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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: Page 3
Jul 3, 2023

It’s difficult to fathom how Benjamin Franklin accomplished so much in a single lifetime. It’s equally difficult to imagine how to take such an incredible life and consolidate it into four hours of documentary film. In this episode, we cover both feats with writer Dayton Duncan and producer David Schmidt, two of the great minds behind Ken Burns' documentary on Benjamin Franklin. Dayton and David discuss Franklin’s life, the work that goes into creating a historical documentary film, and their process for deciding the best way to tell an American icon’s story in a pair of two-hour episodes.

If you enjoy this episode, check out Ben and Bob’s conversation with Ken Burns in episode #191.

If you want to learn more about American indepenence and the July 4th holiday, check out Ben's curated list on Hark audio!

If you want to catch Bob or Ben live, check out The Avett Brothers tour dates here and Ben's standup comedy schedule here!

This is a rebroadcast of RTN #229, which originally aired on April 4, 2022. 

Jun 26, 2023

The Allman Brothers’ 1971 album At Fillmore East features one of the era’s great rock bands at its prime, selling over a million copies despite not producing a single “hit” song. It is also the last album produced by the Allman Brothers prior to the death of the band’s founder, Duane Allman. In this episode we speak with Bob Beatty, whose new book Play All Night!: Duane Allman and the Journey to Fillmore East, tells the story behind the creation of the album and how the Allman Brothers pioneered a style that continues to influence rock music today.

Dr. Bob Beatty is a historian and musician who has worked in museums and nonprofits for more than 25 years. You can follow him on twitter and Instagram at @longlivetheabb.

This episode was edited by Ben Sawyer.

Jun 19, 2023

John Fea is taking on the history of Christianity and American politics in the 21st century. In three volumes. In this (single) episode, we talk about this tremendous task that John is undertaking and also get his thoughts on why the political Christian right came to feel disappointed in the Bush administration, why they later rallied around Donald Trump, and what this might mean for American politics moving forward.

Dr. John Fea is Professor of History at Messiah University & author of multiple books including Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction (Westminster John Knox Press, 2011). He posts regularly on American history, religion, politics, and academic life at his blog, The Way of Improvement Leads Home and hosts the podcast of the same name on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all podcast players. You can also hear him discuss his book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation in episode #222 and Why the 1776 Report Still Matters in episode #188.

 

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Jun 12, 2023

Juneteenth, which celebrates the emancipation of enslaved Americans at the end of the Civil War, has gone from a local holiday in Texas to a national day of celebration for many Americans. In this episode we speak with legal scholar and Pulitzer Prize winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed about her new book On Juneteenth and the ways that the holiday, her personal story and the history of the US can help us better understand the world today.

Annette Gordon-Reed is Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at Harvard University, where she is also the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and a professor of history in the university’s Faculty of Arts & Sciences. You can follow her on twitter at @Agordonreed.

Update: Since we recorded this episode on June 3, 2021, awareness and celebration of Juneteenth has spread across the country. On June 17th, 2021, President Joe Biden signed legislation that made Juneteenth a federal holiday, and, since 2021, 23 additional states have made Juneteenth an official permanent holiday, bringing the total to 28.

This is a rebroadcast of RTN #198, which originally aired on June 7, 2021. This rebroadcast was edited by Ben Sawyer.

Jun 5, 2023

Mark McKinnon is a political advisor, reform advocate, and host of Showtime’s The Circus. In this episode he joins Ben & Bob to talk about his work to found the non-partisan group No Labels, which advocates for independent candidates in presidential elections, and what a third-party might mean for the elections of 2024 and beyond.

 

This episode was edited by Ben Sawyer.

May 29, 2023

In the last few years, many on the left have been calling for a “Green New Deal,” but we might have already had that. Between 1933 and 1942, the Civilian Conservation Corps enlisted more than three million young men in a project that planted two billion trees, slowed soil erosion on forty million acres of farmland, and enjoyed support across political and geographic divides. In this episode we talk with Neil Maher, author of Nature’s New Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Roots of the American Environmental Movement (Oxford University Press, 2008) about how the CCC helped solidify FDR’s New Deal and spread the seeds of environmental activism for generations to come.

Dr. Neil Maher is a Professor of History and Master Teacher in the Federated History Department at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University-Newark. He is also the author of Apollo in the Age of Aquarius (Harvard University Press, 2017). You can find out more about his work at NeilMaher.com.  

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher

May 22, 2023

It’s been seven years since Ben & Bob launched the first episode of The Road to Now, so we invited two of our early guests – Doug Heye & Margaret Talev – to join us for a conversation about how things have changed since 2016 and the events of the preceding years that now appear to be most pivotal in creating those changes. Our conversation covers campaign finance reform, social media and the impact ai is already having on American politics.

Doug Heye is a political commentator who previously served as Communications Director for the Republican National Committee and Deputy Chief of Staff for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. You can follow him on twitter at @DougHeye.

Margaret Talev is Director of Syracuse University’s Institute for Democracy, Journalism & Citizenship and Senior Contributor at Axios. You can follow her on twitter at @MargaretTalev.

Enjoy this episode? Join us on Patreon to get the full unedited conversation from this episode and many others. Find out more at Patreon.com/TheRoadToNow. To our Patrons: thank you!

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

May 15, 2023

The “Amazon economy” seems like something new, but it rests on the physical and intellectual infrastructure built by those who came long before the age of the internet and leaves many of the same marks on the environment. Prominent in this story are five companies- Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, Walmart, Bank of America, and FexEx-  all of which have global reach and southern roots. In this episode, Bart Elmore joins us to talk about his new book Country Capitalism: How Corporations from the American South Remade our Economy and the Planet (UNC Press, 2023), and how understanding the history of American business can help us address the environmental challenges that are undeniably facing humanity today.

Dr. Bartow Elmore is Associate Professor of History and a core faculty member of the Sustainability Institute at The Ohio State University. In addition to Country Capitalism, he is also the author of  Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism (W. W. Norton, 2015) and Seed Money: Monsanto's Past and Our Food Future (W. W. Norton, 2021). You can hear his discuss these books in RTN episode 140 and episode 208 respectively. Bart is also a 2022 winner of the Dan David Prize.

This episode was edited by Ben Sawyer.  

May 8, 2023

Today's Republican party looks a lot different than it did just a few decades ago, but it rests on many of the same organizations and ideologies that formed the modern conservative movement in the 1970s. In this episode, Rick Perlstein joins us for a conversation about his newest book Reaganland: America’s Right Turn, 1976-1980 and how Ronald Reagan, Orrin Hatch and other prominent Republicans were able to harness the social and political forces of the 1970s to form the modern GOP.

Rick Perlstein is the award-winning author of multiple New York Times bestsellers, including Reaganland (Simon & Schuster, 2020), Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (Scribner, 2009) and Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (Bold Type Books, 2009), as well as a board member at InTheseTimes.com. You can follow him on twitter at @RickPerlstein.

In this conversation we also discussed Rick’s recent article “This Is Us: Why the Trump Era Ended in Violence,” The New Republic, January 20, 2021.

This is an edited rebroadcast of RTN #199, which originally aired on June 14, 2021. Both the original episode and this rebroadcast were edited by Gary Fletcher.

May 1, 2023

In 2021, Neil King Jr. threw a few basic items into a backpack and walked from his home in Washington, DC to New York City. Along the way he met new people, uncovered forgotten moments of history, and spent many days thinking about America. In this episode, Neil joins Ben and Bob to discuss his new book, American Ramble: A Walk of Memory and Renewal, and the lessons he learned along the way.

Before walking from his house in DC to New York City, Neil King Jr. worked as a journalist for outlets across the globe, including The Tampa Tribune, The Prague Post, and The Wall Street Journal. American Ramble is his first book, but we hope there are many more to come. You can follow Neil on twitter at @NKingofDC.

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Apr 24, 2023

Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers’ is a historian whose work has shed new light on the roles that women played in American slavery. In this episode, she joins Ben and Bob to share some of the significant findings of her work, the sources she’s used to learn more about enslaved people and female slaveowners, and her new project, which reorients our understanding of the British Atlantic slave trade by centering the story on the lives of both free and captive women. 

Dr. Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers is Associate Professor of History at the University California, Berkeley and the author of the award-winning book They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South (Yale University Press, 2019). She is also one of the recipients of the 2023 Dan Davis Prize, which recognizes outstanding scholarship that illuminates the past and seeks to anchor public discourse in a deeper understanding of history.

 This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Apr 17, 2023

For most of us, dust is a surface-level annoyance. For Anita Radini, it is a fountain of information about the past. In this episode, Anita joins us to share the fascinating new details about the lives of Medieval women that she discovered in the tiny remains of dust that collected in their dental plaque, and how her interdisciplinary work in archaeological science and paleoecology is reshaping the way we understand human history.

Dr. Anita Radini is an Assistant Professor at the School of Archaeology, University College Dublin, and a recipient of the 2023 Dan David Prize.

The Dan David Prize recognizes outstanding scholarship that illuminates the past and seeks to anchor public discourse in a deeper understanding of history. For more on the prize and the research its funding, visit dandavidprize.org.

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Apr 10, 2023

On Thursday, April 13th, the first episode of Bob’s new audio documentary Founding Son: John Quincy’s America premieres (on all podcast platforms), so Ben & Bob decided to celebrate the occasion by talking Adams’ life, his place in American history, and inspiration behind Bob’s decision to create the series.

Subscribe to Founding Son:

Apple Podcasts

Spotify

Stitcher

Or anywhere else you get your podcasts

 

This episode was edited by Ben Sawyer

Apr 3, 2023

On September 11, 2012, al-Qaeda-affiliated militants attacked a US mission in Benghazi, Libya and killed four Americans. That tragic loss of life abroad turned into a political fiasco at home, as the story of the attack became interpreted within the context of a Presidential election and a widening ideological gap between America’s two major political parties. In this episode, we speak with Ethan Chorin, who has years of experience on the ground in Libya, was in Benghazi the day of the attack, and whose new book, Benghazi! A New History of the Political Fiasco the Pushed American and its World to the Brink, examines the Benghazi attack and what we might learn from it.

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Mar 27, 2023

Ken Burns joins Bob and Ben for a conversation about American history and the themes he sees playing out in the US today. Ken shares his process for selecting subjects for his films and explains how his new 3-part film Hemingway (co-directed w/ Lynn Novick) highlights Ernest Hemingway’s individual genius while also revealing the universal aspects of life that we all share. We also discuss how our time and place influence the way we view the past, the importance of acknowledging both the light and dark in American history, and why Ken argues that much of life’s meaning comes from the struggle.

Ken Burns’ new film Hemingway, which he co-directed with Lynn Novick, premieres April 5-7 on PBS. For more on the series visit https://kenburns.com/hemingway/

UNUM is a new site by Ken Burns and PBS that allows users “a new way to explore American history through select scenes from across our over 40 films” with the goal of “providing historical context for the conversations we are having today.” You can visit UNUM at: https://www.pbs.org/kenburns/unum

You can follow Ken Burns on twitter at @KenBurns

This episode is a rebroadcast of RTN #191, which originally aired on February 15, 2021.

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

We’re happy to share a clip from our friends at Southern Songs and Stories!

This episode of The Road to Now features a clip from Southern Songs and Stories, a podcast hosted by our friend Joe Kendrick at WNCW. Listen after the credits to hear a portion of “The Shelton Laurel Massacre, Part One: The Past That Would not Die.” You can hear the full episode on Apple Music, Spotify, or on any podcast player where you get The Road to Now.

 

  

Mar 20, 2023

The Athletic's Dana O'Neil joins Bob & Ben for a conversation about the history of the NCAA tournament, how college basketball built the fan base it has today, and how rule changes have changed the sport from the 3-point line to the more recent Name, Image & License (NIL) contracts that allow college athletes to receive compensation for playing.

Dana O'Neil is a Senior Writer for The Athletic, and one of the country's foremost experts on college basketball.

You can hear the uncut version of this conversation and many more by supporting us on Patreon. Click here for more info!

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher. 

Mar 6, 2023

Jimmy Carter only served four years as President (1977-1981) but his approach to foreign policy produced big results, including the return of the Panama Canal to Panama, a strategic nuclear arms treaty with the Soviet Union (SALT-II), and US formal recognition of the People’s Republic of China. In this episode we welcome Nancy Mitchell back to the show to discuss the key moments in Carter’s Presidency and how his administration’s decisions look from the perspective of 2023.

Dr. Nancy Mitchell is Professor of History at North Carolina State University, where she specializes in the history of US foreign policy. Her most recent book, Jimmy Carter in Africa: Race and the Cold War (Stanford University Press, 2016) won the Douglas Dillon Award in 2016 and the Robert H. Ferrell Book Prize in 2017. You can hear our previous conversation w/ Nancy in episode #35 “Reassessing Jimmy Carter” (Dec. 2016).

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Feb 27, 2023

Andrew Young was already an iconic civil rights leader and sitting Congressman from Georgia’s 5th District when a dark horse candidate named Jimmy Carter asked for his support in the 1976 Presidential election. Young found Carter to be an honest man and spoke highly of him. Carter, in turn, appointed Young as the US Ambassador to the United Nations and tasked him with reshaping American foreign policy.

In this episode, Andrew Young joins Bob for a conversation about his work in the Carter administration, the shared vision of US foreign policy in Africa that strengthened their relationship, and the mutual trust that developed from their time working together. 

This conversation was recorded on May 11, 2021 as part of the audio docu-series Concerts of Change: The Soundtrack of Human Rights, which Bob produced with SiriusXM in 2022. You can hear that series on the SiriusXM app and learn more about it in RTN #228.

This episode was edited by Bob Crawford and Ben Sawyer.

Feb 20, 2023

A Presidency is defined by the decisions that a person makes while serving as Executive, but a Presidential legacy is about much more than that. In the new book, Mourning the Presidents: Loss and Legacy in American Culture, (UVA Press, 2023) Lindsay Chervinsky and Matthew Costello have brought together a collection of chapters that explore the ways that mourning ceremonies, causes of death, and moments of passing impact the way that we remember a President at the time they die, and how new research and a more inclusive understanding of US history have reshaped Presidential legacies in the years that follow. In this episode, Lindsay joins Ben and Bob for a conversation about some of the fascinating stories crafted by the book’s contributing authors and how the legacies of George Washington, FDR, Ronald Reagan, and other former commanders-in-chief, might tell us more about ourselves than the individuals who have served as President.

Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky is a historian of the American Presidency who is currently a fellow at the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress and a Senior Fellow at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. Her first book, The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution (Belknap Press, 2020) won multiple awards and was the topic of our conversation for her first appearance on The Road to Now in episode 184. You can learn more about Lindsay and her work at her website: LindsayChervinsky.com

If you enjoyed this episode, you’ll probably also like our conversation with Jeffrey Engle on the history of Presidential impeachment (RTN episode 109).

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Feb 13, 2023

In the 20th Century, leaders in Atlanta and Charlotte championed a “New South” vision that they hoped would attract the investment needed to transform their regional trading hubs into world-class urban centers. The success in both cases was undeniable, but it was also not equal. Despite Charlotte’s success as a banking hub, it has lagged far behind Atlanta in terms of its economy and its place in American culture. And one possible reason for this gap may be in the way the two cities treated their gay and lesbian communities.

In this episode, historian La Shonda Mims joins Ben for a discussion about the history of lesbian communities in Atlanta and Charlotte, the ways they shaped and reflected the cities they inhabited, and how tracing the development of lesbian spaces can help us better understand urban history. La Shonda also explains how lesbians’ stories in urban spaces can reveal the greater social and economic realities that women have experienced throughout US history.

Dr. La Shonda Mims is Assistant Professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University. She is author of Drastic Dykes and Accidental Activists: Queer Women in the Urban South (UNC Press, 2022) and recently published a piece entitled “LGBTQ Pride in the South has been Marked by Resistance and Resilience” in The Washington Post’s Made By History.

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Feb 6, 2023

Jordan Gross played 11 seasons as an Offensive Tackle for the Carolina Panthers. In his rookie season, he was a starting member of the Panthers team that made it to Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004. In his final season (2011) he was selected for his third Pro Bowl. Today he is a farmer in Idaho and one of the happiest people we’ve ever met.

Jordan joins Bob & Ben for a conversation about his career, the way the NFL has changed over the last few decades, what it’s like to play in the Super Bowl, and how his early life in Idaho led him to the NFL and then back again. Jordan also discusses why he decided to walk away from professional football when he was still an All-Pro-quality player, the importance of mentoring and coaching young people, and why continuing to learn is fundamental to a happy life.

You can hear Jordan alongside former teammate Jake Delhomme on their podcast Jordan and Jake, which is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other podcast apps where you get The Road to Now.

Patrons! You can hear the extended cut of our conversation with Jordan by clicking here. If you’d like to join us just go to Patreon.com/TheRoadToNow for details!

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Jan 23, 2023

January 20th was the official halfway mark of the Biden Administration’s first term. That might seem like a an odd time to discuss Presidential transitions, but with the justice department still prosecuting participants in the January 6th insurrection it’s never too soon to ask ourselves what lay ahead for 2024.

Our guest in this episode, David Marchick is Dean of the Kogod School of Business at American University, but until recently he was director of the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition and the host of its Transition Lab podcast. He is also the co-author of a fascinating new book The Peaceful Transfer of Power: An Oral History of America’s Presidential Transitions (UVA Press, 2022).

Whether it was the worst transition in our nation’s history—Buchanan to Abraham Lincoln or arguably the smoothest—The Bush 43 to Obama administrations—Marchick breaks down the good, the bad, and the ugly of Presidential transitions.

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher.

Jan 16, 2023

At the end of World War II, the United States had few laws protecting the environment. Just 30 years later, the Environmental Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act had been enacted, representing the urgency of, and widespread support for, environmental protections in those years. Douglas Brinkley, author of Silent Spring Revolution: John F. Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the Great Environmental Awakening (Harper Collins, 2022) joins Bob & Ben to discuss the story of environmentalism in the US from Kennedy to Nixon, and how ecologists and great thinkers such as Rachel Carson were able to channel public concern over the environment into policies that continue to benefit us today.

Dr. Douglas Brinkley is the Katherine Tsanoff Brown Chair in Humanities and Professor of History at Rice University, a CNN Presidential Historian, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. You can hear our previous conversations with Doug in RTN episode 52 and episode 87.

You can hear our full unedited conversation w/ Douglas Brinkley by joining us on Patreon! Just click here or go to Patreon.com/TheRoadToNow to join!

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher and Ben Sawyer.

Jan 9, 2023

This is part two of our conversation w/ Maximillian Potter & Richard Stayskal. For part 1, check out RTN episode # 257.

Since 1950, the Feres Doctrine has prevented active-duty members of the US Armed Forces from suing the government for wrongful injury or death that occurred outside of combat. In this episode we speak with journalist Maximillian Potter and decorated Green Beret Richard Stayskal to learn about the injustice many service members have endured, the reasoning behind the decision, and what can be done to help bring justice to those wrongfully injured while serving in the US Armed Forces.

Links to more information relevant to this episode:

Maximillian Potter, “Incident to Service, Vanity Fair, Dec. ‘22/Jan. ’23.

Khawam Law (the firm that is helping Richard Stayskal and other veterans fight for justice in Congress): https://www.khawamlaw.com/

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher, Bob Crawford & Ben Sawyer.

Jan 2, 2023

Since 1950, the Feres Doctrine has prevented active-duty members of the US Armed Forces from suing the government for wrongful injury or death that occurred outside of combat. In this episode we speak with journalist Maximillian Potter and decorated Green Beret Richard Stayskal to learn about the injustice many service members have endured, the reasoning behind the decision, and what can be done to help bring justice to those wrongfully injured while serving in the US Armed Forces.

 

Links to more information relevant to this episode:

Maximillian Potter, “Incident to Service, Vanity Fair, Dec. ‘22/Jan. ’23.

Khawam Law (the firm that is helping Richard Stayskal and other veterans fight for justice in Congress): https://www.khawamlaw.com/

This is the first in a two-part series on the Feres Doctrine featuring Max Potter & Richard Stayskal. Part II aired as Road to Now #258 on Monday, January 8, 2023.

This episode was edited by Gary Fletcher & Ben Sawyer.

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