Interesting Histories -- how to find more!
February 10, 2017 9:17 AM   Subscribe

So, I finally saw Hamilton this week, and on top of it being worth all of the hype, it opened my eyes to how very interesting and jaw-dropping some of the American Revolutionary history is. Help me find similar things that will entertain, inform, and most importantly, whet my appetite to find out more about the subject / bit players involved. I am not looking for books (unless they are absolutely exceptional), but more things like movies, podcasts, blogs, etc.

Examples of things I now want to know more about -- Hamilton was involved in a sex scandal! Whaaaat?! Now I want to read the Reynolds Pamphlets. It was once the case that the runner-up in the Presidential election was the Vice President. Holy crap!! How'd that work out? To the Wikipedia to find out more!

One other example was visiting the MLK Center in Atlanta. The museum there is fantastic -- I learned so much about MLK and the entire Civil Rights movement, and felt a great upset that I hadn't been exposed to this in school, or my parents (who were alive when this happened!) hadn't told me their stories. This drove me to find and visit more museums, read books and online articles, etc about the key players and happenings revolving around that time period and educate myself on this.

So, I am looking for some non-book sources to spark passion and interest about things that happened that I didn't know I cared about. I am good on finding books on the topics, but need something that's more engaging than words on a page to grab my attention initially.
posted by Fig to Education (30 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
In the podcast realm, I like Stuff You Missed in History Class, which focuses on historical events or characters that are a bit outside the mainstream, with a bit of a slant toward women, people of color, or other marginalized groups. The current presenters are a little too giggly for my tastes, but they have a huge archive and excellent Show Notes to whet your "I wanna know more" appetite.
posted by basalganglia at 9:25 AM on February 10, 2017 [7 favorites]

the John Lewis-authored three book series March about his role in the civil rights movement is worth checking out, despite being, you know, a book.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:27 AM on February 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

The Dollop is a comedy podcast about American history. It's funny and enlightening all at the same time. (Of course check facts after...)
posted by Vaike at 9:29 AM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I mention it only because you said you've traveled to other places and visited museums in the past, but if you ever find yourself in Boston the Freedom Trail is a chance to see some of the places history was made and get a nice walk. (I'm also a big fan of stopping for a cup of chowder and/or beer every couple stops, which leaves me in a pretty good mood by the time you reach the USS Constitution at the end.)

Colonial Williamsburg is also a cool place to learn about early Colonial life, though its setting is just prior to the revolution. They have a near YouTube channel too.

I'd second Stuff You Missed in History.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:31 AM on February 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Just to make it clear -- I'm not limiting myself to American history, this can be any time/place combination. Due to me not really liking history in school ever, and the public system stopping right after WWII , I am very deficient in anything that happened from ~1940 -- 1990.

(All excellent suggestions so far, thank you so much!)
posted by Fig at 9:35 AM on February 10, 2017

You might enjoy HBO's seven-part John Adams series, which is based on the David McCullough biography and stars Paul Giamatti in the title role and Laura Linney as Abigail.
posted by carmicha at 9:36 AM on February 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

Oh, and I know you didn't want books but I can't help but recommend Sarah Vowell's books. Sort of a mix of pop history/social commentary. They are absolutely in the style you mentioned of "we used to do what?"

Maybe check out some of her history-themed contributions to This American Life if that's preferable to a book.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:41 AM on February 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

All The President's Men - the journalists who broke Watergate
Charlie Wilson's War - What was the US doing in Afghanistan in the 70's? Good book, too.
Spotlight - More journalists reporting on the Catholic Church's abuse cover ups in the 70s and 80s
Munich, Milk, Apollo 13, Capote, and Frost/Nixon are all ones I have heard good things about but have not seen yet.
posted by soelo at 9:49 AM on February 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Whistlestop by John Dickerson (of Face the Nation) started as an exploration of old presidential campaigns but has since morphed into more generally American political history.
posted by Etrigan at 9:51 AM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

The You Must Remember This podcast is a great look at old Hollywood, and I especially like the series they did on what A-List entertainers were doing during WWII.
posted by Mchelly at 9:52 AM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I know that I am going to be recommending a book here, but the reason i am recommending it is as a "to-do list" - Past Imperfect is a really fun anthology of reviews of movies about different historic events, but with historians doing the reviewing.

Each review is only a couple of brief, picture-filled pages, and generally takes the form of "here's what the movie says happened, here's what really happened." Sometimes they also mention "here's what was happening at the time they made the movie, which influences how they spun the movie itself." Sometimes they even compare and contrast two movies about a single event - there's one review that covers both major film adaptations of Shakespeare's Henry V in the same review, and discusses "here's why Laurence Olivier's adaptation was like blah and here's why Kenneth Branagh's was like blah".

what's also good about using this as a reference is, you've got the historian's perspective already close at hand to kind of steel you against some of the "liberties" that some movies take with the history, and point you in the directions of possible follow-up sources.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:06 AM on February 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

"Don't Know Much About History" is a book (!) but presented in such an entertaining style, that I simply have to recommend it. That, and the "Book of Lists" really got me interested in long-forgotten history.
posted by Tardis_Spin at 10:11 AM on February 10, 2017

European recommendations:
The Wind that Shakes the Barley - Irish Civil War
In the Name of the Father - set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles
1900 by Bertolucci - 20th century in Italy
Amadeus - not necessarily accurate but will spark your interest
Both Elizabeth - starring Cate Blanchett and The Other Boleyn Girl if you want some Tudor drama
A Dangerous Method - Jung and Freud

Non-Western areas:
Hotel Rwanda
Lawrence of Arabia
posted by soelo at 10:12 AM on February 10, 2017

It's risky to recommend movies, because filmmakers often give in to the temptation to fiddle with the story. There are some good websites, that I can't remember, that will tell you what parts of a historical story put on film are the fictional parts.
posted by puddledork at 10:20 AM on February 10, 2017

Hillary Mantel's novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, about Thomas Cromwell and the Tudors, were made into a BBC miniseries. I haven't seen it, but it won an Emmy for best miniseries, and the novels are fantastic.
posted by FencingGal at 10:34 AM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

A genre recommendation: look for things that identify themselves as microhistories. These usually take a topic (salt, color, cod, rats, alcoholic drinks, etc.) and explore it from a bunch of different perspectives and time periods. I often find they're a great jumping off point for going and finding a book about that thing (or as much of one as there is, anyway.)

A book recommendation: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann has had some criticism, I think, but is also a really good look at history that often gets totally skimmed over.

I'd also recommend Stuff You Missed In History Class for the topics to go dig for more, if nothing else. (I enjoy the podcast, but their show notes are also just really good. If you want to dip your toe in, one place to start might be one of their occasional interviews with an author, since those are usually fascinating books too.)
posted by modernhypatia at 10:55 AM on February 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

You want to watch Eyes on the Prize, the now-legendary documentary history of the Civil Rights Movement. Looks like it's legally available again -- they must have gotten the music rights resolved. (The music is particularly awesome in this.)
posted by suelac at 10:56 AM on February 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Seconding Sarah Vowell, who managed to make me laugh until I cried while talking about Puritans, as well as Stuff You Missed In History Class. For medical history, maybe try Sawbones (podcast)?
posted by sciatrix at 11:00 AM on February 10, 2017

The Netflix series The Crown has gotten me way more interested in British royalty than I ever would have thought. :)

Also on Netflix are several other (trashier) royalty-type series, including The Tudors, Versailles, and Medici: Masters of Florence. All of these are definitely higher on nudity than historical accuracy, but all the same I've enjoyed them and they have motivated me to read more about the historical period in question.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:02 AM on February 10, 2017

Also, for podcasts my favorites are Back Story (for American history) and Hardcore History (for world history). Back Story has inspired me to seek out quite a few of the books mentioned on it -- they take a broad topic like "Nutritional Advice" or "Separation of Church and State" or "Wilderness" and do segments related to that topic all through American history. Hardcore History is these massive 6-hour episodes where the host digs into various world history topics, mostly related to military history. My favorite one is Wrath of the Khans on Genghis Khan.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:16 AM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Amazon has an excellent 8-part series on the history of New York. Free with Amazon Prime.

In researching that link, there appears to be an entire series called American Experience. Oddly enough, many of the episode topics seem to mirror the topics in Drunk History, another series that you should totally check out.
posted by Liesl at 11:20 AM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hardcore History is these massive 6-hour episodes where the host digs into various world history topics, mostly related to military history. My favorite one is Wrath of the Khans on Genghis Khan.

The latest Hardcore History is about the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it's enough to make your toes curl in horror. (We are so fucked.)
posted by suelac at 11:23 AM on February 10, 2017

Possibly, A Man for All Seasons, though it's not totally accurate to history. But then, what is.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:50 AM on February 10, 2017

Among films about history, don't miss Peter Watkins's Culloden and Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers.
posted by Wobbuffet at 12:39 PM on February 10, 2017

Oh yeah! Seconding Drunk History - there's even a Hamilton episode with Lin-Manuel Miranda.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:52 PM on February 10, 2017

Daniele Bolelli's History on Fire podcast might be a good bet for world history- he does his homework and he's a great storyteller.
posted by JulesER at 1:45 PM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Elvis & Nixon - a movie portraying the story behind the famous photo.
posted by carmicha at 3:39 PM on February 10, 2017

Movies: Totally agree with suggestions of Spotlight, Milk, Apollo 13, and especially Battle of Algiers.

Also Soundtrack for a Revolution, and Ram Dass:Fierce Grace (Great footage from the '60's)
posted by kestralwing at 10:16 PM on February 10, 2017

Some BBC podcasts might do the business for you:

Everyone talks about In Our Time but it is pretty good. They pick a topic, then three experts go at it for 45 minutes. The subjects are really random in a good way and the experts are properly expert on the stuff they are talking about, not just media-friendly generalists.

My favourite is Witness from the World Service. Each episode is about 10 mins long and features a reporter talking to someone who was there, so the majority of it is post-war. Subjects range from the broadcast of the first telenovela and the origins of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, to the sack of Bukhara and the Hungarian Uprising. One warning: it updates VERY often.

I also like the BBC short series -- I'm currently listening to 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy, which is approx. 100x more interesting than it sounds. Again each episode is under 10 mins, well footnoted, and full of surprising facts.

A History of the World in 100 Objects was the template for these, I think, and remains a great listen. You may also like Pop-Up Ideas

I've found all of these to be great jumping-off points to discover things that I am interested in and want to find out more about.

BBC PODCASTS. Most of these are either on the World Service or BBC Radio 4. My taxes paid for this (some of it). I would like for them to continue doing so -- do you hear me, Tories?
posted by finisterre at 12:06 PM on February 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you're interested in the PBS American Experience series that Liesl recommended above, note that several episodes (including, usually, the newest ones) are available at the PBS website, and your local library probably has others on DVD (as does Netflix).
posted by kristi at 10:57 AM on February 15, 2017

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