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Professor Buzzkill: History 101

Professor Buzzkill is an exciting new blog & podcast that explores history myths in an illuminating, entertaining, and humorous way.
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Professor Buzzkill: History 101
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Sep 18, 2017

As a parting piece of wisdom about generational stewardship of land and nature, Chief Seattle supposedly said to American colonizers pushing west, "we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children." But, like spiritual quotes that get attached to Gandhi, political quips and gibes that get attributed to Churchill, and thoughtful sentiments that drift toward Martin Luther King, there's no evidence that Seattle ever said it. Listen and learn who did, Buzzkillers!

Sep 14, 2017

The Lost Cause is one of the most troubling aspects of American history. The ways in which the Confederacy and the pre-Civil War south has been romanticized and fictionalized has done immense damage to American historical consciousness and interpretation. Professor Philip Nash joins us to discuss how the Civil War, the period of Reconstruction, and the Jim Crow era were twisted into an ahistorical mythology that has plagued our national discourse for over a hundred years. Listen and learn.

Sep 11, 2017

Sometimes, Buzzkillers, the stars just seem to align. There's a meteor shower and a rainbow on the same day. And a whole bunch of writers, pundits, journalists, and aphorists come up with roughly the same idea at roughly the same time. Or at least they come up with it over a couple of decades, and, in terms of the history of quotations, that's the story of the aphorism and witticism, "life is just one damn thing after another." But it's easier to attribute such a quotation to Mark Twain, and that's what people have done. Did he ever say it? Listen and learn.

Sep 7, 2017

Cause. Singular. Not plural. We talk about the cause of the American Civil War because there was one overwhelming cause -- slavery. Not tariff disputes. Not states' rights. The Civil War was fought over the preservation of slavery in the south and its expansion to the west. But, perhaps no other aspect of the history of the United States has been so distorted and mythologized as the causes of the Civil War. Professor Philip Nash joins us to explain why slavery was such a dominant issue from the founding of the United States until 1865.

Sep 4, 2017

Anybody who's completed an elementary school education knows that Abraham Lincoln finished his dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863 by saying that, "...we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." But I thought the background of the quote might fascinate you, and also provide more ammunition for your assault on the ignorance among your office-mates and/or neighborhood pals. Listen and learn, Buzzkillers!

Aug 31, 2017

When and why were statues to Confederate soldiers, generals, and politicians put up across the American south? Why is the Confederate Battle Flag so proudly waved and displayed in many parts of the US? Professor Nash joins us to explain why all of this happened, who was selected for commemoration, and what it all means for American history and culture. We expose the falsehoods that are used as rationale for the construction and retention of Confederate statues and memorials. The whitewashing of history, and the myths that support it, are a national disgrace. And we do our best to try to stop it. Listen and learn.

Aug 28, 2017

Upon seeing "The Birth of a Nation," the ground-breaking, if highly racist, piece of cinematography in 1915, President Woodrow Wilson is often quoted as saying, "It is like writing history with lightning." Nearly every American Buzzkiller out there has probably heard this in a 20th Century US history class, or a cinematography class, or on the myth-sustaining History Channel. But did he say it?

Aug 24, 2017

Practically nothing in the history of the United States has suffered from myth-making and misunderstanding as much as the history of race relations and racist violence. The history Ku Klux Klan is no exception. This is ironic. In its various incarnations, the KKK was supposed to be a secret organization. But historians know a great deal about it, and have analyzed it deeply. We explain the three periods of KKK, how each version of the Klan was different, but also how each version had one crucial thing in common -- hate. Listen, learn, and contemplate.

Aug 21, 2017

In the aftermath of the Dunkirk evacuation and the fall of France in June 1940, things looked pretty bleak for the British, and indeed they were. The Battle of Britain followed almost immediately, and lasted until the end of October 1940, but the British outlast the German bombing raids. The next year, not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Churchill went to North America on a morale-boosting trip, both to welcome Britain's new ally (the United States) and to thank its long-standing ally (Canada). While addressing the Canadian Parliament in their House of Commons in Ottawa, Churchill famously quipped that Britain, despite being bombed almost into oblivion by the Luftwaffe, never had its neck wrung like a chicken, by saying "some chicken, some neck." That's right, Buzzkillers, this is a Churchill quote that's genuine. It was said by him. No, really, it was. We have the actual recording, but listen to this episode to hear the rest of the story!

Aug 17, 2017

The Buzzkill Institute has been inundated with phone calls, text messages, and panicked faxes after President Trump's recent response to North Korea's nuclear threats. He said: "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." Did he mean it? Could the President launch nuclear weapons in response to, for instance, a verbal threat? Or does the North Korean threat need to be actual, tangible, and immediate? Does the President need to know that the nuclear button on the North Korean leader's desk is about to be pushed before he pushes the button on his desk in the Oval Office? Find out in this episode!

 

Aug 14, 2017

I like this "no quote," Buzzkillers, because it's history of full of all the things we've been talking about on this show -- phrases and sentiments that "sound" like they were said by a prominent person so "they must be from him," misplaced (or moved) punctuation, and the glorious and rapid assumptions displayed on social media that keep the Buzzkill Institute funded. "I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy." - Martin Luther King, Jr. It's a clear and touching expression of true pacifism, and is certainly the type of thing that Martin Luther King, Jr. would have said. But he didn't. What he did say (or, more accurately, write) about killing was this, "Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." It appears that Dr. King used this sentiment in sermons in the late 1950s, and it was published in his 1963 book, Strength to Love (which we've put on the Buzzkill Bookshelf). But the "I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives…" sentiment actually comes from someone else. Find out in this episode!

Aug 10, 2017

Professor Phil Nash joins us for part three of our examination of John F. Kennedy in the 100th anniversary of his birth. This episode looks at how the JFK legacy was constructed in the immediate aftermath of the assassination in 1963, how it was burnished by the first generation of Kennedy historians, and how it has been revised and re-interpreted since the 1970s. Along the way, we hear about the vital roles played by Jackie Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Theodore H. White. Finally, we learn how the American public was as important in creating the legacy as well as absorbing it.

Aug 7, 2017

In 1972, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai was asked about the impact of the French Revolution. "Too early to say," he replied. Given that the French Revolution of 1789 had occurred nearly 200 years before, Zhou Enlai was expressing the long view of history in a very witty and Oscar Wildean way. News of this quote flew quickly around the chattering classes in the west, and it was soon used as evidence that the Chinese (especially Chinese intellectuals and leaders) took the long view of things, that they were a patient civilization, and that, when they thought about the future, it was hundreds of years distant. But did he say that? Could he have been referring to something else?

Aug 3, 2017

It's 2017, Buzzkillers, 77 years after the Battle of Dunkirk and the subsequent evacuation of allied troops from that area between the 26th of May and the 4th of June 1940. The evacuation has become a very famous and celebrated event in World War II history and especially in British history. "Dunkirk Spirit," the British refusal to give up in the face of disaster, and to keep plugging away at a problem until it's solved, comes from the whole Dunkirk experience. But Dunkirk history and Dunkirk myths are very important parts of World War II and the subsequent ways in which it has been taught. We examine some of the bigger Dunkirk myths and misunderstandings in this episode!

Jul 24, 2017

Finally a quote that's actually true! Yes, Teddy Roosevelt did say that the best advice he'd ever heard about dealing with foreign affairs and potentially hostile foreign powers is to, "speak softly and carry a big stick." Speaking softly and carrying a big stick will mean that, "you will go far." When he was Governor of New York at the very end of the 19th century, he sometimes said in letters to other politicians, "I have always been fond of the West African proverb: 'Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.'" And he used it in speeches when he became President in 1901, and it was soon referred to as his "motto." In fact, both his domestic and his foreign policy have been called "big stick ideology" both at the time and by historians since.

Jul 20, 2017

FDR became governor of New York and later President for four terms despite having contracted polio. Professor Matthew Pressman from Seton Hall University joins us to discuss how the press and the American public were told about his disability, and how they reacted. We also learn how the Roosevelt campaign and administration tried to control public knowledge of FDR's condition by managing how information was obtained and used. We examine whether the famous "gentlemen's agreement" between the FDR administration and the press to suppress information about the president's condition was true. A fascinating episode about a complex historical issue.

Jul 13, 2017

How “clean” was the regular German army (Wehrmacht) during World War II? The Nazis and the SS usually get all the blame for war crimes and for the Holocaust. How much blame can be placed at the feet of “ordinary” German military units? Turns out that the “clean Wehrmacht” story is not only a myth, but it also greatly influenced how post-War Europe was re-built. Professor Nash joins us to examine how deep and wide the war guilt goes.

Jul 10, 2017

"Quotes" supposedly from the Founding Fathers seem to rear their misattributed heads in the United States every year in the weeks surrounding July 4th. And Americans are often treated to a number of false quotations from the George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the boys to give them inspiration for the rest of the year. You often hear, "the best government is that which governs least…" attributed to Thomas Jefferson (primary author of the Declaration of Independence and the third US President). But did TJ ever say it, much less coin it? Was it Thomas Paine? Or was it someone else? The Professor explains all

Jul 4, 2017

When was the Declaration of Independence signed? July 4th? August 2? Later? Why did John Hancock sign so prominently and hugely right in the middle? Did he have signature envy? What price did the signers pay for their patriotism? And how did the story of the signers' sacrifices get so out of control by the mid-20th century? Professor Buzzkill puts his John Hancock on this episode, and answers all these questions.

Jun 26, 2017

Ah, Buzzkillers, good old Oscar Wilde, the author of so many excellent plays, novels, and poems. Dripping with epigrams, Oscar entertained literary circles in London, Paris and Dublin with his wit, often pairing philosophical and comical themes to excellent effect. There are dozens of legitimate Oscar-isms, but is there any evidence that he ever said "Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken"? Find out in this episode!

Jun 22, 2017

Professor Jeremy Young joins us to discuss the Age of Charisma (1870-1940). It was an exciting period in US history: industrialization was in high gear; railroads and telegraph lines were spreading widely; mass media was born; and increased concentration on charisma, magnetism, and emotion in politics, religion, and social reform. Styles of public speaking changed and founded the phenomenon of personality politics.

Jun 19, 2017

We all love, and should live by the sentiment expressed in "It's better to light a candle than curse the darkness." But did Eleanor Roosevelt say it? Was it Confucius or an ancient Chinese proverb? Or does it come from the 19th century? We explore the origins of the ideas behind the quote, who said it, and how it got attached to Eleanor Roosevelt. Listen to the brand new Quote or No Quote episode of Professor Buzzkill!

Jun 15, 2017

Professor Nash joins us to discuss the misconceptions and the realities of JFK's presidency, its successes, its failures, and its legacies. We look specifically at the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, and Civil Rights. And we address the question of whether JFK was a liberal, a conservative, or a mixture of both. And on top of all that, we hear audio from some of Kennedy's most telling statements, speeches, and press interviews. It's a fully-rounded episode, Buzzkillers!

Jun 14, 2017

Samir Lakhani, the founder of Eco-Soap Bank (one of our Buzzkill partners) has been named a CNN Hero for 2017. We interview him about the project and how the CNN recognition has affected the Eco-Soap Bank. The Buzzkill Institute is committed to helping this great project by contributing $1 for every Buzzkiller who donates to the Eco-Soap Bank. Go to ecosoapsbank.org/donate and type “Buzzkill” in the comments section of the on-line donation form. A donation of just $25 provides soap and hygiene education for 250 Cambodians and recycles 35 pounds of soap from the hospitality industry. And it supports ongoing employment of local people in Cambodia. See the CNN Hero announcement at: http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/04/health/cnn-hero-samir-lakhani-eco-soap-bank/index.html

Jun 12, 2017

The exact wording of the "Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…" quote varies a little bit from time to time, but it essentially conveys the same message -- Americans are a self-interested people, but they eventually do the right thing. But did Churchill ever say this, or even something like it? No. At least he never said it publicly, and there's certainly no evidence that he ever said it privately. Like dozens and dozens of other political quotes, they get attached to Churchill somehow. It's as if he's standing on a busy street corner and passers-by keep slapping unattributed quote bumper stickers on him until he rivals Shakespeare and the Bible for the world quote record.

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