The Road to Now

Conversations about the history of right now. Hosted by Bob Crawford (The Avett Brothers) and Dr. Benjamin Sawyer (Middle Tennessee State University).
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Mar 23, 2020

Note: Bob and Ben start off talking about the Covid-19 outbreak and plans for upcoming episodes of this podcast. We shift to our discussion with Dr. Cohen at about 10:30.

The suburbanization of the American landscape after World War II left the country’s older urban centers in crisis. Revitalizing cities was no easy task, and many of the most inspiring plans for reconstructing America’s urban space went unfulfilled. These visions may have never come to fruition, but Lizabeth Cohen says there is much to learn from the visionaries. In this episode Dr. Cohen joins us for a conversation about post-WWII America, the pros and cons of biography, and her new book Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age, which recently won her a second Bancroft Prize for American History.

Dr. Lizabeth Cohen is Lizabeth Cohen is the Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies and a Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of History at Harvard. Cohen’s previous books include Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939, winner of the Bancroft Prize and a finalist for the Pulitzer, and A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America.

Note: Bob and Ben start off talking about the Covid-19 outbreak and plans for upcoming episodes of this podcast. We shift to our discussion with Dr. Cohen at about 10:30.

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

Mar 16, 2020

Disasters abound, and what comes next is all about making good decisions. Ben talks about the Nashville tornado of 1998, the Nashville tornado of 2020, and the coronavirus, and Dr. Andy Bruno shares his expertise on the origins of natural disasters and what we can learn from studying them in history.

Mar 9, 2020

Bob and Ben speak with Dr. Chuck Keeney about the history of coal in the United States. Chuck explains the ways that the coal industry has shaped not only the physical landscape of mining towns, but also, through lobbying efforts and information campaigns, the way we understand our nation’s history. Chuck is uniquely qualified to tell the story of coal; not only does he hold a PhD in history from West Virginia University, he is the great-grandson of coal miner and labor organizer Frank Keeney, who was part of The Battle of Blair Mountain.

(The Battle of Blair Mountain was a 1921 shootout between coal miners and the coal companies that was the largest domestic insurrection since the Civil War. If you want to know more, it’s all in this episode. Or you could stop by the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum where Chuck Keeney is on the Board of Directors).

Chuck Keeney was featured in the 2017 NatGeo Documentary From the Ashes, which was directed by Michael Bonfiglio. We highly recommend you take the time to watch!Chuck Keeney was featured in the 2017 NatGeo Documentary From the Ashes, which was directed by Michael Bonfiglio. We highly recommend you take the time to watch!

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

This is a reair of RTN #61, which originally aired on July 19, 2017. You can get the other episodes in our history of energy series by supporting us on Patreon.

Feb 24, 2020

For many years now, Tim Mossberger has been building an incredible collection of material objects, music, and information on Bob’s band The Avett Brothers. In this episode, Bob and Ben talk with Tim about how he became the Avett Archivist, where he gets his rare items, and how he processes, preserves, and organizes the massive amount of material he’s acquired over the years. Bob and Tim also talk about the history of The Avett Brothers & the turning points that helped the band bring their music to a wider audience.

The Avett Archives are open and available to the public at You can follow Tim on twitter at @AvettArchivist.

We’ve also posted some of Tim’s deep cuts on the page for this episode, available by clicking here.

Bob and Ben are taking the show on the road and we’ll be hitting towns across the US this year. Click here for show dates and tickets!

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

Feb 17, 2020

The Road to Now is celebrating our fourth Presidents’ Day by launching our first Presidents’ Day episode! To mark this momentous occasion, Bob and Ben both sat down with a list of three significant moments in presidential history and discussed how they changed the country. Are there Roosevelts? Yes. Are there presidents born in three different centuries? Yes. Should you listen instead of asking any more question? Yes! We hope you enjoy the episode!


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

Bob and Ben are taking the show on the road! See our calendar of events by clicking here.

Feb 10, 2020

When it comes to food, knowing what you’re getting can be tricky. On the surface, words such as “pure” and “natural” seem straightforward, yet defining them in the modern world has required experts, laws, and administrative structures. In this episode, Bob & Ben speak with Lafayette College’s Benjamin Cohen about the pure food crusades of the late nineteenth century, the origins of the Pure Food Act of 1906 and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and the lessons this era offers us as we seek to make decisions about food policy in the 21st century.

Dr. Benjamin R. Cohen is Associate Professor of Engineering Studies and Environmental Studies at Lafayette College and the author of Pure Adulteration: Cheating on Nature in the Age of Manufactured Food (University of Chicago Press, 2019). Learn more about his work at his personal website or by following him on twitter at @BRCohen95.

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Join Bob & Ben for a live podcast recording! Click here for dates and ticket links.

Feb 6, 2020

In the last few decades, NASCAR has taken stock car racing from a regional sport anchored in the south, to the national level. Though NASCAR has a reputation as a family-friendly organization, its history is inseparable from the moonshining and bootlegging of the prohibition era. And while the cars on today’s tracks have little in common with their mid-20th century predecessors, many of the sports traditions have endured. In this conversation, recorded as the second part of RTN Live in Charlotte, Bob and Ben talk with third-generation racer Kyle Petty and Dr. Dan Pierce of UNC-Asheville to find out more about the history of stock car racing and the changes that have transformed the sport in the 21st Century.

Kyle Petty spent three decades as a professional stock car racer and is currently an analyst for NASCAR on NBC (NBC Sports). He is also the founder of the charity Victory Junction, which enriches the lives of children with serious illnesses by providing them with life-changing camping experiences at no cost to the children of their families. Victory Junction was inspired by Kyle’s son Adam, who tragically died in a racing accident in 2004. For more on Victory Junction, visit their website:

Dan Pierce is Professor of History at UNC-Asheville and the author of Real NASCAR: White Lightning, Red Clay, and Big Bill France (UNC Press, 2010). His newest book Tar Heel Lightnin’: How Secret Stills and Fast Cars Made North Carolina the Moonshine Capital of the World was published by UNC Press in October 2019.

Our show opens with an original song by Kyle Petty, performed live w/ David Childers and Bob Crawford.

This episode is the second of two episodes recorded live in Charlotte at the McGlohon Theater on January 24, 2020. A full list of our upcoming live shows is available at

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

Feb 3, 2020

Charlotte, NC has grown tremendously in the last half-century, yet it still lacks a clear national identity. While many know it today for its professional sports franchises or its prominence as a banking hub, the city was once recognized for its leadership in school integration following the 1971 Supreme Court ruling in Swann vs Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. Bob and Ben both spent pivotal years of their lives in the Queen City, so they dedicated the first portion of RTN Live in Charlotte to a conversation on the city and its history with two people who know it best: historian Tom Hanchett & journalist Pam Kelley.

Dr. Thomas Hanchett served as Staff Historian for 16 years at Levine Museum where he curated the permanent exhibition Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers (named best in the Southeast by the South East Museums Conference), and a string of national-award-winning temporary exhibitions including COURAGE about the Carolina roots of the Brown v Board Civil Rights case. The second edition of his book, Sorting Out the New South City: Race, Class & Urban Development in Charlotte, 1875-1975 (UNC Press) will be available for purchase on February 3rd, 2020 (the very same day this episode launches!).

Pam Kelley is a freelance journalist who spent 35 years covering Charlotte for The Charlotte Observer. Her book Money Rock: A Family's Story of Cocaine, Race, and Ambition in the New South (New Press, 2018) tells Charlotte’s history through the life of Belton Lamont Platt, aka Money Rock, who went from one of Charlotte’s most successful cocaine dealers to a redeemed man who now inspires others to change. “Money Rock is a deeply American story, one that will leave readers reflecting on the near impossibility of making lasting change, in our lives and as a society, until we reckon with the sins of our past.”

Our show opens with a song by musical guest David Childers, whose new album Interstate Lullaby is now available streaming or through his website-

Jan 27, 2020

Dr. Molly Worthen (Department of History, UNC-Chapel Hill), Doug Heye (CNN/former RNC Communication Director) & Rufus Edmisten (Deputy Chief Council, Senate Watergate Committee/ former NC Secretary of State & Attorney General) join Bob & Ben for a conversation about charisma in American politics and society. Recorded live at the legendary Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, NC on January 25, 2020.

Our gratitude to everyone who attended this sold out show! If you’d like to join us for a future recording, check out our calendar of live events by clicking here.

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

Jan 20, 2020

After our last episode on the separation of powers in the Constitution, we heard from several listeners who said they wished we’d spent more time on the topic. The people have spoken, so we’re following up with another episode on modern politics and the Constitution with special guest, RTN-favorite Matt Negrin!

Matt Negrin holds the record for most appearances on RTN. He is also Senior Producer for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. You can hear him as host of “Slowbama,” on the The Daily Show Podcast Universe, available on apple podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere else you get The Road to Now. You can follow Matt on twitter at @MattNegrin.

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

Jan 13, 2020

2020 begins with an Impeachment Trial in the Senate and will end with a Presidential election, so Bob and Ben are kicking off the year discussing the relationship between the Executive and Legislative branches of the federal government. Their conversation covers the articles of impeachment against Trump, the gap between the modern Presidency and the Executive imagined by the founders, and the problems that might be solved by changing our expectations of Presidents moving forward.

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

Dec 23, 2019

In our final episode of 2019, Bob & Ben speak w/ historian Carson Hudson, whose program “Uncivil Christmas” tells of life in Williamsburg, Virginia during the years of the Civil War. Carson explains the politics and culture of the era, the major role that music played in uniting (and dividing) Americans during the war, the challenges of understanding how people in the past experienced war, and the ways that the Civil War still looms large in American culture today.

Carson Hudson is Educational Program Developer at Colonial Williamsburg and a specialist in the history of war and music history. He is the author of multiple books on Williamsburg history, including Hidden History of Civil War Williamsburg (The History Press, 2019). To attend one of Carson’s site tours, visit www.Colonial

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher. A special thanks to Melanie Crawford for encouraging us to interview Carson on RTN.

The Road to Now is part of the Osiris Podcast Network. For more on our podcast, visit our website:

Dec 16, 2019

On December 25, 1776, George Washington and his men celebrated their first post-Declaration of Independence Christmas by crossing a freezing river to mount a surprise attack against their enemies. The plan worked, but almost 250 years later the story of Washington crossing the Delaware might surprise you too. In this episode, RTN favorite Bruce Carlson of My History Can Beat Up Your Politics joins Bob & Ben for a conversation about one of the US’s most recognized, yet little-known battles and how it affected the course of the Revolutionary War.

If you enjoy this episode, check out My History Can Beat Up Your Politics, available anywhere you get The Road to Now. You can also hear Bruce in RTN Episode 85: The History of US-Mexican Relations w/ Bruce Carlson, recorded live from Avetts at the Beach in 2018.  

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

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 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 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 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 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

Tom Shadyac will be our guest for a live recording at TPAC’s Polk Theater as part of the Nashville Comedy Festival on April 18th, 2020! Click here for tickets!

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 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.

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