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11 history podcasts. Cause . . . you know, squirrels.

Back in the Before Times, I was traveling constantly. A lot of that involved hours of drive time. And so I did what many of you did. I listened to audio books.

Well . . . I tried to. I never seemed to get the hang of it. You know, cause listening is hard.

I would lose focus. I would need to pass a semi or make a stop for gas or look, a squirrel! And the book would just keep on going as if I wasn’t even there. Then I’d rewind. Then fast forward because I went back too far. Then another squirrel. Yes, definitely first world problems. But it became a deal breaker.

Now, of course, not as much driving. But even in the Before Times, I had switched over to podcasts. Not sure why there’s a difference between those and audio books but I don’t seem to have trouble following podcasts. Maybe because they’re shorter and more focused. Some research is telling us that podcasts feel more conversational than books and make them easier to digest. Part of it, I’m sure, is that podcasts are free. For whatever reason, podcasts for the win.

And for us as social studies teachers, podcasts can go beyond just a way to kill time in the car. They can also be great teaching and learning tools. For personal professional growth, the right sort of podcast is perfect for building content knowledge. For instruction, podcasts can be perfect for doing the same for your kids.

What are some other reasons to use podcasts?

  • more engaging than text for gathering information
  • works great for helping student organize that information with listening graphic organizers
  • helps students see critical connections and links between content
  • can be used for student content creation
  • awesome opportunities for kids to get content from diverse voices and perspectives
  • increases literacy skills
  • accessible anywhere, anytime
  • supports multiple learning modalities

So. What’s out there if you want to listen to great history and social studies related podcasts?

You’ve got the classics, of course – This American Life, RadioLab, Stuff You Missed in History Class, and Hardcore History. But if you’re looking to go beyond the classics, you’ll want to try some of these:

Revisionist History
Malcom Gladwell explores overlooked moments in history, covering a range of topics from music and art to science.

The Dollop
Comedians Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds discuss all sorts of “eccentric historical figures” like Timothy Leary and Mother Jones. Find out more about The Whale in Atlantic City or the Voyage of the HMS Beagle. Along with plenty of snarky wisecracks.

More than 155 million treasures fill the Smithsonian’s vaults and with the help of biologists, artists, historians, archaeologists, zookeepers, and astrophysicists, host Lizzie Peabody sneaks listeners through Smithsonian’s side door to search for stories that can’t be found anywhere else.

Witness History
With episodes only ranging around 10 minutes each, this BBC podcast focuses on a single event in a different part of the world, with actual eyewitness accounts embedded into the content.

An audio series from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery.

Code Switch
Another excellent resource for learning about race and culture, this NPR podcast looks at news and history through a multiracial, multigenerational, and multicultural lens.

The History Chicks
Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenweider covers biographies of prominent females throughout history like Mary Todd Lincoln or Joan of Arc.

Hosted by Mike Duncan, Revolutions takes a look at how things were in the past and why they changed with some rebellion against the status quo. I loved the American Revolution series but you world history folks will find plenty to listen to.

Stories that were left out of the official history of the Civil War and takes on the history you grew up with. You’ll get untold stories about resistance, covert operations, corruption, mutiny, counterfeiting, antebellum drones, and so much more. And connections from these forgotten struggles to the political battlefield we’re living on right now.

They say history repeats itself but how has it shaped us as a society? Hosts Rund Abdelfatah and Ramtim Arablouei examine the historical context behind today’s headlines, trying to give current events some past relativity.

Fall of Civilizations
Explores the collapse of different societies through history. look at a civilization that rose to glory, and then collapsed into the ashes of history. Why did it collapse? What happened next? And what did it feel like to be a person alive at the time?

Where can you and students find podcasts?

Most of the podcasts listed here offer web-based listening options. But mobile access is really the way to go. And all of their built in tools for finding new podcasts gives you the chance to increase your list of great stuff. Download the apps:

A few tips:

  • Use transcripts. Research suggests that audio podcasts “. . . ironically can encourage kids to read more.” One study found that a kid’s “ability to anticipate the lyrics” while following along with a scrip cultivated what the study’s authors called “a steady stream of successful reading events.” This creates “a nonthreatening reading environment in which to embark upon, confirm, practice, and enjoy one’s developing reading skills.” A couple of long sentences that basically says that when a kid can follow along with text while listening, it’s better for the kid.
  • Provide scaffolds such as listening graphic organizers, guiding questions to think about, and discussion prompts. Encourage the creative and active participation of your students while listening. As one student put it, “listening to the words puts the visualization in my head,” thus creating better, longer lasting retention of content. Ask students to record what what they’re “seeing” as they listen.
  • Length can be important. Shorter is okay. ListenWise is a great resource for finding quick, easy to listen to audio clips.
  • Have kids create their own podcasts. StoryCorps, and its mobile apps, is designed specifically to do that. Be sure to explore their teacher guide for extra tips. NPR also has some ideas and suggestions.

A few more resources:

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Glenn is a curriculum and tech integration specialist, speaker, and blogger with a passion for technology and social studies. He delivers engaging professional learning across the country with a focus on consulting, presentations, and keynotes. Find out more about Glenn and how you might learn together by going to his Speaking and Consulting page.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dan R Morris #

    If you have time to check out another great history podcast . . . Tracing The Path is a great one.

    October 17, 2020
    • glennw #


      Thanks for the heads up! There are so many, it’s hard to keep track. It looks great, will add it to my list!


      October 18, 2020
      • Dan R Morris #

        Hey hey . . . Ya know I came here because you were talking about History podcasts but your “Before Times” label cracked me up and made me stay.

        Anyway, good times.

        October 28, 2020
  2. lindsay #

    I would also recommend Back Story, which is excellent ( I am curious how your students like podcast assignments? And, if you have ever asked your students to create one, like through StoryCorps or a more informal recording?

    October 18, 2020

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