Whether you consider yourself a history buff or are just looking for an escape from your go-to binge-worthy reality show, the best history podcasts can satisfy your craving for something a little more stimulating, and — in many cases — a lot more dramatic. (No disrespect to Season 5 of Vanderpump Rules. Or, really, anything on Bravo.)
Unlike those boring, one-dimensional lectures you had to sit through in school, these history podcasts go into fascinating detail on topics you may only have surface-level knowledge about — or possibly never even learned about — before pressing play. No shame; we’re here to make up for lost time. Plus, we know plenty of school history curriculums and textbooks leave out crucial information, like, say, Critical Race Theory. So, grab your headphones and get ready to be schooled on all things history, ranging from a not-so-glamorous look at Hollywood’s first century to almost-too-wild-to-be-true stories about ice cream’s origin. The class you wish you had in school is finally in session.
If you, too, were annoyed by the lack of female representation in 9th grade history class, History Becomes Her will become a fast favorite. This podcast, produced by Mashable and hosted by Rachel Thompson, invites powerhouse, present-day women to spotlight women of the past who cracked ceilings and inspired the former to do the same. If you’re wondering where to start, check out Thompson’s interview with Three Women author Lisa Taddeo on how society needs to change the way we talk about women’s sexual desire, as well as Taddeo’s admiration for influential Italian writers Natalia Ginzburg and Elena Ferrante.
1619 debuted in the summer of 2019, 400 years after a ship carrying more than 20 enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia. The podcast was inspired by Nikole Hannah-Jones’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project, which challenged readers to recognize 1619 as the real founding of the U.S., due to the role slavery played in American history. The New York Times-produced podcast — a limited, seven-episode series hosted by Hannah-Jones — takes the baton to continue educating listeners on the dark 250-year history of American slavery and the ongoing repercussions of that day in 1619.
All that glitters isn’t gold, especially when talking about Hollywood’s first century — a timeframe in history that former LA Weekly film editor Karina Longworth explores in You Must Remember This. With a focus on forgotten histories and scandals from the 20th century, Longworth’s self-described “heavily-researched work of creative non-fiction” began as a passion project in 2014, and is now an award-winning film podcast. It has even snagged guest stars like John Mulaney, Adam Goldberg, Patton Oswalt, and more — so you know it has to be good.
4. Slow Burn
There’s something to be said about how history repeats itself. Slate’s Slow Burn takes the old adage into its own hands with examinations and reflections on monumental events in political history and how they can be applied to current-day happenings. Past seasons have included deep dives on the Watergate scandal, Bill Clinton’s impeachment, and the murders of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur, among other history-making events. Award-winning reporter Noreen Malone is currently at the helm of Season 5, where she’s taking a hard look at the United States’ decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and how Americans’ perception of said decision is radically different today compared to the reception it received almost 20 years ago.
Despite what the name may suggest, this is not a true crime podcast (though it is produced by the same network behind the highly popular My Favorite Murder). Rather, This Podcast Will Kill You, hosted by disease ecologists and epidemiologists Erin Welsh and Erin Allmann Updyke, tackles a different disease, its biology, and its history in each episode. Hear me out: While learning everything you need to know about rubella and chickenpox might feel overwhelming, avid listeners have noted in their podcast reviews these deep dives actually help to soothe their fears and anxiety — perhaps in large part because of the show’s refreshing take on such serious topics. As one reviewer wrote on Chartable, "This podcast has been my absolute savior over this last year. Getting clear and concise scientific facts has put me at ease while also helping me to protect myself and my family during this pandemic.”
Author Eric Marcus’s eponymous podcast, which is inspired by the contents of his book and his non-profit organization of the same name, takes an inside look at those who lived through and championed the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement. Each episode — an easy time commitment at around 20-30 minutes — flows like an audiobook, with Marcus taking on the role of host, interviewer, and narrator. He takes us through the complex feelings of falling in love for the first time as a gay man, recounts the day The New York Times first mentioned the AIDs epidemic, and so much more — all while using archival audio footage and honest conversations with lauded members of the LGBTQ+ community to move each compelling story forward.
If stay-at-home orders taught us anything this past year, it’s that food — most notably homemade banana bread and your favorite takeout dishes — were always part of the day’s highlight reel. The Fantastic History Of Food embraces that passion with explainers on the cultural and historical impact of some of the world’s most unassuming foods. Come for the epic episode titles, like “Tomatoes Were Blamed For Witchcraft & Werewolves,” and stay for the little-known stories behind these everyday foods that will blow your mind.