I’m not sure whether I would consider myself still “new” to podcasts. I’ve been listening since early 2014, so at the time of writing this article that means I’ve been listening to them for about two years. My first year of listening was mostly me listening to a single podcast, Hello Internet, by the YouTubers CGP Grey and Brady Haran. At two hours an episode it had me in stitches. I’m not sure whether to call my sense of humor unique, or if I just like laughing at social awkwardness of life’s monotony. But this is not what I am trying to write about.
I’m here to talk to you guys about history podcasts. Some of you probably know that I record a podcast where a history buff friend and I talk about history related subjects we don’t get to talk about in our regular history classes. I got the idea of doing a history podcast from listening to several. These have become a regular part of my podcast listening, and I wanted to share with you a number of these podcasts that, if you aren’t already listening to them, you should definitely start.
There are two possible ways to interpret the word “Hardcore” in this context. One is where you go extremely deep into a subject at a level that most people don’t go. The other way to interpret this is to say that “Hardcore” is about violence. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is a little of both, and when I say a little, I mean very little. Amongst the community of internet based historians Dan Carlin doesn’t exactly have the best reputation.
Dan Carlin’s root are in traditional media. He has a B.A. in history from the University of Colorado Boulder. But with this he worked in television in the late 80s and early 90s, and from the mid 90s to the early 2000s he worked in talk radio. Since 2005 his focus has been podcasting.
Many of Dan Carlin’s critics point to his show being too influenced by the styles of tv and talk radio, and letting his personal opinion color the interpretation of the facts used in his history podcast.
Despite all of these criticisms I still highly recommend Hardcore History. His opinion does color the presenting of history in his show, but I find this preferable to what is traditionally done in history classrooms. History has gained a reputation among people for being a boring regurgitation of names, dates, and places. Dan Carlin has succeeded in making history interesting to a larger audience. It’s hard to do this without getting into the territory of subjective interpretations of history. Walk into the history section of your local bookstore and you will find that most of the books do the exact same thing. Hardcore history also has the advantage of having a very high production value. This is where the tv and talk radio influences has come in handy.
I’m not necessarily recommending Hardcore History for graduate students or history professionals. But I still see it as very good material for the layman, or getting someone who isn’t interested in history to look into the subject.
Revolutions and The History of Rome
Since 2007, Mike Duncan has been providing English speaking people quality history podcasts. From 2007 to 2012 he researched, wrote, recorded, and produced The History of Rome podcast. This podcast covered Roman history from the legends of its founding, to the collapse of the Western Empire. In 2013 he began a second podcast called Revolutions, in which he is covering a number of Revolutions, starting with the Glorious Revolution in England. As of the writing of this article, he is working his way through the Wars of Independence in Latin America.
Mike Duncan’s podcasts are praised by both historians and layman alike, unlike Dan Carlin. He has managed to keep the audience engaged without reducing the thoughts of historical persons to that of modern day politics. The production quality is lower than that of Dan Carlin, but than again the two of them are working on different scales. One episode of Hardcore History is about four hours long, while an episode of Revolutions or The History of Rome are only about thirty minutes. Duncan’s shows come out on a weekly basis when the podcast isn’t on break, while Hardcore History only pops out an episode every three months or so. So when you average them out you get about the same amount of content, just coming out at different rates.
What’s strange is that while Dan Carlin has a B.A. in history, Mike Duncan’s education was in political science and philosophy. In both shows you can find the influences and history of its creators. The History of Rome has been finished for about four years now, but I highly recommened starting with that. It’s quality content that gets better as you get to more recent episodes, and gives you a good taste of what Mike Duncan’s style is like. Also, if you get involved in the History Podcast community its one of those things that everyone knows and references, and is considered the gold standard of the genre.
The British History Podcast
Since 2011, the British History Podcast has been a highly regarded show, educating its listeners about British History. He starts earlier than the others, telling the story of pre-human Britain, describing the geological forces that gave the islands their shape, followed by the anthropological record of pre-historic peoples. It has high production value, while still seeming informal.
The podcaster behind it is Jamie Jeffers, was a lawyer turned podcaster. He was born in the United Kingdom but raised in the United States. He lives in the Hipster Capital of the U.S., Portland Oregon. He’s very aware of the reputation of his home, and frequently references the hipster tendencies of his home in comparison to historical events he’s covering, especially when referring to the Anglo-Saxon obsessions with their beards and beer. He maintains a good balance between trying to make pre-modern Britain seem as familiar as possible to his audience, while trying to emphasize that these people probably saw the world very differently than we do.
If you are looking for another well researched podcast that doesn’t talk down to its listeners, this is one for you.