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//Season 4//

Episode 31: Searching for Christian America in a Boston High School

The practice of historical thinking requires training. In this episode, host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling discuss this crucial habit of the mind, especially within a political climate where historical claims run rampant regardless of whether there is evidence to back them up or not. They are joined by high school teacher Mike Milway, who teaches at the prestigious and socio-economically diverse Boston Trinity Academy in Boston, Massachusetts, as well as three of Dr. Milway’s students, to discuss how they cultivate historical thinking in their classrooms.

Episode 30: The Evangelicals

The word “evangelical” has a number of meanings and connotations. However, in the current political and social climate, people are most likely to hear the word in association with politics. In this context, it is often synonymous with the Christian Right. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling unpack this term further, especially as it pertains to the “Age of Trump.” They are joined by Pulitzer, Bancroft, and National Book Award-winner Frances FitzGerald, who discusses her newest National Book Award-nominated book, The Evangelicals

Episode 29: Libertarianism and Democracy

Many voices in American politics have been sounding the alarm about the influence of the Koch brothers as a threat to voting rights, the direction of American conservatism, and the very sanctity of American democracy. But like all things, the Koch brothers have a history. In this episode, host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling discuss the rise and influence of American libertarianism within the conservative movement. They are joined by Nancy MacLean who discusses her book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, which was just nominated for the National Book Award.

Episode 28: That Memphis Sound

Otis Redding. Booker T and the M.G.s. Eddie Floyd. Isaac Hayes. The Staples Sisters. What do all of these classic soul and R&B artists have in common? Stax Records. As he toured the history of the Civil Rights Movement this summer, host John Fea included a stop at the Stax Museum (@StaxMemphis) in Memphis, Tennessee. Eager to relive the experience and share such attractions as a floor-to-ceiling record room and Isaac Hayes’s gold-plated Cadillac, Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling are joined by the museum’s executive director, Jeff Kollath. They discuss the importance of that “Memphis Sound” for the city as well as creating a “usable past” with popular music history.

Episode 27: From Mount Vernon to Mar-a-Lago

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.

Episode 26: The Way of Improvement Returns to the Classroom

Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling have returned to their classrooms for another semester of college teaching. What better time to once again explore the importance of pedagogy? John discusses issues surrounding secondary history standards and the way we train our teachers. They are joined by “The Tattooed Prof” Kevin Gannon (@TheTattooedProf) who unpacks his own “Teaching Manifesto.”

Episode 25: Thinking Historically About Charlottesville

In our opening episode of Season 4, host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling catch up on some of the important historical work that still needs to be done in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville. John shares his thoughts on “Make American Great Again” as a historical statement. They are joined by historian Kelly J. Baker (@kelly_j_baker) who discusses the connections between her work Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930 and the emergence of an increasingly vocal white supremacy movement in America today.

// Season 3 //

Episode 24: The Way of Improvement Leads to Ben Franklin’s World

To close out Season 3, host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling turn to a fellow podcaster and early American scholar, Liz Covart (@lizcovart), the host of the wildly successful Ben Franklin’s World. They discuss how podcasting has emerged as a new form of scholarship, with John offering additional comments on the increased importance of this kind of public historical thinking within our particular political moment.

Episode 23: Giving in America

When we historians say, “everything has a history,” we mean it. Even charity and philanthropy have rich histories and have changed over time. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling explore this history in an American context, touching on everything from robber-baron philanthropy to more recent trends like all-night college dance marathons and the ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge.” They are joined by the David M. Rubenstein Curator of Philanthropy at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Amanda Moniz (@AmandaMoniz1).

Episode 22: The History of American Healthcare

On May 4, 2017, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act, the first step towards fulfilling the GOP’s promise of “repealing and replacing” the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. But already what used to be a winning issue for Republicans appears to be turning against them. This is but the latest shift in a rich history of healthcare in America. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling tackle this politically-charged issue. They are joined by historian Nancy Tomes who just collected one of historical scholarship’s highest honors, the Bancroft Prize, for her book Remaking the American Patient: How Madison Avenue and Modern Medicine Turned Patients into Consumers, out now with the University of North Carolina Press.

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

The 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

It’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

America 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?

Of 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

History 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.

// Season 2 //

Bonus Episode: Pledge Drive!

As the podcast enters its third season, we need your help. If you love history and want to hear more discussions about history and historical thinking with people like Annette Gordon-Reed, Ann Little, Peter Onuf, Rebecca Onion, Manisha Sinha, Sam Wineburg, Yoni Appelbaum, and Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, we kindly ask that you consider becoming a regular supporter of the podcast.

We are launching a Patreon campaign complete with gifts for various pledge tiers. So head over and give what you can in support of historical thinking! We look forward to continuing to bring you high-quality historical analysis with some of the most exciting thinkers today!

Episode 16: Abolitionism

Two 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

Perhaps 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 Cubs 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 known. 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, it’s Election Day

Well, 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

Is 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 (@rebeccaonion), whose own work on the Vault invites readers to engage with intriguing documents and artifacts.

Episode 11: Biography: an Appraisal

Perusing 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 (@historiann), 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” (@Thos_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.

// Season 1 //

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

The long-awaited 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 (@fozzielogic), author of Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock N’ Rollwho discusses how Springsteen has changed over time with an emphasis on his live performances.

Episode 8: All Things Jefferson

In 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 (@agordonreed) 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

Host 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 (@UniWatch).

Episode 6: Narrating the Past

Historians 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 SocietyThey are joined by Nate DiMeo (@thememorypalace), author, producer, and host of the popular historical podcast, the memory palace.

Episode 5: Encountering the Past

Host 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 4: Teaching History (K-12 Edition)

Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling talk about teaching historical thinking to K-12 students.  They discuss pedagogy, the Common Core, and the role of history in a STEM focused educational climate. Their guest is Sam Wineburg (@samwineburg), professor of education at Stanford University and author of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.  Wineburg shares his impassioned opinions on history education.

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 (@YAppelbaum), the Washington Bureau Chief for the Atlantic, to further discuss the role of historical thinking within politics.

Episode 2: The Culture Wars

Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling dig into the complicated history of the Culture Wars. They are joined by Daniel K. Williams who discusses his latest book, Defenders of the Unborn: the Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade.

Episode 1: Everything has a History

Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling explore the ways historical thinking permeates all things and contributes to a democratic society. They are joined by James Grossman (@JimGrossmanAHA), the Executive Director of the American Historical Association. During the interview, James talks about the role of history in American society and the meaning behind #everythinghasahistory.

Episode 0: An Introduction

Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling sit down and discuss the launch of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, including expectations for the venture and a brief explanation of what the phrase “The Way of Improvement Leads Home” actually means.