HISTORY THIS WEEK

23 Jan. 2023

January 27, 1925. Musher “Wild Bill” Shannon and his team of sled dogs race off into the frigid Alaskan night. He’s carrying a package of life-saving serum, wrapped in fur to keep it from freezing. There’s no time to waste: nearly 700 miles away, in the snowed-in town of Nome, children are dying of diphtheria. Twenty mushers and hundreds of dogs are about to take part in an almost superhuman effort to ferry desperately needed medicine across the howling Alaskan wilderness. Who were they, and what did they endure to reach their goal? And as they pressed on, how did their efforts grip the nation?


Special thanks to our guests, Pam Flowers, author of Togo and Leonhard, and Bob Thomas, author of Leonhard Seppala: The Siberian Dog and The Golden Age of Sleddog Racing 1908-1941.



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16 Jan. 2023
Here’s a special episode of Cautionary Tales, a podcast from our friends at Pushkin Industries. On Cautionary Tales, bestselling author Tim Harford shares stories of human error, natural disasters, and tragic catastrophes from history that contain important lessons for today. In today’s episode, we’ll learn about civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr and jewelry store owner Gerald Ratner. The two offer starkly contrasting stories on when you should stick to the script and when you should take a risk. Hear more from Cautionary Tales at https://podcasts.pushkin.fm/CTHTW. 

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9 Jan. 2023

January 11, 2022. Lt. Col. James Harvey arrives at Nellis Air Force base in Nevada for the first time in 73 years. He’s there to accept a plaque celebrating the last time he was there—for the Air Force’s first ever weapons competition. Back then, Harvey and the other Tuskegee Airmen on his team had squared off against the best military pilots around. They tackled high-skill tests of simulated aerial warfare… and they won. But over the decades, the official record of their victory was lost or neglected. Who were these exceptional Black pilots? And what did it take to rescue their accomplishments from obscurity and bring them into the light?


Special thanks to our guests: Lt. Col. James Harvey III and Lt. Col. Harry Stewart Jr. Lt. Col. Stewart is the co-author of Soaring to Glory. Thanks also to Zellie Rainey Orr, author of Heroes in War, Heroes at Home, and to Daniel Haulman, retired historian at the Air Force Historical Research Agency and author of Misconceptions about the Tuskegee Airmen, to be published in February 2023.



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2 Jan. 2023

January 3, 1924. Archeologists crowd into an ancient Egyptian tomb to uncover what awaits them in the unopened burial chamber. The world is waiting to find out. That’s because two years before, the discovery of the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun revealed antiquities so dazzling that a media frenzy ensued – newspapers, newsreels, and Hollywood movies vied to show audiences these wonders of ancient Egypt. Now, lead archaeologist Howard Carter pushes open the door to find a majestic stone sarcophagus. Inside lies Tutankhamun, whose regal face of gold and azure blue has lain in darkness for millennia. He’s about to meet the new century … and dazzle the world anew. How did an unknown pharaoh become a sensation? And how did a modern revolution change the fate of Egypt's most precious artifacts?

 

Special thanks to our guests, Professor Christina Riggs, author of Treasured: How Tutankhamun Shaped a Century, and Heba Abd el Gawad, Heritage Specialist and Museum Researcher at the Institute of Archaeology, University College of London, and researcher with Egypt’s Dispersed Heritage project.



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26 Dec. 2022

December 26, 2022. For the first time, a behind-the-scenes look at a key part of the History This Week episode-making process. Today, we’re inviting our listeners to pull up a chair and join one of our pitch sessions. Usually, an editor consults with the team to choose which story we'll be telling in a given episode. But this time… you'll decide! So listen, vote, and maybe win some History This Week swag. Tune in to learn how we make history.


All voting should be sent to our email, HistoryThisWeek@history.com. Remember, your options are Julia (Henry Ward Beecher), Emma (Axis Sally), Corinne (Jane Fonda), and Ben (CD-ROM). Please only include the producer's name in the subject line. We do not accept any unsolicited ideas or pitch material. Thanks for a great year of listening!



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19 Dec. 2022

Christmas Eve, 1913. For months, newspapers have been trumpeting an urgent message: Do your Christmas shopping early. It would be easy to assume this was the work of greedy department stores and slick ad companies. But it wasn’t – at least not at first. It started as the rallying cry of a labor reformer who was striving to improve the lives of retail workers. Ever since, Americans have been wrestling over the values at the heart of holiday shopping. But even the most earnest efforts at reform have backfired, time and again. How did Christmas gifts become a thing in the first place? And what were some of the spirited attempts to make the holiday shopping season merry for all?


Special thanks to our guests: Jennifer Le Zotte, professor of history and material culture at the University of North Carolina - Wilmington; Ellen Litwicki, professor emerita at the State University of New York at Fredonia; and Paul Ringel, professor of history at High Point University and author of Commercializing Childhood.



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12 Dec. 2022

December 16, 1773. Samuel Adams sits in a crowded meeting of American colonists at Boston’s Old South Meeting House. He’s watching small groups of men slip quietly out the door. Once outside, the men don disguises and make their way toward three ships moored in the harbor – each weighted down with chests of valuable British East India tea. The men climb aboard, tear open the chests and dump the tea in the water. Cheers fill the winter night. Back at the meeting, Samuel Adams waits. There’s nothing directly tying him to this radical act of rebellion … but few doubt he’s behind it. How did a chronic underachiever help light the fuse of the American revolution? And why has this important Founding Father largely been forgotten? 


Special thanks to our guest, Stacy Schiff, author of The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams.



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5 Dec. 2022

December 8, 1914. Crowds pour into the New Amsterdam Theater to see the opening night of a new show, “Watch Your Step.” It’s the first full-length revue written by the popular young songwriter, Irving Berlin. His songs show off Berlin’s signature wit and simplicity, but also his musical sophistication. As his fellow composer, Jerome Kern, would later put it: "Berlin has no place in American music—he is American music.” Who was Irving Berlin? And how did he utterly transform American songwriting?


Thanks to our guests: James Kaplan, author of Irving Berlin: New York Genius; Laurence Maslon, arts professor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and host of the radio show "Broadway to Main Street" on WLIW; and Katherine Barrett Swett, English teacher, poet, and granddaughter of Irving Berlin and Ellin Mackay.



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28 Nov. 2022

November 30, 1954. At about 12:45 in the afternoon, a space rock comes plummeting through the roof of a house in Sylacauga, Alabama. It bounces off a standup radio, ricochets around the living room, and collides with the thigh of Mrs. Ann Hodges, who’s been napping on the couch. Newspapers declare: “experts agreed unanimously that Mrs. Hodges was the first person known to have been struck by a meteorite.” What happened to this space rock after it crashed to Earth and thrust itself into volatile human affairs? And what happened to the human beings whose lives were upended by this rarest of rare events?


Thanks to our guests: Dr. Julia Cartwright, planetary scientist at the University of Alabama; Billy Field, professor at the University of Alabama and screenwriter; and Julie Love Templeton, attorney in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.


Dr. Cartwright is involved in a number of art/science collaborations to engage and educate the public about meteorites and planetary science. You can find out more on her website, JACartwright.people.ua.edu. Keep an eye out for Billy Field’s latest project, TheStoryAcorn.com, which launches in January 2023. The website will feature history from the Civil Rights movement, told by those who lived it. The website teaches students to gather stories from their own communities and share them with the world. Thanks also to Mary Beth Prondzinski, former collections manager at the Alabama Museum of Natural History, and to the Alabama Museum of Natural History.



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21 Nov. 2022

November 22, 1718. Early morning, off the North Carolina coast. The pirate Blackbeard, peering over the rail of his ship, is startled to discover that a pair of British naval ships are after him. He rouses his hungover crew and gives the order to flee to the open sea. The pirating life is treacherous: filled with double-crosses, shifting alliances, and violence. The best pirates cultivate harsh reputations in order to scare their foes into surrendering without a fight. And no one is feared more than Blackbeard. But now the authorities have decided to hunt him down. How did Blackbeard become a legend, the one pirate we all remember? And where lies the truth within this treasure trove of stories? 


Special thanks to our guest, Eric Jay Dolin, author of Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates. Dolin’s latest book is Rebels At Sea: Privateering in the American Revolution.




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14 Nov. 2022
November 16, 1532. Atahualpa, the king of the Inca Empire, marches towards the city of Cajamarca in modern-day Peru, surrounded by 80,000 soldiers. Once he arrives, Atahualpa expects the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro to surrender in the town square. But Pizarro has a plan of his own. With just 168 men, he will unleash a trap that destroys the Inca Empire, and brings thousands of years of indigenous rule to a violent end. What was happening in the Andes before Pizarro arrived that allowed this to take place? And when history is written by the victors, how do we know what’s really true?

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7 Nov. 2022

November 7, 1811. William Henry Harrison and his troops are camped near the Wabash river. They’ve been told to keep the peace—but Harrison wants land, and he’s come here to try and take it. Less than a mile away is a flourishing Native American settlement called Prophetstown. It’s led by Tecumseh, a skilled diplomat and warrior, and his brother Tenskwatawa, whose religious teachings have attracted indigenous people from across the newly-formed United States. Before dawn, these two sides will be in a battle that ends with one of their settlements burned to the ground. How did a future president exploit this conflict to catapult himself all the way to the White House? And how did Prophetstown become the most powerful alliance of Native American military, spiritual, and social forces to ever take on the US government?


Thanks to our guests, Chief Ben Barnes; Peter Cozzens, author of Tecumseh and the Prophet: The Heroic Struggle for America’s Heartland; and Stephen Warren, author of The Shawnees and Their Neighbors, 1795-1870. Chief Barnes and Stephen Warren are co-editors of the book, Replanting Cultures: Community-Engaged Scholarship in Indian Country. Look out for Cozzens’ forthcoming book, A Brutal Reckoning: Andrew Jackson, The Creek Indians, and the Epic War for the American South. 


Thanks also to Douglas Winiarski, author of Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England; and to Adam Jortner, author of The Gods of Prophetstown: The Battle of Tippecanoe and the Holy War for the American Frontier.



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31 Oct. 2022

November 5, 1998. Using DNA evidence, the scientific journal Nature publishes findings that put to rest a centuries-old mystery: Was Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman at Monticello, the mother of six of Thomas Jefferson’s children? Until then, the historical consensus had been this: “The Jefferson-Hemings relationship can be neither refuted nor substantiated.” Jefferson’s white descendants were more categorical: they flatly denied it. But now the truth was out. Why was this story denied for so long, and what does that say about whose version of history is believed? And how did it revise our understanding of America’s third president?

Special thanks to our guests: Professor Annette Gordon-Reed, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family as well as the book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: an American Controversy. And Gayle Jessup White, a descendant of Thomas Jefferson

and Sally Hemings and author of the book, Reclamation: Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, and a Descendant’s Search for her Family’s Lasting Legacy.



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24 Oct. 2022

October 26, 1948. A mysterious fog descends upon the valley town of Donora, Pennsylvania. Most of its residents work at the local steel mill and are used to murky air. But there’s something different about this miasma of acrid vapors. People begin to cough convulsively; some have trouble breathing. Residents crowd into local doctors’ offices, some arriving at the doorstep gasping for breath. They wonder, what is happening to us?  The fog lifts from the valley 5 days later, leaving 20 people dead. What caused the Donora Death Fog? And how did it lead to the creation of the Clean Air Act?


Special thanks to our guests: Dr. Devra Davis, author of When Smoke Ran Like Water Tales Of Environmental Deception And The Battle Against Pollution; and Brian Charlton, from the Donora Historical Society and Smog Museum. We’d also like to thank Mark Pawelec and David Lonich.



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20 Oct. 2022

It Was Said, the 2021 Webby Award winner for Best Podcast Series, returns with a new season to look back on some of the most powerful, impactful, and timeless speeches in history. Written and narrated by Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling author-historian Jon Meacham, this documentary podcast series takes you through another season of ten generation-defining speeches. Meacham, along with top historians, authors and journalists, offers expert insight and analysis into the origins, the orator, and the context of the times each speech was given, and they reflect on why it’s important to never forget them. 


It Was Said is a creation and production of Peabody-nominated C13Originals, in association with The HISTORY® Channel.





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17 Oct. 2022

October 22, 1975. After traveling millions of miles through space, a Soviet spacecraft plunges through thick clouds of sulfuric acid to land on Venus. Its goal: take a photograph of another planet’s surface and send it back home—history’s first up-close glimpse at a world other than our own. Venus, our closest neighbor, is similar in size to Earth and may even share some planetary material. It’s why scientists sometimes call it our twin planet. Yet its rock-melting temperatures and poisonous atmosphere make it profoundly different. If anything, it is our evil twin. What’s behind humanity's long fascination with Venus? And what can the differences between these cosmic twins teach us about our home planet…its present, and its possible future?


Special thanks to our guests, David Grinspoon, author of Venus Revealed: A New Look Below the Clouds of Our Mysterious Twin Planet, and Sally's twin sister, Eliza Helm. Grinspoon’s latest book is called Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet’s Future.



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10 Oct. 2022

October 13, 1982. The announcement came from Switzerland, across the world from where Jim Thorpe was raised on Indian territory in Oklahoma. In his time, Thorpe was the most popular athlete in the world, winning two gold medals at the 1912 Olympics. But for a variety of reasons—including his Native American heritage—those medals were stripped away. But today, though Thorpe passed away years earlier, his children will receive the medals that their father rightly won.


In a special collaboration with our sibling podcast, Sports History This Week, we seek to answer... how does Jim Thorpe rise from an Indian boarding school to become “The Greatest Athlete of All Time"? And why was his legacy almost destroyed?


Special thanks to Sunnie Clahchischiligi, freelance journalist and Ph.D. candidate in Cultural, Indigenous, and Navajo Rhetoric at the University of New Mexico; and David Maraniss, associate editor at the Washington Post and author of Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe.



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3 Oct. 2022

October 4, 1915. President Woodrow Wilson designates Dinosaur National Monument as a national historic site.  That’s a big deal, right? There must’ve been a grand ribbon-cutting ceremony, maybe even a parade. But no.  In 1915, nobody really cares about dinosaurs. But that is all about to change. And when it does, it is largely because of two paleontologists. Two guys who started off as best friends … until their growing obsession with unearthing and cataloging dinosaur bones would turn them into rivals. Then enemies. How did the competition between a pair of paleontologists lead to unprecedented dinosaur discoveries? And how did their rivalry unhinge them both? 


Special thanks to guest Dr. Hans Sues, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. 



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26 Sep. 2022

October 1, 1788. William Brodie mounts the gallows outside Edinburgh’s jail. Just a few years before, as a respected member of the town council, he’d helped redesign those gallows. Now he stands upon them as a convicted criminal sentenced to be hanged, in front of 40,000 spectators. Brodie appears surprisingly and resolutely calm. But maybe somewhere deep inside is another William Brodie, panicked and full of regret. Who really was this respectable cabinetmaker by day and thief by night? And how did he inspire his fellow Scotsman, Robert Louis Stevenson, to write the famous story, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?


Special thanks to our guests, professors Stephen Brown and Owen Dudley Edwards. Brown’s lecture on the 250th anniversary of the Encyclopedia Britannica is available on the National Library of Scotland's website. Edwards’ latest book is called Our Nations and Nationalisms.


Correction: Professor Brown referred to Judge Braxton in Brodie's trial. The judge's name was Lord Braxfield.



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19 Sep. 2022

September 20, 1187. It’s daytime outside the walls of Jerusalem. Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt, ponders his next attack. His troops encircle and lay siege to the city. They vastly outnumber the Crusader knights inside, and Saladin’s on the cusp of a victory he never dreamed possible. He can order his men to attack the city. Killing those who stand in their way and enslaving the rest. But, Saladin has a problem. Balian of Ibelin leads the Crusader defenses within the city walls. He threatens to destroy Muslim holy sites if Saladin attacks. The Sultan must make a choice. One that will impact his legacy, the lives of thousands, and the future of Jerusalem. What does Saladin choose?


Special thanks to our guest, Dr. Suleiman Mourad, Professor of Religion at Smith College and author of Ibn Asakir of Damascus: Champion of Sunni Islam at the Time of the Crusades.



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12 Sep. 2022

September 2, 1922. Twenty-four-year-old Mollie Maggia has a toothache. In less than a year, this otherwise healthy young woman will be dead. Others like her will soon follow. They’d all shared what seemed to be a dream job: applying glow-in-the-dark paint to clock faces. The paint glowed because it was saturated with radium, the wonder element of its day. And now that radium has burrowed inside the bones and lungs of the women. How did a supposed wonder element and cure-all come to be seen for what it was – a deadly poison? And how did a group of courageous young women, racing the clock of their own mortality, expose this truth?


Special thanks to Kate Moore, author of The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women. If you want to learn more about the story of The Radium girls you can visit https://www.theradiumgirls.com. Also a huge thank you to Art Fryer, nephew of Grace Fryer, one of the “Radium Girls”.



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5 Sep. 2022

September 8, 1966. For the first time, the USS Enterprise appears on screen. It is the premiere of a strange new futuristic TV show. Star Trek will introduce the world to a cast of characters that push the boundaries of TV. Why did NBC take a chance on a writer who had already once gotten them in trouble with none other than the US military? And how did Star Trek go where no show had gone before?


Special thanks to our guests, David A. Goodman and Michelle Sauer. Goodman’s latest film, Honor Society, is now streaming on Paramount Plus. Sauer is the author of Gender in Medieval Culture.



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29 Aug. 2022

September 2, 31 BCE. Two camps prepare for battle off the coast of Greece. On one side is Octavian, Julius Caesar’s heir apparent. On the other, Marc Antony and his lover, the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. This battle won’t just determine the leader of Rome, but the fate of global civilization. How did Cleopatra wind up in the middle of a Roman game of tug of war? And how did the Battle of Actium change our world forever?


Special thanks to our guest, Barry Strauss, author of The War That Made the Roman Empire: Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavian at Actium.



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22 Aug. 2022

August 27, 1900. Dr. Jesse Lazear, a U.S. Army surgeon, walks into Las Animas Hospital Yellow Fever ward in Havana Cuba, toting a brood of mosquitos. He has the system down: remove the cotton stopper that keeps the mosquito penned in its glass vial, turn the vial over, and seal it against a consenting infected patient’s skin. Chasing the source of Yellow Fever, scientists try to understand this deadly plague by running a high-stakes medical experiment on human subjects. But today, those subjects will include themselves. Why did ordinary people—and the doctors running the experiment—willingly and knowingly consent to take part in this study? And when we look back, should we be horrified... or impressed?


Special thanks to our guests: Dr. Kathryn Olivarius of Stanford University and author of, Necropolis: Disease, Power, and Capitalism in the Cotton Kingdom, as well as Molly Crosby author of, The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever the Epidemic That Shaped Our History.



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15 Aug. 2022

August 17, 1987. On the red carpet in New York City, it’s the premier of a new movie: Dirty Dancing. The story is set in the sunburnt Shangri-La of New York’s Catskills resort region. The movie will introduce millions to the place that some call the Jewish Alps. "Disneyland with knishes." The Sour Cream Sierras. The Borscht Belt. Ironically, Dirty Dancing arrives as the heyday of the Catskills resort is ending. But how does its culture live on? And how did its signature style of Jewish humor make the leap to Hollywood, where it would fundamentally change American comedy?


Special thanks to our guests: Julie Budd, John Conway, Jeremy Dauber, Elaine Grossinger Etess, Bill Persky, Larry Strickler, and Alan Zweibel. You can learn more about Jewish humor in Dauber’s book, Jewish Comedy: A Serious History.



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