Saturday, October 11, 2014

The History of Rome Podcast

Yesterday I listened to the 179th and final episode of the History of Rome podcast. Naturally, that means I need to review it. For a quick review of the quality, though, allow me to illustrate my opinion like so: The total experience is about 74 hours of content, which I started listening to on my trip up to PAX 49 days ago. So, that's a little over 1.5 hours of podcast every day for the past month and a half. I wouldn't do that to myself unless it was a good experience.

That said, it's worth noting that the first few episodes of The History of Rome are kind of rough. The content is interesting, as it's basically conveying and trying to make sense of the legends around the founding of the city. However, Mike Duncan is clearly new to podcasting at this point, so he's still getting the hang of his voice and working with old equipment.

That said, it doesn't take very long at all for him to find his stride and upgrade his equipment as he settles in for what turns out to be a five year project. Over the course of the podcast you not only get to hear the history of an ancient, powerful civilization, but you get to hear Mike's reaction to watching his podcast go from a little side project to something that pretty much takes over his life in many awesome ways, leading him to do some cool things like winning awards, getting interviewed by news reporters, and launching an annual History of Rome tour of Europe. In short, it's everything an aspiring podcaster dreams of, all out of a subject that likely put you to sleep in school.

Mike's greatest strength was taking that series of dates and names that people learn in school and turning it into a compelling narrative that tells the story of one of the world's greatest empires. What in history classes often reads like a list of facts, Mike turns into a compelling drama without compromising the integrity of the information. He lets you know what likely happened based on multiple sources, speculates when sources are unavailable (though he lets you know when he's speculating), and tries to make sense of conflicting accounts. He also puts the individual accounts into perspective: one guy might have written about all of this 50 years after the fact, this other guy was likely biased against another person which colors his account, and of course all of the writing of Julius Caesar was crafted to make himself look good, and so on. More than anything, it's worth keeping in mind that history is written by the victorious. For centuries Rome was the victorious party, so Mike reminds you to take that into consideration.

By bringing these historical figures to life and giving them personalities we can relate to based on their actions, it makes them far more real than the dry histories Mike's accounts are based on. History was always a difficult subject for me, and it's people like Mike Duncan who make me believe that the fault is in the method, not the history itself.

In fact, I feel like this is increasingly the case as people keep surprising me by suddenly catching my interest in history, such as my college history professor in that one class I took, or as Extra Credits has been doing with their Extra History episodes. I had always known that history is important, but much like vegetables and other healthy things, it's not until recently that I've been able to properly digest them.

So, if you're interested in learning about the empire that shaped western civilization in ways that affect our government structures, language, ethics, and countless other aspects of our lives, I highly recommend listening to the History of Rome podcast. You can get the whole thing on iTunes for free.

I, meanwhile, will start listening to Mike Duncan's next podcast adventure: Revolutions, a series of podcasts exploring one revolutionary conflict after another, starting with the English Civil War, the American Revolution, and currently the French Revolution.

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