Past Tense: The Ten Best Podcasts For History Lovers


History is full of hilarious hijinks, courageous and crazy characters, passionate romances, thrilling, dangerous risks, and villainous plots and plans, lending a lot of credence to the phrase “the truth is stranger than fiction.” But with so much material, we’re bound to miss out on many amazing stories of incredible people, places, and events that helped shape our world today. Dozens of podcasts have risen to the challenge of filling those voids in our education, focusing on the kings and queens, the overlooked and misrepresented, the heroes and villains, and everything in between. Here are ten of the best podcasts to listen to when you want to escape to the past. 

Throughout history, great countries have been ruled by kings, queens, and nobles who have, for better or worse, shaped the course of their nations. Noble Blood takes a look at these rulers - their lives, and especially their deaths. Some nobles were tyrants, some were tragic, some were mad, and some were made - and not all of them got to keep their heads. Author Dana Schwartz dives into the blue bloods that ruled the world in this podcast.

Villains are usually the best characters, and Behind the Bastards dives into some of history’s worst people to prove it, exposing the bizarre realities of their everyday lives. Episodes include Adolf Hitler’s young adult book collection, the trashy romance novels written by Saddam Hussein, all the crazy details about Kim Jong Un’s family, and more.

The school year is only so long, and plenty of fascinating tidbits of history get skipped over. Stuff You Missed In History Class is here to help, with a ton of episodes about everything from Ferdinand IV of Spain and his wife Barbara, who despite battling mental illness had a surprisingly stable reign; the Port Chicago Disaster, which was the worst stateside disaster during World War II; Elizabeth Packard’s forcible admission to an asylum for questioning religion, and so much more. 

History is riddled with rebels, people who didn’t accept the status quo and were willing to suffer to speak truth to power. Unpopular pays homage to these righteous and radical resisters, covering Galileo, who was persecuted for suggesting that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe; the Mirabal Sisters, who resisted a dictatorial regime in the Dominican Republic; Amelia Bloomer, the first Victorian woman to defy convention and wear pants; and so many more inspiring, unpopular historical figures.

We take a number of things for granted about the world around us, and host Malcolm Gladwell uses Revisionist History to find out why we do things a certain way, or why a song got so popular, or why we test law students the way we do, telling the real story of the Boston Tea Party, the one song Elvis couldn’t sing and the most controversial semicolon in the world, asking: Did we really get it right the first time? Or does the past deserve a second chance?

Lore uses folklore and myth to explore the tragic events, mysterious creatures, and unusual places that fill the pages of history, trying to uncover the real story. Dark and mysterious, this podcast includes episodes about the lengths some people have gone to recover from illnesses, the bones buried beneath every building, what was really going on during the Salem witch trials, and what might be lurking beneath the ocean’s waves.

Host Mo Rocca uses the obituary as an inspiration for Mobituaries, diving into the lives and accomplishments of celebrities, athletes, civil rights pioneers, and more. Why did their lives - and deaths - matter to the world? Featuring episodes on Audrey Hepburn, Sammy Davis Jr., Hollywood queen Lois Weber, and a JFK impersonator who was on top of the world - until he wasn’t.

Hardcore History host, journalist Dan Carlin, uses his unorthodox way of thinking to muse on the past: What would Apaches with modern weapons be like? How can humanity grapple with its inability to control its own nuclear invention, the greatest weapon in the world? Was Alexander the Great as bad of a person as Adolf Hitler? What happened during the Celtic Holocaust? Get a whole new perspective on history with this podcast.

Slow Burn takes one historical event and takes you through all the twists, turns, subplots, and forgotten characters that add a whole other level of fascination to the story. The first season concentrates on the Watergate scandal during Richard Nixon’s presidency; the second season focuses on Bill Clinton’s impeachment. With the fantastic storytelling, original interviews, and archival footage in every episode, you’ll feel like you’re there.

Present events don’t happen in a vacuum; incidents and decisions in the past always lead to contemporary troubles, and without understanding the patterns of thinking and the intricate details of why things are the way they are, we’re doomed to repeat our mistakes. NPR’s Throughline examines headlines of today and connects them to the events of the past, like the conflicts between the United States and Iran for the past forty years, the fight for gay rights that started long before the riot at Stonewall Inn, how China emerged from political chaos to become a world superpower, and much more.

If you want to be sure you're listening to the podcasts everyone else is checking out, iHeartRadio has you covered. Every Monday, iHeartRadio releases a chart showing the most popular podcasts of the week. Stay up to date on what's trending by checking out the chart here. There's even a chart just for radio podcasts here, featuring all your favorite iHeartRadio personalities like Bobby Bones, Elvis Duran, Steve Harvey and dozens of others.

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