OK, history nerds. You might have aced your social studies tests in school and have enough facts at your fingertips to teach a class in U.S. history, ancient civilizations, or the history of the modern world. But how deep does your knowledge go?
Do you know about the origins of the taco? Can you name the key players in the New York City 1970s club scene? Do you know from when came the band Lit’s 1999 hit “My Own Worst Enemy”? Well then, looks like you still have some learning to do. And these 12 incredibly niche history podcasts will teach you everything you didn’t know you didn’t know about all the stuff that was (often entirely correctly) left out of the history books.
Cocaine & Rhinestones
Cocaine & Rhinestones is a podcast about the history of 20th century country music, and host Tyler Mahan Coe is skilled at getting to the truth behind the wild stories and characters that built the genre. The content is outstanding and well-researched — Tyler digs into the overlooked events and people who changed country, and his research regularly resurfaces stories that have nearly been forgotten.In a way, it’s a history of America told, through songs and songwriters. Hardcore country fans will learn something new for sure, but it’s accessible (and interesting) even to those who don’t know a banjo from a fiddle. If you’re one of those people who likes all music “except country,” Cocaine & Rhinestones might make you a fan.
Everyone knows about the Salem Witch Trials, but Remarkable Providences dives deep into the climate of purity and resentment that launched a moral panic. Host Kate Devorak, a former Salem tour guide and current Salem nerd, explains how fear, greed, prejudice, and zeal caused a community to nearly destroy itself from the inside out. Episodes are thorough and skip the glossed-over stuff you learned in high school — but they’re also short, and easy to binge.
My Own Worst Enemy
The year is 1999, and Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy” rules the charts. My Own Worst Enemy is a four-part podcast that starts with the history of the band and goes on to explore how they came up with the song, the ways the stars aligned to make it dominate radio, and why exactly this song resonated with so many people. Impossibly for a 24-year-old bop from a group of arguable one-hit wonders, it’s still a song that can get a crowd smiling, dancing, and singing along. This podcast might tell you why, but it will definitely drown you in a flood of late-’90s nostalgia.
From the brains of World of Wonder, the company behind RuPaul’s Drag Race, comes Night Fever, a podcast that takes us to the New York City dance floors and club scenes of the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. It’s bursting with historical detail and rich in terviews with the key players the likes of Susanne Bartsch, Michelle Visage, and Jayne County. Hosts James St. James, Fenton Bailey, and Randy Barbato teach us something about the history of art, fashion, drugs, music, New York City, and the fabulous and fascinating people that shaped the culture of the era — and, by extension, the world we’re living in today.
This Job Is History
Comedy meets the past in This Job Is History, from host Chris Parnell (SNL, Rick and Morty), who invites comedians into the studio to play characters with the most bizarre, no longer extant jobs in history (think: funeral clowns, garden hermits, VHS clerks…). Their scripted conversation delve into what the world was like during the heyday of these odd professions, and what exactly doing them entailed. Explore the evolution of work, from milkmen to Instacart, from barber surgeons to medical doctors. It’s kind of cheesy, but also great fun, and creative way to travel back to a time when you could make a living in the corpse-stealing business.
An Eyesore and a Plague
At the turn of the 20th century, New York City’s millionaires were making their way to the suburbs of Long Island and Westchester County — but so were middle-class New Yorkers. The rich didn’t want to coexist with the commuters and tourists, but the beaches and the roads were public. How could they get ordinary people off their lawns? It all came down to an obscure New York City law that — if enforced properly — allowed them to exclude outsiders, dodge local taxes, and attempt to recreate feudal Europe in the ‘burbs. An Eyesore and a Plague is a history of urban development during the Gilded Age, told with the same production values of standouts like You Must Remember This.
Stuff the British Stole
In an era of protesters questioning colonial legacies, ripping down statues, and fighting to return ancient art to its places of origin, Stuff the British Stole tells us how we got here (British colonisation). Host Marc Fennell museum hops across the globe, taking us beyond those descriptive plaques we see in museums to find the real stories of Parthenon marbles, Benin bronzes, and Tipu’s Tiger (a mechanical toy created for the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in India, which now sits in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London). Many argue these treasures are not where they belong. For every object, Marc explains its historical background and cultural and social importance, then chats with historians, experts, and the people from the affected communities in an attempt to illustrate the lasting damage these theft caused.
As immigrants flocked to the United States in the 1800s, Irish women, who were often powerless and forced into sexwork or a life of crime, were dismissed as lowly “Bridgets.” On Bad Bridget, Elaine Farrell and Leanne McCormick, who teach at Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University, respectively, tell the untold stories of these women, recasting them as more than prostitutes, kidnappers, and thieves. Through their lens, you see generations of women who were hard-working and resourceful, and doing anything they could to survive in a hostile new world.
Cleveland is notorious for being home to the worst football team in the NFL, the Browns. On Brownstown, Andre Knott takes you inside the unbelievable and often hilarious stories of botched drafts, terrible performances, inept management, loser parades, a coach jumping into Lake Erie, and the city and fanbase that loves the franchise despite it all. These insider stories, presented by Andre and his guests, stitch together a love letter to Cleveland, but they’re also perfect for anyone who loves sports and fandom, or who can’t resist an underdog. (Woof woof.)
Betwixt the Sheets
From the first boob job to the penis piercings of our ancestors, Betwixt the Sheets explores the sex and the scandals that are decidedly not covered in history textbooks. Host Kate Lister bed-hops across civilizations — from the middle ages to the renaissance and the present day — to make you laugh at how our sex lives have changed and how they’ve stayed the same. Raunchy, hilarious, and informative, Betwixt the Sheets will make you feel like you’re getting a drink with Kate as she shares stories of Shakespeare’s sex life, the pubic wig fad, and the first gay clubs in London. It’s all context that has shaped the culture, sex, and gender dynamics that we live with today.
Connecting with Walt
Connecting with Walt is a must-listen for die-hard Disney fans (that’s me). Former Mouseketeers Michael and Craig combine history and personal anecdotes to bring to life current and past happenings across the entire Disney empire. They love the Mouse, but don’t elide the company’s missteps; they will swing from the making of Bambi one week to debating the pros and cons of the Disney parks’ controversial Genie+ system the next. Excellently researched and presented by two guys who really know their stuff, this is a show that will strike a chord with Disney fans old and new, and engage eager to learn more about the history of a brand and mega-corporation that has taken over the world.
Tacos might be made of meat, onions, cilantro, and a tortilla, but on Tacocity, host Rob Gokee, a Los Angeles native and author of the book of the same name, proves that they’re a lot more than just food. Gokee takes off on a culinary tour of the U.S. to teach you the history of the taco, visiting and taquerias and profiling the people who added their own spice to the humble dish’s story. Listen the whole way through — if only for the step-by-step taco preparation lessons that round out each episode.
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