Back in the Day

What I'm Listening To: BackStory (with the American History Guys)

Since I take the train to work, then spend the whole day in a room full of other people, then take the train home, keeping the iPod plugged into my head has become an essential way of maintaining personal space. Sometimes, I'll listen to my library or a streaming music site, but generally, the majority of my workday is spent listening to podcasts on a variety of topics.

One of those topics is history. It wasn't a topic I enjoyed much in school, but I'm coming to realize that it didn't capture my attention not because history can't be interesting, but because it wasn't taught well. Sorry, Mr. Yarborough. You may have been an amazing football coach, but you sure didn't take that passion into the classroom. My first history podcast was Stuff You Missed in History Class, which was a perfect descriptor for why I listened. It was a terrific way of discovering historical events I'd never heard of, or if I had heard of them, I knew only the barest information. I listened for a long time, but started to become disengaged recently. A hosting change led to some dire presentation problems, but the biggest reason I finally canceled my subscription to Stuff You Missed in History Class is because no matter how great they were about researching facts and then regurgitating them for the audience, there was no analysis. It became the very "This happened, then this happened, then this happened," kind of style that I disliked in high school.

Fortunately, I've discovered a much better podcast to replace it. BackStory (with the American History Guys) chooses a topic, then follows its history, evolution, and significance from our nation's founding up through today. Each of the three hosts has expertise over a chosen century, and the presentation is punctuated by interviews and listener call-ins that usually open up other interesting avenues of discussion. Here's how you can tell this is a great program: They can take a topic I have zero interest in and make it compelling, such as the most recent episode about the importance and impact of college sports on American society.

I have yet to hear a bad episode, and in the half dozen or so I've gotten so far, they've covered things from maps to marriage. From the post office to body image. Through the lens of this show, everything is fascinating. Podcasts tend to drop in and out of my daily rotation, but once a week, BackStory is appointment listening.


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