History Unplugged Podcast

Scott Rank, PhD

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. read less

Our Editor's Take

History can be a challenging and complex subject. History Unplugged Podcast allows listeners to learn more about the past in an entertaining and approachable way.

The creator and host of the History Unplugged Podcast is Scott Rank. Rank is an author, public speaker, and historian who has written twelve books. These works examine various subjects with a focus on the Middle Ages. Rank received his Ph.D. from the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary.

History Unplugged Podcast has a number of factors that set it apart from other history podcasts. Listeners can call into the show and ask the host questions, which he will answer in real time. The questions are not just about medieval times. Rank attempts to answer any historical question on the show. He seems delighted when getting questions that are challenging or hyper-specific. The result is a quiz show-like atmosphere that permeates this segment of the podcast.

Rank often invites authors of historical books on the podcast. Sometimes, the subject they talk about is well-known. Other times, the topic may be a bit more obscure. Rank is an excellent interviewer. He excels at using his background in public speaking and journalism in this role. This is especially useful if the topic they discuss is somewhat arcane.

History Unplugged Podcast devoted five full episodes to the history of slavery. Rank also produced a series focusing on Warren G. Harding, the 29th president. Harding is most remembered for his many scandals. The most famous of these is the Teapot Dome incident. This was a bribery and corruption scandal involving oil reserves. But Rank feels that Harding was largely the victim of a smear campaign after his death.

History Unplugged Podcast is an informative podcast for those curious about history. New episodes of the podcast premiere every Tuesday.

read less
HistoryHistory

Episodes

Was Union Support in the Confederacy Actually Widespread? The Alabamans Who Fought for Sherman Say 'Yes'
15-02-2024
Was Union Support in the Confederacy Actually Widespread? The Alabamans Who Fought for Sherman Say 'Yes'
As the popular narrative goes, the Civil War was won when courageous Yankees triumphed over the South. But an aspect of the war that has remained little-known for 160 years is the Alabamian Union soldiers who played a decisive role in the Civil War, only to be scrubbed from the history books. One such group was the First Alabama Calvary, formed in 1862. It went on raids that destroyed Confederate communications and also marched with Sherman’s forces across the South. They aided the fall of Vicksburg and the burning of Atlanta.Today’s guest is Howell Raines, author of “Silent Cavalry: How Union Soldiers from Alabama Helped Sherman Burn Atlanta—and Then Got Written Out of History.” As Raines has pieced together, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s decisive effort to burn Atlanta was facilitated by an unsung regiment of 2,066 yeoman farmers and former slaves from Alabama—including at least one member of Raines’s own family.So why have the best-known Civil War historians, including Ken Burns and Shelby Foote, given only passing – or no – attention to this regiment of southerners who chose to fight for the North – a regiment that General Sherman hailed as one of the finest in the Union? We explore this question through an account of Alabama’s Mountain Unionists and their exploits, along with investigating why they and others like them were excised from the historical record.
Turning Okies Into New Dealers: How 1930s Technocrats Pushed Progressivism on Dust Bowl Refugees in Federal Farm Camps
08-02-2024
Turning Okies Into New Dealers: How 1930s Technocrats Pushed Progressivism on Dust Bowl Refugees in Federal Farm Camps
In the midst of the Great Depression, punished by crippling drought and deepening poverty, hundreds of thousands of families left the Great Plains and the Southwest to look for work in California’s rich agricultural valleys. In response to the scene of destitute white families living in filthy shelters built of cardboard, twigs, and refuse, reform-minded New Deal officials built a series of camps to provide them with shelter and community.Today’s guest is Jonathan Ebel, author of “From Dust They Came: Government Camps and the Religion of Reform in New Deal California.” We look at the religious dynamics in and around migratory farm labor camps in agricultural California established and operated by the Resettlement Administration and the Farm Security Administration. Ebel makes the case that the camps served as mission sites for the conversion of migrants to more modern ways of living and believing. Though the ideas of virtuous citizenship put forward by the camp administrators were framed as secular, they rested on a foundation of Protestantism. At the same time, many of the migrants were themselves conservative or charismatic Protestants who had other ideas for how their religion intended them to be.By looking at the camps as missionary spaces, Ebel shows that this New Deal program was animated both by humanitarian concern and by the belief that these poor, white migrants and their religious practices were unfit for life in a modernized, secular world.
The Jewish Bankers Who Built Wall Street, Financed the American Century, and Spawned Countless Conspiracy Theories
01-02-2024
The Jewish Bankers Who Built Wall Street, Financed the American Century, and Spawned Countless Conspiracy Theories
Joseph Seligman arrived in the United States in 1837, with the equivalent of $100 sewn into the lining of his pants. Then came the Lehman brothers, who would open a general store in Montgomery, Alabama. Not far behind were Solomon Loeb and Marcus Goldman, among the “Forty-Eighters” fleeing a Germany that had relegated Jews to an underclass.These industrious immigrants would soon go from peddling trinkets and buying up shopkeepers’ IOUs to forming what would become some of the largest investment banks in the world—Goldman Sachs, Kuhn Loeb, Lehman Brothers, J. & W. Seligman & Co. They would clash and collaborate with J. P. Morgan, E. H. Harriman, Jay Gould, and other famed tycoons of the era. And their firms would help to transform the United States from a debtor nation into a financial superpower, capitalizing American industry and underwriting some of the twentieth century’s quintessential companies, like General Motors, Macy’s, and Sears. Along the way, they would shape the destiny not just of American finance but of the millions of Eastern European Jews who spilled off steamships in New York Harbor in the early 1900s, including Daniel Schulman’s paternal grandparents.Today’s guest is Dan Schulman, author of “The Money Kings: The Epic Story of the Jewish Immigrants Who Transformed Wall Street and Shaped Modern America.” We trace the interconnected origin stories of these financial dynasties from the Gilded Age to the Civil War, World War I, and the Zionist movement that tested both their burgeoning empires and their identities as Americans, Germans, and Jews.
The Ghost Army of World War 2
30-01-2024
The Ghost Army of World War 2
In the summer of 1944, a handpicked group of young GIs—including such future luminaries such as Bill Blass, Ellsworth Kelly, Arthur Singer, Victor Dowd, Art Kane, and Jack Masey—landed in France to conduct a secret mission. From Normandy to the Rhine, the 1,100 men of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, known as the Ghost Army, conjured up phony convoys, phantom divisions, and make-believe headquarters to fool the enemy about the strength and location of American units. Every move they made was top secret and their story was hushed up for decades after the war's end.The unit’s official US Army history noted that “its complement was more theatri¬cal than military,” and “It was like a traveling road show that went up and down the front lines imperson¬ating the real fighting outfits.” They pulled off twenty-one differ¬ent deceptions and are credited with saving thousands of lives through stagecraft and sleight of hand. They threw themselves into their impersonations, sometimes setting up phony command posts and masquerading as generals. They frequently put themselves in danger, suffering casualties as a consequence. After holding Patton’s line along the Moselle, they barely escaped capture by the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge, and in March 1945 they performed their most dazzling deception, misleading the Germans about where two American divi¬sions would cross the Rhine River.To explore the story of this forgotten subterfuge is today’s guest, Rick Beyer, author of “The Ghost Army of World War II: How One Top-Secret Unit Deceived the Enemy with Inflatable Tanks, Sound Effects, and Other Audacious Fakery.” We look at how a traveling road show of artists wielding imagination, paint, and bravado saved thousands of American lives.
How Free Time Transformed From Strolls Through Aristocratic Gardens to Doomscrolling on TikTok
25-01-2024
How Free Time Transformed From Strolls Through Aristocratic Gardens to Doomscrolling on TikTok
Free time, one of life’s most important commodities, often feels unfulfilling. But why? And how did leisure activities transition from strolling in the park for hours to “doomscrolling” on social media for thirty minutes?Despite the promise of modern industrialization, many people experience both a scarcity of free time and a disappointment in it. Here to explain why this is today’s guest Gary Cross, author of “Free Time: The History of an Elusive Ideal.” We discuss a broad historical explanation of why our affluent society does not afford more time away from work and why that time is often unsatisfying.We begin with a survey of the past 250 years to understand the roots of our conception of free time and its use. By the end of the nineteenth century, a common expectation was that industrial innovations would lead to a progressive reduction of work time and a subsequent rise in free time devoted to self-development and social engagement. However, despite significant changes in the early twentieth century, both goals were frustrated, thus leading to the contemporary dilemma.Cross touches on leisure of all kinds, from peasant festivals and aristocratic pleasure gardens to amusement parks, movie theaters and organized sports to internet surfing, and even the use of alcohol and drugs. This wide-ranging cultural and social history explores the industrial-era origins of our modern obsession with work and productivity, but also the historical efforts to liberate time from work and cultivate free time for culture.
The Last Ship From Hamburg: How Russian Jews Escaped Death on the Eve of World War I
04-01-2024
The Last Ship From Hamburg: How Russian Jews Escaped Death on the Eve of World War I
For a 30-year period, from the 1880s to World War I, 2.5 million Jews, fleeing discrimination and violence in their homelands of Eastern Europe, arrived in the United States. Many sailed on steamships from Hamburg.This mass exodus was facilitated by three businessmen whose involvement in the Jewish-American narrative has been largely forgotten: Jacob Schiff, the managing partner of the investment bank Kuhn, Loeb & Company, who used his immense wealth to help Jews to leave Europe; Albert Ballin, managing director of the Hamburg-American Line, who created a transportation network of trains and steamships to carry them across continents and an ocean; and J. P. Morgan, mastermind of the International Mercantile Marine (I.M.M.) trust, who tried to monopolize the lucrative steamship business. Though their goals were often contradictory, together they made possible a migration that spared millions from persecution.Today’s guest is Steven Ujifusa, author of “The Last Ships From Hamburg: Business, Rivalry, and The Race to Save Russia’s Jews on the Eve of World War I.” His great-grandparents were part of this immigrant group, and he describes how they moved from the shtetls of Russia and the ports of Hamburg to the mansions of New York’s Upper East Side. We explore how debates on immigration have changed from the 1880s to today, and what it takes for the interests of billionaires and the interests of society’s poorest members to align.