By all reasonable metrics Shek Yeung, who raided the South China Sea in the early 1800s, is one of the most successful pirates of all time. In her new novel Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea author Rita Chang-Eppig tells a fictionalized version of the pirate queen’s life, her rise to power, and her relationship with powers both temporal and spiritual.
During the Dust Bowl city officials in Los Angeles, fueled by anti-communist paranoia and xenophobia, were determined to keep migrants out of California. To that end, they dispatched the LAPD to remote border crossing points far outside the city in order to keep out anyone who looked like they were fleeing blight or didn’t have work. Author Bill Lascher spoke with us about his new book The Golden Fortress, which outlines how in 1936 LA law enforcement went to the far reaches of the Golden State to keep California closed.
Eric Tagliacozzo is a professor of history at Cornell University, and his new book In Asian Waters: Oceanic Worlds From Yemen to Yokohama outlines five centuries of maritime history in the Asian world. In this wide-ranging interview, we discussed how China created trade routes that stretched all the way to Africa’s Swahili coast, the ocean-going history of Vietnam, and the role of consumer goods, piracy, slavery, and religion in the Indian Ocean, South China Sea, Pacific, and beyond.
Archaeology has changed considerably over the past century. In this episode, we spoke with Ann R. Williams of National Geographic about the new book Lost Cities Ancient Tombs, significant discoveries from the past century, and what it means to dig up the past.
The Marvel Universe is massive. Marvel comics go back well over half a century, and span thousands upon thousands of pages. Reading all of them would be a Herculean undertaking. And one man, Douglas Wolk, did exactly that, and wrote a book about it. We talked his new release All of the Marvels, and about how one of the most well-known fictional universes in the world has dealt with real-world history, like war, civil rights, crime, AIDS, Watergate, and more.
Covid-19 has killed and sickened hundreds of thousands of people, and transformed our economy, how we work, and how we relate to each other. Even in the midst of this world-historic crisis, though, people deny it. Conspiracy theorists and naysayers claim covid is a hoax, and others refuse to get vaccinated for a variety of pseudoscientific reasons. This denialism isn’t new. During past crisis, such as the AIDS pandemic, plenty of conspiracy theorists claimed that it wasn’t real, or that HIV didn’t cause AIDS, and vaccine denialism has a long, horrible pedigree. Sara and Jack Gorman are the authors of Denying to the Grave, which gets into why unscientific ideas get so popular, and how we can more effectively engage with people who don’t engage with facts or evidence, even when it’s all around them.
Treason is the only crime specifically defined in the U.S. Constitution, and talk of treason has been in the air for the last four years. Carlton F.W. Larson is a professor of constitutional law at University of California at Davis, and the author of On Treason: A Citizen’s Guide to the Law. He joined us to discuss how treason is defined in the U.S., why it’s defined in that particular way, and the U.S.’s checkered past when it comes to actually prosecuting (or not prosecuting) people for treason.
Sasha Abramsky is a journalist and author whose new book Little Wonder tells the story of Lottie Dod, the modern world’s first female sporting celebrity. Dod came to prominence as a tennis prodigy and later excelled in other sports like golf, archery, and mountain climbing before voluntarily giving up her celebrity and fading into obscurity.
Today’s show is a conversation with Michel Paradis, attorney and author of Last Mission to Tokyo. Early in WWII the U.S. launched the Doolittle Raids against Japan, attacking the Japanese mainland for the first time. Most of the raiders were able to land safely in allied China, but some were captured by the Japanese and put on trial for the attack. After the war, the Japanese officers who put the raiders on trial were, themselves, put on trial by the Americans. Last Mission to Tokyo tells the story of that trial, and plays out like a legal thriller or detective story, except the stakes are on the level of war crimes and international relations.
Duncan Ryuken Williams’s new book, American Sutra, explores Japanese Internment with a focus on Buddhism. Most Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans were Buddhists, and before and during internment these members of the Japanese-American community were treated very differently than those who’d converted to Christianity. Buddhists in internment camps found ways to practice their faith, despite it being discouraged, and Buddhist soldiers were crucial to the American war effort, both in Europe and the Pacific.
We’ve hit two hundred episodes! To celebrate we’re taking your questions. Designer, photographer, and all-around superhero Sarah Giffrow joined Joe to answer talk about how to think about history, the state of podcasting, and dinosaurs.
Humans are the only animals to wear clothing, and much of that clothing is made out of other animals. In Putting on the Dog: The Animal Origins of What We Wear author Melissa Kwasny explores the worlds of leather, wool, silk, feathers, pearls, and fur. Her research into the animal origins of clothing prompted an exploration of both the history of clothing as well as the ethical and environmental issues surrounding wearable animal products.
Beef occupies a unique place in American culture. In his new book Red Meat Republic Joshua Specht examines the history of the American beef industry. He examines how ranching and range land was seized from Native Americans, how beef shaped industrial and labor history, and the role beef still plays in American ideas of class, gender, and identity.
Thom Wall is a professional juggler and who’s known both for his feats of dexterity and his enthusiasm for old-style vaudeville performance. His new book Juggling From Antiquity to the Middle Ages traces the history of the art across time and place. Juggling has been invented independently several times over in Ancient Egypt, Mesoamerica, and Polynesia. Wall traces its myriad histories into, eventually, the art of throwing and catching we know today.
Crystal King is the author of two novels about Italian food history. Her first book Feast of Sorrow delved into the world of food in ancient Rome, and her follow up moves forward over a thousand year to explore food in Renaissance Italy.
Crystal’s expertise extends beyond the page. Her Parthian chicken recipe has become a favorite of mine, and a go-to recipe when I’m cooking for company.
Lucy Bellwood is a cartoonist and author in Portland, Oregon. Last year her illustration of sailor tattoos went viral. We talked about nautical tattoos, their meanings, and what it means to get well-known on the Internet very quickly. We also touched on how one researches and studies history, especially in the context of tattoo myths about James Cook and a book Bellwood recommends, The Discovery of Jeanne Baret.
Michael P. Daley is the author of Bobby Bluejacket, a book about a man who, in 1948, was the subject of one of the most covered trials in Tulsa history. We talked about Bluejacket’s life in the Tulsa underground, his time in prison, and why figures like him are worth studying.
Sarah Fraser is the author of The Last Highlander, which details the life of Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat. Fraser’s life was one of political intrigue, feuds, international deal making, and rebellion. He was eventually beheaded in 1747, the last British peer to face such a fate.
David Goldfield is an American historian and the author of almost twenty books. His latest, The Gifted Generation, chronicles the benefits that his peers received from the US federal government, and goes into detail about how the Truman, Eisenhower, and Johnson administrations redefined the role and scope of what government does and means to Americans.
Bonnie MacBird (the co-writer of Tron) is writing new, novel-length Sherlock Holmes adventures. We talked about her experience with Conan Doyle’s stories, how she adapted the author’s voice for a modern work, and other Sherlock media. We also discussed whiskey, which features prominently in her new book, Unquiet Spirits. The plot centers on a real-life catastrophe in the French wine industry, that led to more widespread consumption of whiskey in European upper classes.
Brandon Seifert has written horror comics such as Witch Doctor, Hellraiser, and The Fly. Lately, he’s been studying werewolf folklore. We talked about the history of werewolf stories, werewolf witch trials, why people believed in werewolves, and what to do if you live in the 1500s and someone accuses you of werewolfism.
Crystal King is the author of Feast of Sorrow, a novel about ancient Roman cooking that takes the first known cookbook as its inspiration. We talked about what it would have been like to go to a Roman dinner party, what the common people would have eaten, Roman fast food, and putting spices in your wine.
This week’s episode is an interview with Meagan Zurn (or “Zee,” co-producer of The British History Podcast) about Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci was a socialist, journalist, and briefly a member of the Italian parliament before getting thrown in jail by Mussolini’s regime in 1926. He died in prison in 1937. His writings, especially his prison writings, outlined the relationship of power and culture, and his insights are especially useful for understanding the rise of fascism in Italy, as well as how power and hegemony function everywhere else.
This week’s show is an interview with Heather Arndt Anderson, author of Chilies: A Global History. We talk about the origins of chilies, their spread around the globe, how they were perceived and used by the people who found them, and how, occasionally, they have been used as a highly painful weaponized plant.
Kara Helgren has previously worked for the city of Salem, Massachusetts as a tour guide, leading visitors through the ominously-named Witch House. According to Helgren tourist expectations veered toward the lurid and macabre. Visitors expected tales of ghosts, black magic, and torture. Helgren (whose thesis was about the witch trials) gave them none of that. Instead, she crushed their dreams and broke their hearts with a bunch of historical accuracy.
This week’s episode is an interview with artist and cartoonist Kory Bing about dinosaurs and other extinct megafauna. We talked about drawing dinosaurs, what dinosaurs are, and how dinosaurs and other extinct animals are portrayed in popular culture. Kory writes and draws the webcomic Skin Deep and regularly illustrates dinosaurs, pterosaurs, ichthyosaurs, and other extinct megafauna. Find her work here.
Theme music: Cowboy Surfer by the Vivisectors
Before the interstate highway system spread over the US, the country was knit together through a network of railroads and auto trails. One of the longest of these was the Lincoln Highway, a coast-to-coast collection of roads that linked New York to San Francisco at the dawn of the 20th century, and could take weeks for early automobiles to traverse. Given that this was a huge tract of land, people wrote songs about it.
Cecelia Otto is a classically trained singer who recently toured the remains of the Lincoln Highway and performed turn-of-the century popular music about the highway at various venues along the way. Otto wrote a book about and released an album after the tour, and is currently crowdfunding a project on the songs of World War I. I talked to her about her experience, how you crossed the country in an old automobile, and how popular music was distributed before electronic recording.
This week’s episode is an interview with Quizmistress and Jeopardy! contestant Molly Newman. Molly runs multiple successful trivia nights in Portland, Oregon, hosts private trivia events, and knows what makes questions good, bad, boring, easy, hard, funny, and compelling. With hundreds of fans in the Portland area (including your humble podcaster) she has made a career about entertaining people with facts both widely-known and obscure. We talked about how to craft good trivia questions, why some questions are too hard or uninteresting, and the surprisingly scandalous origins of Trivial Pursuit.
This week we interviewed a pirate! Kind of. Jaime Kirk is the current captain of PDX Yar, a Portland organization dedicated to all things piratical. The crew does, indeed, dress up like pirates for the purposes of revelry carousing, but they also do quite a bit with historical reenactment. PDX Yar does demonstrations of black powder weapons, presentations on how ships were actually run and managed, and the leadership have immersed themselves in pirate history for years now.
Below is a engraving from the 1720s of Bartholomew Roberts, aka Black Bart, Jaime’s favorite pirate.
Find Jaime and the rest of PDX Yar here.
Get Under the Black Flag, Jaime’s, recommended book on pirate history, from Powells.com.
This week’s episode has a slightly different format from previous entries. We sat down with food historian Heather Arndt Anderson, author of Breakfast: A History, and talked about this history of breakfast. Topics ranged from how orange juice became a breakfast drink, how bacon was marketed as an essential morning meat, the accidental invention of corn flakes, and the gender politics surrounding breakfast.
And, because I mentioned it on a tangent, here’s a time lapse of the Ottoman Empire over time.