Monday 21 March 2016

Five of the Best History Podcasts by Imogen Robertson

Seeking inspiration? A companion for your chill spring walks, or something more interesting to listen to in the gym than the spotify list of some manic teenager? Then hie thee over to itunes and subscribe to these podcasts. I love podcasts. Quality varies of course, but there are some superb story-tellers and historians, interviewers and experts out there. These podcasts are regularly full of the sort of history that makes you want to stop people in the street and tell them this fascinating new thing you've just learned. These are my favourite History podcasts. Let me know if there are any gems I've missed.

Dan Snow's History Hits
A new one to me, but already hugely popular. Snow has top quality guests including Jessie Childs and Alex von Tunzelman and gives them plenty of room to share their knowledge and passion for their subjects. History Hits regularly looks at current events, such as the US primaries too, giving current news stories a historical context which is illuminating and will make you sound very clever at the next drinks party you go to.

On this Day in History
Only started on the 1 February this year, and there's a definite emphasis on all things American, but it is full of fascinating stories well told. Nicely scripted, it has a professional, engaged tone and is full of the random historical oddities that tend to give you ideas for whole new novels when you are supposed to getting on with the poisonous business of rewriting your current manuscript.

Stuff You Missed in History Class
This one is presented by Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey and is both chatty and relaxed while being very careful to be accurate. They cover a huge range of topics but often focus on moments of personalities squeezed out of the grand historical narrative. So an episode on a blizzard in 1888 is followed a few weeks later by one on the London brothel riots of 1688 via a mining disaster and the Lady Hastings scandal.

A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps
For those of you who don't like such a scatter-gun approach, this, now famous podcast, does (is doing) exactly what it says on the tin. Professor Peter Adamson and occasional guests provide the historical context of the people and ideas they cover, and guide listeners through the philosophy with authority and the occasional bad pun.

Hardcore History with Dan Carlin
Ok, you need to be going on long walks for this one. The lectures are three to four hours long but are delivered with such verve, the time melts away. Carlin is superb story teller. His series on the First World War is absolutely riveting and their scope and ambition is remarkable. Do take a listen. At the time of posting the WWI series, Blueprint for Armageddon, is free, and you can buy episodes from the archive for $1.99

Ottoman History Podcast
This is quite academic in tone, but is full of excellent stories, vividly told and is a wonderful resource. I knew embarrassingly little about the Ottoman Empire before I started listening to them, but the more I hear the more fascinated I become. It's full of the sort of detail that is utterly absorbing.  

And as a bonus extra, the series that has sent me off down more research rabbit holes of delight than any other, though it's one I suspect every reader of this blog already knows:

In Our Time
Melvyn Bragg leads experts through subjects from Queen Zenobia to the South Sea Bubble, Bedlam to the Taiping rebellion. These are always fascinating, wide ranging and the site has suggestions for further reading for each programme. Which is why I spend more on books than I do on food most months. You can also play the In Our Time drinking game by taking a shot every time Lord Bragg gets cross with a guest for taking too long to explain something or being a bit too vague. For seasoned drinkers only.


Hannah said...

I'm currently obsessed with the British History Podcast ( - a complete history from prehistoric times. He's up to the 900s now and there has been loads of fascinating social history as well as all the kings and battles stuff.

Katherine said...

I love In Our Time! You learn so much from it. On This Day sounds interesting - will give it a go. Thanks!

Imogen said...

I noticed the British History Podcast, but haven't listened yet. Will add it to my list. Thanks, Hannah and Katherine, hope you like On This Day.

Hana Khan said...

I love The Memory Palace, has quite short (generally under 15mins) episodes focusing on interesting tidbits from American history. The storytelling is wonderful and the stories themselves are so varied and often very moving.

Imogen said...

Ooh and there's another one for my list! Thanks, Hana.