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The Road to Now

Bob Crawford (The Avett Brothers) & Dr. Ben Sawyer (MTSU History) share conversations with great thinkers from a variety of backgrounds – historians, artists, legal scholars, political figures and more –who help us uncover the many roads that run between past and present. For more information, visit TheRoadToNow.com If you'd like to support our work, join us on Patreon: Patreon.com/TheRoadToNow
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Now displaying: 2017
Dec 11, 2017

Americans love coffee. According to recent statistics, more than 60% of Americans drink at least one cup of coffee every day, and the market research firm Mintel predicts that coffee shops will take in more than $23 billion dollars in 2017. Our love for coffee ties us to people and countries around the world, and to those who lived long before us. In this episode of The Road to Now, we speak with Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds and Beyond Fair Trade to find out coffee’s origins, its effects on global trade, and how a small cherry that originated on the other side of the planet became part of our daily life.                       

We’re also excited to welcome our newest sponsor, La Cosecha Coffee Roasters. La Cosecha is dedicated to connecting people together by offering fresh-roasted coffee grown in a sustainable manner where the farmer is given a fair price. You can visit their coffee bar in Maplewood, Missouri, or order online and have their coffee shipped directly to your home. We’re happy to have such a great business supporting The Road to Now, so we hope you’ll show them some love!

For links and more on our podcast, visit our website- www.TheRoadToNow.com

 

Dec 7, 2017

RTN Theology now is now on its own podcast feed! Subscribe anywhere you get The Road to Now for RTN Theology episodes 12-19 and more!

In the premier episode of our theology subseries, RTN Theology we welcome Christian philosopher James K.A. Smith to discuss the intersection of Christianity and culture in the United States. We also chat about his illuminating Op-Ed that appeared in the Thanksgiving edition of the Washington Post, which looks at ‘love of country’ from a religious perspective. Smith penned “Awaiting the King,” a new book that studies secularism and its impact on modern day religion.

Ian Skotte tracked down the Swedish textile archeologist who believes she may have discovered a link between Viking and Muslim cultures from the ninth century. However, not everyone is convinced of these findings. 

Finally, singer/songwriter David Childers rounds out our show. It just seemed appropriate to take time out during the Christmas holiday and spend time with our good friend. We discuss his take on gospel music and songs of the season as only David Childers can.

For links related to this episode, please visit our website: www.TheRoadToNow.com

 

Nov 30, 2017

A few days ago, President Donald Trump welcomed the Navajo Code Talkers to the White House. Instead of focusing solely on the veterans’ contributions during World War II, he used the event to take shots at Senator Elizabeth Warren, who he mocked as “Pocahontas” for her alleged unsubstantiated claims of Native American ancestry. He also held the ceremony in front of a portrait of President Andrew Jackson, who is a controversial figure for his policies toward Native Americans. In this episode of The Road to Now we speak with Dr. Ashley Riley Sousa, a specialist on Native American history at Middle Tennessee State University, to talk about the Navajo Code Talkers, Pocahontas, and the often overlooked and unappreciated place that Native Americans have held in American history.  

For more on this episode, visit www.theroadtonow.com

Nov 23, 2017

Are faith and reason compatible? How do people of faith reconcile themselves to a secular world? These are difficult and complex questions that have shaped America long before the founding of the United States. On this episode of The Road to Now, we sit down with Molly Worthen to talk about the development of Christianity in the United States, and its impact on American society, culture and government.

For more on this episode and many others, please visit our website: www.TheRoadToNow.com.

This episode originally launched on March 6, 2017, and features a new introduction by Bob Crawford recorded for Thanksgiving 2017. 

Nov 16, 2017

The Russian Revolution that began with the fall of Tsar Nicholas II in February of 1917 and continued into a second revolution the following October, is unquestionably one of the most significant events in modern history. The October Revolution brought Vladimir Lenin and the Bolshevik Party from relative obscurity to the leaders of the first communist nation, later called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and the economic and ideological system espoused by Soviet leaders transformed Russia from an underdeveloped nation on the periphery of Europe into a global super power in just a few decades. In this episode we speak with Russian history expert (and Ben’s former dissertation advisor) Lewis Siegelbaum to discuss the series of events that led to the Russian Revolution and the establishment of the Soviet Union, and why he tells his students that ignoring the Soviet Union in 20th century is like “clapping with one hand.”

 Dr. Lewis Siegelbaum is the Jack & Margaret Sweet Professor of History at Michigan State University, and one of the most prolific historians on the history of the Soviet era. He has published and edited twelve books, the most recent of which are Cars for Comrades: The Life of the Soviet Automobile (Cornell University Press, 2008) and Broad is My Native Land: Repertoires and Regimes of Migration in Russia’s Twentieth Century (Cornell University Press, 2014), which he co-wrote with Leslie Page Moch.

For more on The Road to Now and this episode, visit our website: www.TheRoadToNow.com

 

                                                                                                           

Nov 9, 2017

On August 4, 1789, the National Assembly of France adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which asserted the Enlightenment ideals of universal rights and democracy. Though the French Declaration shared a common ideological lineage with the American Declaration of Independence, the French Revolution took a very different path: fifteen years after their founding revolutionary documents, the US had George Washington and France had Napoleon.

 

In this episode of The Road to Now we talk to Dr. Peter McPhee, who is an expert on the history of the French Revolution at the University of Melbourne (Australia). Peter explains the ways that geography, religion, and the French effort to fundamentally redefine society, shaped the complex course of the French Revolution. As Peter does well to show, the French Revolution changed the world, and left a legacy that is all around us today. (And for all you Hamilton fans- if you ever wondered what happened to the Marquis de Lafayette after Hamilton died, Dr. McPhee has the answer!)

Oct 30, 2017

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther delivered his 95 Theses to the Catholic Church. We don’t know for sure if Luther actually nailed them to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, but we do know that his work changed the world.

In recognition of the five-hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther’s Theses, Bob and Ben are joined by Church Historian Dr. Donald Fortson. Dr. Fortson explains the reasons Luther chose to issue his Theses, the context in which he wrote them, and how a devout member of the Catholic Church became a reluctant revolutionary in reforming western Christianity.

For more on this episode and others, visit www.TheRoadToNow.com

Oct 23, 2017

Death is something that all humans have in common. How we dealt with death is not. The cemeteries that occupy prominent places in the American landscape, as well as the twenty-one thousand funeral homes in operation across the country, are products of the time and place in which they emerged. In this episode, we speak with Wake Forest’s Tanya Marsh, to learn about the historic forces at work in the creation of America’s death care industry. If you’ve ever wondered why we embalm our dead, whether or not it’s legal to be buried in your own back yard, or what happened to the bodies of slain Civil War soldiers, you’ll get your answers here.

Tanya Marsh is Professor of Law at Wake Forest University and one of the foremost experts on Mortuary Law and the history of cemeteries in the United States. She has published three books in her field of expertise, including The Law of Human Remains (2015) & Cemetery Law: The Common Law of Burying Grounds in the United States (Co-authored w/ Daniel Gibson, 2015).

For more info on this, or any other episode of The Road to Now, visit our website: www.TheRoadToNow.com.

Oct 16, 2017

On the corner of 4th Avenue and Commerce Street in Nashville, there’s a historical marker that reads:

“William Walker; Grey-eyed Man of Destiny; Born May 8, 1824, Walker moved to this site from 6th Ave. N. in 1840.  In early life he was doctor, lawyer & journalist.  He invaded Mexico in 1853 with 46 men & proclaimed himself Pres., Republic of Lower Calif.  Led forces into Nicaragua in 1855; was elected its Pres. in 1856.  In attempt to wage war on Honduras was captured & executed Sept. 12, 1860.”

The interesting thing is that it doesn’t mention that Walker reintroduced slavery to a country that had abolished the institution in the year he was born.

In this episode of The Road to Now, Ben investigates how historical markers get made, and the agenda of those who work to establish them. He tracks down the origins of the William Walker marker, which was established in 1970, and speaks with Pippa Holloway to learn about her work in erecting a marker to Civil Rights activist Penny Campbell. It turns out a lot has changed in the half-century between the two markers, but some things remain constant then and now.

For more on The Road to Now, visit our website: www.theroadtonow.com

 

Sep 25, 2017

In this episode of The Road to Now, we sit down for coffee and conversation with Bob’s bandmates in The Avett Brothers for a discussion about art, technology, and challenges of creativity. We cover the historic relationship between genius and madness, the ways one’s self is reflected in what we create, and the how they’ve adapted to the changes that have come their way since they began playing music. The Avett Brothers was the nexus that brought Bob and Ben together in creating The Road to Now, so we’re really excited to bring it all together and share this conversation with our listeners.

We're also excited to launch The Road to Now's patreon page. To find out how you can get involved (and receive extras for your support), visit www.TheRoadToNow.com/Support

 

Sep 18, 2017

The Nazi regime that came to power in Germany in 1933 unleashed the most brutal and comprehensive war that humanity has ever seen. The horrors of the Nazis and the destruction they left behind is something most of us learned about in history class, but for Gerd Schroth it is the story of his childhood. Born in Germany in 1938, Gerd came of age on the scorched earth left behind by the German war machine. Gerd’s father had joined the Nazi party because he thought Hitler could restore Germany’s greatness, but he bequeathed to his children a world in ruins.

More than seven decades after the end of World War II, Gerd is still writing the story of his life. He is now an American citizen, and his children were born in the United States. Gerd has moved on from the tragedy of his youth, but he has never forgotten it. He has thought a lot about how his parents’ generation and why they embraced the horrifying ideology of Nazism. He has found value in past traditions while abhorring the actions of his ancestors. And in doing this, he has built a much stronger legacy for future generations.

In this episode of The Road to Now, we share Gerd Schroth’s personal story of his life as a Citizen of Nazi Germany, refugee, immigrant, and now, American Citizen.

For more on The Road to Now, visit our website: www.theroadtonow.com

 

Sep 4, 2017

Lance Armstrong is one of the most recognized names in modern American sports. He’s also one of the most divisive. He’s a man who helped raise almost half a billion dollars to help people suffering from cancer. He’s also a man who aggressively went after those who accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs. In this episode of The Road To Now, Bob and Ben sit down for a conversation with Lance about his origins, how he survived his fight with cancer, and the culture of cycling during his career. We also discuss what it’s like to go from hero to heel virtually overnight, and how he decided to admit his mistakes and begin trying to move forward in life.

To keep up with Lance, subscribe to his podcast, The Forward. It's available anywhere you get The Road to Now.

For more on this episode and The Road to Now podcast: www.TheRoadToNow.com

 

Aug 28, 2017

In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was the first major legislative act in American history to restrict immigration. In this episode we talk with historian Andrew Gyory about the reasons that immigration became such a powerful political issue in the late 19th century, and how studying this period of history can help us better understand the politics of immigration in 2017. Dr. Gyory is an expert on the history of immigration and the author of Closing the Gate: Race, Class, and the Chinese Exclusion Act, (UNC Press, 1999).

 

More on this episode and The Road to Now, please visit our website: www.TheRoadToNow.com.

Aug 14, 2017

Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species is one of the most controversial books ever written. For most Americans, Darwin’s theories are associated with the 1925 Scopes trial and the near century-long “evolution vs creation” debate has that emerged as a dominant theme in American society in the years since the trial. In this episode of The Road to Now, we speak with Dr. Randall Fuller about his new book The Book That Changed America: How Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Ignited America, and the various ways that Darwin’s work has been interpreted since its publication in 1858. As it turns out, Darwin and Origin of Species are far more complex and have a much deeper history in the United States than most of us realize.

For more on our podcast and this episode, please visit our website: www.TheRoadToNow.com

Aug 7, 2017

At The Road to Now, we don’t just make history podcasts- we also listen to them. In this episode we’re excited to share our conversation with fellow history podcaster Dr. Liz Covart, whose podcast Ben Franklin’s World covers the history of early America. Bob, Ben and Liz discuss the concept of the frontier in American history, the work that goes into writing history and sharing findings, and why it’s a good idea to follow the evidence even when it makes you uncomfortable. We also talk about the place that podcasts fit within the field of history and why it’s so exciting to share history with others.

For more on The Road to Now and all of our episodes, please visit our website: www.TheRoadToNow.com

 

Jul 31, 2017

Oil is one of the oldest fuel sources known to man. Its impact on the world is not simple; while it has powered the vehicles that have made human mobility possible, it has also propped up some of the most repressive regimes in recent history. In the last installment of our four-part history of energy series, we speak to journalist and author Paul Roberts to discuss the complex role that oil has played in shaping the industrialized world, and the costs/benefits that oil has as an energy source in the 21st century.

Paul Roberts is a journalist and author who covers energy and technology. His work has appeared in many publications including Rolling Stone, Harpers, and the Washington Post. His book The End of Oil (2004), examines the history of petroleum and its impact on the world.

For more on The Road to Now, please visit our website: www.theroadtonow.com

Jul 24, 2017

When most Americans think of sustainable technology, they think of Jimmy Carter's solar panels or the windmills that are beginning to pop up across the country. But so-called "sustainable" or "green" energy has a history that can be traced back to the 19th century. In this episode of The Road to Now, Alexis Madrigal explains sustainable energy's deep roots in American history, and discusses the viability of green energy as an alternative to coal, oil, and solar energy production in the 21st century. 

Alexis Madrigal is technology correspondent at The Atlantic and Editor-at-Large at Fusion. His 2009 book, Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology was published by Da Capo Press in 2011. 

For more on this episode and all others, visit our website: www.theroadtonow.com

 

Jul 17, 2017

Since August 6, 1945, when the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the world has been aware of the awesome force that nuclear science could unleash. Using that force for energy production proved that nuclear technology could improve our lives, but nuclear energy has had a hard time shaking its association with destruction, and the catastrophes at Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) & Fukushima (2011), have only heightened public concern over the safety of nuclear power.

 In other words, nuclear power has a bad rap. But does it deserve it?

 Not according to scientists Jim Clarke and Steve Krahn of Vanderbilt University. Both men have distinguished careers working in nuclear energy that have spanned half the history of nuclear power. In this episode of The Road to Now, Jim and Steve break down the risks and rewards of using nuclear energy, and argue that the public response to Three Mile Island and other spectacular events may have led us to poor conclusions about how we produce energy. They also remind us that nuclear energy produces no carbon, which makes it particularly valuable in the age of global warming.

 Dr. Jim Clarke is Professor of the Practice of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Vanderbilt University. Jim has served as an advisor to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and is currently on the NRC Advisory Committee for Reactor Safeguards and its subcommittee on Radiation Protection and Nuclear Materials. He has over 35 years of professional experience with approximately 150 publications and presentations.

 Dr. Steven Krahn is Professor of the Practice of Nuclear Environmental Engineering in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Vanderbilt University. He has more than 30 years of experience in his field and previously served in the U. S. Department of Energy as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Safety & Security in the Office of Environmental Management.

 Both guests highly recommend that you visit the US Energy Information Administration website (eia.gov) for accurate and updated information on energy production in the United States.

For links to more readings on this topic (they gave us a lot for this episode!) and more about The Road to Now, please visit our website: www.theroadtonow.com.

 

 

 

Jul 10, 2017

In our first episode of the second season of The Road to Now, 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.)

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 this outstanding documentary!

For more on The Road to Now, please visit our website: www.theroadtonow.com.

 

May 15, 2017

On April 6, 1917, the United States House of Representatives voted to declare war on Germany, bringing the United States into the brutal war that had raged across Europe since the summer of 1914. America’s entry into World War I helped turn the tide of the war, securing a victory for the US and its allies. And while the final shots of the war took place on November 11, 1918, the consequences of “The Great War” live on nearly a century after its end.

Why did the United States become involved in World War I after remaining neutral for so long? How did the war in Europe shape American society? And who actually won World War I? In this episode of The Road to Now, we get the answers to these questions and more in our conversation with military historian and archivist Mitch Yockelson.

For more on this and all other episodes of The Road to Now, please visit our website: www.TheRoadToNow.com.

May 8, 2017

North Korea is a hard place for most Americans to understand. Kim Jung-un and his inner circle keep a tight grip on information, and what the North Korean government does share with outsiders can be hard to decipher. What is clear though, is that the current state of relations between Washington DC and the regime in Pyongyang is growing colder every day, and North Korea’s pursuit of long-range nuclear weapons makes resolving this conflict an urgent matter in US foreign policy today.

How did the standoff between the US and North Korea begin, and who is to blame for the conflict? How has the Kim family, now in its third generation of leadership, managed to stay in power this long, and what are the prospects of removing them from power? And how has our policy toward North Korea been shaped by its geographic proximity to China and Russia?

In this episode of The Road to Now, we get the answer to these questions and more in our interview with North Korea expert, Dr. Sheena Greitens.

Sheena Greitens is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Missouri.  She is also a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Center for East Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution and an Associate in Research at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University. 

For more on this episode and our podcast, please visit our website: www.TheRoadToNow.com

 

May 4, 2017

On February 17, 2017, President Donald J. Trump tweeted that the American news media is the enemy of the people. This was an escalation from the rhetoric candidate Trump used along the campaign trail continually rebuking the mainstream media as purveyors of fake news. The President’s disdain for the media made it no surprise when he said that he would not be attending last week’s White House Correspondence Association Dinner. The event is a long-held Washington tradition that celebrates the free press of the United States and honors the work of journalists.

So what’s it like to be a journalist covering a President who is so openly antagonistic to your profession? Is Donald Trump’s disdain for the media as fierce when he’s behind closed doors as it is when he speaks at rallies? And what is it like to go from covering the Obama White House to that of Donald Trump?

In this episode of The Road to Now, we get the answers to these questions and more in our interview with Bloomberg White House Correspondent Margaret Talev.

For more on this episode, visit our website: www.TheRoadToNow.com

May 1, 2017

The Harlem Globetrotters are one of those great parts of American culture that almost everyone knows and loves. For most of us today, the Globetrotters are outstanding entertainers. But did you know that in the mid-20th century the Globetrotters were probably the single best basketball team on the planet? Did you know that they did travel the globe as agents of the US Department of State during the Cold War, but that they are not, in fact, from Harlem? If you want to know how all of this happened (and how the Globetrotters saved the NBA), you’re going to love this interview with historian Ben Green on the History of the Harlem Globetrotters.

For more on this an all other episodes of The Road To Now, visit our website: www.theroadtonow.com.

 

Apr 24, 2017

Neil Hanson is one of the most interesting people we know. He’s written books on World War I, the Spanish Armada, and the fire that destroyed London in 1666. He once teamed up with history’s greatest treasure hunter to tell the story of retrieving over $100 million in gold from a sunken Soviet ship in the arctic. He’s been the owner of the highest Inn in all of Great Britain. And, in 1999 he published a book called The Custom of the Sea, which tells the story of a shipwrecked crew that was put on trial in London after resorting to cannibalism. The ship, which fell victim to forty-foot waves off the coast of Africa in 1884, was named the Mignonette, and Hanson’s book was so good that in 2004 it inspired an album by an up-and-coming group of musicians called The Avett Brothers.

How could someone turn a gruesome tale of cannibalism into an inspirational work of history? How do you track down the sources that allow you to answer so many questions about history? And how does one individual accomplish so much in one life? In this episode of The Road to Now, we get the answers in our conversation with Neil Hanson.

Find out more about this episode of The Road to Now at our website: www.TheRoadToNow.com.

 

Apr 17, 2017

“Who is James K. Polk?” If you’re asking this question to yourself right now, you’re not alone. In fact, “Who is James K. Polk?” was a slogan Polk’s political rivals used to mock him in the 1844 Presidential election. This made sense at the time; despite serving as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1835 to 1839 and Governor of Tennessee from 1839 to 1841, Polk lacked the type of dynamic personality that defines many of America’s great Presidents. Yet a late compromise in the Democratic Party and the changing mood of the American people thrust Polk from a failed Gubernatorial candidate in Tennessee to the White House in less than a year.

 Who is James K. Polk? He’s America’s first dark horse President. He’s the Commander-in-Chief who oversaw the annexation of the southern portion of the Oregon territory, the admission of Texas into the United States, and the invasion of Mexico that forced the Mexican government to cede about half of its territory to the United States in 1848 (you know New Mexico? It used to be part of old Mexico). He’s the man who may have done more to transform the United States in a single term than any other President in American history.

And, strangely enough, he’s also the man whose corpse has been dug out of the ground more times than any other President. His current resting spot in Nashville is Polk’s third grave, but he may be moving again in the near future.

So how did Polk go from relative obscurity to President of the United States in such a short period of time? Why does his place in Americans’ minds fall so far short of his impact on American history? And why are lawmakers in Tennessee considering moving Polk’s body for a fourth time more than 150 years after his death? In this episode of The Road to Now we answer these questions and more in our conversation with the Curator of the James K. Polk Home & Museum, Tom Price.

Find out more about this and all other episodes of The Road to Now at our website: www.TheRoadToNow.com

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