History podcasts, and then some

Today I went in search of some podcasts to listen to while working on organizing my recipes. First I tried some British biographies from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. I listened to the mp3s for Vita Sackville-West and the legendary Sweeney Todd. While the facts in these biographies are interesting, it seems that the narrators are just reading them from a biographical dictionary; the sentences just sound like they were written for the page, though the readers are both skilled at making the texts pleasant to listen to. I thought these podcasts lacked the sort of wandering intrigue that makes many others catch my attention. Perhaps it’s just the more popular interview format that makes other podcasts more interesting for me. I also think I have a preference for historical trivia to be revealed in an order determined by something other than chronology. Nevertheless, as an auditory form of access to a reference work, the Oxford DNB podcasts are easy to peruse, and they offer insights into the lives of some people I would never learn about otherwise.

Next I discovered the archives of Talking History, a program by the Organization of American Historians. The show is now defunct, but you can still download old episodes. I listened to one about the so-called “Children’s Blizzard of 1888“. This podcast takes the form of an interview, followed by a description of digital collections you can access online that offer photographs and a chronology of blizzards in the US. Then, a rather verbose scholar opines on the fate of cities vs. the destructive tendencies of Mother Nature. I liked the format of this podcast a lot better. The potpourri was entertaining, and hearing an author interviewed about a book always leaves you the option of going out and reading the book if you want to discover more. Some other interesting topics covered in this podcast series include the social and political history of marriage, a history of women’s basketball, and what’s behind Daylight Savings Time. And those are all just from 2006!

I don’t have iTunes on any of my computers that has the internet, so I sort of delayed getting into the whole podcast thing. It took me awhile to realize no iPod was required; that “podcast” didn’t mean anything more than “mp3 file” in many cases. I know the History Channel, the Library of Congress, the BBC, NPR, and many other major news outlets offer lots of podcasts, but I thought it might be nice to mention some from perhaps lesser-traveled areas of the web. Enjoy…

The Memory Palace – short podcasts on some of the more unusual or under-reported aspects of history, presented (i think) rather poetically.
BackStory with the American History Guys – lots of great topics, very chatty format. In keeping with the blizzard theme, I listened to their episode on the history of climate control. What can I say? I am over summer.
Environmental History podcast – about human societies and the environment in the past.
12 Byzantine Rulers and Norman Centuries – two podcast series by author and speaker Lars Brownworth, who has been featured in the New York Times (just sayin).
Journal of American History podcast – interviews with scholars about their work. Only on its 7th episode, but seems promising.

…and for more on other topics, try:
Science Podcasters – a list of high-quality podcasts on various science topics, e.g. “Brain Science Podcast”, “The Nursing Show”, and “This Week in Parasitism” (not kidding).
Astronomy Cast
Library of Congress Guide to Poetry and Literature Webcasts


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