Historically Thinking-logo

Historically Thinking

History Podcasts

Conversations about historical knowledge and how we achieve it.

Conversations about historical knowledge and how we achieve it.


United States


Conversations about historical knowledge and how we achieve it.




Episode 295: New England Fashion

When the Massachusetts Historical Society was founded in 1791, its august members probably did not anticipate that one day its archives would contain not only family papers, but family dresses–as well as waistcoats, wigs, and at least two scarlet cloaks worn by fashionable men in the late eighteenth century. Kimberley Alexander (who is Director of Museum Studies and Lecturer at the University of New Hampshire) was last heard on the podcast talking about shoes, but more recently curated a...


Episode 294: Black Suffrage

On April 11, 1865, Abraham Lincoln addressed a crowd gathered outside the White House. He spoke not of recent victories, or those to come, but to the shape of the peace that would follow. Now that the Thirteenth Amendment had been passed by Congress, he urged that it be ratified. Moreover, it seemed to him, Lincoln said, that it was necessary for “the colored man” to have the right to vote. “I myself,” Lincoln told the crowd, “would prefer that it were now conferred on the very intelligent,...


Episode 293: Brilliant Commodity

At the end of the 19th century, Amsterdam was home to nearly seventy diamond factories, in which were 7,500 steam-powered polishing mills. The workers who cut and polished the diamonds, brought there from the mines of South Africa, were not all Jewish–but many of them were. Indeed, in the late 1890s Jews were about 10% of the population of Amsterdam, and half of them were economically reliant on what the Dutch called simply “the profession”. The Jewish community in Amsterdam were not the...


Episode 292: Mutiny!

It is perhaps the greatest scandal and sea-story of the first half of 19th Century America that nearly everyone has forgotten. It led to a court martial, endless headlines, a fistfight in a meeting of the President’s cabinet, and quite possibly to the foundation of the United States Naval Academy. And given that nearly everyone who went to see in the early American republic seemed to know one another, there was one degree of separation between this story and James Fenimore Cooper, Herman...


Episode 291: True Blue

In late November, 1864, David R. Snelling visited his uncle, who then lived in Baldwin County near Milledgeville, Georgia. As a boy, he had worked in his uncle’s fields alongside those his uncle enslaved. Now Snelling returned home as a Lieutenant in the Army of the United States, commanding Company I of the First Alabama Cavalry–though detached on temporary duty as commander of the headquarters escort for General William Tecumseh Sherman. The homecoming was not a happy one, at least for...


Episode 290: Oh, Dakota!

My guest today is Dr. Ben Jones, Director of the South Dakota State Historical Society and the South Dakota State Historian. Ben Jones served for 23 years in the United States Air Force, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. During his service he taught at the Air Force Academy. Subsequently he was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at South Dakota State University from 2013 to 2019, and Secretary of Education of South Dakota from January 2019 to December 2020. He is now the 9th...


Episode 289: Peace and Friendship in the American West

For over a generation the history of the American West has been described by scholars as one of violence, including genocide, ethnic-cleansing, and settler colonialism. While it replaced an older history which spoke of “winning the West” and the triumph of civilization, curiously enough both the old and the now aging histories of the west focused on violence. After all, in the popular imagination, every Western town hosted a gunfight in its one street on a nearly daily basis. But what if...


Episode 288: The American Revolution in Hapsburg Lands

In 1780, captured American naval officer Joshua Barney escaped from prison in Plymouth, made his way to London, and with the help of some English sympathizers to the American Revolution was able to take the ferry to Ostend, the principal port of the Austrian Netherlands. During his journey he struck up an acquaintance with an Italian noblewoman after curing her seasickness. Grateful, she insisted that he accompany her by carriage to Brussels, where in a “certain hotel” a porter ushered the...


Episode 287: The Hessians are Coming!

In 1776 a massive British fleet of more than 400 ships carrying tens of thousands of soldiers arrived outside New York Harbor. Many of these soldiers were German, hired from their princes by the British government. Americans then and now have called them Hessians. For the next seven years, these German soldiers marched, fought, and suffered seemingly everywhere in eastern North America, from the walls of Quebec City to the sandy beaches of Pensacola Bay. When the British army left, many...


Episode 286: Weavers, Scribes, and Kings

The history of the ancient Near East can seem like staring down a deep, deep well of time, so deep that it gives one vertigo. It stretches back to 3,500 BC: that is, I’ll do the math for you, 5,522 years ago. In thinking about its 3,000 years of history, one begins to think not in terms of years, but in decades and centuries. Yet there were continuities amidst change, not simply within those three-plus millennia, but between then and now. For surely it would be impossible to imagine what...


Episode 285: Finding Agatha Christie

At her 80th birthday party Agatha Christie described a conversation she had once overheard about herself. She had been on a train, and there listened to two ladies talking about her, copies of her latest mystery perched on both their knees. “I hear,” said one, “that she drinks like a fish.” Christie’s latest biographer Lucy Worsley begins her new book with that anecdote because for her it so nicely captures at least three things about the author. First, that she told the story on her 80th...


Episode 284: The Greatest Russian General, in War and Peace

If we know Mikhail Ilarionovich Golenischev-Kutuzov, we know him as Tolstoy imagined him, as an old man, before Austerlitz, “with his uniform unbuttoned so that his fat neck bulged over his collar if escaping… in a low chair with his podgy old hands resting symmetrically on its arms'' who begins to snore loudly and rhythmically as his generals plan the battle. Why? Because he alone understands the hand of providence, or the finger of fate; because he alone “recognizes that there are forces...


Episode 283: Two Houses, Two Kingdoms

For centuries the Kingdom of England faced northeast, across the northern seas towards Scandinavia. Indeed, under King Canute, England was part of Scandinavia. But with the Norman invasion–even though the Normans were eponymously “North-men”–that changed dramatically. Within a few decades, the French and English royal trees began to intertwine, to graft branches to one another, to make love and war, sometimes at one and the same time. Catherine Hanley's new book Two Houses, Two Kingdoms: A...


Episode 282: Griffins, Greek Fire, and Ancient Poisons

For thousands of years humans have in war and peace attempted to poison one another—or, perhaps for variety, burn each other to death. We might think of poison gas, biological weapons, or the use of unwitting victims to spread epidemics as being modern innovations, but such horrors have been employed since the earliest recorded history. Moreover, for nearly that entire time humans have debated the morality of employing those weapons. My guest Adrienne Mayor describes this history in Greek...


Episode 281: The Great Atlantic Freedom Conspiracy

In 1815, John Adams wrote to a correspondent of the importance, of all things, of the Boston Committee of Correspondence in the 1760s: …I never belonged to any of these Committees and have never Seen one of their Letters Sent or received... But in my Opinion the History of the United States never can be written, till they are discovered. What an Engine! France imitated it, and produced a Revolution. England and Scotland was upon the Point of imitating it, in order to produce another...


Episode 280: Thinking about Historically Thinking

Well, this is something new. After 279 podcasts, someone is asking Al Zambone questions about the podcast. Carol Adrienne, recently heard talking on Episode 278 about her book Healing a Divided Nation: How the Civil War Revolutionized Western Medicine insisted that it was a really good idea that she be allowed to record a podcast about this podcast. So she did. It turns out to be a pretty good introduction to the podcast, if you're new to the podcast, as many references are made to past...


Episode 279: Count the Dead

Stephen Berry begins his new book Count the Dead: Coroners, Quants, and the Birth of Death as We Know It with these two paragraphs: This is a book about death and data or, more specifically, about the dead as data. The dead and the formerly living are not the same. The formerly living built the Parthenon and the Brooklyn Bridge…[they] also made brutal wars and ghastly decisions we are still struggling to live down. Revered or reviled, however, the formerly living have always counted because...


Episode 278: Healing a Divided Nation

When Confederate cannons fired on Fort Sumter in April 1861, the United States Army was comprised of only 16,000 soldiers. Its medical staff was numbered just 113 doctors. And here’s another fun fact: taking into account all of the doctors then practicing in the United States, possibly as few as 300 doctors in the entire United States had witnessed surgery, or seen a gunshot wound. Over the next four years all of those numbers would dramatically increase. To meet the unprecedented casualties...


Episode 277: Saving Freud

On March 15, 1938, Adolf Hitler addressed 250,000 Austrians in Vienna, announcing the end of the Austrian state. Close by on that same day, Nazis entered the apartment of Dr. Sigmund Freud and his family. They were literally bought off when first his wife Martha offered them cash, and then daughter Anna Freud opened a safe and gave them the equivalent of $840. At this point “the stern figure of Sigmund Freud himself suddenly appeared,” writes my guest Andrew Nagorski, “glaring at the...


Episode 276: The Secret Syllabus

New college students usually get lots of advice. “Go to office hours.” “Ask good questions.” “Declare a major as soon as you can.” “Take some time to figure out who you are.” “Get some research experience.” “Get good internships with real-life experience.” “Sit in the front row.” “Avoid procrastination.” Some of this advice is obvious, some of it is contradictory, and some of it is bad.. It almost never explains why, or even how. So the new college student is apt to ignore all of it. In...