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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:


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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:








#218 The History of Cigarettes w/ Louis Kyriakoudes

In 1998, as part of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, the biggest US tobacco companies agreed to open their archives to the public. Inside company documents was a story of tobacco executives who understood that cigarettes killed smokers yet expended vast amounts of time and money to keep that information from the public. In this episode, Ben speaks with Louis Kyriakoudes, an expert who has applied his academic research on the history of cigarettes as an expert witness in tobacco cases...


#217 Forward

Bob & Ben catch up for a conversation about 2021 and what may await us in the New Year. They discuss free speech on college campuses, the state of the workforce, and little bit about a lot of other topics. Happy New Year! We're excited to announce that we've collaborated with Hark Audio to make Harklists of our favorite RTN moments from 2021! Hear Bob & Ben's clips and why they chose them at the following links: The Road to Now – Bob Crawford’s 2021 Highlights The Road to Now – Ben...


America's First War on Christmas w/ Bruce Carlson

On December 25, 1776, George Washington and his men celebrated their first post-Declaration of Independence Christmas by crossing a freezing river to mount a surprise attack against their enemies. The plan worked, but almost 250 years later the story of Washington crossing the Delaware might surprise you too. In this episode, RTN favorite Bruce Carlson of My History Can Beat Up Your Politics joins Bob & Ben for a conversation about one of the US’s most recognized, yet little-known battles...


#216 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 recent...


#215 The Power of Story (Revisited) w/ Donna Washington

The stories we tell about ourselves help us make sense of the world. And while we all have stories as individuals, a set them within a shared narrative that is the foundation of our communities. In this episode, National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) CEO Tim Storey hosts Ben and storyteller Donna Washington in a conversation about the ways that stories work, why they have the power to unite us, and how they can also be used to divide us. They also reflect on the “American Story”...


The Wild West w/ Dick Kreck

During a trip to Denver, Bob and Ben were fortunate enough to sit down with journalist and historian Dick Kreck at the historic Brown Palace hotel for a conversation about the history of the Wild West and the city of Denver, Colorado in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Before retiring in 2009, Dick spent four decades working as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner, The LA Times, and The Denver Post, and he has published numerous books on the history of Colorado and the west, including...


#214 Woody Guthrie: Crafting Everyday Life w/ Nora Guthrie

Nora Guthrie, daughter of American icon Woody Guthrie, joins Ben & Bob to talk about her father’s life and the many ways she’s contributed to sharing his story. Nora discusses the inspiration for Woody’s music, his connection to Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Leadbelly and other music icons, and why her new Woody Guthrie: Songs and Art • Words and Wisdom, which she co-curated with music historian Robert Santelli, presents her father as she’d like him to be remembered. Nora Guthrie is President of...


#213 The 2020 Election: A First Draft w/ Robert Costa

The 2020 Presidential election was one of the most tumultuous in American history, and while Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump is settled, Trump’s refusal to accept defeat has had implications that transcend his time in the oval office. In this episode, Bob and Ben speak with Robert Costa, whose new book Peril draws on his and co-author Bob Woodward’s extensive investigation of the Biden and Trump campaigns and Trump’s handling of executive power during his time in office. Robert...


#212 Redistricting: A Primer w/ Wendy Underhill & Ben Williams

There is a lot at stake when congressional districts are redrawn every ten years, and the complexity of redistricting can make it hard for even well-informed citizens to understand the process. In this episode, we get a primer on redistricting’s past and present from the same experts that our state legislators turn to when it’s time to redraw their districts: Wendy Underhill and Ben Williams of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Wendy and Ben take us through the history of...


The American Empire w/ Daniel Immerwahr

Is the United States an empire? US citizens have struggled with this question for a long time. Though our historical narrative traces our origins to the war for independence against the British Empire, we often forget that the US has presided over territories since the very beginning. Today about 4 million people in the territories of American Samoa, the Northern Marinara Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are subject to the US government, yet cannot vote for President and...


#211 The Constitution w/ Jeffrey Rosen

In May of 1787, delegates from 12 states met in Philadelphia and began debating what would become the US Constitution. They published the document the following September and we’ve been arguing about it ever since. As President & CEO of the The National Constitution Center, Jeffrey Rosen is responsible for fulfilling the center’s mission to “disseminate information about the United States Constitution on a non-partisan basis in order to increase the awareness and understanding of the...


#210 Miss America’s Secret Past w/ Amy Argetsinger

The Miss America pageant has always had its critics, but the stories of the organization and those who participated in it are far more dynamic than most people recognize. In this episode, Bob & Ben speak with Amy Argetsinger whose new book There She Was: The Secret History of Miss America explains Miss America’s origins, how the pageant both shaped and was shaped by American society, and why it might be okay that the pageant’s significance in American culture has faded. Bonus: Bob calls...


#209 The Corn Syrup Controversy w/ Benjamin Cohen

How did corn syrup get such a bad reputation? While there are certainly differences between this corn-based sweetener and the sugar that comes from beets & cane, the opinions many of us hold about what separates them are rooted in much more than the scant scientific evidence on their differing impact on human health. In this episode, Benjamin Cohen joins us to talk about the history behind the corn syrup controversy, the deep roots that lie beneath our understandings of food and purity, and...


A Frail League of Friendship: The Articles of Confederation w/ Greg Jackson (Expanded Rebroadcast)

In 1776, the US declared independence. Eleven years later, in 1787, delegates from 12 states (we’re looking at YOU Rhode Island) got together in Philadelphia and wrote the Constitution. In between those triumphant moments, there was the Articles of Confederation, that “firm league of friendship” that most Americans probably know as something they had to memorize for a history test. HOWEVER The Articles of Confederation, while certainly not a highlight of the American experiment, explain a...


#208 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...


This Episode Kills Fascists: Woody Guthrie's Life & Legacy w/ Deana McCloud

Most Americans know Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land”, but the song, much like the man who wrote it, is far more complex than many of us realize. Guthrie, who was born in Oklahoma in 1912, moved west during the Dust Bowl of the mid-1930s and witnessed the tragedy of the Great Depression first-hand. A self-proclaimed “common-ist,” Woody dedicated his life to documenting the experiences of his generation and using his platform to advocate for the common worker. In this episode, Bob &...


#207 Vigilantes

Bob & Ben catch up to talk about the state of political and social unrest in the US and where they see current events within recent history. They cover the recent turn to vigilantism in the US by both anti-mask protestors and the state of Texas, as well as their concern over a tyrannical minority shaping American institutions to maintain power. They also speculate about where all this might lead us….. If you’re enjoying the Road to Now and want to support our work, join us on Patreon at...


The History of Coffee w/ Mark Pendergrast

Most Americans drink coffee. Our love for coffee ties us to people and countries around the world, and to those who lived long before us. In this episode of The Road to Now, we speak with Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee & How It Changed the World and Beyond Fair Trade to find out coffee’s origins, its effects on global trade, and how a small cherry that originated on the other side of the planet became part of our daily life. This is a rebroadcast of RTN...


#206 Telling History through Journalism with Julian Rubinstein

In this episode, Bob speaks with freelance journalist, Julian Rubenstein, author of The Holly: Five Bullets, One Gun, and the Struggle to Save an American Neighborhood (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021). The book tells the story of anti-gang activist, Terrance Roberts, who shot a young gang member before a peace rally he organized. In telling the story of Terrance Roberts, Rubenstein also tells the history of black organizers from the civil rights era, the black power movement through to...


The Mignonette & Everything Else w/ Neil Hanson

Neil Hanson is one of the most interesting people we know. He’s written books on World War I, the Spanish Armada, and the fire that destroyed London in 1666. He once teamed up with history’s greatest treasure hunter to tell the story of retrieving over $100 million in gold from a sunken Soviet ship in the arctic. He’s been the owner of the highest Inn in all of Great Britain. And, in 1999 he published a book called The Custom of the Sea, which tells the story of a shipwrecked crew that was...