20 of the Best History Podcasts to Listen to Right Now
Let's just say that the "history" we learned in school was very limited. Start catching up on what you missed with these top picks.
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via podcasts.apple.com (9)
The path forward is through the past
You’ve probably heard some version of a phrase indicating that people who don’t learn about history are doomed to repeat it. Although it’s unclear who first uttered the saying (look, you’re learning history already!), there is a degree of truth to it. Sure, the circumstances have changed—it’s not like we can look back to see how ancient Egyptians handled bullying on social media—but many of the themes and problems we’re dealing with today are things humans have dealt with before. (See: A worldwide pandemic.) And as long as previous generations have lived through a wide variety of experiences, it’s in our best interest to learn from the error of their ways, instead of repeating their missteps. The problem is, there’s a lot of history to learn, and most people don’t have the luxury of being able to spend their days doing deep dives into different topics. That’s where history podcasts come in.
Even if you’re someone who didn’t enjoy the subject in school, you’ll love listening to these podcasts. Not only are they a lot more interesting than your high school social studies class, but they’re also worth exploring to learn the stories that were left out of our textbooks. Some don’t focus on one specific area but rather make a point of telling any stories from any era and geographical location that we may not be familiar with and can learn something from (which is all of them). We’ve already shared our picks for the best podcasts, the best political podcasts, and the best podcasts about race, and while they all bring up the past, it’s not their focus. But it is the focus of the following 20 history podcasts, which will entertain, educate, and enlighten. When you need a little break from reality, switch things up with the best fiction podcasts you’ll obsess over.
Stuff You Missed in History Class
It’s the history podcast that “never disappoints,” says one of the Apple Podcast reviewers of Stuff You Missed in History Class, brought to you on I Heart Radio by How Stuff Works. “Even when I’m not interested in a topic, the hosts, Holly Frey and Tracy V. Wilson, make it interesting to me, so I listen to all of them eventually.” Of course, how can you not be interested in the Galloping Gertie Bridge or the Rum Rebellion? More than 21,000 reviewers weighed in on this fun, female-narrated, exploration of the quirky people who put the “story” into history, giving it a rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars. In addition to missing things in history class, it’s possible your teacher lied to you about other lessons, as well.
The history of our world has been shaped by revolutions against the status quo, so one way of understanding the present is to examine how things were and why they changed. That’s the essence of Revolutions, which is hosted by Mike Duncan and is “an intellectual goldmine,” according to one of the 10,000 reviewers who collectively gave it a 4.8 out of 5-star rating on Apple Podcasts. Start with the doomed reign of England’s King Charles I, continue chronologically through the 20th century, and “graduate” from this podcast empowered with the knowledge that any change worth making comes at a price.
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The History of England
Anglophiles, rejoice! Whether you’re obsessed with the British monarchy or English history and culture in general, The History of England podcast will never disappoint. Rated an average of 4.8 stars out of 5 by 3,500 reviewers, this history podcast, hosted by Ben Jacobs, takes a chronological approach from the fall of Roman Britain to the present day but doesn’t forget to stop and smell the roses, so to speak, with fascinating detours into things like daily life in the Middle Ages and the difference between ale and beer. Maybe every episode won’t be a jolly good time, but you’ll learn a lot about one of the world’s once-great superpowers. If you’re looking for even more inspiration, check out these motivational podcasts.
The History of English
No, this isn’t a typo, nor is it the same podcast as the one directly above it on this list. And although The History of English is billed as the spoken history of the English language (as opposed to the English people or nation), it’s actually framed by the events that shaped the language. These include the invention of parchment, the story of the first English Bible, and the role of poetry in the Peasants’ Revolt of the 14th century. Hosted by Kevin Stroud, it has a rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars from 4,700 reviewers whose comments suggest that it appeals to word nerds and history buffs alike.
The history podcast once known as Remarkable Lives, Tragic Deaths now goes by the name Historical Figures. This is another one that does what it says on the tin, focusing on the lives and deaths of some of the more interesting people who shaped the world, from world leaders to Hollywood celebrities. The podcast, hosted by Carter and Vanessa (no last names provided), tackles bigger topics through a series of similarly themed episodes, including categories dedicated to impostors, unsolved murders, falls from grace, and famous fates. Like the rest of us, this podcast took a break during the pandemic, but it recently started a new season. If the bit about unsolved murders piqued your curiosity, you’ll also want to check out this list of the best true crime podcasts.
Did the mafia actually start in New Orleans? What on earth are “cow shoes”? The answers are out there if you know which questions to ask, or you can simply listen to the highly-rated Ridiculous History podcast, which is devoted to probing the weird, random, nonsensical, and just plain ridiculous aspects of our world’s history. Hosts Ben Bowlin and Noel Brown understand how to strike a balance between being informative and entertaining, and given their focus on some of the most bizarre events and trends in history, they accomplish both. To whet your appetite for the ridiculous, don’t miss these 50 funny, inspiring, and just plain bizarre historic firsts.
A History of the World in 100 Objects
One hundred objects, 100 fascinating stories dating back two million years. That’s the essence of The History of the World in 100 Objects, a 101-episode podcast that was created and narrated by Neil MacGregor during his stint as the director of the British Museum. Each episode was devoted to one object, yet managed to tell a complex and vivid story in under 15 minutes. We should note that there are no longer new episodes of this podcast (the clue to its limited shelf life is in the name), but if you’ve never listened before, 101 episodes is a lot to work through. There is also an accompanying book of the same name.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
If you’re looking for the abridged version of anything, then you should stick to the History of the World in 100 Objects. If you’re open to a deeper, more intricate exploration of world history, you’ll want to check out this podcast. Your time will be well spent as journalist Dan Carlin poses and probes complex questions like, “Was Alexander the Great as bad a person as Adolf Hitler?” and “What would Apaches with modern weapons be like?” While there hasn’t been a new episode of the show since November 2020, it’s well worth making your way through the catalog if you haven’t already. If you want to get your children listening, try out some of the best podcasts for kids.
History in Five
Want to know five important things about the American space program? Give the History in Five five minutes of your time. The same goes for many other historical topics of interest, including the Chernobyl Disaster, Fidel Castro, and the Oregon Trail. Brought to you by Simon & Schuster and hosted by historian and journalist Michael Rank, each episode of this podcast is literally “five things you want to know” about some person, place, or thing in history. Each episode represents a single, manageable bite of valuable information, and then, if there’s something you’d like to learn more about, check out the other podcasts on this list for a deeper dive. For more amazing podcasts in every category, get listening to the best podcasts on Spotify.
Every episode of the Lore podcast (and TV show) examines some dark and mysterious event or episode from history that you’ve probably never heard of before and will marvel at how that’s even possible. For example, the very first episode, “They Made a Tonic,” narrates a truly ghastly grave-robbing incident from rural Rhode Island in 1892. While we don’t dare tell you more, lest we spoil the suspense, host, and creator Aaron Mahnke makes sure that you come away from these episodes suitably spooked. Award-winning and critically acclaimed, this biweekly 30- to 40-minute exploration of the “creatures, people, and places of our wildest nightmares” boasts 200 million listens and has earned 4.6 stars from 40,000 reviewers. If you love the sound of this, you won’t want to miss these disturbing historical facts.
The Dollop is an American history podcast hosted by a pair of comedians, Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds, and focuses on what might be considered the more obscure and finer points of the “story.” For example, Anthony and Reynolds once spent an entire episode focused on a manure pile in New York City. The Dollop is considered “laugh out loud” funny by many, and it has earned 4.7 out of 5 stars, thanks to the love of 15,000 reviewers. Plus, it’s been around since 2014, so if you like what you hear, there are plenty of older episodes to keep you going when you run out of new ones.
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“It’s hard to overstate the impact of Revisionist History on the podcast landscape,” raves the New York Times about Malcolm Gladwell’s wildly popular history podcast, produced by Pushkin Industries. Gladwell is the author of books like Blink and Outliers, among others. Each of the more than 50 episodes that he’s made thus far reaches back and reinterprets a story, person, or idea from the past to find something that’s been overlooked or misunderstood. If you’re a fan of Gladwell’s writing or simply agree that “even the past deserves a second chance,” you’ll want to check it out. Then you’ll want to read about these historical moments that…never happened.
The History Chicks
Think back to your elementary, middle, and high school history classes. How many women did you learn about? So few you can’t even remember? Unfortunately, that’s pretty standard, but as it turns out, women (and LGBTQ, nonbinary folks, and everyone who is not a cisgender White man) have been a part of history from the very beginning. But that’s something Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenweider, hosts of The History Chicks podcast, want to fix…one overlooked woman at a time. Though it’s hard to pinpoint the best episodes of the show’s 10-year run, recent standouts include ones on the Harvey Girls, “Typhoid” Mary Mallon, and Maya Angelou.
The Bowery Boys
Hey, it’s the Bowery Boys! In case you haven’t listened to the podcast yet, that’s how each episode has kicked off since the show started, way back in 2007. No, in the grand scheme of things, 2007 wasn’t that long ago. But in the podcasting world, hosts Tom Meyers and Greg Young are elder statesmen. While the show focuses on the history of New York City, you don’t have to live here (or have even visited) to find each episode fascinating. With episodes covering the history of public transit in the city (actually, that’s a series), Coney Island, and their annual Halloween shows featuring spooky tales from Gotham’s history, it’s impossible to get bored.
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While 99% Invisible isn’t a traditional history podcast, it’s rare to come across an episode without some historical background or context on the topic. Generally, topics focus on things like architecture, design, and infrastructure, but don’t let that put you off if those aren’t subjects you gravitate toward naturally. Host Roman Mars gently (seriously, his voice is very soothing) walks listeners through explanations of why our world is the designed the way it is. Standout episodes include ones on hostile architecture in cities, the history of malls, and the carpeting inside the Portland airport. The podcast also has a spin-off called Articles of Interest—all about the history of clothing—that is a great listen, and it’s available in the same feed as 99% Invisible, so you can’t miss it. After you’re done listening, stream one of these eye-opening history documentaries.
If you think women were written or left out of history, just wait until you see how much there is to learn about people who aren’t White. Of course, you can’t make up for centuries of oppression by listening to a podcast, but Noire Histoir, hosted by Natasha McEachron, is a solid introduction to Black history, popular culture, and literature. The podcast also includes film, television, book, and museum reviews, and the episodes range in length from under five minutes to nearly a half-hour. Recent topics include the lives of Gwendolyn Brooks, Wilma Rudolph, and Bessie Coleman—just a few of the Black Americans you didn’t learn about in history class but should have.
Asian American History 101
Another group that has not fared well in history textbooks is Asian Americans. In fact, there are so many different cultures included under the umbrella of “Asian Americans,” there are likely some you’re not familiar with at all. But it’s time to change that, and Ted and Gen Lai, the father-daughter duo behind the Asian American History 101 podcast have given us a great place to start. This history podcast is relatively new, only beginning in November 2020, so there aren’t years of episodes to catch up with. But what is there provides broad looks into topics like whitewashing in Hollywood, the model minority myth, and the history of Angel Island.
Pop culture may not be considered a serious academic discipline by some (although it genuinely is—there are university departments and everything), but it is inextricably linked with our social history and provides invaluable insights into society. That’s exactly what Willa Paskin, the host of the Decoder Ring podcast and Slate’s TV critic, does in each episode. This is also a relatively new podcast, so sadly, there aren’t hundreds of older episodes for you to discover once you become completely enthralled by the ones currently available. Pretty much every episode is a standout, so it’s incredibly hard to narrow it down, but if we have to, we’ll go with the shows on TV laugh tracks, the history of throw pillows, the origins of the word mullet, paper dolls (warning: this one might make you cry), and the Chuck E. Cheese Pizza War.
A Taste of the Past
Although there are quite a few history podcasts that focus on food, A Taste of the Past, hosted by culinary historian Linda Pelaccio, manages to rise to the top. Combining food, history, and culture, each episode focuses on a particular food trend, event, myth, or invention. Between Pelaccio’s thorough research and her impressive Rolodex of food historians, writers, and other experts who often make guest appearances, you know you’re getting the real story. Episodes range from the history of vinegar to the layout of grocery stores to the baking soda wars. You won’t get bored, but you might get hungry.
You Must Remember This
While You Must Remember This bills itself as being “dedicated to exploring the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century,” it’s so much more than really old celebrity gossip. (Although it’s also that, and that’s definitely not a bad thing.) Created, written, produced, and narrated by Karina Longworth, this podcast sheds light on aspects of the entertainment industry—and American culture, in general—that you won’t hear about anywhere else. Take the show’s 2015 12-part series “Charles Manson’s Hollywood,” for example. There is no shortage of podcast episodes, documentaries, made-for-TV movies, books, and articles about the infamous cult leader, most of which present the same details over and over again. Somehow, Longworth managed to find new information and present the story in a way that offers another context for a well-known story.