I do A LOT of travelling with my job. Sometimes I feel like I’m constantly on the road. As you can imagine, it gets a tad boring after a while. There’s only so many times you can listen to Taylor Swift on Radio One during a two hour drive without wanting to gouge your eyes out. That’s why I’ve turned to podcasts – especially history podcasts. I can now use my dead time to learn something new.
And 2018 can definitely be called the year of the podcast. I’ve lost count of the amount of social media influencers who have jumped on the proverbial bandwagon this year, and are now treating us to their inner-most thought processes. Don’t get me wrong, there are some truffle-like gems of podcasts out there on the forest floor covered with the latest health and wellness/beauty/motivational podcasts [delete as appropriate]. I have appointed myself as your very own truffle pig, and have rooted out only the very best historical podcasts out there for your auditory pleasure.
Without doubt my favourite historical podcast, Dressed: The History of Fashion will appeal to historical fashion officianados and general history buffs alike. A lot of this is down to the podcast’s charismatic hosts, whose friendship shines through the expertly researched and presented detail. The podcast is hosted by April Calahan, a curator and lecturer at the American Fashion Institute of Technology, and Cassidy Zachary, a fashion historian and author.
Another thing I really like about this podcast is the host’s ability to make things accessible by using modern-day (often pop culture) references. Recent topics include Fashion and Politics: The French Revolution, Fashion Photography and a two-part history of the swimsuit. However, I most love the episodes where they focus on the big names of fashion, like Charles Worth and Hubert Givenchy.
History Hit is the UK’s most successful history podcast, and has over a million listens every month across various platforms. The father of the history podcast, Dan Snow’s History Hit was grown into so much more. In fact, it has evolved into an online on-demand history channel – ‘the Netflix of History’. If you’re looking for an intro to the genre of history podcasts, this would be a great choice.
The famous and suave Dan Snow graduated from Balliol College, Oxford with a first-class degree in Modern History. I personally think his historical preferences are reflected in the podcast – while the episodes cover a great range of historical topics, there is a majority of modern and political history subjects discussed. Nevertheless, this is a podcast not to be missed.
You may have already heard of Aaron Mahnke from his other award-winning podcast Lore, which is all about the darker side of history. It was so successful it was made into an Amazon Prime TV show. His Cabinet of Curiosities podcast follows a similar tone. Twice a week, you’ll get a guided tour through some of the most bizarre corners of history, from unexplainable moments and coincidences, to people and objects that come with unusual backstories.
One of the advantages about this particular podcast is the length – they only tend to be about ten minutes long, which is sometimes more convenient.
Another podcast for when I’m in one of those moods where I cant be bothered to listen to a 50 minute long lecture and need something short and snappy! Leanda de Lisle’s 10 Minute Tudors is a monthly look at the truth behind some of the most-well known Tudor stories (The title of the podcast is a little misleading, as she occasionally forays into the Stuarts).
Now, there are a lot of podcasts out there about the perianally popular Tudors, but there’s nothing quite like listening to an authoratitive podcast by a subject expert. Leanda is a highly respected author who read History at Somerville College, Oxford and now concentrates on Tudor and Stuart History. I really liked her book The Sisters Who Would Be Queen, a biography about Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey – Mary Grey is also the subject of her latest podcast offering ‘The Tudor Dwarf Princess’.
Another great one if you’re looking for an introduction to history podcasts. This weekly podcast, produced by the BBC to compliment its History and World Histories magazines, is definitely the best one out there in terms of the breadth and depth of the history topics it covers. As well as popular and engaging topics there are some really random but interesting subjects covered too – such as the history of Sherwood Forest and the portrayal of Vikings on screen.
The calibre of the historians that feature on this podcast is also outstanding – recent interviewees include the living legend that is the classicist Dame Mary Beard and, to celebrate the podcast’s recent 500th episode, medievalist Dan Jones did a great podcast all about popular history.
This podcast was recommended to me and I must admit I was a bit sceptical at first – do we really need another Tudor podcast? The answer is yes! Natalie Grueninger’s Talking Tudors features great interviews with specialist Tudor history experts, and I always learn something new about a topic I thought I already knew everything about!
I particularly like the feature Natalie does towards the end of her interviews, where she asks guests ten questions about themselves so that the listeners can get more of a flavour as to what those guests are really like as a person, not just an academic. She also asks them for a lesser-known Tudor fact so the listener goes away curious and wanting to find out more.
A recent discovery (and a relatively new one – its only been going seven weeks) this weekly history podcast is definitely tapping into the current popularity of women’s history – a trend I hope will continue long after 2018. The Femcyclopedia is two sisters talking about amazing women from history, two at a time, over cocktails. A simple premise, but a very effective one!
What’s particularly good about this podcast is the cultural diversity of the women featured – amazing women with amazing stories who, somehow, I have never heard of in all my years of being a history nerd. The most recent podcast subjects were Sophia Duleep Singh, an exhiled Sikh princess who ended up campaigning for women’s suffrage in England, and Sara Forbes Bonetta, a West African princess who was orphaned in tribal warfare, sold into slavery as a human scarifice and, in a remarkable twist of events, was liberated from enslavement and became a goddaughter to Queen Victoria.
Another recommendation, the Rex Factor podcast is so popular its currently being made into a cartoon programme. It was founded in 2010 by two young history buffs Graham Duke and Ali Hood. Over the past eight years the Rex Factor podcast has been rating all the Kings and Queens of England, and its currently working its way through the Scottish monarchs.
The basic idea makes history fun and accessible – Rex Factor is basically the X Factor but for monarchs. In each episode the presenters look at a monarch and rate their life and reign based on a number of factors – battleyness, scandal, subjectivity, longevity and dynasty – before considering if the monarch in question really did have the Rex Factor. Its genuinely entertaining stuff but the episodes are a bit on the long side, typically being over an hour in length.
Do you agree with my choice of top history podcasts? Or is there one that you listen to that you think everyone will enjoy? Let us know in the comments below.