Tuesday, 1 December 2015

History Podcast Junkie Anonymous

So, if you've been anywhere near me in the past couple of months, you will know that I have started to listen to a series of history podcasts that I can't stop raving on about.

The main reason is this:

My little sister saw it on the blog and requested an adult-size adaptation of the stripey jumper, so I have been frantically knitting in my down time (ha!) so I can get it done for Christmas. And what do you do whilst your hands are occupied but your brain not so much? You listen to great history podcasts!

They are great for multiple reasons, but mostly, what is really lovely about them, is that they are offering a narrative of the story, mirroring the complexity of the times they describe, but still, telling us the story.

Clearly, their authors couldn't care less about being de-bunked by angry gender-theorists or extreme intertextualists. They just think history is fun, and they are trying to make sense of it. And as they don't have a chair to defend, they just ignore all the palaver. And it is so refreshing.

So, if you want to learn about history, in a way that is not simplified for children, but still narrated to you, here are the podcasts you should listen to:

The history of Rome, by Mike Duncan

If you want to understand why Livia did it all, and why the murder of Aurelian was just the dumbest act in history, do listen.
There are 180 episodes, and yet I wish there had been more. As I said, the approach is one of a long narrative, but Mike Duncan also offers varying interpretations of events along the way. It's just brilliant. And quite funny.

Once you have finished this (and enter the sad withdrawal mode of "what do you mean no more episodes?!!!") you have two options:

  1. The history of Byzantium by Robin Pierson

This podcast takes up where Mike Duncan left off, and describes what happened in the East while the West was Dark Aging. Pretty good stuff, although I still prefer Mike Duncan.


      2. Revolutions by Mike Duncan

If it's Mike Duncan you think you are going to miss, then he is recording a new series on various revolutions. So far he has done the English Civil War/Revolution, the American Revolution and the French Revolution. He is about to start on the Haitian revolution, and I am ridiculously happy about that.
I wasn't sure how much his historical analyses could be trusted until I listened to this one, because he had been covering periods of history I don't know very much about, but I do know quite a bit about the French revolution, and can vouch for him and his historical acumen on that period at least. And chatting with former PhD colleagues who specialise in British history of the 17th century, it appears his analysis of Cromwell is also perfectly relevant. Winning all round.

Or, you know, secret option number 3, you can do as I did, and listen to both. But also deserving a special mention are these:

Twelve Byzantine Rulers by Lars Brownworth

Is more a series of lectures than a podcast, and the author doesn't include little quips the way Mike Duncan and Robin Pierson do, but it is still very compelling. I challenge you not to cry when you hear about the story of Constantine XI, last Roman emperor, and his last stand against the Turks.

Another very interesting podcast by the same author, another narrative which helps understand the Middle Ages, the Crusades, and a whole host of stuff you didn't realise you only understood imperfectly is:

Norman Centuries

Because the Normans did more than invade Britain. 

Just like for the Twelve Byzantine Rulers, the focus here is almost entirely on kings and masters, rather than the everyday life of "people" at the time (which is an interesting approach as well, but the life Mr Smith, peasant of Sicily is not exactly as compelling a narrative as the life of Rollo or Robert Guiscard). A plus in my book, but I'm an old-fashioned fake historian.

That's you all set for Christmas.

Apologies to your families in advance!


  1. Thank you for the vetting and the recommendations!

  2. I am so happy I found your blog! this is just perfect. Hubby and I quit trying to watch series together, instead we listen to podcast, still working our way through the history of Rome, but we alternate with the History of English http://historyofenglishpodcast.com/ amazing stuff.
    I'll check out your recommendations too