Teaching with Podcasts: A U.S. History Professor’s Directory

When I go to record a lecture for my online or hybrid courses, I always feel a bit…unflashy. I think that’s because I’ve become an avid listener of podcasts, which offer much more engaging conversations and reconstructions of historical events and moments than I am able to provide with my PowerPoints and screencasts. Perhaps I’m a bit spoiled, and perhaps podcasts offer us as teachers a new model for online content as well as existing resources.

While I’ve considered having students produce podcasts (something I have yet to implement), I have begun to occasionally assign podcasts for listening (with supplemental readings, usually primary sources). We seem to be entering a Golden Age of Podcasting, with new media companies forming (Radiotopia from PRX, for example) to produce and disseminate new podcasts, offering a constant stream of content that could be incorporated into the classroom.

Historians are entering the fray as well, a phenomenon recently covered by Jennifer McLaren, which contains a helpful list of established and new podcasts related to history. Notably, the recently launched Past Present podcast by Nicole Hemmer, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, and Neil Young offers in depth conversations about current events through the lens of history and historical scholarship (really, it’s totally awesome. I highly suggest you subscribe!).

When it comes to teaching with podcasts, Past Present is an excellent tool for historical methods students, which I plan to use next semester as a weekly discussion topic to engage students with how historians think. But beyond a methods course, there exist a vast array of expanding resources.

For students, I think that podcasts, or sections of podcasts, should be limited to 20 minutes—long enough to go in depth into an issue but short enough to be digestible, particularly since students may have a learning curve when it comes to how to take notes on these types of media. Certainly, podcasts offer students with new methods for engaging with course content, as well as provide sometimes opinionated content for students to critique.

Below, I’ve compiled a list from the podcasts I listen to frequently that highlight partiularly useful moments, debates, and stories relating to American history. I know there are many, many more possibilities out there, so I’d love to add suggestions from readers to the list!

Planet Money

This podcast from NPR features economic issues, but often provides conversational forays into past events such as the birth of the fed, the minimum wage, and the gold standard.

99% Invisible

Hosted by Roman Mars, this podcast focuses on design, but often features historical stories of design successes, anomalies, failures.
  • Milk Carton Kids (A look at the milk carton missing children campaign of the 1980s)
  • The Gruen Effect (Examines the design ideals of the mall, also covered by Jeff Hardwick on Backstory, Mall About It)
  • Lights Out (The 1977 New York City blackout and mythology surrounding the birth of hip hop)
  • Cold War Kids (Cold War bomb shelters and the story of an underground elementary school in New Mexico)
  • Longbox (The Parents Music Resource Council, Rock the Vote, and the design of the cd “longbox” in the late 1980s and early 1990s)


Perhaps one of the best known podcasts on American history, Backstory is produced by Brian Balogh, Ed Ayers, and Peter Onuf. Each episode is thematic, but segments are able to be selected individually to share with students. Below is a small selection of some of my favorite topics.

3 thoughts on “Teaching with Podcasts: A U.S. History Professor’s Directory

  1. Thank you for sharing. I used to teach American History (college level) many years ago and was always looking for ways to engage my students. I’ve been offered the opportunity to return to the classroom and am happy to find something to supplement my lectures.

  2. This is really interning post, with a great list of resources. Using podcasts as a way of engaging students sounds like an excellent way to supplement old-fashioned reading and lecture-listening. Thank you for linking to my blogpost on history podcasts too – your list of podcasts is more exhaustive than mine! I’m surprised though, that Liz Covart’s Ben Franklin’s World podcast doesn’t make it onto your list, I think it’s an excellent public history project.

    • Thanks! I haven’t listened to Ben Franklin’s World yet because I tend to teach the second half of the survey, but it sounds great! I look forward to listening!

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