History podcasts that shine a light on overlooked women
Underappreciated history is sometimes the most interesting history
11:00 AM GMT on February 2, 2024
If you have spent any time at all lurking in Podland, you might not have been all that surprised by a recent Tiktok trend about the Romans - (bear with) - which was started by Artur Hulu, (aka “Gaius Flavius'' a 32-year-old Roman reenactor and history influencer from Sweden. )
Said Artur/ Gaius: “Ladies, many of you do not realise how often men think about the Roman Empire. …!” Turns out men think about the Roman Empire a lot. Often daily.
This enthusiasm for the past is reflected in the impressive stats for history podcasts. During 2021 - arguably one of the boom years for all podcasts - Acast reported a staggering 409% increase of history show downloads on their network. And, according to a Nielsen report this month, the most popular podcast genres for dedicated podcast listeners (this must be you, as a Podcast Rex reader!) are history (37%), news (36%), true crime (36%) and science (34%).
The behemoths of the genre are both pretty familiar to most people by now and also deservedly popular. I am all for making learning accessible and (whisper it) cool. And I regularly (especially in January and February) think about the wonder that was the Roman central heating system. I really do.
But what has been particularly interesting to me recently is diving into the history shows which are looking at the past through different eyes - inviting listeners to consider previously untold stories. Spoiler: there are very few centurions and a lot more women.
Betwixt the Sheets
Betwixt the Sheets from the History Hit stable is a perfect example. Historian Kate Lister with some handy experts unashamedly roots around the topics which seem to have been skipped in history class, along with handy experts who recall vast numbers of facts in a fun and breezy way. Become a Betwixter (please make badges, PLEASE.) and you could learn about everything from landmark LGBTQ+ court cases, to political scandal, to downright bizarre medieval cures for impotence. They have also delved into: the etymology of swear words; gender bias in medicine; and satanic panic and cults - nothing is off limits.
In this runaway BBC Sounds success, Lucy and a crack team of female detectives investigate the crimes of women from the 19th and 20th Century from a contemporary, feminist perspective. Recent episodes in the new season cover plots to assassinate a president and the case of a stepmother who attempted to drown her step-daughter. What’s subversive and genius about this series is that the ‘good girl’ trope is well and truly dead and buried by behaviour of these Lady Killers. More please.
What'sHerName is hosted by professors and sisters Dr. Katie Nelson and Olivia Meikle and there are (to date) over 120 episodes to catch up on. In each show, Katie and Olivia interview experts and then weave really vivid, thought-provoking biographies of women from world history. What I love about this podcast (and it’s had over 2 million downloads, so I can’t be the only one) is that they are really fun without sacrificing the academic rigour. The other thing I appreciate is the website - which is chokka. Thorough research, beautifully presented. Oh! And the professors also publish accompanying books.
Philippa Gregory's Normal Women
Normal Women with Philippa Gregory was a pick on Your Next Podcast when it launched.. for very good reason. The eight part show is ‘a radical retelling of our nation's story’ – not of the rise and fall of kings and the occasional queen, but a history of the millions of women missing from the record: wives and workers, viragoes and angels, female husbands, priests and pirates. It is a marvel - deftly made and a joy to listen to. Plus, a surprising guest spot for Geri Halliwell, aka Ginger Spice. I mean, what is not to like?
Finally, Novel’s new series The Godmother. This incredible series is about Eunice Carter, one of the first black women to become a prosecutor in the US. Eunice was, by all accounts a badass who would stop at nothing in her pursuit of justice. She fought the good fight at a time when American society was deeply sexist and racist, making her name as a true pioneer. But the 8 episodes in this series tells a very particular story from that time - that of Eunice’s role in the so-called ‘trial of the century’. The show is immersive and revelatory and will make you think all over again about the history you thought you knew…
More from Podcast Rex
Political podcasts doing things differently
There's more to the politics charts than you think
New Series to Keep An Eye On
Avril Lavingne, Lily Allen and George Michael