Episode 21: Why We Need More Historians in the Silicon Valley

podcast-icon1The liberal arts vs. STEM. A degree in the humanities vs. a degree in business. The current conversation around higher education consistently pits the study of history, philosophy, or English against more “practical” pursuits like engineering or computer science. But both data and the insights of business leaders tell us that this is a false dichotomy. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling discuss the value of the liberal arts within both the current economic and political climate. They are joined by venture capitalist Scott Hartley (@scottehartley), author of The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts will Rule the Digital World.

Episode 20: La Vida Baseball

podcast-icon1It’s that time of year again—Opening Day. Once again, host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling make their way to the ballpark and get ready to discuss Americas’1 pastime. This time around, they tackle race and ethnicity in baseball while also discussing this year’s prospects for their favorite teams. They are joined by University of Illinois historian and La Vida Baseball (@lavidabaseball) editor-in-chief Adrian Burgos, Jr. (@adburgosjr).

1No, that is not a typo. For an explanation, listen to the episode!

Episode 19: American Prophets

podcast-icon1America has long been a home to prophets. Tenskwatawa, Joseph Smith, Anne Hutchinson, and Martin Luther King, Jr. have all spoken truth to power. In today’s episode, John Fea and Drew Dyrli Hermeling discuss America’s prophetic tradition. They are joined by documentary filmmaker Martin Doblmeier whose film, An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story, documents the life and theology of one of America’s most outspoken and revered prophets.

Episode 18: The Way of Improvement Leads Abroad?

podcast-icon1Of all the places for a couple of American historians, why are John Fea and Drew Dyrli Hermeling going to 1930s Czechoslovakia? In this episode, the team try their hands at some comparative history while John discusses the internationalization of the study of the American past. They are joined by Bruce Berglund, who explores the search for meaning in one of Europe’s most secular societies with an added dose of international sports history for good measure.

Episode 17: The Way of Improvement Leads to Mount Vernon

podcast-icon1History always matters, but in times of great political change, good historical thinking is especially important. And since it’s Presidents’ Day, we thought the best place to start Season 3 is at historic Mount Vernon. In this episode we discuss George Washington’s leadership, paying special attention to his 1796 Farewell Address. We are joined by Douglas Bradburn (@douglasbradburn), the founding director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the study of George Washington (@gwbooks) at Mount Vernon.

Episode 16: Abolitionism


podcast-icon1Two weeks ago, we discussed the Civil War. But the Civil War didn’t just occur
spontaneously. Instead, it was a reaction to many larger political currents that had their roots in the very foundation of the United States. One such current was abolitionism. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling discuss this issue and connect it to John’s own work on the American Bible Society. They are joined by the highly decorated historian Manisha Sinha (@ProfMSinha), who has just released The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition. 

Episode 15: The Civil War

podcast-icon1Perhaps there is no story more important to the United States than that of our Civil War. It is no surprise then that historians continue to find new things to say about the conflict. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling discuss such things as living in the shadow of Gettysburg, the war’s most famous battle, teaching the Civil War, and the continued applicability of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. They are joined by the graphic historian Jonathan Fetter-Vorm (@fetter_vorm) who illustrated and co-wrote Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War. 

Episode 14: 107 Years in the Making

When the Chicago Cupodcast-icon1bs finally ended the “Curse of the Billy Goat,” they demonstrated just how historic “America’s Pastime” truly is. When Michael Phelps won his 28th Olympic medal in Rio de Janeiro, he furthered his case for being known as the greatest Olympian history has ever know. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling once again tackle the history of sports, and are joined by Emmy award-winning sports historian, Amy Bass (@bassab1).

Episode 13: Finally, its Election Day

podcast-icon1Well, we have finally arrived at Election Day. After a long and grueling campaign, we are about to find out who will serve as the president of the United States for the next four years.

Over the course of the campaign, there has been a lot of talk about whether we are witnessing the undermining of democracy. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling tackle this question historically. They are joined by NPR correspondent Sarah McCammon (@sarahmccammon), who discusses her time spent covering the Donald Trump campaign.

Episode 12: How to be a Historian in Public

podcast-icon1Is it truly possible for academic historians to climb down from the ivory tower and connect with the public? Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling discuss the ways in which historians can engage with people outside of the academy, whether that be on Twitter or at the invitation of a mega-church. They are joined by Slate historian Rebecca Onion, who’s own work on the Vault invites readers to engage with intriguing documents and artifacts.



Episode 11: Biography: an Appraisal

Podcast IconPerusing the shelves of your local bookstore, it’d be easy to assume that historians love biographies. However, historians have long wrestled with the problems of hero worship that are so often present within biographical literature. Join host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling as they discuss this genre of historical writing. They are joined by historian Ann Little, who discusses her latest work on the eighteenth-century life of Esther Wheelwright.


Episode 10: On Historical Reenacting



Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling are back and ready for season 2. In this episode, they tackle the issue of historical reenacting. Is it just another kind of historical thinking? Or is it something different? They are joined first by “Thomas Jefferson” who discusses the current state of his 1800 campaign for the presidency. He is followed by Steve Edenbo, a professional “actor-historian” who portrays Thomas Jefferson. Edenbo discusses the process of researching and embodying such a famous historical figure along with the state of his profession in a post-“Hamiltonian” world.

Episode 9: Baby, We Were Born to Run (Home)

The long awaitedpodcast-icon1 Bruce Springsteen episode has arrived! Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling address the historical, political, and even spiritual significance of the Boss. They are joined by Marc Dolan, author of Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock N’ Roll, who discusses how Springsteen has changed over time with an emphasis on his live performances.


Episode 8: All Things Jefferson

podcast-icon1In Episode 8 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast John Fea and Drew Dyrli Hermeling talk about the complex life and legacy of Thomas Jefferson. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed and Jefferson scholar Peter Onuf talk with John about their new book, The Most Blessed of Patriarchs: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination.



Episode 7: The Way of Improvement Leads to the Ballpark

podcast-icon1Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling discuss America’s national pastime. That’s right–it’s The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast’s first annual baseball episode!  John and Drew talk about the marketability of nostalgia, the youthful dreams of a World Series for the home team, and the way sports turn even the most critical historian into an uncritical fan. They are joined by espn.com uniform expert, Paul Lukas.


Episode 6: Narrating the Past


podcast-icon1Historians often wrestle over how to tell their stories of the past. Complex jargon can make their work inaccessible to non-academics while readable narratives can draw the ire of the academy. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling address this tension while discussing dissertation research and Fea’s new book, The Bible Cause: History of the American Bible Society. They are joined by Nate DiMeo, author, producer, and host of the popular historical podcast, the memory palace.


Episode 5: Encountering the Past

podcast-icon1Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling discuss the many ways in which they have encountered the past, especially within the realm of public history and historical preservation. They are joined by the Director of Education at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, Tim Grove, who shares his experiences with mail order grizzly bears and Chinese restrictions on printing historical maps.


Episode 3: Thinking Politically Historically



Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling tackle presidential politics in this, their third episode. John discusses the “usable pasts” employed by candidates on both sides of the aisle. Later Fea and Hermeling are joined by Yoni Appelbaum, the Washington Bureau Chief for the Atlantic, to further discuss the role of historical thinking within politics.