Special-Topic Episodes

Episodes on specific events, places and peoples – too unique for any one playlist, and too special that they need their own home here; Expertly researched deep-dives in to unique worlds, old and new!

Things You Don’t Know

Did Columbus really think that he was going to reach Asia?
What little do we actually know about Shakespeare, the person?
Why is it misleading to apply the word “religion” to Judaism and Hinduism?
How did Tisquantum (popularly known as Squanto) already know how to speak English before the Pilgrims had ever arrived?
Ever heard that Florida has no history? Dr. Sam wants you to know how incorrect that common perception actually is…
How did so much of the Epic of Gilgamesh remain hidden and forgotten – but preserved – for over 2,000 years until being rediscovered in modern times?
What did Netflix’s “The Dig” miss about the most dramatic part of the whole Sutton Hoo discovery?
What does the English Civil War of the 1640s tell us about the American Civil War, and about the present?
What can we know about enslaved Africans who were held in a specific New England house, even without written records?
Who were the Freemasons of the 1700s? How did they grow from a local Scottish fraternity to a global network?
How can one mid-sized U.S. city – Tulsa, Oklahoma – serve as a microcosm of so much of the triumphalism and tragedy of American history?
Why can no one agree on what “capitalism” actually is? And why does a lack of clear definition call into question so many other myths of the modern world?
How – and why – did universities begin in the Middle Ages, long before the scientific revolution and the “Enlightenment”?
Was there really an Exodus from Egypt like the one described in the Bible?
How did accusing people of witchcraft further several political agendas of the time?
Why did every Renaissance-era ruler in Europe have a court astrologer?
Does a single coin prove that Vikings came all the way to what’s now the United States?
Why is the dramatic 2019 fire at Paris’ Notre Dame actually a common occurrence for cathedrals around Europe?
Why don’t US citizens directly elect their President? Or have a more proportional Senate?
Are people really becoming less religious than they used to be?
What did followers of the ancient and secretive branch of Christianity, Gnosticism, actually believe?
How did changes in the climate in the 1600s lead people to think they were living in the Apocalypse? How did this help spur the creation of institutions and forces that still shape the world today?
Could all of British history have turned out differently if the winds on the English channel had shifted direction on just one day in 1066?

Special-Topic Episodes

Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida - pt. 6

Quick Sample:

In the final lecture on Florida, we examine how the tropical state, thanks to innovations like DDT, orange-juice concentrate, and air conditioning, was able to boom at an unimaginable pace, rocketing into the top five biggest states in the union, with massive scientific and artistic communities, a diverse immigrant mosaic, and after the Civil Rights movement, exceptionally volatile and unpredictable politics. We consider the importance of the last great expression of Florida utopianism -- namely, Disney World -- and the shift into a perceived playground of anarchy and American dreams gone mad, as personified in the notorious "Florida Man."

Rolling Stone article outlining ways to help Florida, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico following Hurricane Ian.

Suggested further reading: Gannon, "Florida: A Short History"; Nolan, "Fifty Feet in Paradise: The Booming of Florida."

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see all 6 episodes of Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida

China, pt. 2 - Water and Music: Early Chinese Philosophy

Quick Sample:

We consider how the crisis of legitimacy and breakdown of order following the downfall of the Zhou dynasty spurred on a flowering of philosophy, as various scholars and sages sought new principles to guide life and achieve harmony, giving rise to the enduring teachings of Taoism and Confucianism, as well as other long-forgotten sects ranging from draconian legalists to humanitarian pacifists.

Image: Song-era painting of a landscape with three men laughing, symbolizing Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Also see:

Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida - pt. 5

We follow the southward-racing juggernaut of modern Florida, from statehood in 1845 to the 1930s - the insatiable quest of visionaries and megalomaniacs, from Jewish utopians, to slave-driving planters, to evangelical missionaries, to black politicians, to hotel magnates, to messianic cult leaders, to women's suffragists, to Cuban revolutionaries, to bohemian poets, to impose a sense of order upon the chaotic and unruly wilderness of tropical Florida. Though ignored in our national mythology and dismissed as a southern backwater, the state was the site of the first confrontation of the Civil War, and of the longest-lasting and most aggressive Reconstruction regime, which created the first universal public school system in the South and fostered the first booming tourist economy in America, spearheaded by none other than Harriet Beecher Stowe. We conclude our journey through Florida with an examination of Florida literature, ending with an analysis of Wallace Stevens' ode to Florida, "The Idea of Order at Key West."

Suggested Further Reading: Foster & Foster, "Beechers, Stowes, and Yankee Strangers: The Transformation of Florida"; J. T. Kirby, "Mockingbird Song: Ecological Landscapes of the South."

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see all 5 episodes of Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida

China, pt. 1 - Making the Middle Kingdom

We follow the long struggle to build power, wealth, and lasting harmony on the rich but harsh and unforgiving landscape of China - from early farming villages, to the quasi-legendary early emperors, through dynasties obsessed with ritual and divination, the age of fragmentation and warring states, and finally, the dramatic quest for unification by the ruthless emperor that gave China its name. We learn the causes and contexts for the creation of the first Great Wall, the invention of wet rice farming and hydraulic engineering, the composition of ancient classics like the I Ching and the Art of War, and the appearance of the powerful philosophies of Confucianism and Taoism.

Suggested further reading: Li Feng, "Early China"; Yap & Cotterell, "The Early Civilization of China".

Image: Bronze ceremonial vessel from Zhou dynasty.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Also see:

Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida -- pt. 4

Quick Sample:

From 1763 to the 1840s, Florida was repeatedly tossed and traded among the British, Spanish, and American empires, as all sorts of adventurers -- from Greek and Turkish indentured workers, to Scottish speculators, to Seminole warriors, to West African widows, to British Army deserters, to Mexican pirates, to "Cracker" cattle-herders -- attempted to establish themselves and exploit the subtropical landscape. Under American rule, two societies take shape in the Florida Territory -- one of cotton plantations and the other of backcountry homesteads -- and come to loggerheads over questions of development and ultimately, the idea of statehood.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see all 5 episodes of Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida

Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida - pt. 3

Quick Sample:

We consider the struggles of European colonists and missionaries, indigenous tribes, and African laborers to protect their territories and secure their freedom through two tumultuous centuries of Spanish rule in Florida. From the first arrival of yellow fever, to the construction of an indestructible limestone fortress, to the creation of the first black-led town in America, the Spanish era laid the foundations of a distinctive Floridian society which miraculously persisted and was never conquered by its powerful enemies to the north.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see all 5 episodes of Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida

Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida - pt. 2

After 1500, Florida becomes a battleground in a new struggle for control of North America; we discuss the repeated doomed attempts by French and Spanish adventurers, from Ponce de Leon to the Huguenot colonists at Fort Caroline, to establish a foothold in Florida, until Spain finally succeeds in creating a lasting European stronghold at Saint Augustine.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see all 5 episodes of Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida

Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida - pt. 1

Quick Sample:

We discuss the complex and multilayered history of Florida, beginning with the prehistoric peoples that survived in and mastered the tropical landscape, built monumental mound complexes, and formed powerful kingdoms that would eventually confront the first European invaders.

Image: Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Gulf of Mexico

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see all 5 episodes of Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida

Blood and Oil: The History of Tulsa

America marked this year the 100th anniversary of the race massacre that destroyed the Greenwood district of Tulsa, the so-called "Black Wall Street," but left out of the commemorations were the contexts that led to the outbreak of civil violence: the town's Indian origins in the Trail of Tears; the massive cattle and oil booms that gave rise to a powerful and organized class of business magnates; the city's chaotic and crime-ridden expansion, which fueled vigilantism, including lynchings of both white and black victims; and the patriotic frenzy of the First World War and the Red Scare, with its hysterical fear of Bolshevism and revolution. Finally, we consider the recovery of Tulsa from the shocks of the 1921 massacre, the Klan's reign of terror, and the Depression, after which it has evolved into a comparatively liberal cultural capital amidst the conservative Plains Midwest. Tulsa is an extreme example in miniature of America's tumultuous and confused rise to industrial power.Suggested further reading: Courtney Ann Vaugh-Roberson and Glen Vaughn-Roberson, "City in the Osage Hills."

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Taking Stock of Money in Politics: The Powell Memo Fifty Years Later

At a time of intensifying hope and anxiety over the direction of the Supreme Court, we take stock of how the lawmaking process and the judiciary have changed over the past fifty years with the mobilization and funneling of large amounts of money into the political realm; we focus especially on the little-known but pivotal "Powell Memo" of 1971, in which a lawyer for the Tobacco Institute decried the rising tide of attacks on the "free enterprise system" and proposed a coordinated counter-offensive by the business class that sounds uncannily close to our present reality. The Powell Memo forms a critical moment for understanding the intense politicization of judicial appointments, the ubiquity of paid political advertising on the airwaves and in print, and ironically, the rise of a new "anti-capitalist" radicalism.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

India -- pt. 1: Creating Civilization in South Asia

We discuss the complex geography of the Indian Subcontinent, and how early societies in India, beginning with the mysterious Indus Valley Civilization, developed cities, technology, art, and literature, giving rise eventually to the flourishing Maurya and Gupta empires and the inventions of the Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu religions. Image: Asoka pillar with lion amidst the remains of Vaisali, Bihar, India.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see Roots of Religion: India - pt. 2 - Foundations of Hinduism

History of the British and Irish Travellers

Travellers, Tinkers, Gypsies, Kale, Scottish Travellers, Gypsy Travellers, Romani Gypsies, Romanichal, Pavee, Showmen, Van People, Boat People, Bargers - All of these multivarious peoples, with different ancestries, religions, and traditions, their different languages, dialects, and "cants," share in common a longstanding itinerant lifestyle and the distinct identity that stems from it. Roving all around the British Isles and sometimes settling down, the various tribes of Travellers have provided metal goods, horses, music, and entertainment to British and Irish markets for centuries, but have become the flashpoint of political fury and even of violence in the twenty-first century.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

History of the Roma ("Gypsies"), part 2 -- A Stateless People in Modern Europe

We follow how the Roma or Gypsies rose to a period of toleration and even renown as the quintessential musical masters of the Romantic era, only to fall under renewed persecution and suppression the twentieth century, culminating in the Nazi Holocaust -- called the "Devouring" in Romani. We consider the lives of remarkable Roma of the modern age, such as the boxer Johann Trollmann and jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, the birth of a pan-Roma identity movement in the 1970s, the anti-Roma backlash of the 2010s, and finally the possibility that the Roma may be drawn into the geopolitical maneuverings of modern India. Image: "El Jaleo," by John Singer Sargent, 1879-80 Suggested Further reading: Angus Fraser, "The Gypsies"; Isabel Fonseca, "Bury Me Standing."

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see The Middle Ages: History of the Roma ("Gypsies"), part 1 -- From Ancient Origins to the Eighteenth Century

Freemasonry -- Its Growth and Spread Before 1789

How did Freemasonry expand in the 1700s from a small, secretive fraternity in Lowland Scotland to a massive global network, with lodges from the Caribbean to Russia to India? Who became Freemasons in the 1700s, and what sort of opposition and persecution did they face? What was their relationship to radical groups like the Illuminati? We examine to the growth, expansion, and divides in Freemasonry in the eighteenth century, all of which laid the groundwork for the Craft to influence the course of the age of revolutions.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see The Middle Ages: Freemasonry - Its Origins, Its Myths, and Its Rituals

The Voynich Manuscript, the "World's Most Mysterious Book" -- A Historian's View -- pt. 2

The Voynich Manuscript — often called the “world’s most mysterious book” — consists of 116 leaves of parchment covered in outlandish botanical and astrological drawings and thousands of lines of undeciphered text in an unknown language. A century after images of the codex were first published, still not one line has been decoded. What could it say? And more importantly from the historical perspective, who created it and why? This is the most balanced and impartial consideration of the evidence that you will find.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see The Voynich Manuscript, the "World's Most Mysterious Book" -- A Historian's View -- pt. 1

The Voynich Manuscript, the "World's Most Mysterious Book" -- A Historian's View -- pt. 1

The Voynich Manuscript -- often called the "world's most mysterious book" -- consists in 116 leaves of parchment covered in outlandish botanical and astrological drawings and thousands of lines of undeciphered text in an unknown language. A century after images of the codex were first published, still not one line has been decoded. What could it say? And more importantly from the historical perspective, who created it and why? This is the most balanced and impartial consideration of the evidence that you will find. In this first part, we consider the physical features and visual content of the book; in the second part, we will examine the mysterious text, and evidence as to its preovenance and chain of ownership. Please become a patron to hear all the Myths of the Month - http://www.patreon.com/user?u=5530632Suggested further reading: Carlo Ginzburg, "The Night Battles" and "Ecstasies: Deciperhing the Witches' Sabbath"; Tucker and Janick, "Identification of Phytomorphs in theVoynich Codex," hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/pdfs/hr44…1-phytomorphs.pdf

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see The Voynich Manuscript, the "World's Most Mysterious Book" -- A Historian's View -- pt. 2

Creating the Caribbean -- The Colonial West Indies, pt. 1, 1496-1697

How did a chain of sparsely populated islands, stalked by earthquakes, hurricanes, and deadly tropical diseases, become the most powerful and prosperous colonies on earth? We trace how bands of adventurers, including pirates and Crusader knights, took advantage of Spain's fragile hold on the Caribbean islands, superior seafaring skills, and the growing slave trade, to build unlikely new societies, while the Irish and African laborers that they forced into service adapted or struck out for freedom. Image: 17th-century drawing of Tortuga, while it was ruled by the "Brethren of the Coast."

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode DetailsPart 2 to come.

Age of Absolutism 3: Bourbon France, 1589-1789

When we speak of "absolutism," most of us think immediately of Louis XIV, the Sun King, and his splendrous court at Versailles. But those glittering images cover over a centuries-long struggle by the Bourbon dynasty to consolidate power by forging quiet strategic alliances with the lower and middle classes against the nobility, building up a precarious potemkin village that would soon collapse under financial strain, throwing all of Europe into confusion. Image: Louis XIV as Jupiter, vanquisher of the Fronde, Charles Poerson, 1650s.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Also see:

England, Interrupted: The Interregnum and Restoration, 1650-1685

What happened to England in the power vacuum left in the wake of the execution of Charles I? Why were the Puritans, so pious in morals and strict in governance, unable to create a lasting Commonwealth? And why did the return of the monarchy unleash a wave of lewd hedonism that is shocking even more than three centuries later? The explosion of empire, the slave trade, religious toleration, the modern metropolis of London, and the enshrinement of theater as the English national art form, and the consitutional balance of power still in place in both Britain and the United States all have their roots in the tumultuous years from 1650 to 1685; if there is any period of English history that you must know in order to understand the present, it is this one.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see Imbalances of Power: Episodes on English Political Revolution and Evolution

The Origins of Policing -- from the Middle Ages to the First World War

Why do we have uniformed officers called "police" who do things (like patrolling streets and investigating missing persons) that we call "policing"? We trace the evolution of law enforcement over the past two hundred years in response to urban growth, immigration, and labor unrest, and the struggles over who controls the police and their activities. Further Reading: Roger Lane, "Urban Police and Crime in Nineteenth-Century America," Crime and Justice, Vol. 2 (1980), pp. 1-43, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1147411?seq=1

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

The Spanish Flu, pt. 2 -- The Great Flu and Modern Memory, 1920-2020

What is the legacy of the greatest pandemic to hit the globe in the past two centuries, carrying away 3% of the entire human race? What has been its after-life through the past century?What health and psychological impacts did it leave behind? What are the enduring questions and mysteries that science and history must unravel? And how has our art, literature, and popular culture remembered -- or more often, forgotten -- this great disaster?In this first installment on the great Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-20, we consider the staggering scope and deep reach of the viral disease that swept the world three times, infecting one third of humankind and killing more people than the World War that nonetheless overshadowed it in the public mind. The second installment will consider the lingering impacts of the pandemic, its enduring mysteries, and the possible reasons it has been forgotten. Find the new Lyceum platform and app -- http://www.lyceum.fm/ Suggested Further reading: Laura Spinney, "Pale Rider"; Alfred Crosby, "America's Forgotten Pandemic."image: angel monument, Hendersonville, N.C., which formerly belonged to the Wolfe family of Asheville, N.C., and inspired the title of the novel, "Look Homeward, Angel"

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see The Spanish Flu, pt. 1 -- A World in Ashes, 1918-1920

The Spanish Flu, pt. 1 -- A World in Ashes, 1918-1920

In this first installment on the great Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-20, we consider the staggering scope and deep reach of the viral disease that swept the world three times, infecting one third of humankind and killing more people than the World War that nonetheless overshadowed it in the public mind. The second installment will consider the lingering impacts of the pandemic, its enduring mysteries, and the possible reasons it has been forgotten. Find the new Lyceum platform and app -- http://www.lyceum.fm/ Suggested Further reading: Laura Spinney, "Pale Rider"; Alfred Crosby, "The Forgotten Pandemic." Image: Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait with Spanish Flu, 1919

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see The Spanish Flu, pt. 2 -- The Great Flu and Modern Memory, 1920-2020

In the Ocean of Land: The History of Central Asia -- pt. 2

We trace how the conquests of the infamous Tamerlane, the "great game" of imperial rivalry, and the revolutions of modern Russia shaped the map of central Asia that we see today. We consider how contemporary central Asians try to navigate the dangerous shoals of environmental disaster and rampant corruption, often while tethered to older Islamic, Turko-Mongolic, and nomadic traditions -- particularly in the looming shadow of a resurgent China. Suggested further reading: Peter Golden, "Central Asia in World History"; Gavin Hambly, "Central Asia"; Rene Grousset, "The Empire of the Steppes"; Colin Thubron, "Shadow of the Silk Road"; Sahadeo and Zanca, "Everyday Life in Central Asia"

correction: The word "Tajik" originally meant "non-Turk" or "Persian," not "Muslim".

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see In the Ocean of Land: The History of Central Asia -- pt. 1

In the Ocean of Land: The History of Central Asia -- pt. 1

We consider the vast sweep of Central Asian history, from the first nomads to tame the horse and gain mastery of the steppes, to the splendrous cities of the first Silk Road, to the rise of Ghenghis Khan. Few Westerners learn the dizzyingly complex and tumultuous history of Central Asia, even though it forms the linchpin connecting all the major civilizations of the Old World, from Europe to Persia to China. Finally, we consider the unsettling paradox of the Mongol empire, which fostered a vibrant cosmopolitanism at the same time that it brutally repressed subject peoples. Suggested further reading: Peter Golden, "Central Asia in World History"; Gavin Hambly, "Central Asia"; Rene Grousset, "The Empire of the Steppes"

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see In the Ocean of Land: The History of Central Asia -- pt. 2

From the Cotswolds to Cool Britannia - observations on a trip through England

From the Cotswolds to Cool Britannia - observations on a trip through England
Currently available to Patrons only, on the Patreon App and website:
Quick Sample:

I recently returned from a family trip through Great Britain, and want to share with my patrons the sights that we saw in England, arranged chronologically, from Stonehenge to the "Crystal Phallus." The layered remains of Britain's past ages - Roman, Gothic, Georgian, Victorian - encode their builders' vastly different hopes and visions for the island kingdom. The country is full of extraordinary scenery, but the attempt to "see England," even in such a simple act as boarding a train, entangles us in the unending struggles over who defines such a complicated nation. Next installment: Scotland.

Listen on Patreon Full Episode Details

Land of Vital Blood: Pre-Columbian America

The Americas before Columbus were not an idyll frozen in time. They were a world of struggle and ambition, with a history just as complex and tumultuous as Europe's. We trace how hunting-gathering peoples invented agriculture and built cities and empires that rose and fell across the centuries, all depending on human power, without the benefit of pack animals. We consider the shared norms and practices that seem to unite the diverse and far-flung peoples of the Americas, such as intensive multi-crop agriculture, fascination with astronomy and the calendar, and a highly formalized diplomatic language governing war and peace.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

In Search of the Dawn: Human Prehistory

Most of the human story is so-called "pre-history," which in fact is inseparable from history and still going on today. We trace the origins of the human species around 300,000 years ago in Africa, including our early adaptation into long-distance hunters. We examine our long and awkward co-existence with other human-like species such as Neanderthals and Ebu Gogo, as well as our slow development of critical technologies like sewing and pottery that allowed us to out-compete them. We trace the dangerous and improbable journey across sea channels and deserts that a small band of our distant ancestors had to make in order to populate the entire world beyond Africa. Finally, we consider the mysterious roots of the technology that eventually allowed for the rise of urban civilization -- agriculture.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Jim Crow's America, 1880-1960

Jim Crow's America, 1880-1960
Currently available to Patrons only, on the Patreon App and website:

We examine the three pillars of Jim Crow civilization -- segregation, disfranchisement, and terroristic violence -- and their roots in the corrupt bargain of 1877 that ended Reconstruction and the climate of racial pseudoscience that pervaded the late 1800s. We consider the different ways that Jim Crow was enforced in different parts of the country -- in the South, with state action and paramilitary repression, and in the North, through exclusion from the labor movement. Finally, we consider how World War II and the integration of unions helped to bring about the collapse of Jim Crow society.

Listen on Patreon Full Episode Details

Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida - pt. 6

In the final lecture on Florida, we examine how the tropical state, thanks to innovations like DDT, orange-juice concentrate, and air conditioning, was able to boom at an unimaginable pace, rocketing into the top five biggest states in the union, with massive scientific and artistic communities, a diverse immigrant mosaic, and after the Civil Rights movement, exceptionally volatile and unpredictable politics. We consider the importance of the last great expression of Florida utopianism -- namely, Disney World -- and the shift into a perceived playground of anarchy and American dreams gone mad, as personified in the notorious "Florida Man."

Rolling Stone article outlining ways to help Florida, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico following Hurricane Ian.

Suggested further reading: Gannon, "Florida: A Short History"; Nolan, "Fifty Feet in Paradise: The Booming of Florida."

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see all 6 episodes of Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida

China, pt. 2 - Water and Music: Early Chinese Philosophy

We consider how the crisis of legitimacy and breakdown of order following the downfall of the Zhou dynasty spurred on a flowering of philosophy, as various scholars and sages sought new principles to guide life and achieve harmony, giving rise to the enduring teachings of Taoism and Confucianism, as well as other long-forgotten sects ranging from draconian legalists to humanitarian pacifists.

Image: Song-era painting of a landscape with three men laughing, symbolizing Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism.

Listen on SoundCloud

Also see:

Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida - pt. 5

We follow the southward-racing juggernaut of modern Florida, from statehood in 1845 to the 1930s - the insatiable quest of visionaries and megalomaniacs, from Jewish utopians, to slave-driving planters, to evangelical missionaries, to black politicians, to hotel magnates, to messianic cult leaders, to women's suffragists, to Cuban revolutionaries, to bohemian poets, to impose a sense of order upon the chaotic and unruly wilderness of tropical Florida. Though ignored in our national mythology and dismissed as a southern backwater, the state was the site of the first confrontation of the Civil War, and of the longest-lasting and most aggressive Reconstruction regime, which created the first universal public school system in the South and fostered the first booming tourist economy in America, spearheaded by none other than Harriet Beecher Stowe. We conclude our journey through Florida with an examination of Florida literature, ending with an analysis of Wallace Stevens' ode to Florida, "The Idea of Order at Key West."

Suggested Further Reading: Foster & Foster, "Beechers, Stowes, and Yankee Strangers: The Transformation of Florida"; J. T. Kirby, "Mockingbird Song: Ecological Landscapes of the South."

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see all 5 episodes of Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida

China, pt. 1 - Making the Middle Kingdom

We follow the long struggle to build power, wealth, and lasting harmony on the rich but harsh and unforgiving landscape of China - from early farming villages, to the quasi-legendary early emperors, through dynasties obsessed with ritual and divination, the age of fragmentation and warring states, and finally, the dramatic quest for unification by the ruthless emperor that gave China its name. We learn the causes and contexts for the creation of the first Great Wall, the invention of wet rice farming and hydraulic engineering, the composition of ancient classics like the I Ching and the Art of War, and the appearance of the powerful philosophies of Confucianism and Taoism.

Suggested further reading: Li Feng, "Early China"; Yap & Cotterell, "The Early Civilization of China".

Image: Bronze ceremonial vessel from Zhou dynasty.

Listen on SoundCloud

Also see:

Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida -- pt. 4

From 1763 to the 1840s, Florida was repeatedly tossed and traded among the British, Spanish, and American empires, as all sorts of adventurers -- from Greek and Turkish indentured workers, to Scottish speculators, to Seminole warriors, to West African widows, to British Army deserters, to Mexican pirates, to "Cracker" cattle-herders -- attempted to establish themselves and exploit the subtropical landscape. Under American rule, two societies take shape in the Florida Territory -- one of cotton plantations and the other of backcountry homesteads -- and come to loggerheads over questions of development and ultimately, the idea of statehood.

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see all 5 episodes of Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida

Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida - pt. 3

We consider the struggles of European colonists and missionaries, indigenous tribes, and African laborers to protect their territories and secure their freedom through two tumultuous centuries of Spanish rule in Florida. From the first arrival of yellow fever, to the construction of an indestructible limestone fortress, to the creation of the first black-led town in America, the Spanish era laid the foundations of a distinctive Floridian society which miraculously persisted and was never conquered by its powerful enemies to the north.

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see all 5 episodes of Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida

Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida - pt. 2

After 1500, Florida becomes a battleground in a new struggle for control of North America; we discuss the repeated doomed attempts by French and Spanish adventurers, from Ponce de Leon to the Huguenot colonists at Fort Caroline, to establish a foothold in Florida, until Spain finally succeeds in creating a lasting European stronghold at Saint Augustine.

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see all 5 episodes of Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida

Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida - pt. 1

We discuss the complex and multilayered history of Florida, beginning with the prehistoric peoples that survived in and mastered the tropical landscape, built monumental mound complexes, and formed powerful kingdoms that would eventually confront the first European invaders.

Image: Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Gulf of Mexico

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see all 5 episodes of Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida

Blood and Oil: The History of Tulsa

America marked this year the 100th anniversary of the race massacre that destroyed the Greenwood district of Tulsa, the so-called "Black Wall Street," but left out of the commemorations were the contexts that led to the outbreak of civil violence: the town's Indian origins in the Trail of Tears; the massive cattle and oil booms that gave rise to a powerful and organized class of business magnates; the city's chaotic and crime-ridden expansion, which fueled vigilantism, including lynchings of both white and black victims; and the patriotic frenzy of the First World War and the Red Scare, with its hysterical fear of Bolshevism and revolution. Finally, we consider the recovery of Tulsa from the shocks of the 1921 massacre, the Klan's reign of terror, and the Depression, after which it has evolved into a comparatively liberal cultural capital amidst the conservative Plains Midwest. Tulsa is an extreme example in miniature of America's tumultuous and confused rise to industrial power.Suggested further reading: Courtney Ann Vaugh-Roberson and Glen Vaughn-Roberson, "City in the Osage Hills."

Listen on SoundCloud

Taking Stock of Money in Politics: The Powell Memo Fifty Years Later

At a time of intensifying hope and anxiety over the direction of the Supreme Court, we take stock of how the lawmaking process and the judiciary have changed over the past fifty years with the mobilization and funneling of large amounts of money into the political realm; we focus especially on the little-known but pivotal "Powell Memo" of 1971, in which a lawyer for the Tobacco Institute decried the rising tide of attacks on the "free enterprise system" and proposed a coordinated counter-offensive by the business class that sounds uncannily close to our present reality. The Powell Memo forms a critical moment for understanding the intense politicization of judicial appointments, the ubiquity of paid political advertising on the airwaves and in print, and ironically, the rise of a new "anti-capitalist" radicalism.

Listen on SoundCloud

India -- pt. 1: Creating Civilization in South Asia

We discuss the complex geography of the Indian Subcontinent, and how early societies in India, beginning with the mysterious Indus Valley Civilization, developed cities, technology, art, and literature, giving rise eventually to the flourishing Maurya and Gupta empires and the inventions of the Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu religions. Image: Asoka pillar with lion amidst the remains of Vaisali, Bihar, India.

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Also see Roots of Religion: India - pt. 2 - Foundations of Hinduism

History of the British and Irish Travellers

Travellers, Tinkers, Gypsies, Kale, Scottish Travellers, Gypsy Travellers, Romani Gypsies, Romanichal, Pavee, Showmen, Van People, Boat People, Bargers - All of these multivarious peoples, with different ancestries, religions, and traditions, their different languages, dialects, and "cants," share in common a longstanding itinerant lifestyle and the distinct identity that stems from it. Roving all around the British Isles and sometimes settling down, the various tribes of Travellers have provided metal goods, horses, music, and entertainment to British and Irish markets for centuries, but have become the flashpoint of political fury and even of violence in the twenty-first century.

Listen on SoundCloud

History of the Roma ("Gypsies"), part 2 -- A Stateless People in Modern Europe

We follow how the Roma or Gypsies rose to a period of toleration and even renown as the quintessential musical masters of the Romantic era, only to fall under renewed persecution and suppression the twentieth century, culminating in the Nazi Holocaust -- called the "Devouring" in Romani. We consider the lives of remarkable Roma of the modern age, such as the boxer Johann Trollmann and jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, the birth of a pan-Roma identity movement in the 1970s, the anti-Roma backlash of the 2010s, and finally the possibility that the Roma may be drawn into the geopolitical maneuverings of modern India. Image: "El Jaleo," by John Singer Sargent, 1879-80 Suggested Further reading: Angus Fraser, "The Gypsies"; Isabel Fonseca, "Bury Me Standing."

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see The Middle Ages: History of the Roma ("Gypsies"), part 1 -- From Ancient Origins to the Eighteenth Century

Freemasonry -- Its Growth and Spread Before 1789

How did Freemasonry expand in the 1700s from a small, secretive fraternity in Lowland Scotland to a massive global network, with lodges from the Caribbean to Russia to India? Who became Freemasons in the 1700s, and what sort of opposition and persecution did they face? What was their relationship to radical groups like the Illuminati? We examine to the growth, expansion, and divides in Freemasonry in the eighteenth century, all of which laid the groundwork for the Craft to influence the course of the age of revolutions.

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see The Middle Ages: Freemasonry - Its Origins, Its Myths, and Its Rituals

The Voynich Manuscript, the "World's Most Mysterious Book" -- A Historian's View -- pt. 2

The Voynich Manuscript — often called the “world’s most mysterious book” — consists of 116 leaves of parchment covered in outlandish botanical and astrological drawings and thousands of lines of undeciphered text in an unknown language. A century after images of the codex were first published, still not one line has been decoded. What could it say? And more importantly from the historical perspective, who created it and why? This is the most balanced and impartial consideration of the evidence that you will find.

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see The Voynich Manuscript, the "World's Most Mysterious Book" -- A Historian's View -- pt. 1

The Voynich Manuscript, the "World's Most Mysterious Book" -- A Historian's View -- pt. 1

The Voynich Manuscript -- often called the "world's most mysterious book" -- consists in 116 leaves of parchment covered in outlandish botanical and astrological drawings and thousands of lines of undeciphered text in an unknown language. A century after images of the codex were first published, still not one line has been decoded. What could it say? And more importantly from the historical perspective, who created it and why? This is the most balanced and impartial consideration of the evidence that you will find. In this first part, we consider the physical features and visual content of the book; in the second part, we will examine the mysterious text, and evidence as to its preovenance and chain of ownership. Please become a patron to hear all the Myths of the Month - http://www.patreon.com/user?u=5530632Suggested further reading: Carlo Ginzburg, "The Night Battles" and "Ecstasies: Deciperhing the Witches' Sabbath"; Tucker and Janick, "Identification of Phytomorphs in theVoynich Codex," hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/pdfs/hr44…1-phytomorphs.pdf

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see The Voynich Manuscript, the "World's Most Mysterious Book" -- A Historian's View -- pt. 2

Creating the Caribbean -- The Colonial West Indies, pt. 1, 1496-1697

How did a chain of sparsely populated islands, stalked by earthquakes, hurricanes, and deadly tropical diseases, become the most powerful and prosperous colonies on earth? We trace how bands of adventurers, including pirates and Crusader knights, took advantage of Spain's fragile hold on the Caribbean islands, superior seafaring skills, and the growing slave trade, to build unlikely new societies, while the Irish and African laborers that they forced into service adapted or struck out for freedom. Image: 17th-century drawing of Tortuga, while it was ruled by the "Brethren of the Coast."

Listen on SoundCloudPart 2 to come.

Age of Absolutism 3: Bourbon France, 1589-1789

When we speak of "absolutism," most of us think immediately of Louis XIV, the Sun King, and his splendrous court at Versailles. But those glittering images cover over a centuries-long struggle by the Bourbon dynasty to consolidate power by forging quiet strategic alliances with the lower and middle classes against the nobility, building up a precarious potemkin village that would soon collapse under financial strain, throwing all of Europe into confusion. Image: Louis XIV as Jupiter, vanquisher of the Fronde, Charles Poerson, 1650s.

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Also see:

England, Interrupted: The Interregnum and Restoration, 1650-1685

What happened to England in the power vacuum left in the wake of the execution of Charles I? Why were the Puritans, so pious in morals and strict in governance, unable to create a lasting Commonwealth? And why did the return of the monarchy unleash a wave of lewd hedonism that is shocking even more than three centuries later? The explosion of empire, the slave trade, religious toleration, the modern metropolis of London, and the enshrinement of theater as the English national art form, and the consitutional balance of power still in place in both Britain and the United States all have their roots in the tumultuous years from 1650 to 1685; if there is any period of English history that you must know in order to understand the present, it is this one.

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see Imbalances of Power: Episodes on English Political Revolution and Evolution

The Origins of Policing -- from the Middle Ages to the First World War

Why do we have uniformed officers called "police" who do things (like patrolling streets and investigating missing persons) that we call "policing"? We trace the evolution of law enforcement over the past two hundred years in response to urban growth, immigration, and labor unrest, and the struggles over who controls the police and their activities. Further Reading: Roger Lane, "Urban Police and Crime in Nineteenth-Century America," Crime and Justice, Vol. 2 (1980), pp. 1-43, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1147411?seq=1

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The Spanish Flu, pt. 2 -- The Great Flu and Modern Memory, 1920-2020

What is the legacy of the greatest pandemic to hit the globe in the past two centuries, carrying away 3% of the entire human race? What has been its after-life through the past century?What health and psychological impacts did it leave behind? What are the enduring questions and mysteries that science and history must unravel? And how has our art, literature, and popular culture remembered -- or more often, forgotten -- this great disaster?In this first installment on the great Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-20, we consider the staggering scope and deep reach of the viral disease that swept the world three times, infecting one third of humankind and killing more people than the World War that nonetheless overshadowed it in the public mind. The second installment will consider the lingering impacts of the pandemic, its enduring mysteries, and the possible reasons it has been forgotten. Find the new Lyceum platform and app -- http://www.lyceum.fm/ Suggested Further reading: Laura Spinney, "Pale Rider"; Alfred Crosby, "America's Forgotten Pandemic."image: angel monument, Hendersonville, N.C., which formerly belonged to the Wolfe family of Asheville, N.C., and inspired the title of the novel, "Look Homeward, Angel"

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see The Spanish Flu, pt. 1 -- A World in Ashes, 1918-1920

The Spanish Flu, pt. 1 -- A World in Ashes, 1918-1920

In this first installment on the great Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-20, we consider the staggering scope and deep reach of the viral disease that swept the world three times, infecting one third of humankind and killing more people than the World War that nonetheless overshadowed it in the public mind. The second installment will consider the lingering impacts of the pandemic, its enduring mysteries, and the possible reasons it has been forgotten. Find the new Lyceum platform and app -- http://www.lyceum.fm/ Suggested Further reading: Laura Spinney, "Pale Rider"; Alfred Crosby, "The Forgotten Pandemic." Image: Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait with Spanish Flu, 1919

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see The Spanish Flu, pt. 2 -- The Great Flu and Modern Memory, 1920-2020

In the Ocean of Land: The History of Central Asia -- pt. 2

We trace how the conquests of the infamous Tamerlane, the "great game" of imperial rivalry, and the revolutions of modern Russia shaped the map of central Asia that we see today. We consider how contemporary central Asians try to navigate the dangerous shoals of environmental disaster and rampant corruption, often while tethered to older Islamic, Turko-Mongolic, and nomadic traditions -- particularly in the looming shadow of a resurgent China. Suggested further reading: Peter Golden, "Central Asia in World History"; Gavin Hambly, "Central Asia"; Rene Grousset, "The Empire of the Steppes"; Colin Thubron, "Shadow of the Silk Road"; Sahadeo and Zanca, "Everyday Life in Central Asia"

correction: The word "Tajik" originally meant "non-Turk" or "Persian," not "Muslim".

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see In the Ocean of Land: The History of Central Asia -- pt. 1

In the Ocean of Land: The History of Central Asia -- pt. 1

We consider the vast sweep of Central Asian history, from the first nomads to tame the horse and gain mastery of the steppes, to the splendrous cities of the first Silk Road, to the rise of Ghenghis Khan. Few Westerners learn the dizzyingly complex and tumultuous history of Central Asia, even though it forms the linchpin connecting all the major civilizations of the Old World, from Europe to Persia to China. Finally, we consider the unsettling paradox of the Mongol empire, which fostered a vibrant cosmopolitanism at the same time that it brutally repressed subject peoples. Suggested further reading: Peter Golden, "Central Asia in World History"; Gavin Hambly, "Central Asia"; Rene Grousset, "The Empire of the Steppes"

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see In the Ocean of Land: The History of Central Asia -- pt. 2

Land of Vital Blood: Pre-Columbian America

The Americas before Columbus were not an idyll frozen in time. They were a world of struggle and ambition, with a history just as complex and tumultuous as Europe's. We trace how hunting-gathering peoples invented agriculture and built cities and empires that rose and fell across the centuries, all depending on human power, without the benefit of pack animals. We consider the shared norms and practices that seem to unite the diverse and far-flung peoples of the Americas, such as intensive multi-crop agriculture, fascination with astronomy and the calendar, and a highly formalized diplomatic language governing war and peace.

Listen on SoundCloud

In Search of the Dawn: Human Prehistory

Most of the human story is so-called "pre-history," which in fact is inseparable from history and still going on today. We trace the origins of the human species around 300,000 years ago in Africa, including our early adaptation into long-distance hunters. We examine our long and awkward co-existence with other human-like species such as Neanderthals and Ebu Gogo, as well as our slow development of critical technologies like sewing and pottery that allowed us to out-compete them. We trace the dangerous and improbable journey across sea channels and deserts that a small band of our distant ancestors had to make in order to populate the entire world beyond Africa. Finally, we consider the mysterious roots of the technology that eventually allowed for the rise of urban civilization -- agriculture.

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Jim Crow's America, 1880-1960

We examine the three pillars of Jim Crow civilization -- segregation, disfranchisement, and terroristic violence -- and their roots in the corrupt bargain of 1877 that ended Reconstruction and the climate of racial pseudoscience that pervaded the late 1800s. We consider the different ways that Jim Crow was enforced in different parts of the country -- in the South, with state action and paramilitary repression, and in the North, through exclusion from the labor movement. Finally, we consider how World War II and the integration of unions helped to bring about the collapse of Jim Crow society.

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Also see The Confederacy -- Its Roots and Its Legacies

Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida - pt. 6

In the final lecture on Florida, we examine how the tropical state, thanks to innovations like DDT, orange-juice concentrate, and air conditioning, was able to boom at an unimaginable pace, rocketing into the top five biggest states in the union, with massive scientific and artistic communities, a diverse immigrant mosaic, and after the Civil Rights movement, exceptionally volatile and unpredictable politics. We consider the importance of the last great expression of Florida utopianism -- namely, Disney World -- and the shift into a perceived playground of anarchy and American dreams gone mad, as personified in the notorious "Florida Man."

Rolling Stone article outlining ways to help Florida, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico following Hurricane Ian.

Suggested further reading: Gannon, "Florida: A Short History"; Nolan, "Fifty Feet in Paradise: The Booming of Florida."

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Also see all 6 episodes of Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida

China, pt. 2 - Water and Music: Early Chinese Philosophy

We consider how the crisis of legitimacy and breakdown of order following the downfall of the Zhou dynasty spurred on a flowering of philosophy, as various scholars and sages sought new principles to guide life and achieve harmony, giving rise to the enduring teachings of Taoism and Confucianism, as well as other long-forgotten sects ranging from draconian legalists to humanitarian pacifists.

Image: Song-era painting of a landscape with three men laughing, symbolizing Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism.

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Also see:

Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida - pt. 5

We follow the southward-racing juggernaut of modern Florida, from statehood in 1845 to the 1930s - the insatiable quest of visionaries and megalomaniacs, from Jewish utopians, to slave-driving planters, to evangelical missionaries, to black politicians, to hotel magnates, to messianic cult leaders, to women's suffragists, to Cuban revolutionaries, to bohemian poets, to impose a sense of order upon the chaotic and unruly wilderness of tropical Florida. Though ignored in our national mythology and dismissed as a southern backwater, the state was the site of the first confrontation of the Civil War, and of the longest-lasting and most aggressive Reconstruction regime, which created the first universal public school system in the South and fostered the first booming tourist economy in America, spearheaded by none other than Harriet Beecher Stowe. We conclude our journey through Florida with an examination of Florida literature, ending with an analysis of Wallace Stevens' ode to Florida, "The Idea of Order at Key West."

Suggested Further Reading: Foster & Foster, "Beechers, Stowes, and Yankee Strangers: The Transformation of Florida"; J. T. Kirby, "Mockingbird Song: Ecological Landscapes of the South."

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Also see all 5 episodes of Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida

China, pt. 1 - Making the Middle Kingdom

We follow the long struggle to build power, wealth, and lasting harmony on the rich but harsh and unforgiving landscape of China - from early farming villages, to the quasi-legendary early emperors, through dynasties obsessed with ritual and divination, the age of fragmentation and warring states, and finally, the dramatic quest for unification by the ruthless emperor that gave China its name. We learn the causes and contexts for the creation of the first Great Wall, the invention of wet rice farming and hydraulic engineering, the composition of ancient classics like the I Ching and the Art of War, and the appearance of the powerful philosophies of Confucianism and Taoism.

Suggested further reading: Li Feng, "Early China"; Yap & Cotterell, "The Early Civilization of China".

Image: Bronze ceremonial vessel from Zhou dynasty.

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Also see:

Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida -- pt. 4

From 1763 to the 1840s, Florida was repeatedly tossed and traded among the British, Spanish, and American empires, as all sorts of adventurers -- from Greek and Turkish indentured workers, to Scottish speculators, to Seminole warriors, to West African widows, to British Army deserters, to Mexican pirates, to "Cracker" cattle-herders -- attempted to establish themselves and exploit the subtropical landscape. Under American rule, two societies take shape in the Florida Territory -- one of cotton plantations and the other of backcountry homesteads -- and come to loggerheads over questions of development and ultimately, the idea of statehood.

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Also see all 5 episodes of Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida

Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida - pt. 3

We consider the struggles of European colonists and missionaries, indigenous tribes, and African laborers to protect their territories and secure their freedom through two tumultuous centuries of Spanish rule in Florida. From the first arrival of yellow fever, to the construction of an indestructible limestone fortress, to the creation of the first black-led town in America, the Spanish era laid the foundations of a distinctive Floridian society which miraculously persisted and was never conquered by its powerful enemies to the north.

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Also see all 5 episodes of Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida

Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida - pt. 2

After 1500, Florida becomes a battleground in a new struggle for control of North America; we discuss the repeated doomed attempts by French and Spanish adventurers, from Ponce de Leon to the Huguenot colonists at Fort Caroline, to establish a foothold in Florida, until Spain finally succeeds in creating a lasting European stronghold at Saint Augustine.

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Also see all 5 episodes of Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida

Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida - pt. 1

We discuss the complex and multilayered history of Florida, beginning with the prehistoric peoples that survived in and mastered the tropical landscape, built monumental mound complexes, and formed powerful kingdoms that would eventually confront the first European invaders.

Image: Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Gulf of Mexico

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Also see all 5 episodes of Fortresses on Sand: The History of Florida

Blood and Oil: The History of Tulsa

America marked this year the 100th anniversary of the race massacre that destroyed the Greenwood district of Tulsa, the so-called "Black Wall Street," but left out of the commemorations were the contexts that led to the outbreak of civil violence: the town's Indian origins in the Trail of Tears; the massive cattle and oil booms that gave rise to a powerful and organized class of business magnates; the city's chaotic and crime-ridden expansion, which fueled vigilantism, including lynchings of both white and black victims; and the patriotic frenzy of the First World War and the Red Scare, with its hysterical fear of Bolshevism and revolution. Finally, we consider the recovery of Tulsa from the shocks of the 1921 massacre, the Klan's reign of terror, and the Depression, after which it has evolved into a comparatively liberal cultural capital amidst the conservative Plains Midwest. Tulsa is an extreme example in miniature of America's tumultuous and confused rise to industrial power.Suggested further reading: Courtney Ann Vaugh-Roberson and Glen Vaughn-Roberson, "City in the Osage Hills."

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Taking Stock of Money in Politics: The Powell Memo Fifty Years Later

At a time of intensifying hope and anxiety over the direction of the Supreme Court, we take stock of how the lawmaking process and the judiciary have changed over the past fifty years with the mobilization and funneling of large amounts of money into the political realm; we focus especially on the little-known but pivotal "Powell Memo" of 1971, in which a lawyer for the Tobacco Institute decried the rising tide of attacks on the "free enterprise system" and proposed a coordinated counter-offensive by the business class that sounds uncannily close to our present reality. The Powell Memo forms a critical moment for understanding the intense politicization of judicial appointments, the ubiquity of paid political advertising on the airwaves and in print, and ironically, the rise of a new "anti-capitalist" radicalism.

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India -- pt. 1: Creating Civilization in South Asia

We discuss the complex geography of the Indian Subcontinent, and how early societies in India, beginning with the mysterious Indus Valley Civilization, developed cities, technology, art, and literature, giving rise eventually to the flourishing Maurya and Gupta empires and the inventions of the Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu religions. Image: Asoka pillar with lion amidst the remains of Vaisali, Bihar, India.

Listen on YouTube
Also see Roots of Religion: India - pt. 2 - Foundations of Hinduism

History of the British and Irish Travellers

Travellers, Tinkers, Gypsies, Kale, Scottish Travellers, Gypsy Travellers, Romani Gypsies, Romanichal, Pavee, Showmen, Van People, Boat People, Bargers - All of these multivarious peoples, with different ancestries, religions, and traditions, their different languages, dialects, and "cants," share in common a longstanding itinerant lifestyle and the distinct identity that stems from it. Roving all around the British Isles and sometimes settling down, the various tribes of Travellers have provided metal goods, horses, music, and entertainment to British and Irish markets for centuries, but have become the flashpoint of political fury and even of violence in the twenty-first century.

Listen on YouTube

History of the Roma ("Gypsies"), part 2 -- A Stateless People in Modern Europe

We follow how the Roma or Gypsies rose to a period of toleration and even renown as the quintessential musical masters of the Romantic era, only to fall under renewed persecution and suppression the twentieth century, culminating in the Nazi Holocaust -- called the "Devouring" in Romani. We consider the lives of remarkable Roma of the modern age, such as the boxer Johann Trollmann and jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, the birth of a pan-Roma identity movement in the 1970s, the anti-Roma backlash of the 2010s, and finally the possibility that the Roma may be drawn into the geopolitical maneuverings of modern India. Image: "El Jaleo," by John Singer Sargent, 1879-80 Suggested Further reading: Angus Fraser, "The Gypsies"; Isabel Fonseca, "Bury Me Standing."

Listen on YouTube
Also see The Middle Ages: History of the Roma ("Gypsies"), part 1 -- From Ancient Origins to the Eighteenth Century

Freemasonry -- Its Growth and Spread Before 1789

How did Freemasonry expand in the 1700s from a small, secretive fraternity in Lowland Scotland to a massive global network, with lodges from the Caribbean to Russia to India? Who became Freemasons in the 1700s, and what sort of opposition and persecution did they face? What was their relationship to radical groups like the Illuminati? We examine to the growth, expansion, and divides in Freemasonry in the eighteenth century, all of which laid the groundwork for the Craft to influence the course of the age of revolutions.

Listen on YouTube
Also see The Middle Ages: Freemasonry - Its Origins, Its Myths, and Its Rituals

The Voynich Manuscript, the "World's Most Mysterious Book" -- A Historian's View -- pt. 2

The Voynich Manuscript — often called the “world’s most mysterious book” — consists of 116 leaves of parchment covered in outlandish botanical and astrological drawings and thousands of lines of undeciphered text in an unknown language. A century after images of the codex were first published, still not one line has been decoded. What could it say? And more importantly from the historical perspective, who created it and why? This is the most balanced and impartial consideration of the evidence that you will find.

Listen on YouTube
Also see The Voynich Manuscript, the "World's Most Mysterious Book" -- A Historian's View -- pt. 1

The Voynich Manuscript, the "World's Most Mysterious Book" -- A Historian's View -- pt. 1

The Voynich Manuscript -- often called the "world's most mysterious book" -- consists in 116 leaves of parchment covered in outlandish botanical and astrological drawings and thousands of lines of undeciphered text in an unknown language. A century after images of the codex were first published, still not one line has been decoded. What could it say? And more importantly from the historical perspective, who created it and why? This is the most balanced and impartial consideration of the evidence that you will find. In this first part, we consider the physical features and visual content of the book; in the second part, we will examine the mysterious text, and evidence as to its preovenance and chain of ownership. Please become a patron to hear all the Myths of the Month - http://www.patreon.com/user?u=5530632Suggested further reading: Carlo Ginzburg, "The Night Battles" and "Ecstasies: Deciperhing the Witches' Sabbath"; Tucker and Janick, "Identification of Phytomorphs in theVoynich Codex," hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/pdfs/hr44…1-phytomorphs.pdf

Listen on YouTube
Also see The Voynich Manuscript, the "World's Most Mysterious Book" -- A Historian's View -- pt. 2

Creating the Caribbean -- The Colonial West Indies, pt. 1, 1496-1697

How did a chain of sparsely populated islands, stalked by earthquakes, hurricanes, and deadly tropical diseases, become the most powerful and prosperous colonies on earth? We trace how bands of adventurers, including pirates and Crusader knights, took advantage of Spain's fragile hold on the Caribbean islands, superior seafaring skills, and the growing slave trade, to build unlikely new societies, while the Irish and African laborers that they forced into service adapted or struck out for freedom. Image: 17th-century drawing of Tortuga, while it was ruled by the "Brethren of the Coast."

Listen on YouTubePart 2 to come.

Age of Absolutism 3: Bourbon France, 1589-1789

When we speak of "absolutism," most of us think immediately of Louis XIV, the Sun King, and his splendrous court at Versailles. But those glittering images cover over a centuries-long struggle by the Bourbon dynasty to consolidate power by forging quiet strategic alliances with the lower and middle classes against the nobility, building up a precarious potemkin village that would soon collapse under financial strain, throwing all of Europe into confusion. Image: Louis XIV as Jupiter, vanquisher of the Fronde, Charles Poerson, 1650s.

Listen on YouTube

Also see:

England, Interrupted: The Interregnum and Restoration, 1650-1685

What happened to England in the power vacuum left in the wake of the execution of Charles I? Why were the Puritans, so pious in morals and strict in governance, unable to create a lasting Commonwealth? And why did the return of the monarchy unleash a wave of lewd hedonism that is shocking even more than three centuries later? The explosion of empire, the slave trade, religious toleration, the modern metropolis of London, and the enshrinement of theater as the English national art form, and the consitutional balance of power still in place in both Britain and the United States all have their roots in the tumultuous years from 1650 to 1685; if there is any period of English history that you must know in order to understand the present, it is this one.

Listen on YouTube
Also see Imbalances of Power: Episodes on English Political Revolution and Evolution

The Origins of Policing -- from the Middle Ages to the First World War

Why do we have uniformed officers called "police" who do things (like patrolling streets and investigating missing persons) that we call "policing"? We trace the evolution of law enforcement over the past two hundred years in response to urban growth, immigration, and labor unrest, and the struggles over who controls the police and their activities. Further Reading: Roger Lane, "Urban Police and Crime in Nineteenth-Century America," Crime and Justice, Vol. 2 (1980), pp. 1-43, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1147411?seq=1

Listen on YouTube

The Spanish Flu, pt. 2 -- The Great Flu and Modern Memory, 1920-2020

What is the legacy of the greatest pandemic to hit the globe in the past two centuries, carrying away 3% of the entire human race? What has been its after-life through the past century?What health and psychological impacts did it leave behind? What are the enduring questions and mysteries that science and history must unravel? And how has our art, literature, and popular culture remembered -- or more often, forgotten -- this great disaster?In this first installment on the great Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-20, we consider the staggering scope and deep reach of the viral disease that swept the world three times, infecting one third of humankind and killing more people than the World War that nonetheless overshadowed it in the public mind. The second installment will consider the lingering impacts of the pandemic, its enduring mysteries, and the possible reasons it has been forgotten. Find the new Lyceum platform and app -- http://www.lyceum.fm/ Suggested Further reading: Laura Spinney, "Pale Rider"; Alfred Crosby, "America's Forgotten Pandemic."image: angel monument, Hendersonville, N.C., which formerly belonged to the Wolfe family of Asheville, N.C., and inspired the title of the novel, "Look Homeward, Angel"

Listen on YouTube
Also see The Spanish Flu, pt. 1 -- A World in Ashes, 1918-1920

The Spanish Flu, pt. 1 -- A World in Ashes, 1918-1920

In this first installment on the great Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-20, we consider the staggering scope and deep reach of the viral disease that swept the world three times, infecting one third of humankind and killing more people than the World War that nonetheless overshadowed it in the public mind. The second installment will consider the lingering impacts of the pandemic, its enduring mysteries, and the possible reasons it has been forgotten. Find the new Lyceum platform and app -- http://www.lyceum.fm/ Suggested Further reading: Laura Spinney, "Pale Rider"; Alfred Crosby, "The Forgotten Pandemic." Image: Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait with Spanish Flu, 1919

Listen on YouTube
Also see The Spanish Flu, pt. 2 -- The Great Flu and Modern Memory, 1920-2020

In the Ocean of Land: The History of Central Asia -- pt. 2

We trace how the conquests of the infamous Tamerlane, the "great game" of imperial rivalry, and the revolutions of modern Russia shaped the map of central Asia that we see today. We consider how contemporary central Asians try to navigate the dangerous shoals of environmental disaster and rampant corruption, often while tethered to older Islamic, Turko-Mongolic, and nomadic traditions -- particularly in the looming shadow of a resurgent China. Suggested further reading: Peter Golden, "Central Asia in World History"; Gavin Hambly, "Central Asia"; Rene Grousset, "The Empire of the Steppes"; Colin Thubron, "Shadow of the Silk Road"; Sahadeo and Zanca, "Everyday Life in Central Asia"

correction: The word "Tajik" originally meant "non-Turk" or "Persian," not "Muslim".

Listen on YouTube
Also see In the Ocean of Land: The History of Central Asia -- pt. 1

In the Ocean of Land: The History of Central Asia -- pt. 1

We consider the vast sweep of Central Asian history, from the first nomads to tame the horse and gain mastery of the steppes, to the splendrous cities of the first Silk Road, to the rise of Ghenghis Khan. Few Westerners learn the dizzyingly complex and tumultuous history of Central Asia, even though it forms the linchpin connecting all the major civilizations of the Old World, from Europe to Persia to China. Finally, we consider the unsettling paradox of the Mongol empire, which fostered a vibrant cosmopolitanism at the same time that it brutally repressed subject peoples. Suggested further reading: Peter Golden, "Central Asia in World History"; Gavin Hambly, "Central Asia"; Rene Grousset, "The Empire of the Steppes"

Listen on YouTube
Also see In the Ocean of Land: The History of Central Asia -- pt. 2

Land of Vital Blood: Pre-Columbian America

The Americas before Columbus were not an idyll frozen in time. They were a world of struggle and ambition, with a history just as complex and tumultuous as Europe's. We trace how hunting-gathering peoples invented agriculture and built cities and empires that rose and fell across the centuries, all depending on human power, without the benefit of pack animals. We consider the shared norms and practices that seem to unite the diverse and far-flung peoples of the Americas, such as intensive multi-crop agriculture, fascination with astronomy and the calendar, and a highly formalized diplomatic language governing war and peace.

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In Search of the Dawn: Human Prehistory

Most of the human story is so-called "pre-history," which in fact is inseparable from history and still going on today. We trace the origins of the human species around 300,000 years ago in Africa, including our early adaptation into long-distance hunters. We examine our long and awkward co-existence with other human-like species such as Neanderthals and Ebu Gogo, as well as our slow development of critical technologies like sewing and pottery that allowed us to out-compete them. We trace the dangerous and improbable journey across sea channels and deserts that a small band of our distant ancestors had to make in order to populate the entire world beyond Africa. Finally, we consider the mysterious roots of the technology that eventually allowed for the rise of urban civilization -- agriculture.

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Jim Crow's America, 1880-1960

We examine the three pillars of Jim Crow civilization -- segregation, disfranchisement, and terroristic violence -- and their roots in the corrupt bargain of 1877 that ended Reconstruction and the climate of racial pseudoscience that pervaded the late 1800s. We consider the different ways that Jim Crow was enforced in different parts of the country -- in the South, with state action and paramilitary repression, and in the North, through exclusion from the labor movement. Finally, we consider how World War II and the integration of unions helped to bring about the collapse of Jim Crow society.

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Also see The Confederacy -- Its Roots and Its Legacies


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