sketch of a town he surveyed, and a design he created and patented.


    The Gulf of Time Separating You From Napoleon III is Bridged By One Brandy Bottle

    Play Episode Listen Later May 20, 2021 46:58

    Some of the most remarkable historical artifacts found in the possession of collectors are vintage wines or spirits. A rare bottle’s journey spans continents and centuries, older than any human alive. Today’s guest is Raj Bhakta, he’s the founder of Whistle Pig, maker one of the world’s most popular rye blends of whisky. He’s also an entrepreneur with a gift for promotion, including being a contestant on Season 2 of the Apprentice and riding an elephant across the Rio Grande in 2006, accompanied by a 12-piece mariachi band when he was running for a U.S. Congressional Seat in Pennsylvania. During a trip to France a few years ago, by an incredible stroke of fortune, he was able to purchase 38 barrels of Armagnac vintage brandy, with some barrels dating back to 1868, right on the eve of the Franco-Prussian Wars.He released Bhakta 50, an aged blend of 8 rare Armagnac vintages dated between 1868-1970, finished in Islay whisky casks. The youngest Armagnac is 50 years old, and the oldest in the bottle is 152 years old. Prolonged aging imparts flavor, but also carries great risk, especially in tumultuous times. Nearly every village has been sacked time and time again, and , after its fortifications are reduced, a captured towns’ alcohol is the first thing to be consumed. Indeed, the oldest inhabitants of the Armagnac region still recall the sight of German scout planes circling the countryside, searching for the telltale black discoloration a by-product of alcohol storage that appeared on the sides and roofs of the cellars of the villagers who had hidden their brandy stocks.In this episode we discuss how valuable items can last the test of time, the local character of brandy vs. whisky, and why craftsmanship is still needed in the twenty-first century.

    The Japanese-Americans Who Fought Nazis in Europe

    Play Episode Listen Later May 18, 2021 35:20

    The experience of Japanese-Americans in World War 2 is almost compoletely understood through the lense of internment camps. But for 10s of thousands of them, their most important experience was fighting Nazis.The 442nd Infantry Regiment was an infantry regiment of the composed almost entirely of second-generation American soldiers of Japanese ancestry. Beginning in 1944, the regiment fought primarily in the European Theatre,[3] in particular Italy, southern France, and Germany. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) was organized on March 23, 1943, in response to the War Department's call for volunteers to form the segregated Japanese American army combat unit. More than 12,000 volunteers answered the call, even thought many of the soldiers from the continental U.S. had families in internment camps while they fought abroadToday’s guest is Daniel James Brown From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Boys in the Boat. He’s the author of the new book called FACING THE MOUNTAIN, a World War II saga of patriotism and courage about the special Japanese-American Army unit that overcame brutal odds in Europe; their families, incarcerated back home; and a young man who refused to surrender his constitutional rights, even if it meant imprisonment. They came from across the continent and Hawaii. Their parents taught them to embrace both their Japanese heritage and the ways of their American homeland. They faced bigotry, yet they believed in their bright futures as American citizens. But within days of Pearl Harbor, the FBI was ransacking their houses and locking up their fathers. And within months many would themselves be living behind barbed wire. Based on Brown’s extensive interviews with the families of the protagonists as well as archival research, FACING THE MOUNTAIN portrays the kaleidoscopic journey of four Japanese-American families and their sons—Gordon Hirabayashi, Rudy Tokiwa, Fred Shiosaki, and Kats Miho. One demonstrated his courage as a resister. The three others volunteered for 442nd Regimental Combat Team and displayed fierce courage on the battlefields of France, Germany, and Italy where they were asked to do the near impossible in often suicidal missions.

    Meet the Four Congressmen Who Won the Civil War and Shaped Reconstruction

    Play Episode Listen Later May 13, 2021 48:17

    The popular conception of the Civil War is that Abraham Lincoln single-handedly led the Union to victory. But in addition to the Great Emancipator, we can also thank four influential members of Congress–Thaddeus Stevens, Pitt Fessenden, Ben Wade, and the proslavery Clement Vallandigham. They show us how a newly empowered Republican party shaped one of the most dynamic and consequential periods in American history. Today’s guest is Fergus Bordewich, author of “Congress of War.” He shows that from reinventing the nation’s financial system to pushing President Lincoln to emancipate the slaves to the planning for Reconstruction, Congress undertook drastic measures to defeat the Confederacy, in the process laying the foundation for a strong central government that came fully into being in the twentieth century.

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