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history 101 book to podcasts
Illustration by Olivia Woolfrey, Ringling College of Art and Design

Explore a range of specific topics on your own time!

Many college students are required to take some sort of history class to complete the general education requirements for their degree. However, if you haven’t taken a history class since high school, never fear! There are tons of ways to learn history, impress your professors and be able to whip up a well-thought-out paper perfect for your history class! You can learn history through streaming services like Netflix, steamy young adult historical fiction books, or even TikTok, which offers bite-sized history lessons that are a springboard for going down a historical rabbit hole. One of the best ways to learn history is through podcasts, where dedicated historian hosts feature niche history topics that will continue to spark your interest in the subject. Here are a few recommended podcasts to learn about the past:

You’re Dead to Me

Produced by the BBC, this podcast features a different micro-history topic every episode and boasts the tagline: “The history podcast for people who don’t like history… and those who do.” Each episode features the host, Greg Jenner, along with both a historian and a comedian. The historian explains the topic of the episode while the host and comedian interject with questions and quips. This podcast is really entertaining and is sure to cover topics in history you may have missed in school.

Favorite Episode: “The Mughal Empire

Learn the history of the Indian subcontinent and the story behind the most romantic gesture anyone has ever made, the Taj Mahal. Some people can’t even get a text back, but Shah Jahan built his wife one of the Wonders of the World. Spoiler alert: He built it after his wife of 16 years died, so if you’re hoping your significant other will make such a gesture, don’t hold your breath.

History Chicks

Two female historians, Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenweider, recount global history through the lens of women. Every two weeks a new episode is released and a new woman in history has her story told. Make your way across time and continents, learning the mostly untold stories of the women who shaped the modern world. The episodes are witty and fun, but more importantly, they shine a light on forgotten or even rewritten bits of history. “History Chicks” elevates women to their rightful place in history. This podcast has been releasing episodes since 2011, so you’ll have plenty of episodes to choose from on practically any topic.

Favorite Episode: “Mary Tudor

Find out how Mary repeatedly ping-ponged between being considered a darling princess and a palace outcast. Though she was a woman with a terrible reputation, Mary actively took her fate into her own hands to become one of the first queens of England. Despite her “Bloody Mary” nickname, “History Chicks” correctly points out that her uncle, father and sister had just as many of their own subjects executed over religion. If you think that’s bad, Mary’s grandparents, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, enabled Columbus and expelled Jews and Muslims from Spain. This episode acknowledges Mary’s negative attributes but insists that maybe she got a bad rap.

Revisionist History

Author Malcolm Gladwell covers history topics that people often remember incorrectly and spices them up with a current issue facing the globe. This podcast offers both classic historical tales and fresh introductions to topics that listeners may not be aware of. Your jaw will drop when you realize that you’ve been remembering history all wrong, and it will stay that way when you realize just how much of your life is under the control of people you’ve never heard of. “Revisionist History” paints a broad brush across time and place and will inspire listeners with tales of new careers that are fresh and blossoming.

Favorite Episode: “The Tortoise and the Hare

Gladwell takes a historic speech by Antonin Scalia and launches into the history and problems with the LSAT, the only test that determines if students get into law school. Through this episode, Gladwell discovers that a student who scores “average” on the LSAT is actually the type of student that would make the most effective lawyer. Still, only the students who score high on the LSAT get the most prestigious education. Not only are the flaws in law schools brought to light, but Gladwell suggests the problem applies to all higher education and reform is needed.

American Election: Wicked Game

This podcast covers every single election in American history one episode at a time. Even though this is a very specialized topic, host Lindsay Graham (not that Lindsey Graham, this Lindsay Graham) weaves a tale that covers the major historical events that affected each election. Listeners will be shocked to hear that American politics has always been messy and dramatic. The most interesting part of this podcast is just how short American history is — everyone knows everyone!

Favorite Episode: “1800, Adams vs. Jefferson: Tiebreaker

If you think Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a political drama with the musical “Hamilton,” you haven’t heard the whole story! The drama between Hamilton, Burr and Jefferson was straight out of a reality show. You’ll be shocked to hear that some of the pettiest people were in charge of building a nation. This episode is more entertaining than anything you will find on a streaming service.

Honorable Mentions

History Channel’s “This Day in History” gives a daily briefing into the history that makes up every single day. “Slow Burn” by Slate Magazine covers recent American history and adds in facts that are not widely known by the general public. The New York Times’ six-episode “1619” covers the impact of slavery on the Black population of the United States. And lastly, the Australian podcast “Stuff the British Stole” is a funny and wild explanation of all the items housed in British museums and how they got there.

This is just a fraction of all the amazing history podcasts that are just waiting for you and are free to listen to. Becoming an expert on a very specific topic works well for writing papers and discussion boards for your general education history class, and they might even spark an idea if you’re feeling conflicted on what to major in or what to do after college. At the very minimum, you’ll have fun trivia to share with family and friends at any get-together.

Writer Profile

Megan Miller

Arizona State University
English/History

Megan has lived her whole life in Southern California where she enjoys all the local attractions, especially the beaches. She enjoys reading, writing and cooking. She is obsessed with her dog, Moose.

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