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Listening to History: Teaching and Learning with Podcasts – Part 1

More and more students, researchers, and historians are listening to the past. Podcast and audiobooks allow one to learn while doing.  We might be cleaning, commuting, organizing, or walking. Listening to the past via podcasts has become an important way the past is consumed, making it useful to our teaching and learning. Some of these podcasts have been shared on past teaching blogs. Readers are encouraged to suggest their favourite podcasts, ‘listens’, and assignments that may support learning. Do you permit students to cite audio books and podcasts? Do you see podcasts as supplementing learning or as significant sources to be included in student work? Like many online exhibitions, websites, and other digital sources, podcasts may be a point of departure that provides users to explore primary sources, book titles, peer-reviewed journal articles, and extended magazine features.

The Public Historian and the Journal of American History are two journals among several that more recently have included podcast reviews.[1]  Liz Covart, historian and podcaster, has recently published an overview for folks who are less familiar with the field.[2] There is still more work to be undertaken regarding the field in Canada and there are several excellent resources from other countries to consider. Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog.


Off-Campus History

Louis Reed-Wood, a graduate student at the University of Toronto, takes his podcast beyond the classroom and engages with public portrayals of history. He talks to other historians about movies, theatre productions, museums, and even games! These podcasts are a perfect accompaniment to public history your classroom. https://offcampushistory.podbean.com/


The Secret Life of Canada

“The Secret Life of Canada highlights the people, places and stories that probably didn’t make it into your high school textbook.” Excellent research and analysis pushes listeners to consider the complications of history in an engaging way, sometimes with a little humour as well.[3] The website has links to teaching guides and primary sources.


The ActiveHistory.ca Podcast, History Slam, hosted and produced by Sean Graham.


The first History Slam Podcast was released on July 11, 2012.  More than ten years later, with more than 220 episodes in place, listeners have been invited to engage in a diversity of topics in a casual atmosphere.  Books, music, conferences, research questions and topics that inform our understanding and how we study, teach, and write about the past are all part of this impressive library of recordings.

The Champlain Society: Witness to Yesterday | Témoins d’hier

With almost 200 podcasts, The Champlain Society focuses on recent publications, primary sources and ways that teachers may use documents to teach about the past. The Champlain Society recently developed the teaching tool “Teaching Resources from the Champlain Society: Primary Sources in Historical Content.”  https://champlainsociety.utpjournals.press/ed-resources

Mairi Cowan, award winning historian from the University of Toronto, created these resources. Mairi Cowan won the CHA teaching award in 2021.


Indigenous Stories / Resources

Story Keepers Podcast: https://storykeeperspodcast.ca/

For two seasons, folks have been listening to Jennifer David and Waubgeshig Rice talk about Indigenous authors and books. This podcast is recorded monthly and will provide support to educators who are reading Indigenous authors and who are teaching the many novels published by Indigenous authors.

Waubgeshig Rice: https://www.waub.ca/

Residential Schools[4]

Duncan McCue, Kuper Island Podcast, CBC Radio, 2022. https://www.cbc.ca/listen/cbc-podcasts/1062-kuper-island

Connie Walker, Stolen: Surviving St. Michaels, Spotify, 2022. https://open.spotify.com/show/7D4inq4DY144KIZN99Od6t

The United States


Some readers may have listened to this eight-part series which is deeply researched. Rachel Maddow gives many shout-outs to the Library of Congress and other archival repositories that supported this lesser- known episode in American history. Rachel Maddow who holds a doctorate in political science is also known to many as a political analyst on MSNBC news.

“Sitting members of Congress aiding and abetting a plot to overthrow the government. Insurrectionists criminally charged with plotting to end American democracy for good. Justice Department prosecutors under crushing political pressure. Rachel Maddow Presents: Ultra is the all-but-forgotten true story of good, old-fashioned American extremism getting supercharged by proximity to power. When extremist elected officials get caught plotting against America with the violent ultra right, this is the story of the lengths they will go to… to cover their tracks.”[5]


The website includes primary documents and two key monographs.  A book on the failed bid to overthrow the US government during the Second World War is in the works.

To support further learning on this topic, see Charles Gallagher, Nazis of Copley Square: The Forgotten Story of the Christian Front, Boston: Harvard University Press, 2021.

Some may be familiar with her earlier work on the 1970s and political corruption: https://www.msnbc.com/bagman

The 1619 Project

The book and website compliment the five-part podcast that explores democracy, economics, music, medical care and land ownership.


Hannah-Jones, Nikole, and New York Times Company, eds. The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story. First edition. New York: One World, 2021.

Ben Franklin’s World

Liz Covart’s successful podcast includes interviews with historians, an exploration of primary sources, and insight into how history is studied and researched. She has more than 350 episodes. Her work is engaging and she interviews historians to consider the sources they use, the stories they wish to tell and to bring more awareness to the process of writing about the past.


Now and Then

Historians, Joanne Freeman and Heather Cox Richardson share their historical insights and expertise on topics that are often in the news and benefit from historical context and analysis. Joanne Freeman was also a co-host on the Backstory – an early podcast that focused on US history and broadcast episodes until 2020. She is also an expert on Alexander Hamilton and her most recent book, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War explores physical violence in Congress.[6]  Heather Cox Richardson known for her daily “Letters from an American” and most recent monograph, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America.[7] Together, Dr. Freeman and Dr. Cox-Richardson explore important contemporary issues, larger cultural themes, buzz words and a diversity of topics connected to their research expertise to better understand the present by understanding our pasts.



330 episodes

“BackStory is a weekly podcast that uses current events in America to take a deep dive into our past. Hosted by noted U.S. historians, each episode provides listeners with different perspectives on a particular theme or subject – giving you all sides to the story and then some.

BackStory started in 2008 with hosts Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh. In 2017, BackStory welcomed two new hosts, Joanne Freeman and Nathan Connolly, who join Ed and Brian to take you behind the scenes of American history. Peter Onuf will continue as a guest host and contributor to the show.

With guest historians, questions from audience callers, and the production team, BackStory makes learning about history like going to a lively cocktail party.”



[1] Daniel J. Story, “The Still-Emerging World of History Podcasting.” The American Historical Review 127, no. 1 (April 26, 2022): 411–12. https://doi.org/10.1093/ahr/rhac142.

[2] Liz Covart, “History Podcasts: An Overview of the Field.” Journal of American History 109, no. 1 (June 1, 2022): 220–29. https://doi.org/10.1093/jahist/jaac229. She is also listed below and has been very generous with her knowledge and experience with her popular podcast, Ben Franklin’s World.

[3] Leah-Simon Bowen and Falen Johnson host this podcast twice a month which launched its fourth season in February 2022. There are 79 episodes to access online. https://www.cbc.ca/listen/cbc-podcasts/203-the-secret-life-of-canada?cmp=DM_SEM_Listen_Titles

[4] These schools may also be described as institutions established to remove children from their communities, cultures, families and homes that were funded by the government and managed by a diversity of religious orders across the land.

[5] See Rachel Madow’s personal website: https://www.rachelmaddow.com/ accessed December 13, 2022.

[6] Joanne B. Freeman, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War (New York: Picador, 2019).

[7] Heather Cox Richardson, “Letters from an American.” Accessed December 12, 2022. https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/about.

https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/about  Heather Cox Richardson, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2020).