The Road to Now

The Road to Now is a series of conversations that trace the historical roots of today’s events. Hosted by Bob Crawford of the Avett Brothers & Dr. Benjamin Sawyer of Middle Tennessee State University, this podcast brings exceptional guests to the table to answer pressing questions and explain how our shared and personal past shape the world today. *
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Dec 5, 2019

For many, the Christian liturgical calendar is often a bit mysterious or just plain strange. Bob and Chris dig into the start of the year, the four weeks leading up to Christmas known as Advent, with theologian and arts pastor David Taylor of Fuller Seminary. David wears many hats, and in our interview we discuss how he teaches his students about time, joy, and lament, and he also shares about a multiyear liturgical songwriting project he’s leading. Finally, we preview his forthcoming book Open and Unafraid: The Psalms as a Guide to Life (March 2020), which features a forward by Eugene Peterson and afterward by Bono. Throughout the episode we’ll also hear some brilliant new Advent and Christmas music from the likes of Sandra McCracken, Nathan Partain, the Gentle Wolves, and Liz Vice (ft. Hannah Glavor).

Dec 2, 2019

In 1848, New England ships crossed the Bering Strait in pursuit of the bowhead whales that provided their income. In the years since, the activity of outsiders- from hunters, to government bureaucrats, to consumers of energy who never set foot in the region- has had a deep impact on the region, but the environment of Beringia has made the place itself an active participant in this process.

About a century and a half after New England whalers crossed the Bering Strait, Bathsheba Demuth graduated High School in Iowa and moved north of the Arctic Circle in the Yukon. She later earned a PhD in history, and is currently Assistant Professor of History at Brown University. In this episode, Bathsheba joins Ben for a conversation about her research, how her fascination with the arctic led her to dedicate much of her life to understanding Beringia, and the ways that an environmental perspective allows us to better understand our place in the world and that of others. Bathsheba’s new book, Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait was published by W.W. Norton & Co in 2019. It is a masterpiece.

For more on Dr. Bathsheba Demuth, visit her website- and follow her on twitter at @brdemuth.

The Road to Now is part of the Osiris Podcast Network. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Nov 28, 2019

Bob and Chris sit down with baker and writer Kendall Vanderslice for a special Thanksgiving episode of RTN Theology centered on food, faith, and a movement of church communities built around the table. Vanderslice’s 2019 book, We Will Feast (Eerdman’s) is a veritable buffet in its own right: part journalism, part food studies, part memoir, and part sacramental theology. Lastly, we’re treated to a perfect sweet treat: music from Nashville musician Sandra McCracken’s Psalms, We Will Feast in the House of Zion. Happy feasting!

Nov 25, 2019

In this episode, recorded live from the 2019 convention of the Association of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) in San Francisco, Ben chairs a panel featuring scholars who are working on new, exciting and very important digital humanities projects that bring together scholars from different fields, and connect those inside the university to communities outside of academia.


Our guests Anasttasia Bonch-Osmolovskaya (Russian Higher School of Economics) and Mikhail Melnichenko are Russian scholars currently working on Prozhito, which collects and digitizes diaries and other personal primary sources from the Soviet period, many of which were previously unavailable to anyone except family members and other holders of these sources. Our other guest Kelly O’Neill, oversees The Imperiia Project at Harvard University, which creates maps that connect people to history by creating a visual record of the lives and events of those who otherwise left few visual records of their own. Collectively, these scholars are breaking new ground, creating new and innovative ways of engaging others, and providing the sources that historians of the future can use to understand the past, so we are excited to share this work with our listeners.

A special thanks to Andy Janco (who joins Ben in the intro) and Svetlana Rasmussen for the many hours of work that they invested to make this roundtable a success. We are also grateful to ASEEES for allowing us to record this panel and share this important work with our listeners.

The Imperiia Project

-The Imperiia Project at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.

-Link to the map Kelly O’Neill discusses in this episode

-The Imperiia Project on Twitter


Prozhito’s website (in Russian)

Slavic DH on twitter

Nov 18, 2019

Pete Souza (photographer for Barack Obama/Ronald Reagan) and Erin Welsh (epidemiologist/cohost of This Podcast Will Kill You) joined Bob and Ben for a live episode in Chicago to discuss history, photography, politics, and what their fields have to teach each other.

The images that we discussed in this episode are available on our episode page- click here to see them.

If you enjoy this episode and want to hear more, you can hear another 16 minutes of Q&A w/ Pete & Erin, by supporting us on Patreon. Click here to join!

Thanks to everyone who came to our live show and to the good people at Beverly Arts Center for their help in making this event happen!

Tickets are on sale for our upcoming shows in Charlotte (Jan 24) and Carrboro, NC (Jan 25)! For tickets to these and all future live shows are available at our website by clicking here.


Pete Souza’s Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents and all of his other books are available at his website:


Erin Welsh’s This Podcast Will Kill You is available anywhere you get this podcast, or at their website:


The Road to Now is part of the Osiris Podcast Network. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Nov 11, 2019

It’s our sesquicentennial episode, so Bob and Ben thought it was time to catch up and talk about all the great things that have been happening in the last few months. The conversation covers The Avett Brothers’ new album, the books they’ve been reading, and the questions about history that have kept them going. They also talk about the upcoming RTN live recordings and the plans they’ve laid out for the shows (hope to see you there)!

We really appreciate everyone who has listened and showed us the love that has gotten RTN all the way to episode 150. Thank you for joining us on the road!

The Road to Now is part of the Osiris Podcast Network. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Nov 4, 2019

The protests that swept through the streets of Hong Kong beginning in the summer of 2019 highlighted the tension that exists between the residents of the region and China’s political leadership. The politics of the region have also made their way into American popular culture through public disputes within the NBA, controversy over Blizzard’s decision to ban a prominent Hong Kong gamer, and a South Park episode critical of Chinese censorship that led to the series being completely banned in the country.

In this episode, Bob and Ben speak with Mindy Smith to learn about the history of Hong Kong, its special status as a distinct region within China, and the forces that pushed the people of Hong Kong into the streets. We also talk about how Hong Kong’s distinct history has led to a clash in historical narratives, and what US policy toward the region can tell us about US foreign policy under recent presidents.

Dr. Aminda Smith is an Associate Professor of History at Michigan State University who specializes in modern Chinese history with a particular interest in the social and cultural history of Chinese Communism. Her first book, Thought Reform and China's Dangerous Classes: Reeducation, Resistance, and the People was published by Rowman and Littlefield in 2012. She also serves as co-director of the PRC History Group and editor for H-PRC. You can follow her on twitter at @AmindaASmith.

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher. The Road to Now is part of the Osiris Podcast Network.

Oct 31, 2019

Bob and Chris talk with Megan and Isaac Wardell, who shepherd a Christian music collaborative out of Charlottesville, VA made up of dozens of musicians, theologians, pastors, and faith leaders from many places and traditions. In 2017 they released the project’s debut album, Work Songs, about vocation. Last week came the follow-up Neighbor Songs. This diverse musical collection is the product of a beautiful and challenging gathering exploring themes of hospitality in and across difference, disability, gender, race, theology, and tradition. You’ll be treated to these sacred sounds built in the Church from and for the life of the world.

Oct 28, 2019

Death is something that everyone has in common, yet most of us spend our lives trying not to think about it. Even as we buy our decorations and costumes for Halloween, we rarely consider that witches, skeleton and other symbols associated with the holiday have their own histories. In this episode, Caitlin Doughty takes Ben, Bob & Guest co-host Tanya Marsh on a conversational haunted trail that covers the history of witch hunts, the disposal of dead bodies, and how social norms surrounding death have come to shape the world around us.

Caitlin Doughty is a Los Angeles-based mortician, activist, and funeral industry rabble-rouser. Her books Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and From Here to Eternity were both New York Times bestsellers. Her newest book Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals about Death was released in September 2019. For more on Caitlin, check out and visit her YouTube channel, Ask a Mortician.  

All three of Caitlin’s books (read by Caitlin herself!) are available on audiobook through Click here and use promo code RTN to get 3 months of membership for just $15!

 This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

The Road to Now is hosted by Ben Sawyer and Bob Crawford. A member of the Osiris Podcast Network.

Oct 24, 2019

Bob and Chris sit down with Richella Parham to talk about her debut book, Mythical Me: Finding Freedom from Constant Comparison. Richella talks about the trap of comparing ourselves to others and the way that a distorted picture of ourselves and others creates a distorted picture of God, and vice versa. Richella’s writing is as interesting, accessible, and deep as this interview. We touch on the work of Richella’s mentor Dallas Willard, as well as some of Richella’s favorite hymns.

Oct 21, 2019

In 2015, the New Orleans City Council voted to remove four Confederate monuments from the city. Immediately following that vote, the monuments’ defenders sought to use the courts to prevent their removal. In the end, the city prevailed, and the last of the monuments came down in May of 2017. In this episode, Ben and guest co-host Tanya Marsh speak with lawyer Adam Swensek, who led the New Orleans City Council’s legal team as they defended the city’s right to remove these public monuments. The conversation covers the history of the monuments, the arguments that both sides used in court, and what monuments can (and can’t) tell us about the history.

The Road to Now is part of the Osiris Podcast Network. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Oct 14, 2019

With the current impeachment inquiry underway, there has been a lot of talk about government information, where it is stored, and who has the right to access these records. In this episode, Ben speaks with archive and information policy expert Stacy Woods, to get the answers to a lot of the questions surrounding impeachment past and present. They also discuss Presidential authority regarding documents, the state of government transparency, and the relationship of government secrecy to conspiracy theories.

Dr. Stacy Wood is Assistant Professor at the School of Computing and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh. She is a critical scholar of archives, information policy and information studies who engages with the legal and cultural aspects of records and technology. You can find out more about her at her personal website, and follow her on twitter at @StacyEWood.

To hear our first interview w/ Stacy Wood in RTN #12, join us on Patreon. You’ll get episodes 1-75, extra episodes, bonus content and more, and you’ll be an essential part of keeping The Road to Now going!  Click here to join!

The Road to Now is a member of the Osiris Podcast Network. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Oct 10, 2019

RTN Theology #14 remembers as collaborative music project from 2012 birthed out of a North Carolina church community. Bob and Chris talk with producer Jeff Crawford about the making of Hymns from the Gathering Church at Arbor Ridge Studios. This record features old hymns reimagined by artists such as Phil Cook, Mandolin Orange, Skylar Gudasz, Seth Kaufman (Floating Action), H.C. McEntire, Brett Harris, Ryan Gustafson (The Dead Tongues), and more. Bob shares his personal ties to this music and Chris is simply content to be on a call “between two Crawfords.”

Oct 7, 2019

Right now an average of one person dies about every 11 minutes from an opioid overdose in the United States. The staggering number of lives ruined by opioid addiction has finally gotten public attention in recent years, but the origins of the crisis goes back to 1996, when Purdue Pharma began selling Oxycontin through a misleading marketing campaign that claimed it was unlikely to cause addiction. In this episode, Ben speaks with journalist Beth Macy, who chronicled the lives of those affected by opioid addiction in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and across the country. Her book Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America tells the history of the opioid crisis through the deeply intimate stories of the people and communities that were hit hard by addiction, but never stopped fighting the companies who placed profit over humanity.

Beth Macy is a journalist and author of three books, the most recent of which, Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America (Little, Brown & Company, 2018), was an instant NY Times Best Seller. Her audio documentary Finding Tess: A Mother’s Search for Answers in a Dopesick America was released on October 3, 2019 is and is available by clicking here. For more on Beth Macy, visit her personal website- and follow her on twitter at @papergirlmacy.

You can get Dopesick and two additional audiobooks for just $15 from Just click here and enter promo code RTN at checkout!

The Road to Now is a member of the Osiris Podcast Network. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.


Sep 30, 2019

This is a rebroadcast of RTN #34 with an update on Tom's work since we spoke with him in December of 2016.

Tom Shadyac has probably made you laugh. He was the youngest ever staff joke writer for Bob Hope and he directed some of the biggest comedy films in recent memory, including Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Nutty Professor. A lot of people would say Tom has “made it.” Tom would disagree.

Tom joins Ben and Bob for a conversation about his life and the path that led him to abandon the pursuit of fame and material abundance to focus on helping others. He tells of his 11-year period of unemployment as he struggled to find success in the Los Angeles comedy scene, his relationship with Jim Carrey and how following his own passions led him to take a risk with Ace Ventura. Tom also talks of his approach to teaching film, and explains why he defines success as a state of mind. Other topics of conversation include the LA comedy scene, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and Tom’s deep commitment to the people of Memphis.

The Road to Now is part of the Osiris Podcast Network. This rebroadcast was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Sep 26, 2019

RTN Theology 13 is a conversation with Dr. Jennifer Allen Craft in Durham, NC as she participates in the Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts’ 10th anniversary symposium. Dr. Craft wrote Placemaking and the Arts: Cultivating the Christian Life: a beautiful vision for investing in real places and loving real people, while we cultivate a rich experience of God through the arts.

Sep 23, 2019

The recent drone strike on Saudi oil fields has implications for the entire world, but we remain uncertain who is responsible for the attack. Yemen’s Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility, but Trump claims it was actually Iran. There’s a lot at stake here, so Ben sat down with his MTSU colleague Sean Foley to learn about the history of the conflict and how that might inform policy moving forward.

In the second part of the episode, Bob and Ben talk about Bob’s research and what he’s learned about Monsanto since our last episode. We also share an exciting announcement about upcoming plans for the podcast!

Dr. Sean Foley is a Professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University, where he specializes in the contemporary history and politics of the Middle East and the wider Islamic world. He frequently visits Asia and the Middle East, follows events in both regions closely, and speaks Arabic and Bahasa Malaysian. Dr. Foley has held Fulbright fellowships in Syria, Turkey, and Malaysia, and lived in Saudi Arabia from April 2013 until January 2014. His most recent book is Changing Saudi Arabia: Art, Culture, and Society in the Kingdom (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2019). You can follow him on twitter at @foleyse.

Sep 16, 2019

Bob and Ben talk about some of the incredible resources that are now available electronically and how they have opened up new opportunities for historians. Bob talks about how his research on Monsanto, which he’s conducting for his US business history seminar, is adding to his greater project on the history of the Research Triangle Park and Apex, NC. Ben also talks about some of his interesting finds working in Russian archives and how publicly-accessible databases have provided some valuable material for his work.

Sep 9, 2019

Brian Rosenwald joins Ben and Bob to discuss his new book Talk Radio’s America: How an Industry Took Over A Party That Took Over the United States, which traces the emergence of talk radio as a major powerhouse in shaping the Republican Party. Brian explains how conservative talk radio and hosts such as Rush Limbaugh came to have tremendous influence over the GOP’s policy agenda, ultimately laying the groundwork for Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 Republican Primary. Brian also discusses how his conclusions have changed since his first appearance on RTN in November 2016.

Dr. Brian Rosenwald is a scholar in residence at the Partnership for Effective Public Administration and Leadership Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania and an instructor at Penn. He also conducts research for the Slate podcast Whistlestop, and serves as one of the two Editors-In-Chief of Made By History, a Washington Post history section. You can follow him on twitter at @Brianros1.

Want to hear our first conversation with Brian Rosenwald? You can get it and the other first seventy-five episodes of RTN, along with Patereon exclusive episodes and other bonus material, by supporting The Road to Now on Patreon for as little as $5 a month! Click here to find out more.

The Road to Now is part of the Osiris Podcast Network. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Sep 2, 2019

The Netflix series The Last Czars and HBO’s Chernobyl have (in very different ways) brought Russian & Soviet history to televisions across the world. In this episode, Ben sits down with fellow Russian historians Philippa Hetherington and Jonathan Waterlow to discuss their opinions on the two series, what they think they got right, and ways that producers and scholars might benefit most from collaboration on future projects. Philippa, who is a featured scholar in The Last Czars, shares her experience being interviewed, her impression of the show after seeing it, and her work to correct historical errors that viewers identified after release.

Dr. Philippa Hetherington is a Lecturer in Modern Eurasian History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London. Her research focuses on the legal history of imperial Russia and the early Soviet Union in global and transnational context. You can follow Philippa on twitter at @philippahether.

Dr. Jonathan Waterlow is the author of It’s Only a Joke Comrade! Humor, Trust and Everyday Life Under Stalin, and cohost of the Voices in the Dark podcast. He received his Doctorate in History from the University of Oxford and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at St. Anthony’s College (Oxford) and the University of Toronto. For more on It’s Only a Joke Comrade!, check out RTN #107 Laughing at Stalin: The Politics of Humor w/ Jon Waterlow or pick up a copy by clicking here. You can follow Jon on twitter at @JonWaterlow.

 The Road to Now is part of The Osiris Podcast Network. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Aug 29, 2019

What can happen when folks stay in a place, learn that place, and grow to love the people in a place over a long period of time? This episode of RTN Theology explores the power of conversation, creativity, and working in generative ways across difference and division. Chris has a conversation about conversation with C. Christopher Smith, author of How the Body of Christ Talks. Bob and Chris also got the chance to talk with Will Acuff of Corner to Corner in Nashville, TN about the amazing community organizing and empowerment work he, his wife Tiffany, and their team are doing with the youth in their community. Throughout the episode you’ll hear music from Russ Mohr, from his recent collaborative project, The Kingdom Sessions.

Christopher Smith (Indianapolis, IN) is a long-time member of the Englewood Christian Church community on the urban Near Eastside of Indianapolis, founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books, and acclaimed author. His newest book is How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering The Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019).

Corner to Corner (East Nashville, TN) was founded by Will and Tiffany Acuff in 2011. Based on their core belief that Jesus and Generous Justice go hand in hand, Will and Tiffany sought to create a faith-based nonprofit that focused on both. In partnership with the McFerrin Park Rec Center and key support from City Church, the first program they began was aimed at equipping former offenders with the skills they needed to gain meaningful employment and an invitation to discipleship. Since those early days Corner to Corner has grown to have programming in 5 communities, all in vital partnership with neighbors.

Music by Russ Mohr and the Kingdom Sessions (St. Louis, MO). The Kingdom Sessions is a collaborative worship project featuring 12 different writers, 70 musicians, 17 engineers, 3 producers (from 9 different cities) representing various musical, racial, cultural, & denominational backgrounds. Buy, share, and stream their work across all platforms and follow them on social media (@kingdomsessions).

This episode was hosted and produced by Bob Crawford and Chris Breslin and edited by Gary Fletcher.

Check out the annotated bibliography on our episode page by clicking here.

The Road to Now is a member of the Osiris Podcast Network.

Aug 26, 2019

Coca-Cola is one of the most well-known products on planet earth, but did you ever wonder how a brown fizzy drink fueled the rise of a corporate juggernaut? The answer, says Ohio State historian Bartow Elmore, has everything to do with its business structure. In this episode, Bart offers his take on how Coke went from Atlanta soda parlors in the late 19th century to markets across the globe in less than a century, all along reaping tremendous benefits from public infrastructure while passing the bulk of its environmental costs on to others.  Bart also talks about the difficulties of doing research on powerful corporations, why he thinks we should care about environmental history, and the meaning of what he calls “Coca-Cola Capitalism.”

Dr. Bartow Elmore is Associate Professor of History at The Ohio State University. His book, Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism (W.W. Norton, 2015) won the Axiom Business Book Award for best business commentary in 2015 and the Council of Graduate Schools 2016 Gustave O. Arlt Award in the Humanities. He is currently researching the history of Monsanto. You can follow him on twitter at @BartElmore.

You can get Citizen Coke on audiobook at Click here & enter promo code RTN at checkout to get this book & 3 more for just $15!

The Road to Now is part of the Osiris Podcast Network. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Aug 19, 2019

Technology is transforming the production & availability of knowledge. Many experts predict AI & nanotechnology will soon bring about a fundamental change in the ways we work, relate to one another, and are known, while skeptics point to the industrial revolution to dismiss these concerns. In this episode Ben speaks with Roy Wyman, who specializes in healthcare law and the relationship of technology to medicine, to find out how recent innovations are already affecting our lives, and where the future may take us.

Roy Wyman is Partner at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, where he is co-chair of the firm’s Privacy & Security Industry Group and a member of the firm's healthcare regulatory and litigation team. You can read his articles on healthcare, security and technology by clicking here. He also designed and is the lead attorney for HIPAA2Z, an automated HIPAA privacy and security compliance tool offered by Nelson Mullins.

The Road to Now is part of the Osiris Podcast Network. This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher. 

Aug 12, 2019

We make sense of our place in the world through stories. Our history as individuals & communities is always present, but the parts of the story we emphasize, as well as those we forget, are crucial in understanding the world today and in shaping the decisions we make going forward. In this episode, Bob, Ben and professional storyteller Donna Washington speak about the power of story and its potential for helping inspire action in a live forum hosted by National Conference for State Legislatures’ Executive Director Tim Storey as part of NCSL’s Legislative Summit held in Nashville, TN on August 7, 2019.

A special thanks to Tim Storey and everyone at NCSL for the invitation to participate in the summit, and to Donna Washington for sharing her wisdom with us and the crowd. We’re also grateful to all those who attended the panel and took the time to speak with us afterward.


The Road to Now is part of the Osiris Podcast Network. For more on the podcast, visit our website: This episode was recorded by NCSL and edited by Gary Fletcher.

Jul 29, 2019

RTN Theology #11 features “America’s Best Theologian” (according to Time Magazine), Stanley Hauerwas. Chris Breslin brings an intimate conversation from Dr. Hauerwas’ office at Duke Divinity School that touches on the recent passing of his friend, Jean Vanier, the life of the church in the era of Trump, and what it means to become people of virtue and character. Professor and author, Dave Fitch chimes in with some of his favorite Hauerwasisms and the ways that Dr. Hauerwas has shaped his life and work. He also shares his most recent book project, The Church of Us vs. Them. We’re also treated to a special reading of a chapter on the virtue of Justice by Stanley Hauerwas from his recent book of letters written to his Godson. Throughout the episode are selections from Deeper Well Music Collective’s (Portland, OR) new release, Volume III.

For more on this episode and a full bibliography on the essential Hauerwas, check out our episode page by clicking here.

The Road to Now is Part of the Osiris Podcast Network.

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