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The Year That Was

History Podcasts

A look at history one year at a time, from as many angles as possible. Famous people, infamous people, obscure people; wars, revolutions, peace treaties, art, science, sports, religion. The big picture, in an entertaining podcast package.

A look at history one year at a time, from as many angles as possible. Famous people, infamous people, obscure people; wars, revolutions, peace treaties, art, science, sports, religion. The big picture, in an entertaining podcast package.


United States


A look at history one year at a time, from as many angles as possible. Famous people, infamous people, obscure people; wars, revolutions, peace treaties, art, science, sports, religion. The big picture, in an entertaining podcast package.






The Last Night of the Bubbling Glass: The Passage of the 18th Amendment

By 1914, the temperance movement had achieved significant gains in its goal to outlaw the sale of alcohol in the United States. But every push for nationwide prohibition had failed. Would the war--and the accompanying anti-German hysteria--give the Anti-Saloon League enough power to cross the finish line? Was a golden age of sobriety waiting on the other side? The Temperance Movement began in the 1840s and gained significant momentum through the rest of the century. Women were major leaders...


Do You Expect Us to Turn Back Now: Alice Paul and the Fight for Woman Suffrage

Women in the United States began fighting for the right to vote in 1848, and by 1910 they had achieved a few hard-won victories. But success nationwide seemed out of reach. Then Alice Paul arrived on the scene with a playbook of radical protest strategies and an indomitable will. She focused in on one target: the president, Woodrow Wilson. How far would Paul and her fellow suffragists have to go to get Wilson's support? Dora Lewis was the member of prominent Philadelphia family. She was...


Flu Fences and Chin Sails: Answering New Questions about the Spanish Flu

Living through the COVID-19 pandemic raises all sorts of new questions about the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919. This episode seeks to answer those questions. We look at the multiple waves of the flu, popular home remedies, who went to the hospital and who stayed home, how the federal government responded to the outbreak, the effect on the economy, resistance to face masks, and how the flu shaped the Roaring Twenties. Correction: In this episode I state that Arthur Conan Doyle stopped...


Say It Ain't So: The Black Sox Scandal and Baseball in 1919

Baseball was the only truly national American sport in 1919, loved by fans across the United States. But the mood among players was grim--team owners kept salaries artificially low. When the Chicago White Sox won their league championship, the temptation to accept hard cash from gamblers to deliberately lose the World Series was irresistible. After all, what could possibly go wrong? The Wingfoot Express took its maiden voyage around Chicago on July 21st, 1919. The 150-foot long airship was...


Radical and Agitator: William Monroe Trotter and the Fight for Justice

William Monroe Trotter was among the richest, best-educated, and most-well-connected African-American men in the United States--and he dedicated every ounce of his privilege into helping his fellow black Americans. By 1919, he had fought with the elder statesmen of his community, been arrested in protests over "Birth of a Nation," and denounced Woodrow Wilson's racial policies to president's face. But 1919 would bring one of Trotter's greatest challenges: he would need to learn how to peel...


There Is No Justice Here: The Red Summer of 1919

A constant threat of violence hung over the lives of African Americans in the early 20th century, an unrelenting terror that served to deter economic progress and enforce a racist social order. But 1919 was different: violence spread out of the south into northern and midwestern cities and took the form of random, terrifying riots. But the response of African-American leaders in 1919 was also different. They decided enough was enough. The time had come to fight back. Chicago's beaches in...


Reign of Terror: The First Red Scare

Americans felt under attack in 1919 as a series of riots, strikes, disasters, and bombings hit the country. After radicals attempted to blow up the house of Attorney General Mitchell Palmer, he decided enough was enough. It was time to stop the Red Menace using any means possible. But would Americans tolerate the loss of their civil liberties in the pursuit of Bolsheviks? A. Mitchell Palmer's home was devastated when a bomb exploded at his front door on the night of June 2, 1919. If Palmer...


Pie in the Sky: The Wobblies and the Fight for Labor

The I.W.W. was a tough, militant, radical union, and its very existence terrified business owners, factory bosses, and the entire U.S. government. Since its founding, the law had been out to get the Wobblies. In 1919, as a record number of Americans went on strike for better wages and working conditions, would the union be able to help them? Would the union even survive? The Wobblies were so famous for singing that they repeatedly published their lyrics in "The Little Red Songbook," which...


Send All Available Personnel: The United States and the Great Molasses Flood

The Purity Distilling Company molasses tank dominated the North End of Boston, standing 50 feet tall over the surrounding tenements. Residents of the area were accustomed to the sight of tank oozing syrup from its seams and making strange rumbling noises from its depths. And one day in January 1919, life changed forever for Bostonians when the walls of the tank suddenly, inexplicably failed. Was it negligence? Or a vicious attack by anarchists? The molasses storage tank of the Purity...


The Great Tide of Our Age: Colonies, Mandates and the Failed Promise of Self-Determination

Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points promised self-determination to colonies around the globe, raising hopes of independence and freedom for millions. But Wilson and the Allies had no intention of letting occupied peoples throw off imperialism. What would be the long-term consequences of raising the hopes and then dashing the dreams of so many people? Nguyễn Ái Quốc, aka Nguyễn Tất Thành, was born in French Indochina and fled to find better opportunities. He was living in Paris in 1919 and...


A Grubby Little War: The Collapse of the Ottoman Empire

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire set off a mad scramble for territory. No one paid any attention to what the people who actually lived in the former empire actually wanted. But in the heart of Anatolia, one Turkish general was determined to preserve his homeland. In 1914, the Ottoman Empire stretched from the border of Europe all the way to the Arabian Peninsula, although the amount of control actually exerted by Istanbul diminished with distance from the capital. The Gallipoli Campaign...


No Question of Undue Severity: The India Independence Movement

At the end of World War I, Great Britain promised India increased autonomy with one hand and took civil rights away with another. The furious population welcomed the leadership of a nationalist with a compelling message of non-violence and self-reliance, one Mohandas K. Gandhi. But when Gandhi organized nationwide protests, the British reacted with fear and force, especially in Amritsar, where a mob lashed out against English residents. The confrontation would end in one of the most shocking...


Giving the Natives a Free Hand: The Irish Fight for Independence

The Irish had tried to free themselves from British control for centuries, always to fail. But in 1922, the Irish Free State took its place among the world's independent nations. Learn how an election, a shadow government, and a key literally baked into a cake brought independence to Ireland--along with a bloody civil war. Thomas Ash died in a British prison in 1917 after a botched forced feeding when he refused to lift his hunger strike. His funeral had every appearance of a state...


No Cause for Panic: The Spanish Flu Pandemic

The emergence of the flu virus that swept the globe between 1918 and 1920 was entirely unexpected, but the resulting pandemic can't be called an entirely natural disaster. Governments made decisions that made the flu much, much worse, and those decisions would have long-lasting consequences--and leave between 50 and 100 million dead. Colonel Charles Hagadorn was a respected officer who had served in the Philippines, Northern Mexico, and Panama as well as at West Point as a drawing...


Eggshells Loaded with Dynamite: Allied Intervention in the Russian Revolution

In 1919, thousands of American soldiers fought Russian troops on Russian soil--despite the fact President Woodrow Wilson had promised to allow Russia to determine its own political future. Why did the Allies rush to land troops in eastern Siberia and along the Arctic Ocean? And why have we forgotten all about it? General William S. Graves wanted to lead troops in France, but instead he was given confusing and contradictory orders and sent to Vladivostok in far eastern Siberia. The...


The Object of Power: The Russian Revolution and Conflict in Eastern Europe, Part II

The world has been obsessed with the tragedy of the Romanov family for more than a century. It's easy to forget that the Tsar's family were among hundreds of thousands of people killed in the Revolution as well as in conflicts that swept across Eastern Europe. These conflicts would have lasting implications for the entire world. Notes and Links I have really struggled to find a map that shows what I want a map to show. None of them really focus on exactly what I'm focusing on, alas. But,...


A Gladiator's Gesture: Art after the Great War

In 1919, two competing art movements went head-to-head in Paris. One was the Return to Order, a movement about purity and harmony. The other was Dada, a movement about chaos and destruction. Their collision would change the trajectory of Western art. Hugo Ball established the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, where Dada came to life in February 1916. In this photo, he's dressed in his "magic bishop" costume. The costume was so stiff and ungainly that Ball had to be carried on and off stage. You...


Incident at Chelyabinsk: The Russian Revolution and Conflict in Eastern Europe, Part I

One of the strangest conflicts of the Great War happened 1000 miles east of Moscow between two units of Czech and Hungarian former POWs. What these troops were doing on the edge of Siberia is a fascinating tale of ethnic resentments, self-determination, and unintended consequences. Notes and Links A word about dates. Anyone writing about the Russian Revolution must wrestle with the date issue. The Russian empire used a different calendar than the rest of the world for several centuries. This...


Bring in the Germans: The Fate of the Losers at the Paris Peace Conference

The most important task at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference was the drafting of peace terms for the losers of the war. Germany and Austria assumed Woodrow Wilson would insist on a fair, respectful compromise peace based on the Fourteen Points. So they were shocked when the Treaty of Versailles demanded territory, demilitarization, and reparations. Is this what caused World War II? Show Notes The story about the police horse in Vienna is recounted by author Margaret MacMillan, author of the...


Burdened with Glorious Purpose: Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations

Woodrow Wilson believed he and he alone could end war--forever. His plan for the League of Nations would usher in an era of eternal peace. So it really hurt the president's feelings when not everyone agreed with his vision. American author John Dos Passos in his World War I uniform. Dos Passos spent 1919 traveling around Europe and wrote about the adoration of ordinary people for Woodrow Wilson. The story about the baker from Belfort was included in essay titled "America and the Pursuit of...