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Professor Buzzkill: History 101

Professor Buzzkill is an exciting new blog & podcast that explores history myths in an illuminating, entertaining, and humorous way.
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Professor Buzzkill: History 101
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Now displaying: Page 6
Nov 1, 2017

It's our first Woman Crush Wednesday! Professor Marie Hicks tells us the story of Stephanie Shirley, one of Britain's computer programming pioneers. Imagine starting your own company with just £6 (roughly $12) and building it into one of the most powerful programming companies in Europe. That was Stephanie Shirley did, starting in 1961. Later in life, she went on to become one of Britain's leading philanthropists and has donated most of her life to helping good causes, especially those close to her heart. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000 for her work in information technology and for her extensive charity work. Listen and admire, Buzzkillers!

Oct 31, 2017

Halloween is a demonic holiday chock full of sin and endangered by razor blades in trick or treat candy, right? Wrong. Nothing about the origins of Halloween can be called demonic, satanic, or anti-Christian. And the adulterated candy thing is an urban legend. Get the full story from the Buzzkill Institute.

Oct 27, 2017

A Buzzkill favorite! A Viking horned helmet would have been very impractical, and perhaps dangerous, in battle, Buzzkillers. A sword blow to the head might glance off a smooth helmet. But it would surely catch on a horn and send the helmet flying, leaving the Viking bareheaded and highly vulnerable to a death blow to the skull. There is only one depiction of a horned helmet in ancient Nordic art, and it was probably ceremonial. We get the image of Vikings in horned helmets from the 19th-century revival of interest in Nordic culture. Northern Europeans romanticized what they saw as the purest form of medieval culture, as a kind of counter-balance to the glories of the ancient Mediterranean cultures of Greece and Rome. There was a mini-mania for all things Norse in the 19th century. This was nowhere more highly expressed than in Richard Wagner’s operas. Wagner’s costume designer, Hans Thoma, is primarily responsible for the image we have today of horned-helmeted Vikings.

Oct 23, 2017

The Russian Revolution of 1917 was one of the most important events in the 20th century. Professor Nash joins us to untangle the extremely complicated history of Russian politics between 1905 and 1917. He tells us what happened and why. Why, for instance, were there so many revolutions (or "state coups") between the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 and the October Revolution of 1917? Why did World War I have such an accelerating effect on the pace of changes in Russia? Why were there so many competing political parties in Russia, and how did the Bolsheviks eventually become paramount? Listen and learn, Buzzkillers.

Oct 20, 2017

“Amazing Grace” is one of the most popular songs in Christian songbooks, and one of the most recognizable songs in the world. By one account, it is sung over 10 million times annually. It has also been the font of historical myths and misunderstandings. One particularly dramatic one, and one that has been flying around the internet for over a decade, is that the author John Newton had a Christian conversion after surviving a devastating storm that almost wrecked his ship. True story? Afraid not. Listen and learn from a Buzzkill favorite! 

Oct 16, 2017

Professor Phil Nash joins us on our very first Man Crush Monday to tell us about the most important American Civil Rights leader that most people haven't heard of -- A. Philip Randolph, labor leader, and founder of the idea for a march on Washington. Randolph started his national career by organizing the first major African-American labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, in 1925. His pressured FDR to ban discrimination in defense industries in 1941, and Truman to end segregation in the armed forces in 1948. Perhaps most importantly, his plan for a March on Washington in 1941 set the precedent for the eventual 1963 March on Washington. Listen and learn, Buzzkillers.

Oct 13, 2017

Captain’s Quint’s story about the USS Indianapolis in the movie “Jaws” is only the beginning of a gut-wrenching piece of history, Buzzkillers. There’s a lot more to the Indianapolis sinking than most people know. Listen and learn from one of the Buzzkill favorites! 

Oct 10, 2017

Professor Marie Hicks joins us to talk about gender and employment in the emerging field of computing in Britain, and all the historical myths that surround them. In 1944, Britain led the world in electronic computing. By 1974, the British computer industry was all but extinct. We examine why this happened in the tense post-war world, as Britain was losing its role as a global leader and innovator. Professor Hicks calls this a story of gendered technocracy, and it undercut Britain's flexibility in the technology age. Listen and learn, Buzzkillers!

Oct 6, 2017

Introducing the first ever Professor Buzzkill Flashback Friday! Every Friday we'll be re-releasing old favorites. This week we have episode #56 - the Scopes Trial! On April 24, 1925, a high school teacher named John Scopes taught a class in Dayton, Tennessee, using a state-mandated textbook that included a chapter explaining Darwin’s theory of evolution. In doing so, Scopes was in violation of Tennessee’s Butler Act, passed earlier in the year. He was arrested, tried, convicted, and fined $100. The verdict was later overturned on a technicality, but the case has gone down in history as an example of faith against science, ignorance against knowledge, and tradition against progress. But what really happened? Why was the Scopes Trial held? Find out, Buzzkillers!

Oct 2, 2017

General Curtis LeMay became one of the most important US military leaders during the Cold Wa. One of the most famous or well-known things about LeMay is that he reportedly said, in the mid-60s, that, in order to win the Vietnam war the US Air Force should, "bomb the North Vietnamese back into the Stone Age." Did LeMay say it? Or, more accurately, was he the first person to say it? And was he the first to present it as the distillation of a wartime policy idea? Oh, it's complicated, Buzzkillers. Find out in this episode!

Sep 28, 2017

We're bringing back one of your favorites, Buzkillers!

Hitler storming out of the stadium after Jesse Owens won the 100-meter dash in the 1936 Berlin Olympics is one of most enduring images we have of the tumultuous history of Nazi Germany. Hitler famously “snubbed” Jesse Owens and all African-American athletes because of his ideas of Aryan racial superiority. But did it actually happen? And did it happen the way we usually think? Find out, Buzzkillers!

Sep 25, 2017

When asked about being drafted for the Vietnam War, Muhammad Ali is often quoted as saying, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong." This was immediately followed by the now-more-famous quote, “No Viet Cong ever called me n****r,” in a one-two punch of defiance. Ali's "quote" summarized in one glaring sentence the idea that oppression against African-Americans started at home, in the United States, and that, as he saw it, African-Americans were being drafted to fight the wrong fight, against the wrong people. It's one of the most famous sayings from the Vietnam war protest period, but did Ali actually say that phrase, or, more to the point, did Ali coin it? Listen and learn, Buzzkillers!

 

Sep 21, 2017

The Irish slaves myth claims that Irish people were enslaved by the British and sent to the Americas (especially the Caribbean) to work on plantations. This myth primarily appears in emails and Facebook posts, and goes like this: Irish people were enslaved in greater numbers than people enslaved from Africa, and treated worse than African slaves. Irish slave women were forcibly bred with African slaves in order to produce valuable mulatto children slaves. The history of Irish slaves has been buried by our politically-correct world, so the myth goes, and has been replaced by an over-emphasis on the enslavement of Africans in the New World. But is there any truth to it, Buzzkillers? Listen and learn.

Sep 18, 2017

As a parting piece of wisdom about generational stewardship of land and nature, Chief Seattle supposedly said to American colonizers pushing west, "we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children." But, like spiritual quotes that get attached to Gandhi, political quips and gibes that get attributed to Churchill, and thoughtful sentiments that drift toward Martin Luther King, there's no evidence that Seattle ever said it. Listen and learn who did, Buzzkillers!

Sep 14, 2017

The Lost Cause is one of the most troubling aspects of American history. The ways in which the Confederacy and the pre-Civil War south has been romanticized and fictionalized has done immense damage to American historical consciousness and interpretation. Professor Philip Nash joins us to discuss how the Civil War, the period of Reconstruction, and the Jim Crow era were twisted into an ahistorical mythology that has plagued our national discourse for over a hundred years. Listen and learn.

Sep 11, 2017

Sometimes, Buzzkillers, the stars just seem to align. There's a meteor shower and a rainbow on the same day. And a whole bunch of writers, pundits, journalists, and aphorists come up with roughly the same idea at roughly the same time. Or at least they come up with it over a couple of decades, and, in terms of the history of quotations, that's the story of the aphorism and witticism, "life is just one damn thing after another." But it's easier to attribute such a quotation to Mark Twain, and that's what people have done. Did he ever say it? Listen and learn.

Sep 7, 2017

Cause. Singular. Not plural. We talk about the cause of the American Civil War because there was one overwhelming cause -- slavery. Not tariff disputes. Not states' rights. The Civil War was fought over the preservation of slavery in the south and its expansion to the west. But, perhaps no other aspect of the history of the United States has been so distorted and mythologized as the causes of the Civil War. Professor Philip Nash joins us to explain why slavery was such a dominant issue from the founding of the United States until 1865.

Sep 4, 2017

Anybody who's completed an elementary school education knows that Abraham Lincoln finished his dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863 by saying that, "...we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." But I thought the background of the quote might fascinate you, and also provide more ammunition for your assault on the ignorance among your office-mates and/or neighborhood pals. Listen and learn, Buzzkillers!

Aug 31, 2017

When and why were statues to Confederate soldiers, generals, and politicians put up across the American south? Why is the Confederate Battle Flag so proudly waved and displayed in many parts of the US? Professor Nash joins us to explain why all of this happened, who was selected for commemoration, and what it all means for American history and culture. We expose the falsehoods that are used as rationale for the construction and retention of Confederate statues and memorials. The whitewashing of history, and the myths that support it, are a national disgrace. And we do our best to try to stop it. Listen and learn.

Aug 28, 2017

Upon seeing "The Birth of a Nation," the ground-breaking, if highly racist, piece of cinematography in 1915, President Woodrow Wilson is often quoted as saying, "It is like writing history with lightning." Nearly every American Buzzkiller out there has probably heard this in a 20th Century US history class, or a cinematography class, or on the myth-sustaining History Channel. But did he say it?

Aug 24, 2017

Practically nothing in the history of the United States has suffered from myth-making and misunderstanding as much as the history of race relations and racist violence. The history Ku Klux Klan is no exception. This is ironic. In its various incarnations, the KKK was supposed to be a secret organization. But historians know a great deal about it, and have analyzed it deeply. We explain the three periods of KKK, how each version of the Klan was different, but also how each version had one crucial thing in common -- hate. Listen, learn, and contemplate.

Aug 21, 2017

In the aftermath of the Dunkirk evacuation and the fall of France in June 1940, things looked pretty bleak for the British, and indeed they were. The Battle of Britain followed almost immediately, and lasted until the end of October 1940, but the British outlast the German bombing raids. The next year, not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Churchill went to North America on a morale-boosting trip, both to welcome Britain's new ally (the United States) and to thank its long-standing ally (Canada). While addressing the Canadian Parliament in their House of Commons in Ottawa, Churchill famously quipped that Britain, despite being bombed almost into oblivion by the Luftwaffe, never had its neck wrung like a chicken, by saying "some chicken, some neck." That's right, Buzzkillers, this is a Churchill quote that's genuine. It was said by him. No, really, it was. We have the actual recording, but listen to this episode to hear the rest of the story!

Aug 17, 2017

The Buzzkill Institute has been inundated with phone calls, text messages, and panicked faxes after President Trump's recent response to North Korea's nuclear threats. He said: "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." Did he mean it? Could the President launch nuclear weapons in response to, for instance, a verbal threat? Or does the North Korean threat need to be actual, tangible, and immediate? Does the President need to know that the nuclear button on the North Korean leader's desk is about to be pushed before he pushes the button on his desk in the Oval Office? Find out in this episode!

 

Aug 14, 2017

I like this "no quote," Buzzkillers, because it's history of full of all the things we've been talking about on this show -- phrases and sentiments that "sound" like they were said by a prominent person so "they must be from him," misplaced (or moved) punctuation, and the glorious and rapid assumptions displayed on social media that keep the Buzzkill Institute funded. "I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy." - Martin Luther King, Jr. It's a clear and touching expression of true pacifism, and is certainly the type of thing that Martin Luther King, Jr. would have said. But he didn't. What he did say (or, more accurately, write) about killing was this, "Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." It appears that Dr. King used this sentiment in sermons in the late 1950s, and it was published in his 1963 book, Strength to Love (which we've put on the Buzzkill Bookshelf). But the "I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives…" sentiment actually comes from someone else. Find out in this episode!

Aug 10, 2017

Professor Phil Nash joins us for part three of our examination of John F. Kennedy in the 100th anniversary of his birth. This episode looks at how the JFK legacy was constructed in the immediate aftermath of the assassination in 1963, how it was burnished by the first generation of Kennedy historians, and how it has been revised and re-interpreted since the 1970s. Along the way, we hear about the vital roles played by Jackie Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Theodore H. White. Finally, we learn how the American public was as important in creating the legacy as well as absorbing it.

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