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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:


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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:








The Election of 1824 w/ Lindsay Chervinsky (Third Party Series #1)

The Election of 1824 was a turning point in American history. Long before the fall of 1824, Americans understood that the winner would be the first in America’s second generation to hold the Presidency. When the election began, all four viable candidates were technically from the same party. By the time it was over, the election had generated the rivalries and passions that formed the groundwork for a new national party system. How did Andrew Jackson win the most votes in the electoral college and still lose the election? How did John Quincy Adams win the Presidency but ultimately lose the country? And was it all due to a “corrupt bargain” as some critics alleged, or is there more to the story? Let’s find out. Welcome to The Road To Now’s Third Party Elections Series. Today: Part 1- The Election of 1824 with Lindsay Chervinsky. Dr. Lindsay M. Chervinsky is author of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution (Harvard University Press, 2020). Check out her previous appearances on The Road to Now discussing the President’s Cabinet (#184) and how Americans have mourned Presidents throughout history (#263). This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.


The Electoral College w/ Edward Foley

The Constitution empowers the electoral college to select the President, but the process for counting electors’ votes remains in the hands of Congress. In this episode, Constitutional Law Professor Edward Foley explains the origins of the electoral college, how and why the 12 Amendment changed the process for electing Presidents, and the concerns that led Congress to codify the procedure for counting electors’ votes in 1887. Edward also offers some specific ways that updating the Electoral Count Act of 1887 might help us avoid some of the potential problems that might arise in upcoming elections. Edward Foley holds the Ebersold Chair in Constitutional Law at The Ohio State University, where he also directs its election law program. He is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and the author of multiple books, including Ballot Battles: The History of Disputed Elections in the United States (Oxford University Press, 2016) and Presidential Elections and Majority Rule (Oxford University Press, 2020). You can follow him on twitter at @NedFoley. This is a rebroadcast of episode 224, which originally aired on February 22, 2022. We think this is a perfect episode to set up our multi-episode series on contested presidential elections, which kicks off on February 19 (aka Presidents' Day)! Each episode of the series focuses on the years that third party candidates, tense inter-party rivalries and other campaign surprises, both reflected and shaped the country in that year and for generations to come. Bob and I have an all-star lineup of guests, and we’re kicking off with Lindsay Chervinsky on the 1824 election and John Quincy Adams’ Corrupt Bargain! This is a rebroadcast of RTN #224, which originally aired on February 22, 2022. The original episode was edited by Gary Fletcher. This rebroadcast was edited by Ben Sawyer.


#295 The Pursuit of Happiness w/ Jeffrey Rosen

The inalienable right to “the pursuit of happiness” is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, but what exactly does that phrase mean? While Americans today may associate it with the right to own land, opulence or some other act of acquisition, many prominent founders understood it to mean something quite different. In this episode National Constitution Center President & CEO Jeffrey Rosen returns to the show to give us the full story and discuss his new book The Pursuit of Happiness: How Classical Writers on Virtue Inspired the Lives of the Founders and Defined America. The Pursuit of Happiness will be available on February 13 via all major publishers. Click here to pre-order your copy, find out more about the book, and see Jeffrey Rosen’s upcoming speaking engagements. If you enjoyed this episode, make sure to check out Jeffrey’s previous appearance on our show in The Road to Now #211, The Constitution w/ Jeffrey Rosen. Highlighted Resources from the National Constitution Center –The Interactive Constitution (also available as an app in the apple and android app stores) –We The People with Jeffrey Rosen podcast (available anywhere you get The Road to Now) –Educational Video Series If you’re in Philadelphia, you can visit the National Constitution Center, which is located just steps from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Click here to plan your visit! This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.


The Best Stories You've (Probably) Never Heard w/ Greg Jackson

One episode. Two historians/podcasters. Four stories from American history that you’ve probably never heard. And an unknown number of listeners that we hope will find these stories as fascinating and surprising as we do. Greg Jackson is the creator of History That Doesn’t Suck and a Professor at Utah Valley University. Ben Sawyer hosts this podcast and has been teaching history at the university level for over a decade and a half. You might think that at this point they’ve heard it all, but when you keep digging into history, it just keeps surprising you. In this episode, Greg and Ben each share two stories that they discovered in the last year that they found to be the most fascinating. Enjoy! This is a rebroadcast of The Road to Now #239, which originally aired on June 27, 2022. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.


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 subsequent attack from Donald Trump. Dr. Stephen M. Underhill is Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication Studies at Marshall University, where he studies the rhetoric of law enforcement. His book The Manufacture of Consent: J. Edgar Hoover and the Rhetorical Rise of the FBI was published in 2020. This is a rebroadcast of RTN #247, which originally aired on September 19, 2022. The original episode was edited by Gary Fletcher. This reair was edited by Ben Sawyer.


#294 The Stephen Foster Story w/ Richard Blanton, Donna Phillips & Johnny Warren

Stephen Foster was America’s first great published musician. He wrote some of America’s great folk songs, including “Oh, Suzanna,” “Camptown Races” and “Hard Times Come Again No More,” and his music was the inspiration for Paul Green’s play “The Stephen Foster Story,” which is performed every summer in Bardstown, Kentucky. In this episode we speak with two of the artists involved in that play- Donna Phillips and Johnny Warren- as well as My Kentucky Old Kentucky Home State Park Mansion Supervisor, Richard Blanton, to learn more about Foster’s life, their work in preserving his memory, and how it all can help us understand our past. If you’re traveling through Kentucky, make sure to check out dates for “The Stephen Foster Story” and visit My Old Kentucky Home Mansion! This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.


#293 New Year, Old Us w/ Ben & Bob

Ben & Bob kick off the new year with a conversation over some current events, including the history of New Year’s Resolutions (and why Bob doesn’t make them) and the 14 Amendment, and Ben shares what he learned about North Carolina history during his holiday road trip from Nashville, TN to Concord, NC to visit his family. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher. Relevant links: -“Swept Away w/ John Logan & John Gallagher Jr.” The Road to Now #219 -on Apple podcasts -on Spotify -John Pierce, “The Reasons for Secession: A Documentary Study,” from American Battlefield Trust (, Updated October 3, 2023. -“The Disqualification Clause,” What Roman Mars Can Learn About Con Law, episode 78, December 12, 2023. -Robert Harrell (the Fort Fisher Hermit) at


#292 It’s a Wonderful Life: The Story Behind America’s Favorite Christmas Film w/ Eric Smoodin

Dr. Eric Smoodin, film historian at the University of California- Davis and author of Regarding Frank Capra: Audience, Celebrity and American Film Studies, 1930-1960, joins Bob and Ben for the history of the people, the industry, and law that made Frank Capra’s 1946 film It’s A Wonderful Life into one of America’s quintessential Christmas films. Ben & Bob are taking a few weeks off for the holidays- we'll be back with all new episodes on January 8! This episode was edited by Ben Sawyer.


#291 A Forgotten History of American Suburbs w/ Tim Keogh

The suburbs have long been a symbol of American prosperity in the post-WWII era. Yet the contrast between suburban wealth and “inner city” poverty overlooks the stories of those living in suburbia who were unable to reach “the good life.” In this episode Ben & Bob talk with Tim Keogh, whose new book In Levittown’s Shadow: Poverty in America’s Wealthiest Suburb (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2023), explores the history of suburbanization in Long Island, New York, and argues that post-WWII prosperity relied on those impoverished suburbanites who we’ve since forgotten. Dr. Tim Keogh is assistant professor of history at Queensborough Community College, part of the City University of New York. This episode was edited by Ben Sawyer.


Photographing the President w/ Pete Souza

As the person responsible for documenting the Obama Administration, Pete Souza spent more time with Barack Obama than almost anyone else, which left him with some deep in sights on Obama and the office of the Presidency. In this episode, Pete joins Bob for a conversation about his work as Chief Official White House Photographer, the state of American politics, and the power of photography. Pete’s most recent book, Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents (Little, Brown, & Co, 2018) uses photography to contrast the stark differences between the Presidency of Barack Obama and that of Donald Trump. If you enjoy this conversation, make sure to check out Pete’s other appearances on the show in episodes #251 & #151. This is a rebroadcast of RTN #131, which originally aired on June 3, 2019. The original episode was edited by Gary Fletcher and Bob Crawford; this rebroadcast was edited by Ben Sawyer.


Faith in Freedom w/ Andrew Polk

Faith has played an important role in American history, but not always in the ways we’d expect. In this episode, Andy Polk joins Bob and Ben to explain how politicians, advertising executives and public relations experts bypassed America’s religious leaders, ignored theological debates, and dismissed historical evidence to fabricate and sell a story of America’s religious origins that served their own political needs. That story remains with us today so, to quote the title of Andy’s op-ed in The Tennessean: “When you hear ‘In God We Trust’, pay attention to what comes next.” Dr. Andrew R. Polk is Associate Professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University and the author of the new book, Faith In Freedom: Propaganda, Presidential Politics, and the Making of an American Religion (Cornell University Press, December 2021). This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher. This is a rebroadcast of RTN #216, which originally aired on December 13, 2021. This rebroadcast was edited by Ben Sawyer.


#290 The Circus: An Exit Interview w/ Mark McKinnon

Bob welcomes Mark McKinnon for an exit interview about his work as co-producer and co-host of The Circus. Showtime announced last week that after eight seasons and 130 episodes this would be the final season of the political docuseries. Mark reflects on chronicling American political history as it happened from 2016 to 2023, during a turbulent period in American history that includes the rise of Donald Trump’s MAGA movement, a once in a century pandemic, and the largest war in Europe since WWII. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.


Monsanto’s Past, Our Future w/ Bart Elmore

Monsanto’s Past, Our Future w/ Bart Elmore The Monsanto Company officially ceased to exist when it was acquired by Bayer in 2018, but its legacy lives on in courtrooms, factory towns and farms across the globe. Today the company’s name is most associated with the herbicide Roundup and genetically modified seeds, but Monsanto also served as a leading producer of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, an essential supplier of caffeine and saccharin to Coca-Cola in Coke’s early years, and the sole US producer of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs). In short, Monsanto’s history is one that will continue to shape the US well into the future. In this episode, Bart Elmore joins Bob and Ben to talk about his new book Seed Money: Monsanto’s Past and Our Future (W.W. Norton, 2021), and how a small midwestern company founded in 1901 became an agricultural powerhouse by selling solutions to the problems it helped to create. Dr. Bartow Elmore is Associate Professor of History at The Ohio State University where he specializes in Global Environmental History and the History of Capitalism. He is also the author of the award-winning book Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism (W. W. Norton, 2015). You can follow him on twitter at @BartElmore. You can hear Bart’s other appearances on The Road To Now in episode #140: Citizen Coke: The History of Coca-Cola w/ Bartow Elmore and #277: Country Capitalism w/ Bartow Elmore. This is a fully re-edited and audio-enhanced rebroadcast of RTN Episode 208, which originally aired on September 27, 2021. This episode was edited by Ben Sawyer.


#289 The Dead Bodies in Your Favorite Museum w/ Tanya Marsh

Two things you probably don’t know: 1) your favorite museum probably holds human remains and 2) it’s completely legal to sell human bones on the internet. Not surprisingly, those two things have caused a lot of controversy. In this episode, Tanya Marsh joins Ben for a conversation about recent developments in the legal-social-political nexus of dead bodies; the controversy surrounding the acquisition and treatment of human remains in American museums and what we’ll simply call “the Harvard morgue case.” Tanya Marsh is Professor of Law at Wake Forest University, where she specializes in the law of human remains. She is the author of The Law of Human Remains (2015) and co-author (with Daniel Gibson) of Cemetery Law: The Common Law of Burying Grounds in the United States (2015). This episode was edited by Ben Sawyer. Articles mentioned in this episode: Zachary Small, “Facing Scrutiny, a Museum That Holds 12,000 Human Remains Changes Course,” New York Times, Oct. 15, 2023. Alyssa Shotwell, “Activists Took Over Museum After Victims’ Bodies of the 1985 Philadelphia Bombing Found,” The Mary Sue, Sept. 15, 2023. Abby Patkin, ”Group indicted for allegedly stealing and selling body parts from Harvard morgue,”, June 15, 2023. Tanya Marsh, “Is it Illegal to Sell Human Remains,” The Conversation, June 30, 2023.


#288 Ukraine and Russia: The History Behind the War w/ Serhy Yekelchyk

When Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022, he and many others assumed that Russia’s “special operation” would end in a quick victory. Eighteen months later, an independent Ukraine stands strong, while Russia’s position has grown so weak that Putin has begun working to develop closer ties with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. Why has Ukraine been so resilient, and why has Putin remained committed to a war that has done so much damage to Russia? The answer has everything to do with the ways those on both sides of the conflict understand history. In this episode, historian Serhy Yekelchyk joins Ben to discuss the history of Russia and Ukraine, and how understanding the war on the battlefield requires understanding the conflicting historical narratives embraced by those on both sides. Dr. Serhy Yekelchyk is Professor of History and Slavic Studies at the University of Victoria. A native of Kiev, Serhy has published extensively on Ukranian history, including The Conflict in Ukraine: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2 ed., 2020) and Ukraine: Birth of a Modern Nation (Oxford University Press, 2007). We’d like to give a special thanks to the Strickland family for establishing the Strickland Distinguished Lecture Series at Middle Tennessee State University, which brought Dr. Yekelchyk to MTSU’s campus, and to Emily Baran and Lynn Nelson for their help in arranging this recording. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.


#287 Robert Hanssen: The FBI’s Most Damaging Spy w/ Major Garrett

FBI agent Robert Hanssen was one of the most damaging spies in US history. From 1979 to 2001, Hanssen delivered some of the United States governments’ most sensitive secrets to Soviet and Russian agents, who used them to not only undermine US national security, but to identify and execute individuals who were working with the FBI. And despite an awareness of spies working within the FBI, Hanssen managed to operate for more than two decades before finally getting caught. In this episode we speak with CBS News’ Major Garrett, whose new podcast Agent of Betrayal: The Double Life of Robert Hanssen, explores Hanssen’s decision to spy on the US and how he managed to operate for so long without being caught. A thoroughly researched history with all the turns of a great true crime podcast, we think you’ll enjoy Agent of Betrayal, available on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere else you get your podcasts. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.


#286 Rounder Records and the Transformation of American Roots Music w/ David Menconi

From its founding in 1970, Rounder Records was different. What started as the passion project for three New England music lovers who wanted to preserve and proselytize folk and roots music, eventually grew into a record label with an eclectic catalogue featuring long-forgotten bands, promising musicians such as George Thorogood and Allison Krauss, and even an album just called “Hollerin’” (which is exactly what it says it is). Along the way, Rounder Records became indispensable in transforming American folk music. In this episode, we learn more about the history of Rounder Records from music historian David Menconi, author of the new book Oh, Didn’t They Ramble: Rounder Records and the Transformation of American Roots Music (UNC Press, 2023). You can hear David Menconi’s playlist of key tracks from the Rounder catalogue on Spotify by clicking here. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.


#285 The American Buffalo w/ Dayton Duncan

In the late 18 century, tens of millions of buffalo lived in North America. By the mid-1880s, they were on the brink of extinction. For the white settlers who sought to “conquer” the American west, and the Native people whose way of life depended on them, the plight of the American Buffalo was more than a story of one species of animal. As Dayton Duncan writes in the prologue of his new book Blood Memory, the buffalo has “emerged as an embodiment of the nation’s contradictory relationship with the natural world: venerated and mercilessly destroyed, a symbol of both a romanticized frontier and the callous conquest of a continent.” In this episode, Dayton joins us for a conversation about the Buffalo (aka American Bison) and how the story of one animal can tell us so much about American history. Dayton Duncan is an Emmy award-winning writer whose most recent collaborations with filmmaker Ken Burns are the book Blood Memory: The Tragic Decline and Improbable Resurrection of the American Buffalo (Alfred A. Knopf, 2023) and the new documentary The American Buffalo, which premieres on your local PBS station on Monday, October 16, 2023 (check your local listings). If you enjoyed this episode, check out our previous conversation with Dayton Duncan in RTN #229 on Benjamin Franklin. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.


# 284 Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell on Americana Music

What is Americana music? Is it a genre? A community? A refuge? Twenty four years after the founding of the Americana Music Association and thirteen years since the first Grammy was awarded for Best Americana Album, defining “Americana” remains tricky. In our experience, the most common answer has been “you know it when you hear it.” However you define it, however, there is one thing everyone agrees on: Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell are Americana legends. In this episode, recorded in front of a live audience in Nashville, TN, Emmylou and Rodney discuss their musical careers, how they became associated with Americana music, and what Americana means to them. Bob too shares his musical journey both before and after joining the Avett Brothers and the ways that genre (Americana and otherwise) has been part of that story. Bob, Gary and I would like to thank Paul Lohr at New Frontier Touring for helping us get such incredible guests for the show, Adam Botner at Riverside Revival for making both the live show and the audio on this episode sound so good, Austin Sawyer of Drumming Bird & Annie DiRusso for opening the show with their incredible talent, and everyone who came out to make this such a special night. We’d also like to give a special thanks to Jefferson Cowie for helping us prepare for the show. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher. Live audio recording and mixing by Adam Botner.


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. On this episode of the Road to Now, Bob celebrates the life of Levon Helm with John, and musician and producer Larry Campbell who has worked with Levon, as well as Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, K.D. Lang, and Willie Nelson..­ This is a rebroadcast of RTN #250, which originally aired on October 22, 2022. This rebroadcast was edited by Otto Schroth.