History is an endlessly fascinating and illuminating topic that can tell us a great deal about where we came from, how we got where we are today, and even what might happen next. Too many people are turned off the subject by the limited scope of school history classes, but in enthusiastic and knowledgeable hands, history can be wonderfully entertaining.
In this roundup, we have deep dives into popular events and characters, the past divided into digestible chunks, passionate explorations, academic vigor, and more than a touch of comedy and drama. Sit back, relax, and take a trip through the ages with the best history podcasts.
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If you find history a little dry, check out The History Chicks. This bi-weekly podcast sees hosts Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenweider introduce a different female character from history — factual or fictional — each episode, from Lizzie Borden to Mary Wollstonecraft and Marie Antoinette. Each hour-long episode takes a deep dive into the story of these characters, introducing you to little-known facts and quirky tidbits of information you won’t hear anywhere else.
History isn’t always serious — it can be fascinating, at times brutal, and often, downright weird. That’s where Ridiculous History comes in. Hosts Ben Bowlin and Noel Brown take you behind the scenes of history’s weirdest, most wonderful stories, from how to create a Hand of God to the rise of clown pants. There are more than 300 episodes to listen to, which should easily ensure you have plenty of interesting facts to sprinkle into any conversation.
In this podcast, hosts Holly Frey and Tracy V. Wilson teach you all the stuff you missed in history class — whether you simply weren’t paying attention or your teacher never covered it — and with over 1,500 episodes available, it’s going to take you some time to get up to speed. Topics covered range from the history of Halloween candy to the beginnings of Walt Whitman’s poetry career, taking in some extremely weird stories along the way.
If you’re knowledgeable about world history but your American history is a little rusty, American History Tellers is the podcast you need to listen to. Host Lindsay Graham fills you in on the stories that made America, diving deep into the events, times, and people that shaped our nation, with episodes covering everything from Prohibition and the Gold Rush to the Space Race. Tune in every week for a new 40-minute episode and you’ll soon be the American history expert among your friends. If you enjoy this, you’ll want to check out Tides of History, also from The Wondery.
There may be only 10 episodes of Nice Try!, but we wish there were more. You may recognize host Avery Trufelman’s engaging yet soothing voice from her design podcast 99% Invisible. Only this time she’s talking about people who tried to design a better world — a utopia — throughout history, and how their best-laid plans didn’t always work out. From the true story of Jamestown to New York’s Oneida Community, each episode takes a closer look at humanity’s attempts to construct the perfect society, and the often disastrous outcomes.
This sweeping podcast covers various revolutions that have occurred around the world. It starts with King Charles and the English civil wars of the 17th century, and then goes on to cover the complex French, American, and Russian revolutions, and more. Mike Duncan mixes some anecdotes and interesting facts into his research and has a gentle narration style that makes for easy listening. If you enjoy this, then you’ll also want to seek out Duncan’s earlier podcast series, The History of Rome.
With a focus on interesting nuggets of American history, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more professionally produced historical podcast. The supremely talented Nate DiMeo weaves together soundscapes with engagingly concise narration to tell a wide range of intriguing tales from the past. These elegantly constructed historical snapshots are usually around 10 minutes long, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter; they can be humorous or tragic, but they’re always enthralling in one of the best podcasts about history.
If you love the bizarre forgotten tales of history, then this witty, sardonic podcast series should delight you. Duncan Fyfe researches and writes entertaining scripts, while Alex Ashby recites them with dramatic flair. Each episode explores a single story, starting with U.S. president, Warren G. Harding’s famous dog and ending with a monstrous Victorian pie. The episodes are short, at between 10 and 15 minutes, and there aren’t enough of them.
If you find historians a bit too dry, then you might want to give this podcast a try. Thanks to its accessible nature, entertaining style, and the enthusiasm of the host, it’s one of the most successful history podcasts around. Carlin covers all sorts of topics, does a fair bit of research, and stirs up some interesting arguments. If you’re looking for a deep dive into topics over several hours, then Carlin’s series should please you. He’s a very entertaining storyteller.
Served up in easily digestible 10-minute chunks, this BBC podcast series brings us voices from the past, as people who were actually present at various major historical events talk about their experiences. It offers unique, first-hand insight into everything from submarine warfare in the First World War to the invention of the iPhone.
With the tagline “Sometimes truth is more frightening than fiction” this podcast transforms the darker corners of history into engaging, creepy campfire tales. Hosted by author Aaron Mahnke, the meticulously researched show mines folklore, superstition, and urban legends to uncover the roots of supernatural history and find the real-life inspirations. Amazon has turned this podcast into a TV show which fans of the podcast are sure to love.
This 100-part BBC series was narrated by the erudite Neil MacGregor when he was director of the British Museum and it focuses on a single object in each episode. The objects span two million years of human history, from an ancient Egyptian mummy to a Chinese bronze bell to pieces of eight, all the way through to a solar-powered lamp and charger. There’s an accompanying book too, available on Amazon.
Master storyteller Malcolm Gladwell revisits events, people, and ideas from modern history that he feels “deserve a second chance.” He draws on a wide range of source material, including audio files and documents, and the opinions of experts and journalists, to weave together a fresh perspective on an eclectic mix of topics that range from secret Pentagon projects to Toyota’s self-accelerating car scandal. This isn’t objective analysis; Gladwell always puts his opinion across, but whether you agree with him or not, the stories are beautifully told.
If you ever study history and feast your eyes on primary sources, then you’ll know that many of them reveal fascinating insights about the times in which they were written. Contrary to popular belief, they’re not always dry, but can be witty, illuminating, and downright weird. Patrick Lane combines portions of source material with historical interpretations to pick out interesting characters and events from medieval times and explore them in an enjoyable, rambling manner.
Dan Snow’s History Hit
You’ll find explorations of all sorts of historical topics in this podcast and fascinating interviews with a laundry list of expert historians. Snow is enthusiastic and elicits a lot of insight from his guests. This podcast tackles the span of history from ancient times through to modern breaking news events, each episode is packed with information, and it often poses interesting questions and then attempts to answer them.