British History Podcast Review

The British History Podcast
“History the way it is meant to be heard”
By Jamie Jeffies

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This is an interesting podcast that I just began listening to, so I’m still in the period of the Roman occupation of Britannia. It’s a period of England’s history I know less about, so I can’t speak to Jeffries’ accuracy, to whether he glosses over too much or leaves essential bits out. Perhaps when I get to the Anglo Saxons I’ll have a better idea of how accurate he is. But so far he hasn’t said anything I know was incorrect. And his approach is engaging, so I’ll keep listening. Jeffries began his podcast in May 2011 and currently is at episode 265.

Jeffies is a Brit with an American accent. He was born in the UK but grew up in the states. I’ll be listening along, lulled by his accent into forgetting this until he says  something about “here” or “just a few miles from my home,”  suddenly reminding me that he’s British.

Jeffries explained that he learned history at the knee of his grandfather, who told him tales of the land of his birth. Jeffries wants to make history that interesting for his listeners, and I think he succeeds to some extent. It may not be the thrilling tales he learned as a child, but it moves along at a decent clip.

He began with Ice Age Britain, spending an episode looking at what we know from paleontology and archeological finds. The next few episodes look at Julius Caesar’s trips to Britannia, then other Roman emperors’ interactions, and of course on to Claudius. By episode 22 we’re up to the crisis of the third century and the rebellions in Gaul. This should give you an idea of how fast (or slow) the podcast is moving.

Jeffies likes to include the archaeological record, sometimes disputing accepted canon. He’ll note that the number of people killed in a certain battle has to be wildly exaggerated. After all, where are the bodies? He also looks at the various walls built, noting when they were abandoned, reoccupied and so forth, to determine if the northern tribes might have made inroads at certain times.

Jeffries also throws in comments about pop culture, mentioning movies that cover this period of history. (For example, he loves Gladiator and hates The Eagle). He also discusses problems with the historical record or competing theories about how or why something happened. His discussion of the disappearance of the 9th Legion should be of interest to a lot of folks.

And he interacts with his listeners. Like many podcasters, he asks for and answers questions submitted on Facebook or his webpage. Or he says something to acknowledge others might disagree with him. When he describes how Scotland’s rocky, hilly landscape full of waist-high thistles made the area less appealing to the Romans, he’ll make a comment like, yes, Tom, I know the north is beautiful, but that wasn’t why the Romans wanted to go there.

Jeffries’ primary fundraising is through monthly memberships on his website. For $4.99 a month members receive access to members-only episodes, timelines, transcripts and members-only boards. For example, members-only episodes offered during the early time period I’m listening to include one on Celtic literacy and another on the Hallstatt culture. I haven’t done this, but might. He has at least 90 members-only podcasts available by the 10th century.

The website also has some value. There’s a good list of sources, a massive family tree of early English rulers, and maps. There are maps of Britannia during different eras, Anglo-Saxon migrations, the locations of various battles and where Hadrian’s wall was.

My only real complaint is his choice of music. During one battle between the Romans and Celts he played some kind of stylized Native American music – not real Native American music, but some kind of odd take that involved a lot of screeching. At other times he plays 21st century music that’s a bit jarring. One time he just played cows mooing to indicate nothing was happening in Britannia. And some of his episodes are quite short. When you wait two weeks for something, it would be nice if it was more than 20 minutes long.

The British History podcast currently is in the early 10th century, just after the battle of Tettenhall.


History of Byzantium Podcast Review

The History of Byzantium
“A Podcast Telling the Story of the Roman Empire from 476 AD to 1453”
By Robin Pierson

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Pierson loved the popular History of Rome podcast and was saddened that Mike Duncan didn’t continue past 476 AD. Pierson believes – as many SCA folk do – that “Rome” only ended in the West. In fact, he calls the people of the Eastern Empire “Romans” throughout and only named his podcast “The History of Byzantium” to avoid confusion. He began his podcast in May 2012 and currently is at episode 159.

Pierson says he wanted to continue Rome’s history because “Byzantine history is fascinating, world changing and largely forgotten.”

I had not listened to The History of Rome before binge-listening Pierson’s podcast, so I will simply present his statement about it:

“I have tried to remain faithful to Mike’s structure of half-hour installments told from a state-centric perspective. My innovation is to pause the narrative at the end of each century to take time to cover wider issues to do with Byzantium”

I particularly like this approach. After several episodes of battles all over Anatolia and the near east, or discussions of warring factions inside the Theodosian Walls, I can hear about everyday people, learn what’s been happening in the Caliphate and Europe, and hear Pierson’s answers to listener questions.

Pierson occasionally interviews someone, such as a grad student studying the period or Mike Duncan. He asks for and answers questions listeners send him during the end-of-century episodes. Once he did an episode completely from the viewpoint of a soldier. It’s the only time he’s done a fictionalized episode.

Pierson’s approach to fundraising is one I like. Rather than ask for monthly donations, every year or two he does an episode you must pay for. He did this for episodes 28, 77 and 129. You can always skip them.

He also offers side episodes that you can purchase. He did several on John of Chrysostom, a couple on the life of Porphyrius the Charioteer, one on Symeon the Stylite, a couple on Procopius, who wrote a biography of Justinian and a secret history full of snipe and spite. He did a sale episode on the origins of Islam early on, and the most recent two are on Roman healthcare. The early episodes are available for $5 each and the later ones for $7.

Pierson now offers a $42 yearly subscription to all these pay episodes and promises six new side episodes each year. If you want to listen to all these, and want to see them just appear in your feed, this is a good choice. But it’s a bit rich for my blood. I’ve bought the fundraiser episodes to ensure I don’t miss anything and skipped the rest. I’m up to episode 130 now.

Except for those three pay episodes, he continues the chronological narrative for free.

I also like the website. It includes his Audible recommendations, his recommended sources and maps. Since I generally listen to podcasts while doing other things, I’m not always near the computer to review the maps he provides. As a result I often am in the dark about exactly where the Romans are until later. Byzantine history is an area I’m not familiar with, so the names, and particularly the place names, tend to pass me by until I have time to look at the map, but others may not have this problem. For example, I don’t have this problem when listening to English history podcasts. I’m guessing some of you would not need his maps at all.

The History of Byzantium is currently in an end-of-century overview for the period 913-1025 AD. (Note: He breaks his centuries unevenly in order to line up with the change in emperors.) The most recent episode was about Byzantine funeral practices and where the emperors are buried.

A Review of “The History of English Podcast”

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The History of English
“The Spoken History of a Global Language”
By Kevin Stroud

If you’ve ever looked at an Old English document and wondered how we got from that to now, you’ll love this podcast. Stroud has made what could have been a mind-numbingly boring topic into a fascinating podcast. The podcast began in June 2012 and currently is at episode 106.

He begins with our language’s proto-Indo-European roots, discussing how the people who spoke it came to spread it all over Europe and beyond. He explains how pronunciation shifts occurred, things like how “p” became “f” (like how “pater” became “father”) and how we can trace the development of the language through those consistent changes.

He really hits his stride when he gets to Old English, which he must have studied at some point. Stroud’s a lawyer by profession, but his love of language is plain. He pronounces Old English and Old Norse words clearly, making the subtle differences distinct. His section on pronouns – which are Old English and which are Old Norse – was really good.

In order to show how English evolved, Stroud covers a lot of straight-up history. He discusses what led to the Magna Carta, what conditions led to the publication of the first law books in English, which wars caused which demographic shifts, and so on. He tells the history of England in order to tell the history of English.

Stroud’s website is good, too. He has entries for all his episodes. Some include maps that show migrations or areas where certain languages were prevalent. A couple have audio samples, such as Gregorian chants and a group singing “Sumer Is Icumen In.” I expect as he progresses into the later centuries he’ll have more such resources available.

Stroud also plans to include samples of various English speakers’ accents in future episodes to illustrate the evolution of modern English accents and dialects. On his website he has a place for people to leave a voice sample, asking everyone to list the place where they acquired their accent and say the same 13 sentences, such as “The ten steel beams are still supporting the tin roof” and “The goose took a bath in the mill pond.”

The History of English has an active community who ask questions, offer corrections, and generally comment on the interesting bits of information we learn every two weeks. Most of this is on the website, but there’s also a Facebook page.

Like many podcasters, Stroud has a Patreon page for donations. But his approach to fundraising is low key. He has two audio books for sale, one on Beowulf and the other on the alphabet. “Beowulf Deconstructed: The Old English of Beowulf” is available for $6 or $0.99 each for six chapters. “The History of the Alphabet” is in two parts, each $3.

I listened to the Beowulf audio book, and I liked it, but if you know much about it, or about Old English, it may feel like he’s covering well-tread ground. His focus is on the language, after all. But the best reason to buy these episodes is to support a podcaster who provides his main chronological narrative completely for free. This is especially true of Stroud, who has no ads on his podcast or website.

The History of English podcast currently is in the early 13th century. Recent episodes looked at the Ancrene Wisse, discussed prefixes and suffixes, and the most recent episode looked at the early medieval book trade.