I love learning about history, and so I love history podcasts. Some are fun because they are coffee shop conversations, friends giving Wikipedia-style insights to each other through interesting conversations, creating a connection to a story over profound depth or pinpoint accuracy.
Some history podcasts are like railroads through the mountains, digging deep but unable to fully grasp the tendrils of the stories. For what is history, but an approximation of accuracy trying to teach us a lesson through the annals of time?
Today’s podcast is the latter with the spirit of a coffee shop conversation. Just the conversation happens to be based around a historical bookclub, and all possible footnotes. Conflicted: A History Podcast is a testament to the power of audio storytelling, and education. With episodes that never sit under an hour, it was one I had to find a way to commit to in between everything else I listen to. Scrolling through the past episodes, a long series on the Sunni and Shia split caught my attention. Thus, this podcast got me - hook, line, and sinker.
As a monthly podcast with a deep backlog, Conflicted is a commitment. Most episodes are one or two-parters, diving into a topic in a way that’s approachable for the listeners. The long series, like the Suni and Shia split, as well as the seven-part series on Partition - are masterful works of audio storytelling. Weaving together the words of historians, first person accounts, and his own insight, Zach Cornwell achieves a non-fiction podcast of art. Conflicted manages to make history human and yet with the detachment of time, carefully explore realities we would perhaps not really remember.
With incredible storytelling, voice work, and simple production this is a spectacular history podcast. While only a monthly release, it’s well worth the wait. Honestly, sifting through the backlog takes enough time that a 1.0x speed listener may never catch up. I most certainly never will, and I’m grateful for it.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this podcast is that it doesn’t expect the listener to know everything or anything. The whirl of storytelling allows us to sink into the stories with ease and a relative comfort that we will be given the context that we need within the story. Yes, you’re expected to know the broad strokes like “England was once an Empire” and “World War Two happened”. There is never any contempt or expectation, for which I am grateful. I can say that having an American education means that looking into Partition was sparked more by Ms. Marvel than it was by any of my actual history classes.
Which is to say, to an international ear maybe this podcast will land slightly differently. Someone living in the United Kingdom probably knows more about Partition than I do, but I hope would still enjoy the way this podcast is written and produced. The simplicity mixed with some excellent storytelling paves the way to learning without judgment, which is one of the most powerful tools anyone can have.
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