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The Road to Now

History Podcasts

Bob Crawford (The Avett Brothers) & Dr. Ben Sawyer (MTSU History) share conversations with great thinkers from a variety of backgrounds – historians, artists, legal scholars, political figures and more –who help us uncover the many roads that run between past and present. For more information, visit If you'd like to support our work, join us on Patreon:

Bob Crawford (The Avett Brothers) & Dr. Ben Sawyer (MTSU History) share conversations with great thinkers from a variety of backgrounds – historians, artists, legal scholars, political figures and more –who help us uncover the many roads that run between past and present. For more information, visit If you'd like to support our work, join us on Patreon:


Nashville, TN


Bob Crawford (The Avett Brothers) & Dr. Ben Sawyer (MTSU History) share conversations with great thinkers from a variety of backgrounds – historians, artists, legal scholars, political figures and more –who help us uncover the many roads that run between past and present. For more information, visit If you'd like to support our work, join us on Patreon:








#255 Freedom’s Dominion w/ Jefferson Cowie

On July 4, 1964, Alabama Governor George Wallace decried the passing of “ [a] law that is going to destroy individual freedom and liberty in this country.” That law was the Civil Rights act of 1964, which struck down many of the Jim Crow laws that relegated black Americans to second-class citizens. How could Wallace and so many like him throughout American history see no irony in decrying the federal government for taking away their freedom to deny freedom to others? In this episode, we take...


The History of Santa Claus & Christmas Culture w/ James Cooper (A Holiday Classic!)

Christmas expert James Cooper joins Bob and Ben to explain how Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and other Christmas traditions made their way into popular culture. He also shares stories of lesser known traditions, such as setting fire to the giant Swedish straw goat known as the Gävlebocken! You can find out more about the history of Santa Claus and Christmas at James Cooper’s website This is a rebroadcast of RTN #82, which originally aired on December 18, 2017 and has since...


The History of St. Jude Children’s Hospital w/ Richard Shadyac

On February 4, 1962, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital opened its doors in Memphis, TN with a promise to help victims of childhood cancer regardless of race, religion, or national origin. Since then the hospital has treated thousands of children from all over the world, and has played a vital role in increasing the survival rate of children diagnosed with cancer to more than 80%. And in more than five decades of operation, St. Jude has provided its services to children and their families...


#254 Midterm Postmortem Happy Hour w/ Mark Halperin

Mark Halperin joins Bob and Ben to break down the midterm elections (and several unrelated topics, including Mark's top food cities in America). Recorded at 5pm est on Friday, Nov. 18th so it was a true happy hour. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher


#253 Searching for America’s Emotional Source Code with Dov Baron

This week on the Road to Now, Bob welcomes leadership consultant, author, and speaker Dov Baron. Inc. Magazine has named Dov one of the top 100 leadership speakers in the country and his Curiosity Bites podcast the number one leadership podcast. For over two decades Dov has advised business leaders, politicians, entertainers, scientists, and musicians, about how to discover their emotional source code. In this episode we get to meet Dov and hear him work his magic with his newest client:...


Chernobyl, The Last Czars, and the Pros & Cons of Dramatizing History w/ Philippa Heatherington & Jon Waterlow

The Netflix series The Last Czars and HBO’s Chernobyl have (in very different ways) brought Russian & Soviet history to televisions across the world. In this episode, Ben sits down with fellow Russian historians Dr. Philippa Hetherington and Dr. Jonathan Waterlow to discuss their opinions on the two series, what they think they got right, and ways that producers and scholars might benefit most from collaboration on future projects. Philippa, who is a featured scholar in The Last Czars,...


#252 Deathcare Revolution w/ Tanya Marsh

Death is something that we all have in common, but what happens to our remains can vary. In this episode, RTN favorite Tanya Marsh breaks down the origins, legal peculiarities and cultural specificities of the American death care system, and how recent developments in the industry are leading many of us to reimagine the afterlife of our physical remains. 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...

#251 The West Wing & Beyond w/ Pete Souza

Pete Souza has spent more time inside the ‘Presidential bubble’ than almost anyone. The more than thirteen years he spent photographing Ronald Reagan (1983-1989) and Barack Obama (2009-2017) gave him a singular view into the executive branch that he has captured and shared with the public through his photography. In this episode, Pete joins Bob & Ben to discuss his new book The West Wing & Beyond: What I Saw Inside the Presidency, which looks beyond the Presidents themselves and to the...


#250 Celebrating Levon Helm w/ John Barry & Larry Campbell

Although he passed away a decade ago, Levon Helm is still the voice of Americana music. Always will be, in my opinion. Levon was drummer for The Band, collaborator with Bob Dylan, actor, husband, father, and friend. In his new book, Levon Helm: Rock, Roll, Ramble, author John Barry gives a first-hand account of Levon’s struggles with cancer and financial ruin that led to the legendary Midnight Rambles concerts at his home in Woodstock, New York. In this episode of the Road to Now, Bob...


#249 The Corruption of Libertarian Philosophy w/ Andrew Koppelman

Libertarianism has had a tremendous influence on American politics, but according to Andrew Koppelman, its most prominent adherents have stripped libertarian philosophy of its more humane intentions. In this episode, Andrew joins Bob and Ben for a discussion about his new book, Burning Down the House: How Libertarian Philosophy Was Corrupted by Delusion and Greed (St. Martin’s Press, 2022) and why he contends that libertarian philosophers such as Friedrich Hayek have been stripped of their...


Journalism & Politics w/ Bill Plante & Olivier Knox

Bill Plante was a remarkable reporter. He spent four tours as a CBS correspondent in Vietnam, he interviewed Martin Luther King Jr in 1965, and he served as CBS’ White House Correspondent from 1976 until his retirement in 2016. On September 28, 2022, Bill Plante passed away. To honor him and his work, we are reairing our 2018 conversation w/ Bill and The Washington Post’s Olivier Knox. You can read Bill’s CBS News obituary here and his Washington Post obituary by Emily Langer here. You...

#248 The Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict w/ Laurence Broers

Armenia and Azerbaijan were once fellow Republics within the USSR, but in the Soviet Union’s last days tension between them led to bloodshed and animosity that continues today. For decades, Russia played the role of peacekeeper in the region, but Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has opened the door for a new wave of Azerbaijani attacks on Armenia and both sides say the other is to blame. Laurence Broers has spent the last twenty years working as a scholar and peacemaker in the region, and has...

#247 The FBI w/ Stephen Underhill

The FBI has been the subject of criticism and concern since it was founded in 1908, but it has nevertheless become one of the most powerful, stable, and mythologized branches of the Executive Branch of the US government. In this episode, Steve Underhill joins us to discuss the origins of the FBI, the role J. Edgar Hoover played in making the modern Brueau, and how that greater history of the FBI can help us understand how they’ve approached their seizure of documents from Mar-a-Lago and the...


The Great Exception: The Rise and Fall of the New Deal w/ Jefferson Cowie

The New Deal policies of the 1930s never brought an end to the Great Depression, but by establishing Social Security, ending child labor, and establishing a federal minimum wage, Franklin Roosevelt’s administration and their allies in Congress laid the framework for the widespread prosperity of the post-World War II-era. As the gap between the richest and poorest Americans continues to widen at remarkable speed, politicians on the left have called for a return to the New Deal. But it might...


The French Revolution w/ Peter McPhee

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...


#246 Rank Choice Voting w/ Scott Huffmon

Could the structure of elections in the US be feeding the polarization in modern politics? Currently only about twenty percent of voters show up to the polls for what are often closed primaries, meaning that the general election is often a showdown between candidates who have appealed to the most extreme elements of their party’s base. This is far from an optimal outcome in a country where few voters identify with political extremes. Most voting experts believe that the way to reduce the...


#245 Cryptocurrency: A Brief History w/ David Hollerith

When Bitcoin launched in January 2009, few people took it seriously and even fewer had the means to mine, buy or spend it. By the end of 2021, the Pew Research Center reported that 16% of Americans had held cryptocurrency and 86% had heard of it. Despite all of this, many of us remain perplexed by the topic, so Ben and Bob invited Yahoo! Finance’s David Hollerith to join us for a conversation about the origins and potential of crypto. We hope this helps! David Hollerith is a senior...


#244 Presidential Rhetoric: The last one hundred years w/ Bruce Carlson

Political rhetoric has become increasingly divisive in the 21st century, but many of the themes and rhetorical strategies we see today have deep roots in American history. In this episode, Ben and Bruce Carlson (My History Can Beat Up Your Politics) discuss the impact that technology, society and other factors have had on Presidential rhetoric from the 1932 contest between Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt to the election of 2020. A lot has changed since the Great Depression, but the...


#243 Out of the Trenches: What a World War I Truce Can Teach Us About Modern Politics w/ Curt Stedron

Partisanship in politics has become increasingly tense in the 21st century, and while many Americans lament this polarization, few seem convinced that a rapprochement is possible. Yet history is full of proclaimed enemies striking mutually beneficial deals even in the toughest conditions. In this episode, NCSL Director Curt Stedron explains how a deep examination of the Christmas truce struck between Entente and Allied powers during World War I can reveal some core lessons for finding common...


The Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East w/ Eugene Rogan

At the beginning of the 20th century, most of the territory that we call the Middle East- including Syria, Iraq, Israel and Turkey- were part of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman alliance w/ Germany and Austria-Hungary during World War I provided Britain and France w/ the opportunity to divide the once-great empire into many states based on European imperial ambitions. In this episode Bob and Ben speak w/ Eugene Rogan to learn more about why the Ottoman Empire was divided, how that process...