Podcasts have been a part of my life since the seventh grade. Originally, I focused on finding podcasts to satisfy my nerd interests (think: discussion and theory podcasts about Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and TV shows like Heroes and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles). Actually, I still listen to many of those podcasts that are still around.
I’ve also branched into some general discussion podcasts, so when I was trying to find a new one, I was trying to find one that was a little more contemporary and political. It’s semi-ironic, then, that I settled on a history podcast: BackStory.
However, BackStory is more contemporary than you’d think. Each week they focus on an important topic in the news, and explore its historical roots. For example, following the growing concern over drought and water shortages in California, their most recent episode focused on the history of fresh water and irrigation. They looked at the history of fresh water and who owns it in California, as well as different approaches in Jamestown and New England when the Pilgrims first settled in the Americas.
History, to the rescue!
They’ve also recently done episodes based around the color green in U.S. history (in honor of St. Patrick’s Day), relations between the U.S. and Russia (not just since the Cold War, but going back to the nineteenth century), and changing nutritional advice.
Each podcast is hosted by three U.S. historians, who bring on other experts and historians to interview about specific segments within the larger episode. They also encourage listener input, which is where their website comes into play. Their homepage shows the latest episode, as well as topics that are “in the works,” so that listeners can pose questions or add information about the topic.
I like BackStory because it’s intelligent and well-structured, but not overly scholarly or rigid. The hosts are down-to-earth and will joke around with each other or their guests. The guests are well-spoken and tell a story well about their specific topic.
The only problem I can find is that while overall the quality of the show is very high (they integrate music clips well and the hosts’ audio quality is great), sometimes the audio quality of the guests is not great. This is to be expected, because they don’t have the same recording equipment, but this is the one problem I noted.
BackStory releases one episode a week, and they average in length between 50 minutes and an hour. Sometimes they rebroadcast shows if they become important in the news again, but their episodes date back to 2008, so there’s plenty to listen to. I like BackStory because it covers a wide range of topics and is easy to listen to. It also fulfills two of my cravings at once: important contemporary discussion and fascinating stories from history.