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History Unplugged Podcast

Author: Scott Rank, PhD

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For history lovers who listen to podcasts, History Unplugged is the most comprehensive show of its kind. It's the only show that dedicates episodes to both interviewing experts and answering questions from its audience. First, it features a call-in show where you can ask our resident historian (Scott Rank, PhD) absolutely anything (What was it like to be a Turkish sultan with four wives and twelve concubines? If you were sent back in time, how would you kill Hitler?). Second, it features long-form interviews with best-selling authors who have written about everything. Topics include gruff World War II generals who flew with airmen on bombing raids, a war horse who gained the rank of sergeant, and presidents who gave their best speeches while drunk.
515 Episodes
Alabama State University is well known as a historically black university and for the involvement of its faculty and students in the civil rights movement. Less attention has been paid to the school's remarkable origins, having begun as the Lincoln Normal School in Marion, Alabama, founded by nine former slaves. These men are rightly considered the progenitors of Alabama State University, as they had the drive and perseverance to face the challenges posed by a racial and political culture bent on preventing the establishment of black schools and universities. It is thanks to the actions of the Marion Nine that Alabama's rural Black Belt produces a disproportionate number of African American Ph.D. recipients, a testament to the vision of the Lincoln Normal School's founders. Today's guest is Joseph Caver, author of the book "From Marion to Montgomery: The Early Years of Alabama State University, 1867-1925." He discusses the story of the Lincoln Normal School's transformation into the legendary Alabama State University, including the school's move to Montgomery in 1887 and evolution from Normal School to junior college to full-fledged four-year university. It's a story of visionary leadership, endless tenacity, and a true belief in the value of education.
John Brown was a charismatic and deeply religious man who heard the God of the Old Testament speaking to him, telling him to destroy slavery by any means. When Congress opened Kansas territory to slavery in 1854, Brown raised a band of followers to wage war. His men tore pro-slavery settlers from their homes and hacked them to death with broadswords. Three years later, Brown and his men assaulted the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, hoping to arm slaves with weapons for a race war that would cleanse the nation of slavery. He wasn't the only one using strong methods to free slaves, but many questioned his violent methods.Today's Guest, H.W. Brand, is author of the book "The Zealot and the Emancipator," an account of how two American giants shaped the war for freedom.Brown’s violence pointed ambitious Illinois lawyer and former officeholder Abraham Lincoln toward a different solution to slavery: politics. Lincoln spoke cautiously and dreamed big, plotting his path back to Washington and perhaps to the White House. Yet his caution could not protect him from the vortex of violence Brown had set in motion. After Brown’s arrest, his righteous dignity on the way to the gallows led many in the North to see him as a martyr to liberty. Southerners responded with anger and horror to a terrorist being made into a saint. Lincoln shrewdly threaded the needle between the opposing voices of the fractured nation and won election as president. But the time for moderation had passed, and Lincoln’s fervent belief that democracy could resolve its moral crises peacefully faced its ultimate test.
Why do Midwestern and Rocky Mountain states share a boxy, sharp-edged shape while East Coast state borders look like the fever dream of an impressionist painter? Much of it has to do with when these states came into existence, and whether their borders were set by an 18th century land surveyor, a 19th century committee that wanted to balance the size of free states and slave states, or a 20th century government panel basing their decisions on aerial photography.
Frequent History Unplugged guest James Early (co-host of Key Battles of the Revolutionary War, Civil War, WW1, and Presidential Fight Club) now has his own podcast! It's called Key Battles of American History, and you can find it by going to This episode has a short snipped of one of his most recent episodes on the great WW1 film "All Quiet on the Western Front." Check it out on the podcast player of your choice.
In this episode, we’ll look at Obersalzberg--a region that became a secret headquarters for the Nazi Party in WW2 that was later completely destroyed by the Allies and Germany to denazify it--and what it means to cleanse a region from its past. For example, Is it right to destroy monuments or should they be kept no matter what, even if they celebrate a regrettable history?
For a 100-year period, from the 1880s to 1980s, if you asked an American which profession was the purest expression of the nation's spirit, they wouldn't answer with soldier, baseball player, or astronaut. Rather, they would answer with "mountain man." That's because American history taught that the nation's identity developed from the friction between civilization and the frontier. And nobody did more to conquer the frontier then mountain men, a group of trappers who went out into th American wilderness after the Lewis and Clark expedition, but before it was settled by pioneers in the 1830s. In this episode we look at the background of these mountain men and why they play such an outsized role in American History.
She would be arrested six times in one day for indecency. She would be immortalized in the final scene of The Right Stuff, cartoons, popular culture, and live on as the iconic symbol of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933. She would pave the way for every sex symbol to follow from Marilyn Monroe to Lady Gaga. She would die penniless and in debt. In the end, Sammy Davis Jr. would write her a $10,000 check when she had nothing left. Her name was Sally Rand. Until now, there has not been a biography of Sally Rand. Today's guest, William Hazelgrove, has set out to follow her life in his new book "Sally Rand: American Sex Symbol."You can draw a line from her to Lana Turner, Marilyn Monroe, Raquel Welch, Ann Margret, Madonna, and Lady Gaga. She broke the mold in 1933, by proclaiming the female body as something beautiful and taking it out of the strip club with her ethereal fan dance. She was a poor girl from the Ozarks who ran away with a carnival, then joined the circus, and finally made it to Hollywood where Cecil B Demille set her on the road to fame with silent movies. When the talkies came her career collapsed, and she ended up in Chicago, broke, sleeping in alleys. Two ostrich feathers in a second-hand store rescued her from obscurity.Overall, Sally Rand is a testament to endless resourcefulness, tenacity, and never giving up.
Today's guest is David Bainbridge, author of "Fur War 1765-1840," which focuses on the catastrophic - and previously overlooked - elements of the Western fur trade in North America.We discuss how the many First Nations fought to maintain their communities and local ecology while Russia, Great Britain, America, France, Spain, Mexico, and Hawaii contested for furs and power. With just a few minor changes in government response or markets - the North Americans on the west coast might speak Spanish or Russian and how Tlingit, Haida, and Mowachat Nations might dominate the North Coast.
The 1940-41 era was a bleak time in American history. The country was still in the midst of a recession within the Great Depression. Resources were limited. The German Army rolled out its powerful Blitzkrieg quick-strike capability and had begun to take over Europe. The American military knew war was coming, millions of lives would be at stake, and the future of democracy was hanging in the balance. In order to fight on equal ground, the Army realized they had to develop a vehicle for mobile warfare.”They needed to replace the mule as a key transport for troops and weaponry across rough terrain, In 1940, three companies competed to develop America’s first all-terrain, ¼-ton 4x4 vehicle, the Jeep, helping the allies emerge victorious in World War II. Paul R. Bruno, the author of The Original Jeeps, is the guest today. He discusses the true story of the challenges, emotions, strategy, and competition to design it, building a prototype in about 2 months. There were three competing companies, American Bantam Car Company, Willys-Overland Motors, and Ford Motor Company, all in pursuit of the sole-source government contract to build the Jeep.Bruno adds, “What is truly amazing is that three firms produced prototype models, each overcoming unique challenges and circumstances to do so. Anyone who knows anything about manufacturing realizes it took a real production miracle to get that done on very short notice.”“General George C. Marshall called the Jeep ‘America’s greatest contribution to modern warfare.’ President and General Dwight Eisenhower said the Jeep was a key tool that helped win the war.
“Some 16,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln,” Gordon Wood writes in The Wall Street Journal, “more than any other historical figure except Jesus.” So why should you read one more? Because “there has never been one like this one.” In Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times, David S. Reynolds has written “a marvelous cultural biography that captures Lincoln in all his historical fullness”:Abraham Lincoln grew up in absolutely wild times. It was divisive, partisan, and violent. Government in antebellum America was weak and unstructured. The economy was in chaos. Gordon Wood notes thousands of different kinds of paper-money notes flew about, and risk-taking and bankruptcies were everywhere; even some states went bankrupt. There were duels, rioting and mobbing. Americans drank more per capita than nearly all other nations, which provoked temperance movements. Fistfights, knifings and violence were ordinary affairs, taking place even in state legislatures and the Congress. But Abraham Lincoln survived and thrive in this environment. David Reynolds, today's guest and author of "Abraham Lincoln in his Times, said that far from distancing himself from the wild world of antebellum America, Lincoln was thoroughly immersed in it. After he assumed the presidency, he was able to redefine democracy for his fellow Americans ‘precisely because he had experienced culture in all its dimensions—from high to low, sacred to profane, conservative to radical, sentimental to subversive.’“Much of Lincoln’s greatness, writes Mr. Reynolds, came from his ability to tap into this culture. He was able to respond thoughtfully to the teeming chaos of antebellum America. Lincoln was less a self-made man than an America-made man. He told his law partner, William Herndon, ‘Conditions make the man and not man the conditions.’ But, according to Herndon, Lincoln also ‘believed firmly in the power of human effort to modify the environments which surround us.’ Indeed, his capacity to shape the world around him was crucial to his life and to the life of the nation.”
The Cuban Missile Crisis of the early 1960s nearly led to a full-scale nuclear war between America and the Soviet Union. It thankfully didn't happen, but we came much closer than many realize. Today's guest Martin Sherwin is author of the book Gambling with Armageddon. He gives us a riveting sometimes hour-by-hour explanation of the crisis itself, but also explores the origins, scope, and consequences of the evolving place of nuclear weapons in the post-World War II world. Mining new sources and materials, and going far beyond the scope of earlier works on this critical face-off between the United States and the Soviet Union–triggered when Khrushchev began installing missiles in Cuba at Castro’s behest–Sherwin shows how this volatile event was an integral part of the wider Cold War and was a consequence of nuclear arms. We look in particular at the original debate in the Truman Administration about using the Atomic Bomb; the way in which President Eisenhower relied on the threat of massive retaliation to project U.S. power in the early Cold War era; and how President Kennedy, though unprepared to deal with the Bay of Pigs debacle, came of age during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Here too is a clarifying picture of what was going on in Khrushchev’s Soviet Union.
This episode is a 3-in-1, in which Scott answers a trio of questions from listeners. First question: Did ancient female warriors exist, and if so, how common they were on the battlefield? The answer is yes, but in all but a few situations, they were involved in wars in ways that didn’t involve physical combat. They were strategists – like Eleanor of Aquitaine, figureheads (like Joan of Arc), or possibly legendary – like Shieldmaidens. If they were actually involved in combat, the place where they were most strongly represented were defending their cities during sieges. I’ll explain why so few women are involved in combat, then I’ll give examples where we know they do exist.The second question has to do with arguments for and against the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Was it unfortunate but justified, or (what critics claim) a war crime? The last topic is the Philadelphia Experiment. On October 28, 1943, the U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Eldridge was claimed to have been rendered invisible (or "cloaked") to enemy devices. More specifically, it was made invisible, teleported to New York, teleported to another dimension where it encountered aliens, and teleported through time, resulting in the deaths of several sailors, some of whom were fused with the ship's hull.This is the famed Philadelphia Experiment. And it's the perfect example of how conspiracy theories start. They rely on third or fourth-hand accounts. They make reference to scientific principles but are really built on half-baked theories that are poorly understood. Most importantly, they reference classified events so independent investigators can't confirm or deny them.
A nasty historical myth that won’t die is that aliens created the ancient pyramids. If you watch the show ancient aliens on the history channel you’ll see Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, the crazy hair guy. Nevertheless, The enigmatic nature of the burial for these otherwise poor laborers is one of many reasons that these builders are a source of considerable speculation today. We have almost no information about them, except that they accomplished feats of engineering considered beyond the abilities of technology in the ancient world.In today’s episode we’ll solve the myster of how the pyramids were built. But we’ll also talk abouthow they created or developed things like: mathematics, bowling, the alphabet, wigs, cosmetics, and centralized bureacracy, paper and writing, medicine, and primitive surgery. And of course, engineering – with the pyramids – and our understanding of how to commemorate the dead.
Until the Americans killed Tecumseh in 1813, he and his brother Tenskwatawa were the co-architects of the broadest pan-Indian confederation in United States history. In previous accounts of Tecumseh's life, Tenskwatawa has been dismissed as a talentless charlatan and a drunk. But while Tecumseh was a brilliant diplomat and war leader--admired by the same white Americans he opposed--it was Tenskwatawa, called the "Shawnee Prophet," who created a vital doctrine of religious and cultural revitalization that unified the disparate tribes of the Old Northwest. Native American society and customs provide a window into a world often erased from history books and reveals how both men came to power in different but no less important ways. Today’s guest, Peter Cozzens, author of the book “Tecumseh and the Prophet,” brings us to the forefront of the chaos and violence that characterized the young American Republic, when settlers spilled across the Appalachians to bloody effect in their haste to exploit lands won from the British in the War of Independence, disregarding their rightful Indian owners. Tecumseh and the Prophet presents the untold story of the Shawnee brothers who retaliated against this threat--the two most significant siblings in Native American history, who, Cozzens helps us understand, should be writ large in the annals of America.
In May 1945, German forces surrendered to the Allied powers, putting an end to World War II in Europe. But the aftershocks of global military conflict did not cease with the German capitulation. Millions of lost and homeless concentration camp survivors, POWs, slave laborers, political prisoners, and Nazi collaborators in flight from the Red Army overwhelmed Germany, a nation in ruins. British and American soldiers gathered the malnourished and desperate refugees and attempted to repatriate them. But after exhaustive efforts, there remained more than a million displaced persons left behind in Germany: Jews, Poles, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and other Eastern Europeans who refused to go home or had no homes to return to. The Last Million would spend the next three to five years in displaced persons camps, temporary homelands in exile, divided by nationality, with their own police forces, churches and synagogues, schools, newspapers, theaters, and infirmaries. Today’s guest, David Nasaw, author of “THE LAST MILLION: Europe’s Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War “ discusses the fate of these people.The international community could not agree on the fate of the Last Million, and after a year of debate and inaction, the International Refugee Organization was created to resettle them in lands suffering from postwar labor shortages. But no nations were willing to accept the 200,000 to 250,000 Jewish men, women, and children who remained trapped in Germany. In 1948, the United States, among the last countries to accept refugees for resettlement, finally passed a displaced persons bill. With Cold War fears supplanting memories of World War II atrocities, the bill granted the vast majority of visas to those who were reliably anti- Communist, including thousands of former Nazi collaborators and war criminals, while severely limiting the entry of Jews, who were suspected of being Communist sympathizers or agents because they had been recent residents of Soviet-dominated Poland. Only after the controversial partition of Palestine and Israel's declaration of independence were the remaining Jewish survivors able to leave their displaced persons camps in Germany. By 1952, the Last Million were scattered around the world. As they crossed from their broken past into an unknowable future, they carried with them their wounds, their fears, their hope, and their secrets. Here for the first time, Nasaw illuminates their incredible history and, with profound contemporary resonance, shows us that it is our history as well.
The Mafia and many political machines ran entire American cities in the 19th and 20 centuries. But some mobsters claim that it went much further than that. Chicago-area Sam Giancana claims that he and the mafia "owned" Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and then Harry Truman, whose career they promoted; that they had all-star athletes in their pocket, including Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays; and that Giancana conspired with other top Mafia bosses, as well as Hoffa, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, top CIA officials, top military officials, top Dallas police officials, top Texas oilmen etc. etc. to assassinate John F. Kennedy.How much of this is true and how much is fiction? We will never know completely, but the roots of the mafia run deep in the soil of American politics.
Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Tim Cook are just a few of today’s business pioneers who have succeeded in disrupting older existing business models, and whose motives and methods are constantly scrutinized by the government. They, in fact, resemble the robber barons of the 19th century.Today's guest is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik, author of the book "Iron Empires." He explores the aftermath of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad—how the country’s new railroad network expanded and was consolidated over the next four decades, and the incredible impact this had on the nation. Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, J. Pierpont Morgan, and Edward H. Harriman are the men responsible for driving the country into the twentieth century and almost derailing our nation’s economy and society in the process. Additionally, the railway tycoons are responsible for creating the big business playbook that today’s big tech business leaders still use. Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Tim Cook are just a few of today’s business pioneers who have succeeded in disrupting an existing business model and whose motives and methods are constantly scrutinized by the government, much like the robber barons back in the day.
Almost no society worshipped its military as much as the German state of Prussia in the 1700s-1800s (outside of ancient Sparta). Prussia was famously described as not a country with an army but an army with a country. That's because during the 18th century when other European states spent 20-30 of their annual budget on the military, the Prussian army regularly accounted for as much as three-quarters of public expenditure — even in times of peace. And this expenditure was widely accepted in all levels of Prussian society. In this episode we will look at: • How Prussia was a hinge point between medieval and modern armies • How militaries evolved from aristocratic officers who treated enlisted men like slaves into the army being a great equalizer that unites a nation. • Why Frederick the Great was a military genius that Napoleon worshipped. • Why the Prussian military was the forge that created Germany and created a militaristic society that led to World War One.
In October 1844, tens of thousands of people in New England believed the world would soon end. They followed William Miller, a man who claimed that through his study of the Bible to know the exact day of Jesus’s return to earth. His followers sold everything they had in preparation for Christ’s second coming, in which he would gather them into heaven, and cleans the Earth in fire. The “Millerites” donned white garments called ascension robes. They climbed trees or mountains to speed up their ascension.But Christ never came. The followers sat in confused disappointment. What happened to them after they gave up completely in their lives on earth? Moreover, what made them believe in Miller in the first place? Was he a particularly charismatic speaker, or was something happening in the United States that made belief in the apocalypse ripe? If so, what are those conditions and can they happen again?
One of America’s greatest but little-remembered Civil War heroes was Commander William Barker Cushing, who sank the Confederate ironclad Albemarle in a spectacular mission in 1864.Regarded as erratic and insubordinate, Midshipman Cushing was drummed out of the Naval Academy in March 1861. But with the outbreak of war, the Union needed every trained officer it could find— and whatever his flaws, Cushing was an extremely talented naval officer. Ferocious, uncompromising, courageous, and loyal, he became a U.S. Navy commando and at the age of twenty-one was sent to destroy the South’s ultimate naval weapon—the Albemarle, an unsinkable vessel with a devastating iron ram.Todays guest, Jerome Priesler, is author of "Civil War Commando." We discuss the death-defying mission that succeeded in sinking the Albemarle, helped reelect President Abraham Lincoln, and earned Cushing a hero’s grave in the Naval Academy’s cemetery.
Comments (71)

Nomad Heart

Unfortunately, the podcaster starts with his own, clearly firmly entrenched belief, "women should not serve in combat," and never moves past this to examine any historical evidence, with or without any kind of objectivity. As such, this episode isn't an historical analysis of battles in which women fought, but, rather, a personal essay concerning the podcaster's opinion on a modern social issue (should women serve in military combat roles). He never properly examines any evidence that does not overty support his foregone conclusion, and makes no effort to step outside the bounds of the conclusion he began with. This podcast is, essentially, the modern day equivalent to unscientific and overtly prejudiced pre-WWII discussions of whether black men ought to serve in combat. This myopic drivel does great disservice to the legions of excellent, able, and utterly lethal female soldiers and sailors serving in modern military roles, ready and willing to lay down their lives when combat comes their way. It is the hallmark of an armchair general to assume that combat is always a choice, a thing you train and equip yourself for, then ship out to, accross the world. Throughout history, combat has met women in their homesteads and farms, villages, lonely country roads, taverns, churches, and seats of government. Of course they fought, and, of course, just like their men, the better trained and prepared they were, the better they fought. The podcaster's grudging pronouncement that women may have fought (but only ever at the end of a siege) is cartoonishly obtuse. A massive factor in the successful outcome of any military conflict is the relative size of the forces involved. Is it logical to think that, in the past million years of human history, no party of roving raiders on the hunt for resources or revenge of some sort ever beefed up its ranks with some ladies? Please. If this episode bears any kind of historical or scientific validity, then, as a species, we are no more enlightened than in the days of nephrology and eugenics, when the equivalence between the hypothesis and the forgone conclusion was promoted as a happy coincidence, and all evidence or reason contrary to either was studiously ignored. This episode is not history, it's naked prejudice, and the author owes female soldiers, weak and insipid though we may be, an apology and a proper rethinking of how and where women have fought, and why military readiness is certainly best served by preparing all potential combatants. Combat is not basketball or the 400-meter dash, where an argument about relative muscle mass and so on is legitimate. Combat is a fight to the death engaged in out of necessity. When society fails to allow women to train to defend themselves, it sets up a norm for women as victims. When women quite often have no choice but to fight, due to anything from civil war to attempted rape, it is difficult to see these feeble kinds of arguments that women don't "belong" in combat, as anything other than an outright preference for that norm of the weak, dependant, victimized woman, who cannot fight because, as everyone knows, she is too weak, defendant, and victimized to learn how to defend herself.

Jan 24th


*GiancaNa 😀

Jan 21st


T-H-A-N-K Y-O-U!!! I am so sick of hearing about this damn ancient aliens crap.

Jan 20th

J Coker

the Brits refused to resettled dps because Palestine wasn't there to give

Jan 12th

J Coker

llyod George was not a nob, but bojo certainly is a knob

Dec 16th

robert outen

the Somme needs to be viewed with Verdun in mind. France was being bled white. if France had lost then the war was lost. pressure needed to be taken off of France. The mutiny of the French armies in 17 also played a huge part in Britain's later battles, the French were unable to prosecute the war and America hadn't yet entered to any meaningful extent.

Nov 8th

Bard Groupie

I hope this will be more than just the American contribution to WW1, got my fingers crossed.

Sep 11th

Craig Prestininzi

Love your show, but man, that is some real name butchering at the intro!

Jul 23rd

Sativa Harvey

listening July 2020 and this is almost insane to listen to.. during the ages of the Black Plague 60% of societies were killed within a month yet they still continued on with everyday life. being someone living in the 2020 covid-19 pandemic; our numbers are nowhere even close to those of the Black Plague. We have not lost anywhere close to 60% of any population. And here we are on lockdown with restrictions, and our economy and Society basically in the midst of a unnecessary collapse. absolutely destroyed and in despair about how things are in the world today. Why would somebody want to be in this world knowing what the truth is

Jul 14th
Reply (3)


Counter factual? Did I hear that right?

Jun 20th

Craig Prestininzi

It is a shame that he was not appreciated in his lifetime and to continue his projects that have made Bavaria one of my favorite places on earth.

Jun 19th

Aaron Britton

The Korean War gets far too little coverage in movies, games, documentaries etc...

Jun 2nd

Craig Prestininzi

I wrote my final research thesis for my history minor regarding this, illustrating how the South almost transformed from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy during the Civil War using the Hunley as an example of how developed manufacturing developed in the South - always found the Hunley fascinating!

May 5th


that beginning omg

Apr 11th


Definitely gotta listen to anything where Dan shares his knowledge.

Apr 8th
Reply (1)


Super interesting episode! (But of course, EVERY episode of this podcast is interesting!) --It was especially fascinating since we now live here in Florida & our home is literally a couple miles off of Tamiami! Because I drive on T. Trail every day; learning about the ecological loss it caused makes this interview personal. This episode has wet my appetite for learning more about the history of this great state of Florida. 🧐🌅

Mar 29th


you forgot #7......makin' babies!

Mar 24th

Aaron Britton

Really interesting episode.

Mar 23rd

J Coker

great summary. God Bless Reagan, Thatcher and the Pope for destroying the evil empire

Mar 7th

Craig Prestininzi

like the new intro!

Feb 13th
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