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History Unplugged Podcast by Scott Rank

For history lovers who listen to podcasts, History Unplugged is the most comprehensive show of its kind. It's the only show that dedicates episodes to both interviewing experts and answering questions from its audience. First, it features a call-in show where you can ask our resident historian (Scott Rank, PhD) absolutely anything (What was it like to be a Turkish sultan with four wives and twelve concubines? If you were sent back in time, how would you kill Hitler?). Second, it features long-form interviews with best-selling authors who have written about everything. Topics include gruff World War II generals who flew with airmen on bombing raids, a war horse who gained the rank of sergeant, and presidents who gave their best speeches while drunk.

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Pandemics Cause Misery and Death, But They Also Created Agriculture and Put Humans on Top of the Food Chain
June 1, 2023 - 49 min
Three years into a global pandemic, the fact that infectious disease is capable of reshaping humanity is obvious. But seen in the context of sixty thousand years of human and scientific history, COVID-19 is simply the latest in a series of world-changing pathogens. In fact, the role that humans play in social and political change is often overstated. Instead, bacteria and viruses have been the invisible protagonists of mankind's ever-evolving story. Today’s guest is Jonathan Kennedy, author of “Pathogensis: A History of the World in Eight Plagues.” We discuss how Neanderthals and other early species of humans died out—not because they were cognitively inferior to Homo sapiens but because they were vulnerable to the diseases they carried; how disease triggered the agricultural revolution and allowed it to spread; how plague outbreaks in the 6th and 7th centuries led to the creation of modern states in Western Europe and the transformation of Islam into a world religion; and how infectious diseases aided the colonization of the Americas but inhibited the colonization of AfricaThis show is part of the Spreaker Prime Network, if you are interested in advertising on this podcast, contact us at
The 1920s Female Hungarian Murder Ring That Left 160 Dead
May 30, 2023 - 38 min
The horror occurred in a rustic farming enclave in 1920s Hungary. Investigators would discover that a murder ring of women was responsible for the deaths of at least 160 men. It was an unlikely lineup of killers—village wives, mothers, and daughters. At the center of it all was a sharp-minded village midwife, a “smiling Buddha” known as Auntie Suzy, who distilled arsenic from flypaper and distributed it to the women of Nagyrév. “Why are you bothering with him?” Auntie Suzy would ask, as she produced an arsenic-filled vial from her apron pocket. In the beginning, a great many used the deadly solution to finally be free of cruel and abusive spouses. But as the number of dead bodies grew without consequence, the killers grew bolder. With each vial of poison emptied, a new reason surfaced to drain yet another. Some women disposed of sickly relatives. Some used arsenic as “inheritance powder” to secure land and houses. For more than fifteen years, the unlikely murderers aided death unfettered and tended to it as if it were simply another chore—spooning doses of arsenic into soup and wine, stirring it into coffee and brandy. By the time their crimes were discovered, hundreds were feared dead. Todays guest is Patti McCracken, author of “The Angel Makers: Arsenic, a Midwife, and Modern History’s Most Astonishing Murder Ring.” We explore whether these murders were of a very particular time and place, or if they could happen anywhere if the right conditions emerge.This show is part of the Spreaker Prime Network, if you are interested in advertising on this podcast, contact us at
How a Flying Ace Survived 24 Days Lost at Sea on the Pacific
May 25, 2023 - 44 min
Eddie Rickenbacker shouldn’t have survived—his childhood, his auto racing career, the first World War as he became America’s greatest ace, the many plane crashes that had taken others’ lives but yet, not his. A Medal of Honor recipient, he became a genuine icon and hero to the American people, providing a reason to celebrate during the Depression and inspiring them to face life’s daily challenges. But then, in his 50s in 1942, Rickenbacker faced his worst odds yet: a B-17 bomber forced to ditch in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with only inflatable rafts to survive the searing days and freezingnights—and no way to contact anyone. To tell Eddie’s story is today’s guest, John Wukovits, author of “Lost at Sea: Eddie Rickenbacker's Twenty-Four Days Adrift on the Pacific.” We look at his fight for survival with seven other men adrift on the Pacific. We also look at how many times Eddie Rickenbacker actually defied death—including one airline crash when a dislodged eyeball dangled on his cheek, and yet he tried to help the otherpeople escape while he remained pinned inside the plane.This show is part of the Spreaker Prime Network, if you are interested in advertising on this podcast, contact us at
The Forage War of 1777 Saw George Washington Launch Numerous Hit-and-Run Assaults on the British that Crippled the Army
May 23, 2023 - 33 min
In late December 1776, the American War of Independence appeared tobe on its last legs. General George Washington’s continental forces hadbeen reduced to a shadow of their former strength, the British Armyhad chased them across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania, andenlistments for many of the rank and file would be up by month’s end.Desperate times call for desperate measures, however, and GeorgeWashington responded to this crisis with astonishing audacity. OnChristmas night 1776, he recrossed the Delaware as a nor’easterchurned up the coast, burying his small detachment under howlingsheets of snow and ice. Undaunted, they attacked a Hessian brigade atTrenton, New Jersey, taking the German auxiliaries by completesurprise. Then, only three days later, Washington struck again, crossingthe Delaware, slipping away from the British at Trenton, and attackingthe Redcoats at Princeton—to their utter astonishment. The British, now back on their heels, retreated toward New Brunswickas Washington’s reinvigorated force followed them north into Jersey.Over the next eight months, Washington’s continentals and the statemilitias of New Jersey would go head-to-head with the British in amultitude of small-scale actions and large-scale battles, eventuallyforcing the British to flee New Jersey by sea. In this narrative of the American War of Independence, today’s guest Jim Stempel, author of “The Enemy Harassed: Washington's New Jersey Campaign of 1777” brings to life one of the most violent, courageous, yet virtually forgotten periods of the Revolutionary War.This show is part of the Spreaker Prime Network, if you are interested in advertising on this podcast, contact us at
Medieval Gender Roles Were Much More -- and Less -- Strict Than We Can Imagine
May 18, 2023 - 56 min
The Middle Ages are seen as a bloodthirsty time of Vikings, saints and kings: a patriarchal society which oppressed and excluded women. But when we dig a little deeper into the truth, we can see that the “dark” ages were anything but.Oxford and BBC historian Janina Ramirez, today’s guest author of the new book “Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It,” has uncovered countless influential women's names struck out of historical records, with the word FEMINA annotated beside them. Only now, through a careful examination of the artefacts, writings and possessions they left behind, are the influential and multifaceted lives of women emerging. Femina goes beyond the official records to uncover the true impact of women, such as: · Jadwiga, the only female King in Europe · Margery Kempe, who exploited her image and story to ensure her notoriety · Loftus Princess, whose existence gives us clues about the beginnings of Christianity in EnglandThis show is part of the Spreaker Prime Network, if you are interested in advertising on this podcast, contact us at
Firsthand Account of the Vietnam War from a "Tunnel Rat"
May 17, 2023 - 15 min
In this snippet from Josh Cohen's "Eyewitness History," Vietnam War veteran & "tunnel rat" Nick Sanza discusses his experience overseas, what it's like coming from a long lineage of military service, and what he learned from the tunnels in this interview from the Eyewitness History podcast. Continue listening to Eyewitness History: Apple Podcasts: more episodes of Eyewitness History: Podcasting Inventor Adam Curry: / Double Agent & Nelson Mandela Spy Bradley Steyn: / Survivor Gene Klein: / Veteran Vince Speranza: / Keyboardist Spike Edney: / show is part of the Spreaker Prime Network, if you are interested in advertising on this podcast, contact us at
Why Do We Consider Assyria The Most Sadistically Violent Empire When Oftentimes It Wasn't?
May 16, 2023 - 63 min
At its height in 660 BCE, the kingdom of Assyria stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf. It was the first empire the world had ever seen. Assyria’s wide-ranging conquests have long been known from the Hebrew Bible and later Greek accounts (and its reputation for unspeakable cruelty, with images of Assyrians skinning its enemies alive carved into stone on an Assyrian royal palace). But nearly two centuries of research now permit a rich picture of the Assyrians and their empire beyond the battlefield: their vast libraries and monumental sculptures, their elaborate trade and information networks, and the crucial role played by royal women. Today’s guest is Eckart Frahm, author of “Assyria: The Rise and Fall of the World’s First Empire.” Using archaeological research, along with the study of tens of thousands of cuneiform texts, researchers have been able to construct a more accurate depiction of Assyrian life, revealing the empire’s enduring impact on global civilization. Frahm shows how despite its war-prone image, Assyria proved innovative in the realms of architecture, arts, technology, and diplomacy. Readers will learn about the elaborate “Royal Road” that enabled trade and communication over vast distances, how Assyrian scholars created the first universal library, and about the impact of plagues and climate change on the empire’s fortunes.This show is part of the Spreaker Prime Network, if you are interested in advertising on this podcast, contact us at
Moral Panics and Mass Hysteria: The Dancing Plague, Salem Witch Trials, and The Tulip Market Bubble
May 11, 2023 - 50 min
One person's psychosis can be easily dismissed, but how do we account for collective hysteria, when an entire crowd sees the same illusion or suffer from the same illness? It's enough to make somebody believe in dark magic and pick up their pitchfork, ready to hang an accused witch.Sadly, such paranoia has led to many witch hunts in the past. In today's episode we look at some of the most notorious historical cases of mass hysteria and moral panics. But these cases don't only extend to Puritan-era witch panics. We will also look at cases that hit closer to home—such as economic bubbles and the housing market crash of the early 2000s.This episode includes such cases of mass hysteria as-- Dancing mania, in which German peasants in 1374 spent weeks dancing in a fugue state, with some toppling over dead from utter exhaustion-- The cat nuns of medieval France, where the sisters became to inexplicably meow together, leaving the surrounding community perplexed-- The Salem Witch trials, where 19 were executed due to claims of sorcery-- The Jersey Devil Panic, in which dozens of newspapers claimed in 1909 that a winged creature attacked a trolley car in Haddon HeightsThis show is part of the Spreaker Prime Network, if you are interested in advertising on this podcast, contact us at
A French Archeologist – Considered the Female Indiana Jones – Saved Dozens of Ancient Egyptian Temples From Flooding
May 9, 2023 - 34 min
In the 1960s, the world’s attention was focused on a nail-biting race against time: Fifty countries contributed nearly a billion dollars to save a dozen ancient Egyptian temples, built during the height of the pharaohs’ rule, from drowning in the floodwaters of the gigantic new Aswan High Dam. But the massive press coverage of this unprecedented rescue effort completely overlooked the gutsy French archaeologist who made it all happen. Without the intervention of Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, the temples—including the Metropolitan Museum’s Temple of Dendur—would be at the bottom of a huge reservoir. It was a project of unimaginable size and complexity that required the fragile sandstone temples to be dismantled, stone by stone, and rebuilt on higher ground. A willful, real-life version of Indiana Jones, Desroches-Noblecourt refused to be cowed by anyone or anything. As a member of the French Resistance in World War II she had survived imprisonment by the Nazis; in her fight to save the temples, she defied two of the most daunting leaders of the postwar world, Egyptian President Abdel Nasser and French President Charles de Gaulle. As she told one reporter, “You don't get anywhere without a fight, you know.” Yet Desroches-Noblecourt was not the only woman who played a crucial role in the endeavor. The other was Jacqueline Kennedy, America’s new First Lady, who persuaded her husband to call on Congress to help fund the rescue effort. After a century and a half of Western plunder of Egypt’s ancient monuments, Desroches-Noblecourt had done the opposite. She had helped preserve a crucial part of its cultural heritage and, just as important, made sure it remained in its homeland.Today’s guest is Lynne Olson, author of “Empress of the Nile: The Daredevil Archeologist Who Saved Egypt’s Ancient Temples.” We discuss why Christiane Desroches is something of a real-life female Indiana Jones, what tactics Desroches used to save Egyptian antiquities from flooding in the Nile basin, and how important her intervention was to the effort.This show is part of the Spreaker Prime Network, if you are interested in advertising on this podcast, contact us at
Eugenics is Considered a Form of Scientific Fascism Today, But 100 Years Ago It Was Universally Popular
May 4, 2023 - 61 min
Inspired by Charles Darwin’s ideas about evolution, the theory of eugenics arose in Victorian England as a proposal for ‘improving’ the British population. It quickly spread to America, where it was embraced by presidents, funded by Gilded Age monopolists, and enshrined into racist laws that became the ideological cornerstone of the Third Reich. Despite this horrific legacy, eugenics looms large today as the advances in genetics in the last thirty years—from the sequencing of the human genome to modern gene editing techniques—have brought the idea of population purification back into the mainstream. Today’s guest, Adam Rutherford, author of “Control: The Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics” calls eugenics “a defining idea of the twentieth century.” Eugenics has “a short history, but a long past,” Rutherford writes. With roots in key philosophical texts of the classical world that formed the basis of the Nazi worldview and the rationale for genocide, eugenics still informs present-day discussions and beliefs about race supremacy and genetic purity. It remains an eternal temptation to powerful people who wish to sculpt society through reproductive control.This show is part of the Spreaker Prime Network, if you are interested in advertising on this podcast, contact us at
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Meet Your Host
Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to
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