Tommy Flowers was a very important British scientist and engineer during the first half of the 20th century. Not only did he do essential work in cracking secret German codes during World War II, he is usually credited with inventing (and building) the world’s first programmable electronic computer, the Colossus. He’s not as famous as Alan Turing, but he’s at least as important to history. Listen to our Man Crush Monday!
Did the Roman emperor Nero really fiddle while his glorious city of Rome burned? Politicians may often be bad guys, Buzzkillers, but there's no good evidence for this level of mania in old Nero. It's a good story, but that's all it is-- a story.
One of the most popular history exercises in elementary schools these days is to have students learn about Quilt Codes and the Underground Railroad and make some design themselves. Students are told that quilt patterns gave escaped slaves directions and warnings on their way to freedom. Alas, it's a myth, Buzzkillers! But it's a highly textured one. Geddit? Listen in!
Politics is a messy business, even in the best of times, and especially in the worst of times. Many people console themselves with this reality by quoting Otto von Bismarck, the 19th century Prussian politician who, among other things, was the the first Chancellor of the German Empire (from 1871 to 1890). He was also a strong believer in realpolitik, the idea that realism and practicalities should outweigh ideology and emotion in political decisions. It’s not surprising, therefore, that he often quoted as saying, “Laws are like sausages. It is best not to see them being made.” The analysis implicit in that phrase certainly fits Bismarck’s political personality. But did he actually say it? Listen and learn!
Find any fraternity member who's also a freshman history major. Get him drunk, and he'll start reeling off myths like crazy. One of them will probably be that Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia (1729-1796) died by being crushed by a horse. While she was having sex with a horse! In bed! You can probably guess whether it's true, Buzzkillers!
You've probably always seen Napoleon depicted as a shorty. And you may have heard that his ambition was driven by a classic "short man's complex." Alas, it's not true. At least not by his measured height. The nickname came about differently. Listen to the podcast, Buzzkillers, to find out how and why.
Did the United States really “bail the French out in two world wars,” or is it a blustering, bigoted myth? Professor Phil Nash joins us to discuss what actually happened in World Wars I and II, and whether the United States was “bailing out” the French or repaying a major debt from the American Revolution. Join us as we discuss all the issues. Lafayette, the Buzzkillers are here!
Alice Hamilton was a pioneer in occupational medicine and industrial toxicology. And it’s not an exaggeration to say that she was the most important person in helping to make the American workplace safer. She also campaigned for women’s rights, social and economic reform, and international peace. There are very few people who need more historical fame and glory than Dr. Alice Hamilton. Listen and be inspired!
Like all good Americans, I just had a PB&J for lunch. I couldn't help thinking of George Washington Carver, the reputed inventor of peanut butter. You won't be surprised to hear that the invention of peanut butter is much more complicated (and more important) than is usually told. Listen in over your own PB&J, Buzzkillers!
Historian Ray Boomhower joins us to analyze the famous speech given by RFK in Indianapolis, on hearing about the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968. It’s one of the most famous and touching speeches in modern American history, and is usually credited with keeping Indianapolis calm in the wake of that horrible tragedy. We talk about the background to the speech, what else contributed to Indianapolis’ peaceful reaction to what happened, and what part it played in the race for the 1968 Democratic Presidential Nomination. Listen and be inspired.
Martin Luther King did so much more for American society, and wanted so much more from the US government and US elite, than most people realize. Popular history has airbrushed out far too much about his life and work. Professor Phil Nash reminds us of the importance of King’s work, especially during the forgotten period between his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech and his assassination in 1968. Listen and learn.
What a great way to get taxes lowered! Get your land-owning husband to agree to lower property taxes if you ride naked on horseback right down main street. That's just what Lady Godiva agreed to do in 11th century England in order to get her tight-fisted husband to lighten up on his tenants. But is it true or just another mini-myth? Listen in, Buzzkillers!
Robert Sherrod was the pioneering journalist who portrayed the Pacific battles in World War II, and risked his life in doing so. In a time when stark battle news was largely kept from the American public, Sherrod convinced President Roosevelt to allow a grim documentary entitled With the Marines at Tarawa to be released to the general public, over the objections of Warner Brothers (who produced the film). This was perhaps the first instance in modern media history that some of the horrors of war were shown at home.
It's an exciting and romantic tale: a future Roman hero had to be cut out of his mother's womb as she's dying in childbirth. The procedure is later named after the famous baby who survived -- Julius Caesar. Alas, the story is as mythological as the one about storks delivering babies down chimneys. Hang on, I just heard a tiny thumb and a muffled cry coming from the living room...
Cold War Berlin was a tense place, and certainly not the place to make an embarrassing gaffe in a major speech. So it's a good thing that President Kennedy didn't call himself a jam doughnut while speaking to a massive crowd in front of the Berlin Wall. Imagine the warning bells that would have gone off in Washington DC and Moscow if Cold Warriors suddenly thought, "oh no, we're in a pastry war"!
After his first speech as prime minister, Winston Churchill's "blood, toil, tears, and sweat," got shortened and re-arranged. As "blood, sweat, and tears," it's become one of the most quoted Churchill-isms. But like some many of these "quotes," the idea of "blood, sweat, and tears," has been around for centuries, and used by many writers and military leaders. Listen as we explain it all on Quote or No Quote!
The Great Escape (1963) is in the pantheon of World War II films, and deservedly so. Generations of Buzzkillers have grown up watching Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, and other film stars try to outsmart their captors at Stalag Luft III. But How true was the "Great Escape" story that became a best-selling novel and box-office smash at the movie theater? Listen carefully, or Professor Buzzkill will send you to the cooler!
We interview Professor Marcus Rediker about his new book, Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist. Benjamin Lay was one of the most famous anti-slavery protesters in colonial Pennsylvania in the early 1700s. He agitated against slavery and the slave trade in very unusual ways, and was eventually kicked out of his church, the Quakers, for his actions. He was also one of the pioneers of political boycotting of certain consumer goods. Professor Rediker tells the story of one of the most interesting men of the early 18th century, and learn why he deserves more attention from historians!
I live a happy life. I really do. I've got Lady Buzzkill and the Buzzlings, a fulfilling career, and money in the bank. But I guess I never knew true happiness until I was asked to be on The Reality Check Podcast, also on the Entertainment One network. The Reality Check is the weekly podcast that explores a wide range of controversies and curiosities using science and critical thinking. We talked about historical controversies and curiosities, and this bonus episode brings you that show. Please subscribe to The Reality Check wherever you get your podcasts, and go to their website to get all their social media info.
Was Civil War Union General Joseph "Fightin' Joe" Hooker's last name the origin of the slang term for prostitute? He had a perhaps undeserved reputation as a party animal, but did that reputation actually add a new word to the language? Listen to this classic Buzzkill episode to find out!
Alison Palmer was a pioneer in gaining increased women's rights and human rights in the American State Department. While working there in the 1950s and 1960s, Palmer ran up against the glass ceiling when trying to advance in the civil service at the State Department. She found it almost impossible to become a foreign service officer, and was forced to remain in the clerical ranks until she sued the Department. She spent years in court, and wasn't fully vindicated until the mid-1970s. But even more complicated than that. Listen and learn!
The rule of thumb about history myths is that they're persistent. Ever hear the one about an ancient law that allowed a man to beat his wife with a stick as long as it was not thicker than his thumb? Well, it's a myth, Buzzkillers. But how it became a myth is fascinating!
Professor Phil Nash helps us explain the complicated and much-mythologized history of the Pentagon Papers, which is shorthand for the government-funded study of US involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. Once leaked by Daniel Ellsberg and others, American newspapers, led by the New York Times, printed significant extracts from the Papers. This led to a large freedom of the press controversy, ending in a Supreme Court ruling which allowed publication. 2017's dramatic film, The Post, chronicles the Washington Post's participation in the Pentagon Papers controversy. We explain it all, and critique the film!
Professor Marie Hicks joins us again, this time to discuss the yummy history of computer dating. Did it start with Operation Match at Harvard? Or was it a young entrepreneur in London? What were their reasons for thinking that computers could match people better than people could match people? And was the early history of computer dating as neat and clean as a computer punch card? Perhaps not! If you don't want Professor Buzzkill to fill in your profile for you, you'd better give this episode a listen!
Herr Hitler gets credit for an awful lot, Buzzkillers, including the invention of the Volkswagen. The story is that he demanded a "people's car" that the average German could afford. Alas, Buzzkillers, the story is much more complicated than that, and Adolph played only a small part in the invention of the cute, little VW Beetle.