From 1876, when the first effective dynamo/generator that produced a steady current of electricity was invented, Americans reacted to this new phenomenon of electricity in many different ways. Professor Jennifer Lieberman is one of the first academics to study that reaction, especially how it appeared in popular literature, both fiction and non-fiction. And in doing so, she raises a lot of very important questions about our relationships with technology and the natural world. We interview her about the cultural reactions to electricity as a new technology is the topic of this episode. Listen and be electrified!
The painting Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze is one of the most iconic images in the American cultural consciousness. But how accurate a depiction is it? By standing up in the boat, did George risk tipping over and falling into the icy river? Would his soldiers have laughed or panicked? Listen to this Buzzkill classic to find out!
Varian Fry started life as a journalist. He spent the early years of World War II, however, rescuing Jews from occupied Europe, and agitating against immigration restrictions against refugees. Working with a small team of dedicated volunteers in Marseilles, Fry saved the lives of over 2,200 people. He helped them get out of France, through Spain and Portugal, and to safety in the United States. Recognized as "Righteous Among the Nations" long after his death, Varian Fry should appear much more often in the history books. Listen and learn.
Gregor Rasputin (1869-1916) is one of the most fascinating people in modern history. Who was he? Religious visionary? Mystic healer? Charlatan? Spiritual con man? Political snake? All of the above? The story that it took being drugged, poisoned, shot, beaten, and drowned for him to die is a myth, Buzzkillers. But the broader story is fascinating. Listen and learn.
The "pizza effect" helps explain why assumptions about the history and development of certain cultural practices and traditions are among the strongest historical myths out there, how they are self-reinforcing, and how they can build up mistaken images and misunderstandings about cultural identity. Along the way, we'll learn about such things as the "pizza renaissance" in Italy, the "Hindu renaissance across India, the "Cornish pasty renaissance" in south-west England, and the "Clancy Brothers" or "traditional music renaissance" in Ireland! Listen and let it all sink in!
"The Great Train Robbery" (1903) was not the first feature film, despite what you learned in film studies class, Buzzkillers (or from some tiresome, drunken film-studies major at a boring film-studies party). The Aussies beat Hollywood to the punch. Find out how they did it!
How did New Year's Day end up in the middle of winter in the northern hemisphere (and the middle of summer in the southern hemisphere)? Wouldn't a day in spring be more fitting? Find out how people celebrated New Years in past centuries and why things turned out the way they did by listening to this Buzzkill favorite!
Who was Santa Claus, Buzzkillers? The jolly old man from Miracle on 34th Street? The round-bellied man wearing a red costume, driving a sleigh pulled by 8 tiny reindeer? Was there a Rudolph involved? Check out this Buzzkill favorite to find out!
Egyptologists consider Hatshepsut, the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt, one of the most powerful pharaohs in Egyptian history. Her name means "Foremost of the Noble Ladies" and she was very successful in trade negotiations, diplomacy, and building projects. Join us as we have a Woman Crush Wednesday about the Egyptian pharaoh who the famous American archaeologist and Egyptologist James Henry Breasted called, "the first great woman in history" that we know about.
General George Patton was one of the most famous, colorful, and talked about US generals in World War II. He is also among the most misunderstood military men in history. Famously played George C. Scott in a 1970 movie, Patton's image is one of the most enduring in 20th century American history. He is frequently referred to as one of America's great generals, and just as frequently referred to as one of the most arrogant, out-of-control, and over-rated. Listen to this Buzzkill favorite to learn more!
Walt Disney is one of the most famous names in entertainment. But have you ever heard of Ub Iwerks? Good old Ub was the real artistic genius behind many of Disney's most beloved characters, including Mickey Mouse. Yet there is no IwerksWorld, no Iwerks animation empire. Tune in to find out why, Buzzkillers!
Movie scripts are responsible for more mis-quotes than almost any other source. In Tora! Tora! Tora! Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is shown reacting to the attack on Pearl Harbor by saying, "I fear all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant." Like Rommel and Patton "quotes," this one seems so authentic to the character that it must be true. Is it? Find out here on Professor Buzzkill!
It's a Buzzkill favorite! Warner Bros Studios pumped out this myth, Buzzkillers, before production had even started on the movie. But Bogie had the part all along!
Benjamin Lay was one of the most famous anti-slavery protestors 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. Listen to the story of one of the most interesting men of the early 18th century, and learn why he deserves more attention from historians!
As the pilgrims pushed their chairs back from the first Thanksgiving table, their stomachs full of turkey and potatoes, Squanto appeared with bushels of popped corn and spilled it out on the tables for the Pilgrims to enjoy. That's how Americans got popcorn, right Buzzkillers? Well, maybe not, but you'll have to listen to this Buzzkill favorite to find out!
Professor Phil Nash shows how the myths and misconceptions about the Vietnam War started, grew, and have plagued our historical consciousness since the late 1950s. Among other things, the large number of myths about the Vietnam War shows us that our understanding of even relatively recent historical events can be twisted. From the "JFK wouldn't have Americanized the war" to the "POW-MIA" myth, the true history of American involvement in South-East Asia has often been obscured by myths and myth-making. It's one of our very best episodes, and we hope you find it enlightening.
Was there an actual decision whether or not to use atomic bombs in World War II? If not, what were the questions and issues about using the bomb? Why did the US choose Hiroshima and Nagasaki as targets? Did Truman do it to scare the Soviets? Did dropping the bomb actually save lives compared with how many would have died during an invasion of Japan? Professor Philip Nash enlightens us.
There's a great quote and sentiment about sticking with a righteous movement for much-needed change, particularly when it's faced with a big, entrenched and powerful foe. That quote goes like this: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." It's often attributed to Gandhi. That's not very surprising. But we here at the Buzzkill Institute don't call him the Mahatma of Misquotation for nothing, and as we'll see in a couple of minutes, if you were forced to boil down one of Gandhi's very lengthy and sophisticated arguments to a bumper sticker slogan, the "First they ignore you…" saying would fit, more or less. Find out the full story in this episode!
Did you struggle over long division, Buzzkillers? Did your math teacher try to console you by telling that Einstein was bad at math when he was young? Well, I hate to bust one of your cherished childhood stories, but it isn’t true. Einstein rocked the mathematics. Don’t use that excuse when you can’t balance your checkbook.
Professor Phil Nash explains the history of Vietnam in the 20th century, and the very complicated ways in which it was torn apart by war and civil war throughout the mid-century. Along the way, we learn about the deep complications in the history of the Vietnam War that have allowed myths and misconceptions to solidify. In particular, we talk about how post-World War II wars in Vietnam become Americanized. Finally, we discuss the impact of the war in the United States, as well as its impact in Vietnam itself. Listen and learn, Buzzkillers!
Prof. Phil Nash joins us once again to bust US history myths. This time it’s about President Woodrow Wilson. How much of a progressive was he? What were his real attitudes towards race? How much idealism did he pump into his policies on foreign affairs? How effective was he in ending World War I and negotiating things at Versailles? And, finally, did his wife really take over after his stroke in late 1919?
It's our first Woman Crush Wednesday! Professor Marie Hicks tells us the story of Stephanie Shirley, one of Britain's computer programming pioneers. Imagine starting your own company with just £6 (roughly $12) and building it into one of the most powerful programming companies in Europe. That was Stephanie Shirley did, starting in 1961. Later in life, she went on to become one of Britain's leading philanthropists and has donated most of her life to helping good causes, especially those close to her heart. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000 for her work in information technology and for her extensive charity work. Listen and admire, Buzzkillers!
A Buzzkill favorite! A Viking horned helmet would have been very impractical, and perhaps dangerous, in battle, Buzzkillers. A sword blow to the head might glance off a smooth helmet. But it would surely catch on a horn and send the helmet flying, leaving the Viking bareheaded and highly vulnerable to a death blow to the skull. There is only one depiction of a horned helmet in ancient Nordic art, and it was probably ceremonial. We get the image of Vikings in horned helmets from the 19th-century revival of interest in Nordic culture. Northern Europeans romanticized what they saw as the purest form of medieval culture, as a kind of counter-balance to the glories of the ancient Mediterranean cultures of Greece and Rome. There was a mini-mania for all things Norse in the 19th century. This was nowhere more highly expressed than in Richard Wagner’s operas. Wagner’s costume designer, Hans Thoma, is primarily responsible for the image we have today of horned-helmeted Vikings.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 was one of the most important events in the 20th century. Professor Nash joins us to untangle the extremely complicated history of Russian politics between 1905 and 1917. He tells us what happened and why. Why, for instance, were there so many revolutions (or "state coups") between the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 and the October Revolution of 1917? Why did World War I have such an accelerating effect on the pace of changes in Russia? Why were there so many competing political parties in Russia, and how did the Bolsheviks eventually become paramount? Listen and learn, Buzzkillers.
Professor Phil Nash joins us on our very first Man Crush Monday to tell us about the most important American Civil Rights leader that most people haven't heard of -- A. Philip Randolph, labor leader, and founder of the idea for a march on Washington. Randolph started his national career by organizing the first major African-American labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, in 1925. His pressured FDR to ban discrimination in defense industries in 1941, and Truman to end segregation in the armed forces in 1948. Perhaps most importantly, his plan for a March on Washington in 1941 set the precedent for the eventual 1963 March on Washington. Listen and learn, Buzzkillers.