Episode 55: Neil Hanson on the Mignonette and Everything Else

You can download this episode and others by subscribing to The Road to Now on iTunesGoogle Play, and Stitcher.

Neil Hanson is one of the most interesting people we know. He’s written books on World War I, the Spanish Armada, and the fire that destroyed London in 1666. He once teamed up with history’s greatest treasure hunter to tell the story of retrieving over $100 million in gold from a sunken Soviet ship in the arctic. He’s been the owner of the highest Inn in all of Great Britain. And, in 1999 he published a book called The Custom of the Sea, which tells the story of a shipwrecked crew that was put on trial in London after resorting to cannibalism. The ship, which fell victim to forty-foot waves off the coast of Africa in 1884, was named the Mignonette, and Hanson’s book was so good that in 2004 it inspired an album by an up-and-coming group of musicians called The Avett Brothers.

A sketch of the Mignonette  by ship captain Tom Dudley

A sketch of the Mignonette  by ship captain Tom Dudley

 

How could someone turn a gruesome tale of cannibalism into an inspirational work of history? How do you track down the sources that allow you to answer so many questions about history? And how does one individual accomplish so much in one life? In this episode of The Road to Now, we get the answers in our conversation with Neil Hanson.

                                        Neil Hanson

                                        Neil Hanson

This episode brought to you with support from our sponsor, Ramseur Records.

This episode brought to you with support from our sponsor, Ramseur Records.

Episode 54: Tom Price on the (After)Life of James K. Polk

You can download this episode and others by subscribing to The Road to Now on iTunesGoogle Play, and Stitcher.

“Who is James K. Polk?” If you’re asking this question to yourself right now, you’re not alone. In fact, “Who is James K. Polk?” was a slogan Polk’s political rivals used to mock him in the 1844 Presidential election. This made sense at the time; despite serving as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1835 to 1839 and Governor of Tennessee from 1839 to 1841, Polk lacked the dynamic personality that defines many of America’s great Presidents. Yet a late compromise in the Democratic Party and the changing mood of the American people thrust Polk from a failed Gubernatorial candidate in Tennessee to the White House in less than a year.

Who is James K. Polk? He’s America’s first dark horse President. He’s the Commander-in-Chief who oversaw the annexation of the southern portion of the Oregon territory, the admission of Texas into the United States, and the invasion of Mexico that forced the Mexican government to cede about half of its territory to the United States in 1848 (you know New Mexico? It used to be part of old Mexico). He’s the man who may have done more to transform the United States in a single term than any other President in American history.

And, strangely enough, he’s also the man whose corpse has been dug out of the ground more times than any other President. His current resting spot in Nashville is Polk’s third grave, but he may be moving again in the near future.

Ben Sawyer and Tom Price at the James K. Polk Home & Museum in Columbia, TN. The two paintings in the background were done two years apart by the same artist.

Ben Sawyer and Tom Price at the James K. Polk Home & Museum in Columbia, TN. The two paintings in the background were done two years apart by the same artist.

So how did Polk go from relative obscurity to President of the United States in such a short period of time? Why does his place in Americans’ minds fall so far short of his impact on American history? And why are lawmakers in Tennessee considering moving Polk’s body for a fourth time more than 150 years after his death? In this episode of The Road to Now we answer these questions and more in our conversation with the Curator of the James K. Polk Home & Museum, Tom Price.

Links:
-The James K. Polk Home & Museum website
-James K. Polk Museum on twitter
-"Historical Organizations Clash Over President James K. Polk's Remains," The Tennessean, April 10, 2017. 

This episode was produced with support from our sponsor, Ramseur Records.

This episode was produced with support from our sponsor, Ramseur Records.

Episode 53: Sean Foley on the History of Syria

You can download this episode and others by subscribing to The Road to Now on iTunesGoogle Play, and Stitcher.

The Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011, has been one of the most tragic events in recent history. The implications of the situation in Syria stretch far beyond the borders of the country, and the UN estimates that more than 5 million people have fled the country to escape the violence that has claimed that lives of more than 400,000 Syrians. But how did the conflict start? What is at stake for the various factions at war in Syria? And how have foreign countries such as Russia and the United States influenced Syria? In this special edition of The Road to Now, we answer these questions and more in our conversation with Dr. Sean Foley.

                                       Sean Foley

                                       Sean Foley

Dr. Foley specializes in the contemporary history and politics of the Middle East and the wider Islamic world. He frequently visits Asia and the Middle East, follows events in both regions closely, and speaks Arabic and Bahasa Malaysian. He has published widely and has delivered public presentations to audiences around the world.  He has also held Fulbright fellowships in Syria, Turkey, and Malaysia. From April 2013 until January 2014, he lived and traveled extensively in Saudi Arabia.

Links
-Sean Foley's website
-Sean Foley's profile at MTSU

Episode 52: Douglas Brinkley on Bob Dylan, John Kennedy, and the Rise of the American Individual

You can download this episode and others by subscribing to The Road to Now on iTunesGoogle Play, and Stitcher.

The 1960s was a decade of individualism, and few individuals from this era are as iconic as Bob Dylan and John F. Kennedy. For Dylan, the 60s was just the beginning of a half-century career that has included over 2,500 shows, 38 studio albums, 13 Grammys and the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. Kennedy, on the other hand, like so many of the decade’s giants, was taken from us too soon, leaving us to wonder what he may have accomplished if not for his tragic assassination in 1963. In this episode of The Road to Now we talk about the life, times, and cultural influence of Bob Dylan and John F. Kennedy with award-winning historian, Dr. Douglas Brinkley.

              Douglas Brinkley

              Douglas Brinkley

Dr. Douglas Brinkley is Professor of History at Rice University and Fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. He has authored more than 20 books, including Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America (HarperCollins, 2016) and Cronkite (HarperCollins, 2012). Dr. Brinkley is the CNN Presidential Historian and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and Audubon. 

Links:
Douglas Brinkley's website at Rice University
Douglas Brinkley, "Bob Dylan's Late-Era, Old-Style American Individualism," Rolling Stone, May 14, 2009. 
Douglas Brinkley List of Publications from HarperCollins Publishers

This episode is brought to you with support from our sponsor, Ramseur Records.

This episode is brought to you with support from our sponsor, Ramseur Records.

Episode 51: Tony Parker on the History of Golf

You can download this episode and others by subscribing to The Road to Now on iTunesGoogle Play, and Stitcher.

Throughout the latter part of the 20th century the perception of Golf in popular culture was that of a sport for wealthy white men who gathered at their exclusive country clubs to make business deals over 18 holes of golf, all the while smoking expensive cigars and drinking martinis (you know, like in CaddyShack?). But then, seemingly from out of nowhere, Tiger Woods burst onto the scene, changing the look and style of the sport forever. 

It turns out, however, that most Americans’ perception of the sport is does not quite fit the reality. The truth behind golf’s history is much more complicated and a bit more noble. And today, Golf raises more money for charity than all other major sports combined. For example, since 1970 the FedEx St Jude Classic Golf tournament has raised over 33 million dollars for the hospital.

                                                                 Dr. Tony Parker

                                                                 Dr. Tony Parker

In this episode of the Road to Now we get the story straight in our conversation on the history of golf with Dr. Tony Parker of the World Golf Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Augustine, Florida.

Links:
World Golf Hall of Fame
Tony Parker on twitter

This episode is brought to you with support from our sponsor, Ramseur Records.

This episode is brought to you with support from our sponsor, Ramseur Records.

Episode 50: Ambassador Jack Matlock on Diplomacy and US-Russian Relations

You can download this episode and others by subscribing to The Road to Now on iTunesGoogle Play, and Stitcher.

The Cold War that developed between the United States and the Soviet Union after World War II, defined the second half of the 20th century. In these years, the two so-called superpowers competed to win the hearts and minds of the world, all the while trying not to destroy all of humanity with the atomic weapons they had stockpiled en masse. Yet after decades of bitter confrontation, American President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev were able to bring the Cold War to an end in just a few years. Given that Moscow has once again emerged as a focal point in American politics, we’d be wise to learn what we can from the end of the Cold War. On this episode of The Road to Now, we are honored to share our interview with a man who was, in fact, in the room where it happened-  Ambassador Jack Matlock. 

Ambassador Jack Matlock began working for the US Foreign Service in 1956 and served as  Ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1981 to 1983, and to the Soviet Union from 1987 until his retirement in 1991. He is the author of multiple books on US-Russian relations and is currently a Rubenstein Fellow at Duke University, where he teaches classes that draw a connection between history and the current geopolitical climate. You can learn more about Ambassador Matlock and his work on his website: http://jackmatlock.com/

A special thanks to the Department of History and the Department of Political Science and International Relations at MTSU for supporting the live podcast, and to Susan Myers-Shirk and Kelle Knight for helping us make the event a success. We are also grateful to John Merchant of MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry and his students Colin Bell, Logan Eley, and Caleb King for recording the event.

This episode is brought to you with support from our sponsor, Ramseur Records.

This episode is brought to you with support from our sponsor, Ramseur Records.

Episode 49: Nicholas Carr on the Internet and Humanity

You can download this episode and others by subscribing to The Road to Now on iTunesGoogle Play, and Stitcher.

On Monday, March 27th Nicholas Carr will give the keynote lecture for Scholars Week at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN. The lecture begins at 7:00pm and is free/open to the public. For more details click here. 

The internet has revolutionized the human experience in the 21st century. Our ability to communicate with others, find locations in unfamiliar places, and access information from across the globe has never been easier, and new media like blogs and podcasts have connected voices with audiences in ways that were not possible just a few decades ago. Yet, despite all these incredible benefits, many of us are beginning to sense that all this connectivity is affecting the way we think and interact with one another. How is the internet affecting our brains, and should we be concerned about it? How is the internet different from other media technologies such as print, radio and television?  And is google making us stupid? In this episode of the Road to Now, we get the answer from New York Times Best Selling Author Nicholas Carr.

 

Nicholas Carr writes about technology and culture, and is the author of 5 books and numerous articles for major media outlets including The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. For more on Nicholas & his writings, check out his website in the links below. 

We would like to thank Susan Myers-Shirk of MTSU's Department of History for helping us arrange this interview as part of the university's 2017 Scholars Week. 

Links:
-Nicholas Carr's website
-Nicholas Carr on twitter
-Nicholas Carr, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?," The Atlantic, July/August, 2008.  
 

This episode is brought to you with support from our sponsor, Ramseur Records.  

This episode is brought to you with support from our sponsor, Ramseur Records.
 

Episode 48: John Avlon on George Washington's Farewell

You can download this episode and others by subscribing to The Road to Now on iTunesGoogle Play, and Stitcher.

George Washington is one of the most revered figures in American history. As Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, Washington led his troops to one of the most unlikely and world-shaking victories in modern history, and his selection as President of both the Constitutional Convention and the new government designed that summer in Philadelphia, demonstrate the unmatched faith that the founders had in General Washington. Today, however, we tend to remember Washington more for the positions he held than for the personal qualities that made him a peerless member of the founding generation, but the wisdom left to us by our first President in his farewell address is perhaps more relevant today than ever before. In this episode of The Road to Now we explain why in our discussion with Daily Beast editor-in-chief John Avlon about his book Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations.  

                              John Avlon

                              John Avlon

Episode 47: Molly Worthen on Christianity in American History

You can download this episode and others by subscribing to The Road to Now on iTunesGoogle Play, and Stitcher.

Are faith and reason compatible? How do people of faith reconcile themselves to a secular world? These are difficult and complex questions that have shaped America long before the founding of the United States. On this episode of The Road to Now, we sit down with Molly Worthen to talk about the development of Christianity in the United States, and its impact on American society, culture and government.

                                                 Molly Worthen

                                                 Molly Worthen

Dr. Molly Worthen is Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill whose research focuses on North American religious and intellectual history. Her most recent book, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism was published by Oxford University Press in 2013. Molly is also a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times.

Links:

-Molly Worthen's faculty page at UNC Chapel Hill

- Molly Worthen, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism (Oxford University Press, 2013)

-Molly Worthen's writings at the New York Times. 

-Molly Worthen on twitter. 

Episode 46: Mark Cheathem on Martin Van Buren and the Age of Jackson

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These days, Martin Van Buren is mostly known as the balding nineteenth century President with muttonchops and a funny name. But spend some time talking with Dr. Mark Cheathem, professor of history at Cumberland University and Project Director of the Martin Van Buren Papers, and you will come to appreciate that not only did Van Buren pull together the coalitions that formed the Democratic Party, he was also the architect of the modern American party system.

                      Dr. Mark Cheathem

                      Dr. Mark Cheathem

And we should also add that Martin Van Buren is Bob Crawford’s favorite President. Here's a pardon signed by Van Buren for Arther Dasheil on March 18, 1839, which hangs in the Crawford home.