I seem to have a lot of filler time, whether it is commuting to and from work, waiting around or when I am too lazy to read or play games. Some people like to sit quietly with their thoughts but I am not one of those. I need to fill the void with noise, preferably entertaining and informative in nature, that takes me the least possible effort to engage in. This is where podcasts come in!
Stuff you Missed in History Class has become one of my favourites. It is a podcast from the How Stuff Works site and it discusses various historical topics (no surprise there!) that you may or may not have learned about in school, college or just in your own day to day life. You can download each episode onto your portable devices or just listen to them online. I prefer to use iCatcher so I can make sure that I don’t miss any.
Each episode is presented by Sarah Dowdey and Deblina Chakraborty. They research each one and then tell the story of the event/person over the course of the podcast. They do a really great job; they speak clearly and concisely and are very easy to understand and to listen to. It also seems that they really like doing this job and if they are passionate about a topic they will not hesitate to say so, which is fantastic.
The episodes are also a really good length at about 20-40 minutes long each. This is great if you are looking for something to get you from A to B or to entertain you while queuing or waiting. They also are updated often enough that you can save them for a longer trip or you can go through the extensive back catalogue, all the way back to Fact or Fiction? History Stuff for the History Buff days.
But the real draw for me is the sheer breadth of the topics that they detail. I was worried when I initially subscribed to it that as the podcast based in the US they would be very America-centric but this is not the case at all. They draw their topics from a wide range of times and countries, focusing on people, places, events or groups. History commentary has sometimes been criticised for being too focused on the dominant social groups and their version of events. Stuff you Missed in History Class tried to avoid this by including plenty of topics on women’s, LGBT, and black history for example. They have also produced episodes on Asian and African history which I would not have known about ordinarily. They even have released episodes which dealt with Irish history which was great to hear included and brought to a wider audience. Some of my favourite episodes are as follows:
- The Strangest Games: The 1900 Paris Olympics
- What happened to the lost colony at Roanoak
- Freya of Arabia
- Belle Starr
- From Diplomacy to Black Diaries: Rodger Casement
Saying that these are all episodes that are fairly recent as I really enjoy each episode and it is hard to keep favourites.
What is also really great is that Sarah and Deblina don’t just read off the main narrative without question. In cases such as Belle Starr, Ma Barker and Ned Kelly they explain some of the alternative opinions about their lives and discussed the probability of those facts being true and where myths may have come from if they have permeated popular discourse. This really sets this podcast apart and reminds you of the fallibility and bias of historians and historical narratives. It also adds new elements to stories that you may already be familiar with and adds a fresh perspective which is always very interesting.
The level of audience participation is also one of the best that I have heard on any podcast. They maintain an active blog, facebook, twitter, and pinterest accounts. Here Sarah and Deblina link with listeners, see what they thought and take suggestions for episodes (which they do take up sometimes!). At the end of each episode they also read out and respond to listener mail, which sometimes includes postcards that were sent to them from locations that they covered. They even now have a new movie club in association with Netflix where they match up movies that you can watch with the topic of that week’s podcast.
I must give a warning though, listening to this podcast can be expensive! Yes the podcast itself is free, but it will give you plenty of ideas for holidays and new hobbies that you will not be able to resist. In fact after hearing the episode on King Ludwig, I booked a holiday to Germany and visited Schloss Neuschwanstein and Schloss Hohenswangau. There was also an episode on book collecting and I had to try very hard to resist starting my own one.
So if you love history and would like something different to listen to, I highly recommend Stuff You Miss in History Class.