Our First Live Episode of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast is in the Books!

Podcast on stageThis morning we recorded our first live episode of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast before the Community of Educators (faculty and co-curricular educators) at Messiah College.

The Community of Educators gathered today at “Educator’s Day,” a tradition in which our faculty and co-curricular educators mark the end of the previous year and turn our attention to developing ourselves for the year ahead.  The theme of this year’s Educator’s Day was “Flourishing in a Digital World.”

As I noted in my post this morning, the administration asked us to record an episode of the podcast related to this theme.   Our guests were three humanities scholars doing very creative work at the intersection of digital scholarship and place.  David Pettegrew runs Messiah College’s Digital Harrisburg Initiative, Jean Corey runs Messiah’s Center for Public Humanities, and Nathan Skulstad is a digital documentarian and story-teller.

We could not have done this live episode without the hard work of podcast producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling and Cynthia Wells, the director of the Ernest L. Boyer Center at Messiah.  Thanks as well to Ashley Sheaffer of the Messiah College Agape Center for interviewing me on the episode and the skilled technicians on the Messiah College sound team for making us sound good!

Stay tuned.  This bonus episode will drop sometime in the next few weeks.  In the meantime, head over to Patreon site and help get us to Season 5.

Some tweets:

And Drew’s excellent response to Mr. Hatfield’s snarky tweet:

Welcome Messiah College Community of Educators!


Parmer Hall, Messiah College

When this post appears on the blog (9:50am on Monday, May 20, 2018) I will be sitting with Drew Dyrli Hermeling on the magnificent stage of Parmer Hall at Messiah College hosting a special episode of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  The episode is being recorded right now in front of a live studio audience at Messiah’s “Educator’s Day.”  Every year, Messiah College’s community of educators gather on the Monday following graduation for a day of professional development.  This year’s theme is “Flourishing in a Digital Age” and the administration has asked me to dedicate a podcast episode to digital scholarship and teaching at Messiah College.

We have done 38 full episodes of the podcast thus far.  I have interviewed Pulitzer Prize–winning authors and all kinds of other important people in the history field, but I have never been more nervous than I am this morning.  There is something different about having to host this podcast in front of a few hundred of my colleagues!

I think it is fair to say that most Messiah College educators are not familiar with the blog or the podcast.  Many will be finding their way to http://www.thewayofimprovement.com from their phones and laptops as they listen to us recording the podcast on stage. If you are one of those educators, welcome to our online home!  Feel free to explore a bit and get acquainted with what we have been doing here for the last ten years!  🙂

Season 4 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home is Coming to an End and We Could Use Your Support!


Next weekend Episode 38 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast will be available via ITunes and most other podcasting sites.  Our guest is Randall Stephens of Northumbria University.  We will be talking with Randall about his new book The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock ‘n’ Roll.  It is a great episode!

The forthcoming pisode 38 is our final regular episode of Season 4.  We think it has been our best yet.  During the 2017-2018 academic year we talked with the following guests:

Episode 37:  Erin Bartram talked about her viral essay “The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind.

Episode 36: Timothy Shannon discussed Atlantic History and his new book Indian Captive, Indian King.

Episode 35:  We talked the history of ice hockey and globalization with historian Bruce Berglund

Episode 34: Princeton University’s Kevin Kruse talked about life as a twitterstorian/

Episode 33: Amy Bass joined us to talk about her new book One Goal: A Coach, A Team, and the Game That Brought a Divided Town Together.

Episode 32: R. Marie Griffith joined us to talk about her new book Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians and Fractured American Politics

Episode 31: We chatted with history students from Boston Trinity Academy in Boston, Massachusetts

Episode 30: Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Frances Fitzgerald joined us to discuss her latest book, The Evangelicals.

Episode 29:  National Book Award finalist Nancy MacLean talked her book Democracy in Chains

Episode 28: Jeff Kollath, the Executive Director of the Stax Museum in Memphis, joined us to talk about soul music.

Episode 27: We were joined by Julian Chambliss for a discussion of Florida history and Mar-a-Lago

Episode 26: Pedagogy expert Kevin Gannon joined us to talk about teaching history

Episode 25:  KKK scholar Kelly Baker helped us put Charlottesville in some historical perspective

I hope you enjoyed these episodes.  We have plans to return for a 5th season, but we will not be able to pull it off without your support.  As I have said many times before, podcasts are time-consuming and (relatively) expensive to produce.  At this point, I do not get paid a cent for my role as host and creator.  All the money we raise goes to paying our producer and studio technician.

If you are in a position to help us as we enter into the next season, please consider a donation at our Patreon site.  Patreon allows you to give monthly pledges (as low as $1.00 a month) and one-time gifts.  Those who support with a pledge also have a choice of some great gifts.  CLICK HERE to donate!  It’s pretty simple.

If you would like to give and would prefer not go through Patreon, please contact me.  We have a few other options for those interested in making a larger donation.

Thanks so much for your support!

Congratulations Josh Lowrie!

lowrie-photoIf you listen to The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast you know the work of Josh Lowrie.  Josh is our studio producer and the guy who makes us sound good. His work is largely unheralded, but we could not do it without him!

Josh will be with us for one more episode before he graduates, gets married, and heads-off to a new job in Maryland.  He recently made this announcement on his Facebook page:

I am very pleased to announce that after graduation I will be working at Bay Area Community Church as the Student Ministries Program Coordinator!! I am very excited for the upcoming journey ahead! Thank you to everyone who has been praying for me as I’ve been looking for a job!

Congratulations, Josh!   I think it goes without saying that his work at the podcast is what really landed him this new job!  🙂

*The Devil’s Music* Playlist

StephensOn Episode 38 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, we talk to University of Oslo historian Randall Stephens about his new book The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock ‘n’ Roll.  Randall talks about his new book and I reflect on my own experiences at the intersection of evangelicalism and rock music.  The episode will drop next weekend.

In the meantime, head over the the website of Harvard University Press and listen to a Spotify playlist of songs and artists that Stephens considers in The Devil’s Music.  It includes music by Sam Cooke, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley & the Comets, The Beatles, Cliff Richard, Larry Norman, Phil Keaggy, Andre Crouch, Sha Na Na, Bill Gaither Trio, Bob Dylan, Amy Grant, Keith Green, DeGarmo & Key, Michael W. Smith, Stryper, DC Talk, and Sufjan Stevens.

And if you are a Randall Stephens fan, don’t forget to check out “The Randall Stephens Collection.”

Thanks for Supporting The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast


I just checked the Patreon crowdfunding page for The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast and noticed that we have picked up a few extra patrons over the past few weeks.  If you are one of them, thank you for your support!!

It takes a lot of work to produce a podcast.  I write every episode.  Our producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling schedules the guests, works with our hosts at Recorded History Podcast, schedules our recording sessions, works with our patrons to get them free goodies, edits every episode, and, most importantly, provides creative energy to make this thing happen.

We could not live without our studio producer Josh Lowrie.  He is a master of the sound board and spends several hours on every episode taking out all of our mistakes and making us and our guests sound good.  He also reserves the studio.

The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast is a labor of love, but we still have expenses. At this point, I do not make a cent on the podcast.  Most of the support we received via Patreon helps pay for the production work of Drew and Josh, but even that is not enough.

We were able to launch the podcast with a gift from an angel donor.  That money is now almost gone and we are in the process of trying to figure out how to move forward without it.

This is where you can help.  In addition to sharing the podcast on your social media feeds, reviewing it at ITunes or another podcatcher, and downloading episodes, we also need financial supporters.

For those new to the podcast, we are committed to landing great guests who are doing all kinds of amazing history-related things.  Here are just a few of the folks we have talked to over the last four seasons:

  • Princeton University historian Kevin Kruse on life as a #twitterstorian
  • Sports historian Amy Bass on her new book One Goal
  • Historian of American religion R. Marie Griffiths on her new book on sexual politics and American evangelicalism
  • Pulitzer prize-winner Francis Fitzgerald on American evangelicals
  • National Book Award finalist Nancy MacLean on libertarianism and democracy
  • Bancfroft Prize-winning historian Nancy Tomes on the history of healthcare
  • National Book Award finalist Manisha Sinha on the history of abolitionism
  • Pulitzer prize-winner Annette Gordon Reed on Thomas Jefferson
  • Historical thinking guru Sam Wineburg on teaching history in schools
  • The Atlantic‘s Washington Bureau Chief Yoni Appelbaum on history and politics.

And much, much more!!!!

Please consider heading over to our Patreon page and become a patron or make a one-time donation!  Thank you.

What People Are Saying About The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast


Podcasts take a lot of work.  We have a staff of three at The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  As the creator and host of the podcast, I work for free.  Our producer, Drew Dyrli Hermeling (who some of you met in St. Louis this past weekend), is paid through our of the Patreon campaign.  Our studio producer, Josh Lowrie, is paid (at least until May) by a single angel donor.  Needless to say, we operate on a shoestring budget and we could really use your help.  Please consider investing in our work.

Here are some of our ITunes reviews:

Engaging exploration of the historian’s craft, American history, religion, politics, and more…Can’t wait to hear more!”

“Some podcasts are intellectual, but boring; some are fun, but shallow.  Some are hosted by bellicose personalities.  Some are hosted by posers.  It may take a lot of history podcast browsing before you land on one that is engaging for both an academic audience and non-academic audience, while at the same time is hosted by people you would like to invite to your house for dinner.  Fea and Hermeling make a great team.  They are both historians, and while they differ on some issues, they obviously are good friends and have superb rapport.  The guest so far have been top shelf, and the hosts engage them professionally and intelligently.”

“John Fea consistently pushes listeners to think critically using the discipline of history.  Using timely applications, he illustrates the power historical thinking has to gain insight into the world around us.  Everything has a history.  TWOILH podcast is worth your time because it will encourage you to think clearly.”

“I learned the value of thinking historically through reading Fea’s blog and listening to him speak.  I had no idea what I was missing.”

“I, like most people, subscribe to too many podcasts.  However, there are a few that I make sure to listen to every time they post.  In less than 5 episodes, The Way of Improvement Leads Home has become one of them. If you are interested in history or just in thinking deeply about the world around you, I would highly, highly recommend the podcast.”

“Just listened to the first four episodes while on spring break.  Whether you make a living in the profession of history or are someone who simply likes history, this is for you.  Terrific reflections on the practice of history and the events and outlooks of the past.”

“I have listened to every episode from the beginning and this is one of the best history podcasts around.  It is balanced, provides good scholarship, and thought-provoking interviews.  I have used many different components in my own history classes.”

“As a teacher it can be difficult to juggle the demands of lesson planning, assessing, and managing your classroom and still find time for expanding your own depth of knowledge.  This podcast helps to solve that problem.  With a keen focus on the teaching of history and engaging guests, The Way of Improvement Leads Home helps me stay connected to the scholarly world of historical study in an accessible and engaging manner.  Add it to your playlist and reap the benefits!”

“I so much appreciate the mix of broad overview of theory and big picture stuff Fea gives before the actual interview.  The casual nature of the interaction between Fea and Hermeling and their undergraduate technical assistant especially make this accessible.  My husband, who isn’t a historian, loved the podcast on sports we listened to while preparing Thanksgiving dinner.  Thanks for connecting the past to the present and I especially appreciate how frequently women scholars are featured–this is vital when so few podcasts feature women hosts.”

If you feel led to support us please head over to our Patreon page and become a patron or make a one-time donation.  Thanks in advance!  And if you can’t support us, please tell your friends about us or write a review at your podcatcher of choice!

The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast Needs Your Support!


Season Four continues here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast.  For those unfamiliar, the podcast brings interviews and commentary related to American history, historical thinking, and the role of history in our everyday lives. In each episode we talk to someone doing innovative, creative, and thoughtful work in American history.  Our guests include historians, authors, filmmakers, museum professionals, teachers, public intellectuals, podcasters, and journalists.

Our guests have included:

  • Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Frances Fitzgerald on American evangelicalism
  • National Book award finalist Nancy MacLean on libertarianism and democracy
  • Bancroft Prize-winning historian Nancy Tomes on the history of American healthcare
  • Historian R. Marie Griffith on sexual politics
  • Historian Amy Bass on sports and community
  • Author Scott Hartley on the need for the humanities in the Silicon Valley
  • Filmmaker Martin Doblmeier on Reinhold Niebuhr
  • Mount Vernon CEO Doug Bradburn on George Washington’s legacy
  • National Book award finalist Manisha Sinha on the history of abolitionism
  • NPR reporter Sarah McCammon on covering Donald Trump
  • Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed on Thomas Jefferson
  • ESPN writer Paul Lukacs on nostalgia and the history of sports uniforms
  • Stanford professor Sam Wineburg on historical thinking and public schools
  • Atlantic editor Yoni Appelbaum on presidential politics and “useable pasts.”

And much, much more!

The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast relies on the support of patrons like you.  If you appreciate what we do, please consider heading over to our Patreon page and joining our support team!

A Big Podcast Announcement

TWOILHWe have some exciting news to announce here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home!

At the end of last year, we were approached by a couple of podcast producers who were in the process of forming a new network of history podcasts, the Recorded History Podcast Network. They have asked us to join as one of a wide range of historically-minded productions.

As we continue to explore the best ways to make the production of the podcast sustainable, we jumped at the opportunity to join forces with others doing similar work.

While we will retain full creative control over the podcast, listeners will notice some changes in 2018. First and foremost, joining the network gives us access to advertisers. This is a great monetization opportunity for us, but it does mean that advertisements will begin appearing throughout the podcast. Ads will be placed at the beginning and end of each episode and there will be a short advertising break in the middle. Additionally, you will start hearing cross-promotions for other podcasts on the network. We believe this will be a great way to spread the word about what we’re doing and introduce other podcasters’ work to our listeners.

Finally, you can also see that there have been some small changes to our visual identity as our podcast logo has been redesigned to include a tag with the Recorded History logo.

This will not change our current relationship with our patrons. In fact, we are working with the network to provide an ad-free option for our patrons as an added perk. So we still need your support. If you have not done so already, please head over to our Patreon campaign website and join the team!

We are very excited about the continued growth of the podcast and our dedicated and growing listenership. We always need good historical thinking, but in times of great social change, we need it more than ever. We believe that the Recorded History Podcast Network presents a wonderful opportunity for making historical thinking more accessible.

Episode 31 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast is Almost Here!

BTA students

I am really excited about Episode 31!  We talked with Boston Trinity Academy (BTA) history teacher Mike Milway and three of his senior students about studying history at the secondary-school level.  Some of you may recall my recent visit to BTA.  The episode drops on Sunday.  In the meantime, get caught up on previous episodes here.

As always, we could use your patronage.  Head over to our Patreon campaign and learn about the different ways you can support our work. Help us reach our goal!  You may even qualify for a free mug or signed book!

*The New York Times* Covers “The Memory Palace”


Check out Sarah Larsen’s piece on Nate DiMeo, the creator and host of “The Memory Palace,” a very popular American history podcast.  Some of you may remember that DiMeo was our guest on Episode 6 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Here is a taste of Larsen’s piece:

Nate DiMeo’s long-running independently produced podcast “The Memory Palace,” part of the Radiotopia collective, is about history and, in its way, part of history itself: DiMeo started it in 2008, and a decade is a long time in podcast years. It’s both an established veteran and an esoteric indie, consisting of short vignettes about people, places, and objects from the past and the memories they contain—the old Coney Island, the year Hank Greenberg hit fifty-eight home runsthe early-twentieth-century Mexican-American botantist Ynés Mexía—written and performed by DiMeo, without the intrusion of other voices, set to faint background music. Episodes tend to be short—eight minutes, twelve minutes—and transporting. DiMeo sounds like a wistful youngish man dreaming into a microphone and teaching us things at the same time. It has carried him, and his audience, a long way. DiMeo was the 2016-17 artist in residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he created several episodes based on its collections. Last year, as well, a book of “Memory Palace” stories, translated into Portuguese, was published in Brazil.

One way to experience “The Memory Palace” is to jump in anywhere, or to start with the most recent episode and work back; if you’re listening on a phone, it’s hard to poke around for topics of interest, because DiMeo omits episode descriptions in an effort to make the listener just surrender to listening. You can do that, or you can start with the show’s best-episodes page, which does indeed feature a bunch of winners. One of the show’s loveliest episodes, about the Dreamland amusement park in Coney Island, which burned down in 1911, is there.

Read the entire piece.

If you end up listening to Episode 6 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast and like what you hear, please consider writing a review, telling your friends, share on social media, or help us to produce more episodes by donating to our Patreon campaign.  You may even qualify for a mug or free book!



The Popularity of American History Podcasts

Podcast Icon

According to Khari Johnson of Venture Beat, American history podcasts are “having a moment.”

We believe that The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast is part of that “moment,” but we could use your support to keep things going.  We are lining up some great guests for the rest of Season 4.  So far this season we have done episodes on:

  • American Evangelicals with Pultizer Prize-winning author Frances FitzGerald
  • Libertarianism and democracy with National Book Award-finalist Nancy MacLean
  • STAX Records and public history with Jeff Kollath, director of the STAX museum in Memphis
  • The history of Florida and Mar-a-Lago with historian Julian Chambliss
  • Teaching history with Kevin Gannon, the “Tattooed Prof”
  • Thinking historically about race and Charlottesville with historian Kelly Baker

Podcasts take time and money to produce.  We have a great staff at The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast and I would really like to keep them for the long haul.  Won’t you consider supporting our work through our Patreon Campaign?  Click here for more details!

A Word From Our Producer


Drew Dyrli Hermeling, the producer of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, sent this e-mail out to our patrons recently (if you haven’t seen it yet, it is on the way) and I wanted to share it with all of our blog readers.

Greetings dedicated patrons,

As the people who make this podcast possible, I wanted to be as transparent with you as I can. While we are very happy with the quality of guests we have had on the show this season, a couple of logistical hiccups have delayed production on the last few episodes. Frankly, one of the drawbacks of going after bigger guests is that they also have more complicated schedules! Therefore, as you may have noticed, we have been releasing fewer episodes than usual. 

Luckily, these hiccups have not meant cancellations, just delays. We are still on track to bring you interviews with two more award-winning authors before the end of the year. However, this is one episode fewer than we offered last autumn. As a result, we are NOT planning on taking a January break like we did last year. Instead we will be playing catch-up so that our full year season equals the same number of episodes as the previous year, if not more! 

You all have done so much to make this podcast happen, and you are the stakeholders that we answer to. And we didn’t want you to feel that our sporadic schedule this last month or so was due to a lack of energy or commitment on our part. We are just as fired up about this project as we were on our first episode—albeit with much better sound! 

So thank you for sticking will us, and as John always says, may your way of improvement always lead home!

Producer Drew


It’s Giving Tuesday! Show The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast Some Love!


You too can own a The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast mug like the one pictured above!

I recently learned that today is “Giving Tuesday.”  According to Wikipedia, “Giving Tuesday” is “a movement to create an international day of giving at the beginning of the Christmas and holiday season.”

As our regular readers know, The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast operates on a shoestring budget.  I make no money on the podcast, but I still need to pay our producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling and our studio producer Josh Lowrie.  All of the donations we receive through out Patreon campaign goes toward paying Drew and Josh and covering our overhead for mugs and books.  As I have written about several times, we would love to take the podcast to the next level–a weekly show with even better production quality.

Over the last couple of years we have had some great guests on the show, including a Pulitzer Prize-winner, several National Book Award Finalists, and a Bancroft Prize-winner.  They have included Nancy MacLean, Kevin Gannon, Julian Chambliss, Kelly Baker, Liz Covart, Nancy Tomes, Scott Hartley, Adrian Burgos Jr, Douglas Bradburn, Manisha Sinha, Amy Bass, Sarah McCammon, Rebecca Onion, Ann Little, Annette Gordon-Reed, Peter Onuf, Paul Lukas, Nate DiMeo, Sam Wineburg, Yoni Appelbaum, Daniel K. Williams, and Jim Grossman.

And we have some great guests lined-up for the rest of Season 4. Stay tuned!

If you want to support top-notch history podcasting, please consider donating to The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast through our Patreon page.  It’s easy to do and you might even qualify for a free book or a mug!  Once you land on the page, just click the orange “Become a Patron” button on the right of your screen.

Happy Holidays and thank you for your support!


Don’t Forget About Episode 27: “From Mount Vernon to Mar-a-Lago”

MugWe dropped it on Sunday:

Here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, we have traveled to both Mount Vernon and Monticello in our explorations of presidential history. Today, we explore a much more recent addition to the world of presidential real estate, Mar-a-Lago. While host John Fea explores the history of presidential vacations, guest Julian Chambliss (@JulianChambliss), historian and author of the Boston Review article “Draining the Swamp,” dives deeper into Mar-a-Lago as a lens for understanding Florida’s unique history, the disproportionate effects of climate change, and the origin of Trump’s unique and at times inscrutable blend of everyman populism and billionaire branding.

Listen at your favorite pod-catcher or at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

Do you like the mug in the picture above?  Learn how to get one here.

Are You Supporting The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast?


Season Four of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast is well underway.  So far this season we have talked about white supremacy, race, and Charlottesville with historian Kelly Baker (Episode 26), and teaching history with Kevin Gannon, aka “The Tattooed Prof” (Episode 27).  In Episode 28, which drops on Sunday, we historicize Mara-a-Lago (Donald Trump’s “Winter White House”) with Rollins University historian Julian Chambliss.

And this is only the beginning.  This season we have commitments from three National Book Award finalists.  An episode on public history history of soul music is just about in the can.  And we have a few other surprises in the works.

We are ambitious about the future of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  Our goal is to raise enough support to make it a weekly show.  The money we raise from our ongoing Patreon campaign goes toward paying our producer (Drew Dyrli Hermeling) and our studio producer (Josh Lowrie).  My own work on the podcast–I am the creator and host–is a labor of love.  I do not receive any of the money that we raise.

I am not a big fan of writing these fundraising e-mails.  (I was not trained in graduate school to do this 🙂 )  But I do know that we cannot continue to deliver a well-produced, bi-weekly history podcast, with the caliber of guests we attract, without a strong support base.

We always need good American history, but it is especially needed in times of great social and political change.  Please consider supporting our work through out Patreon campaign so we can bring some financial stability to the podcast.  Click here to learn how you can help us!