300 episodes

For history lovers who listen to podcasts, History Unplugged is the most comprehensive show of its kind. It's the only show that dedicates episodes to both interviewing experts and answering questions from its audience. First, it features a call-in show where you can ask our resident historian (Scott Rank, PhD) absolutely anything (What was it like to be a Turkish sultan with four wives and twelve concubines? If you were sent back in time, how would you kill Hitler?). Second, it features long-form interviews with best-selling authors who have written about everything. Topics include gruff World War II generals who flew with airmen on bombing raids, a war horse who gained the rank of sergeant, and presidents who gave their best speeches while drunk.

History Unplugged Podcast Scott Rank, PhD

    • Society & Culture

For history lovers who listen to podcasts, History Unplugged is the most comprehensive show of its kind. It's the only show that dedicates episodes to both interviewing experts and answering questions from its audience. First, it features a call-in show where you can ask our resident historian (Scott Rank, PhD) absolutely anything (What was it like to be a Turkish sultan with four wives and twelve concubines? If you were sent back in time, how would you kill Hitler?). Second, it features long-form interviews with best-selling authors who have written about everything. Topics include gruff World War II generals who flew with airmen on bombing raids, a war horse who gained the rank of sergeant, and presidents who gave their best speeches while drunk.

    The 1881 Expedition to Reach Farthest North Led to Starvation, Madness, and Glory

    The 1881 Expedition to Reach Farthest North Led to Starvation, Madness, and Glory

    In July 1881, Lt. A.W. Greely and his crew of 24 scientists and explorers were bound for the last region unmarked on global maps. Their goal: Farthest North. What would follow was one of the most extraordinary and terrible voyages ever made.

    Greely and his men confronted every possible challenge―vicious wolves, sub-zero temperatures, and months of total darkness―as they set about exploring one of the most remote, unrelenting environments on the planet. In May 1882, they broke the 300-year-old record, and returned to camp to eagerly await the resupply ship scheduled to return at the end of the year. Only nothing came.

    250 miles south, a wall of ice prevented any rescue from reaching them. Provisions thinned and a second winter descended. Back home, Greely’s wife worked tirelessly against government resistance to rally a rescue mission.

    Today I’m speaking with Buddy Levy, author of “Labyrinth of Ice: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition.” We look at this story and what came after: Months passed, and Greely made a drastic choice—he and his men loaded the remaining provisions and tools onto their five small boats, and pushed off into the treacherous waters. After just two weeks, dangerous floes surrounded them. Now new dangers awaited: insanity, threats of mutiny, and cannibalism. As food dwindled and the men weakened, Greely's expedition clung desperately to life.

    We discuss the story of the heroic lives and deaths of these voyagers hell-bent on fame and fortune―at any cost―and how their journey changed the world.

    • 55 min
    The Terrifying Conquests of Hannibal of Carthage

    The Terrifying Conquests of Hannibal of Carthage

    Hannibal ad portas! The phrase was enough to terrify anyone in the Roman Republic and became an adage for parents to scare their children at nights: “Hannibal is at the gates.” The Carthaginian commander nearly destroyed Rome in the 3rd century BC and posed the republic's greatest threat until the empire collapsed in the fifth century AD. What made the general such a formidable foe? His genius for military strategy, willingness to use any level of violence necessary (Hannibal's religion called for child sacrifice), and clever use of resources.

    • 46 min
    The Negro Leagues Made Baseball a Global Sport and Kickstarted the Civil Rights Movement

    The Negro Leagues Made Baseball a Global Sport and Kickstarted the Civil Rights Movement

    Many people think the Negro Leagues as a sad, somber part of America's legacy of racial division. In many ways it is, says Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro League Baseball Museum. But on the 100th anniversary of its founding, he stresses that it is moreover a triumphant story about what came out of segregation, and the result was a much richer, stronger country.

    It was the Negro Leagues that introduced baseball to Japan and Latin America when black players played in exhibition matches at those places (they went on a goodwill tour to Japan in 1927, years before Babe Ruth and others came, winning the hearts of locals). And, he says, it was the Negro League that kickstarted the Civil Rights Movement by its players breaking the baseball color barrier of the Major Leagues with Jackie Robinson in 1947. This was years before the Birmingham Bus Boycott (1956) or the Freedom Riders (1961).

    Today I'm speaking with Kendrick about the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues, which were formed on February 13, 1920, in Kansas City, Missouri. For the next several decades, black players competed on Negro League teams every bit as competent as their white counterparts (Hank Aaron got his start in the Negro Leagues; Joe DiMaggio called Satchel Paige “the best and fastest pitcher I have ever faced.”)

    We discuss legends of the sport, such as Buck O'Neil, a first baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs, who became the first black scout for Major League Baseball and was a major player in establishing the museum itself (he was also a fixture on Ken Burns' documentary on baseball).

    • 1 hr 4 min
    The Royal Touch: When British and French Kings Were Thought to Have Healing Powers

    The Royal Touch: When British and French Kings Were Thought to Have Healing Powers

    “The Hands of the King are the Hands of a Healer” -- this phrase appears in the Lord of the Rings, referring to how Aragorn was identified as the king of Gondor by his healing powers. Tolkien likely based this ability on an actual ceremony in England and France where thousands would gather to be touched by the king and be healed of their illnesses.

    From the eleventh to nineteenth centuries, it was believed that a monarch could heal scrofula – called “The King's Evil” – by laying hands on the infected area. The belief of the Royal Touch began in the Middle Ages but survived, and even thrived, well into the Protestant Reformation, when other types of sacramental ceremonies were erased. It was enormously popular with the public. Charles II touch nearly 92,000 during his reign – over 4,500 a year. So many wanted the royal touch that officials demanded the afflicted produce a certificate to prove they had not already received it and were coming back for seconds.

    The ritual persisted through very different eras and religious periods because kings and queens all used it to claim that God supported their reign.

    • 53 min
    The Worst Gambling Scandal in NCAA History Led to an Unlikely Story of Redemption

    The Worst Gambling Scandal in NCAA History Led to an Unlikely Story of Redemption

    The 1949-50 City College Beavers basketball team were incredible underdogs who experienced an incredible rise and subsequent fall from grace. At a time when the National Basketball Association was still segregated, the Beavers team was composed entirely of minority players – eight Jews and four African Americans. In 1950 the City College Beavers became the only basketball team in history to win both the NIT and NCAA tournaments in the same year. But one year later the team’s star players were arrested for conspiring with gamblers to shave points. Overnight the players went from heroes to villains.

    Today's guest is Matthew Goodman, author of the book “The City Game.” He argues these players were actually caught in a much larger web of corruption that stretched across major social institutions from City Hall to the police department, sports arenas, and even the universities themselves. It’s a historical story of duplicity and cynicism that’s all too relevant to big-money college sports today.

    But it's also a story of redemption, particularly Floyd Layne, one of the players implicated in the scandal. Floyd Layne was raised by a single mother in the Bronx, an immigrant from Barbados. He was a popular, talented, cheerful kid who loved basketball and jazz. Time and again he resisted the urgings of his teammates to take money from gamblers, but finally he relented because he wanted to buy his mother a $110 washing machine for Christmas. After he was arrested, he and the other players were blacklisted from the NBA – but unlike the other players, Floyd spent years trying unsuccessfully to join the league. Eventually he gave up and began coaching youth basketball in the Bronx, where his mentees included the future Hall of Famer Nate “Tiny” Archibald. In 1975 the job of head basketball coach of City College became available, and Floyd applied and got the job – after a quarter century, he was back at City College.

    • 43 min
    The Confederate States of America, An Alternate History: 1865-2020

    The Confederate States of America, An Alternate History: 1865-2020

    Civil War historians have asked if the South could have won the Civil War (or at least fought to a stalemate) since 1866. If they would have won, then what then? What would a divided states of America have looked like? Would a USA and a CSA have a happy peace and maintain a cooperative co-existence, like North and South Dakota, or maintain a cold war that threatened to go hot at any moment, like North and South Korea?

    In this episode, we look at an alternate timeline of the Confederate States of America, whether emancipation would have happened, which foreign alliances would be forged, and how the two Americas would react to World War Two and the rise of Hitler. Suffice it to say, in the infinite timelines that exist, there is a large number that includes the CSA, and nearly all of them are bad.

    • 51 min

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