Ben and Bob caught up with Christmas expert James Cooper to find out the origins of Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and all the other parts of Christmas that most of us take for granted. James explains how Santa Claus and Christmas traditions evolved around the world, and how a man who lived almost 2,000 years ago became one of the most recognizable characters in American culture.Read More
In the premier episode of our theology sub-series, RTN Theology, we welcome Christian philosopher James K.A. Smith to discuss the intersection of Christianity and culture in the United States. Ian Skotte also speaks with MTSU Louis Haas about claims that Islam had reached Scandanavia much earlier than most scholars had claimed, and Bob speaks with David Childers about his music and faith.Read More
A few days ago, President Donald Trump welcomed the Navajo Code Talkers to the White House. Instead of focusing solely on the veterans’ contributions during World War II, he used the event to take shots at Senator Elizabeth Warren, who he mocked as “Pocahontas” for her alleged unsubstantiated claims Native American ancestry. He also held the ceremony in front of a portrait of President Andrew Jackson, who is a controversial figure in history for his policies toward Native Americans. In this episode of The Road to Now we speak with Dr. Ashley Riley Sousa, a specialist on Native American history at Middle Tennessee State University, to talk about the Navajo Code Talkers, Pocahontas, and the often overlooked and unappreciated place that Native Americans have held in American history.
Ashley Riley Sousa is Assistant Professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University. Her primary research interest is relations between California Indians and settlers in Central California from the Spanish mission era through the late twentieth century. Her current research explores the Native Hawaiian and California Indian communities that evolved into modern tribes in California’s central valley after the gold rush. Her work has appeared in The Journal Ethnohistory and the Journal of Genocide Research.
The Russian Revolution that began with the fall of Tsar Nicholas II in February of 1917 and continued into a second revolution the following October, is unquestionably one of the most significant events in modern history. The October Revolution brought Vladimir Lenin and the Bolshevik Party from relative obscurity to the leaders of the first communist nation, later called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and the economic and ideological system espoused by Soviet leaders transformed Russia from an underdeveloped nation on the periphery of Europe into a global super power in just a few decades. In this episode we speak with Russian history expert (and Ben’s former dissertation advisor) Lewis Siegelbaum to discuss the series of events that led to the Russian Revolution and the establishment of the Soviet Union, and why he tells his students that ignoring the Soviet Union in 20th century is like “clapping with one hand.”
Dr. Lewis Siegelbaum is the Jack & Margaret Sweet Professor of History at Michigan State University, and one of the most prolific historians on the history of the Soviet era. He has published and edited twelve books, the most recent of which are Cars for Comrades: The Life of the Soviet Automobile (Cornell University Press, 2008) and Broad is My Native Land: Repertoires and Regimes of Migration in Russia’s Twentieth Century (Cornell, 2014), which he co-wrote w Leslie Page Moch.
-Lewis Siegelbaum's faculty profile at Michigan State University
-Seventeen Moments in Soviet History (a multi-media archive of primary materials created by Lewis Siegelbaum and James Von Geldern)
On August 4, 1789, the National Assembly of France adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which asserted the Enlightenment ideals of universal rights and democracy. Though the French Declaration shared a common ideological lineage with the American Declaration of Independence, the French Revolution took a very different path: fifteen years after their founding revolutionary documents, the US had George Washington and France had Napoleon.
In this episode of The Road to Now we talk to Dr. Peter McPhee, who is an expert on the history of the French Revolution at the University of Melbourne (Australia). Peter explains the ways that geography, religion, and the French effort to fundamentally redefine society, shaped the complex course of the French Revolution. As Peter does well to show, the French Revolution changed the world, and left a legacy that is all around us today. (And for all you Hamilton fans- if you ever wondered what happened to the Marquis de Lafayette after Hamilton died, Dr. McPhee has the answer!)
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther delivered his 95 Theses to the Catholic Church. We don’t know for sure if Luther actually nailed them to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, but we do know that his work changed the world.
In recognition of the five-hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther’s Theses, Bob and Ben are joined by Church Historian Dr. Donald Fortson. Dr. Fortson explains the reasons Luther chose to issue his Theses, the context in which he wrote them, and how a devout member of the Catholic Church became a reluctant revolutionary in reforming western Christianity.
Dr. Donald Fortson is Professor of Church History and Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. He is the author of multiple works on the History of Christianity and served nine years as a pastor prior to his teaching career.
Death is something that all humans have in common. How we dealt with death is not. The cemeteries that occupy prominent places in the American landscape, as well as the twenty-one thousand funeral homes in operation across the country, are products of the time and place in which they emerged. In this episode, we speak with Wake Forest’s Tanya Marsh, to learn about the historic forces at work in the creation of America’s death care industry. If you’ve ever wondered why we embalm our dead, whether or not it’s legal to be buried in your own back yard, or what happened to the bodies of slain Civil War soldiers, you’ll get your answers here.
Tanya Marsh is Professor of Law at Wake Forest University and one of the foremost experts on Mortuary Law and the history of cemeteries in the United States. She has published three books in her field of expertise, including The Law of Human Remains (2015) & Cemetery Law: The Common Law of Burying Grounds in the United States (Co-authored w/ Daniel Gibson, 2015).
On the corner of 4th Ave. & Commerce St. in Nashville, there’s a historical marker that reads:
“William Walker; Grey-eyed Man of Destiny; Born May 8, 1824, Walker moved to this site from 6th Ave. N. in 1840. In early life he was doctor, lawyer & journalist. He invaded Mexico in 1853 with 46 men & proclaimed himself Pres., Republic of Lower Calif. Led forces into Nicaragua in 1855; was elected its Pres. in 1856. In attempt to wage war on Honduras was captured & executed Sept. 12, 1860.”
The interesting thing is that it doesn’t mention that Walker reintroduced slavery to a country that had abolished the institution in the year he was born.
In this episode of The Road to Now, Ben investigates how historical markers get made, and the agenda of those who work to establish them. He tracks down the origins of the William Walker marker, which was established in 1970, and speaks with Pippa Holloway to learn about her work in erecting a marker to Civil Rights activist Penny Campbell. It turns out a lot has changed in the half-century between the two markers, but some things remain constant then and now.
UPDATE: The historical marker in honor of Penny Campbell has been erected on the corner of Ordway Pl. & Rudolph Ave. in East Nashville. On Dec. 9, 2017, community members gathered for a dedication ceremony that featured live music and speeches by Pippa and community leaders such as Mayor Megan Berry and Councilman Brett Withers. Here's a pic of Ben & Pippa in front of the marker on the day of the dedication.
-TJ Stiles, "The Filibuster King: The Strange Career of William Walker, the Most Dangerous International Criminal of the Nineteenth Century," History Now.
-Metropolitan Nashville Historical Commission website
-The Road to Now Episode 17: Carlos Aleman on the History of Nicaragua, US-Central American Relations, and the Iran-Contra Scandal
-The Road to Now Episode 23: Pippa Holloway on the History of Disfranchisement and American Citizenship
On Tuesday, October 3rd, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, which challenged the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s political redistricting following the 2010 US Census. Americans have been crying foul over Gerrymandering since the term was coined for Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry in 1812, but this is the first time in American history that the Supreme Court has taken up the matter, and their decision could have major implications for the future of American politics. In this episode of The Road to Now, Bob and Ben speak with The Wall Street Journal’s Brent Kendall to learn more about Gill v. Whitford and the history of Gerrymandering in the United States.
Brent Kendall is a legal affairs reporter in the Washington bureau of The Wall Street Journal, where he covers the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and the federal courts, including the Supreme Court.
Want more content from The Road to Now? Become our patron on Patreon and we'll give you some cool things in return!
-Brent Kendall and Jess Bravin, "Gerrymandering, a Tradition as Old as the Republic, Faces a Reckoning" The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 29, 2017.
-Brent Kendall at The Wall Street Journal
-Brent Kendall on twitter
Bob, Ben, and Ian sit down to discuss what they’ve been reading, what they’ve learned so far from making The Road To Now, and what aspects of history they’ve found to be most interesting in light of recent events. They also follow up on a few points they discussed in their conversation with Jefferson Cowie (Episode 70), and Ben explains how Bob’s insights helped him better understand the current state of politics.
This is the first time we've recorded an episode without a guest since Bob and Ben recorded episode #1 of The Road to Now in the basement of Bridgestone Arena on May 6, 2016. We’ve come a long way since then, and we’re thankful that our listeners have helped us sustain this podcast.
If you’d like to hear more episodes like this, check out our Patreon page to learn how you can get extra content, merch, and other perks in return for your support of The Road to Now.
In this episode of The Road to Now, we sit down for coffee and conversation with Bob’s bandmates in The Avett Brothers for a discussion about art, technology, and challenges of creativity. We cover the historic relationship between genius and madness, the ways one’s self is reflected in what we create, and the how they’ve adapted to the changes that have come their way since they began playing music. The Avett Brothers was the nexus that brought Bob and Ben together in creating The Road to Now, so we’re really excited to bring it all together and share this conversation with our listeners.
We're also excited to launch The Road to Now's patreon page. To find out how you can get involved (and receive extras for your support), visit www.TheRoadToNow.com/Support/
For more on Scott Avett, check out The Road to Now #13: Scott Avett on The Road to Now.
The Nazi regime that came to power in Germany in 1933 unleashed the most brutal and comprehensive war that humanity has ever seen. The horrors of the Nazis and the destruction they left behind is something most of us learned about in history class, but for Gerd Schroth it is the story of his childhood. Born in Germany in 1938, Gerd came of age on the scorched earth left behind by the German war machine. Gerd’s father had joined the Nazi party because he thought Hitler could restore Germany’s greatness, but he bequeathed to his children a world in ruins.
Seventy-seven years after the end of WWII, Gerd is still writing the story of his life. He is now an American citizen, and his children were born in the United States. Gerd has moved on from the tragedy of his youth, but he has never forgotten it. He has thought a lot about how his parents’ generation and why they embraced the horrifying ideology of Nazism. He has found value in past traditions while abhorring the actions of his ancestors. And in doing this, he has built a much stronger legacy for future generations.
In this episode of The Road to Now, we share Gerd Schroth’s personal story of his life as a Citizen of Nazi Germany, refugee, immigrant, and now, American Citizen.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 marked a turning point in history. But did the attacks fundamentally change the United States, or simply serve as a catalyst for developments that had already begun? In this episode of The Road to Now, Jefferson Cowie joins Bob and Ben for a discussion about the 9/11’s impact on American society and politics, and how that moment changed (or didn’t change) the course of American history.
Dr. Jefferson Cowie is James G. Stahlman Professor of History at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of multiple award-winning books on American history, which we discussed at-length in Episode 24 of The Road to Now. Find out more about Jefferson Cowie and his work at his website by clicking here.
Books Referenced in this episode:
-Benjamin Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld: Terrorism’s Challenge to Democracy (Ballantyne Books, 1995).
-Jefferson Cowie, The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics (Princeton University Press, 2016).
-Jefferson Cowie, Capitol Moves: RCA’s Seventy-Tear Quest for Cheap Labor (Cornell University Press, 1999).
-Mary Dudzyak, Cold War, Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2000).
-David Rothkopf, National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear, (Public Affairs, 2014).
-Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
Lance Armstrong is one of the most recognized names in modern American sports. He’s also one of the most divisive. He’s a man who helped raise almost half a billion dollars to help people suffering from cancer. He’s also a man who aggressively went after those who accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs. In this episode of The Road To Now, Bob and Ben sit down for a conversation with Lance about his origins, how he survived his fight with cancer, and the culture of cycling during his career. We also discuss what it’s like to go from hero to heel virtually overnight, and how he decided to admit his mistakes and begin trying to move forward in life.
Lance Armstrong's podcast, The Forward, is available anywhere you get The Road to Now.
In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was the first major legislative act in American history to restrict immigration. In this episode we talk with historian Andrew Gyory about the reasons that immigration became such a powerful political issue in the late 19th century, and how studying this period of history can help us better understand the politics of immigration in 2017. Dr. Gyory is an expert on the history of immigration and the author of Closing the Gate: Race, Class, and the Chinese Exclusion Act, (UNC Press, 1999).
The great eclipse of 2017 is has captured Americans’ imagination, and millions of Americans are planning to travel to catch a glimpse of this rare event. This got us thinking- how have Americans’ responded to similar events in the past? Fortunately, we were able to speak with historian Steve Ruskin, who has been researching this topic for years. Steve explains the reasons that eclipses excite our imagination, the ways that people have understood eclipses throughout history, and the parallels between the 2017 eclipse and America’s first great eclipse in 1878.
Dr. Steve Ruskin is a historian of science whose new book America’s First Great Eclipse: How Scientists, Tourists, and the Rocky Mountain Eclipse of 1878 Changed Astronomy Forever was published in May of 2017. To learn more about the book or purchase your own copy, click here.
Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species is one of the most controversial books ever written. For most Americans, Darwin’s theories are associated with the 1925 Scopes trial and the near century-long “evolution vs creation” debate has that emerged as a dominant theme in American society in the years since the trial. In this episode of The Road to Now, we speak with Dr. Randall Fuller about his new book The Book That Changed America: How Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation, and the various ways that Darwin’s work has been interpreted since its publication in 1858. As it turns out, Darwin and Origin of Species are far more complex and have a much deeper history in the United States than most of us realize.
At The Road to Now, we don’t just make history podcasts- we also listen to them. In this episode we’re excited to share our conversation with fellow history podcaster Dr. Liz Covart, whose podcast Ben Franklin’s World covers the history of early America. Bob, Ben and Liz discuss the concept of the frontier in American history, the work that goes into writing history and sharing findings, and why it’s a good idea to follow the evidence even when it makes you uncomfortable. We also talk about the place that podcasts fit within the field of history and why it’s so exciting to share history with others.
Oil is one of the oldest fuel sources known to man. Its impact on the world is not simple; while it has powered the vehicles that have made human mobility possible, it has also propped up some of the most repressive regimes in recent history. In the last installment of our four-part history of energy series, we speak to journalist and author Paul Roberts to discuss the complex role that oil has played in shaping the industrialized world, and the costs/benefits that oil has as an energy source in the 21st century.
Paul Roberts is a journalist and author who covers energy and technology. His work has appeared in many publications including Rolling Stone, Harpers, and the Washington Post. His book The End of Oil (2004), examined the history of petroleum and its impact on the world.