Listen to Presidential, The Washington Post’s Podcast Exploring Each & Every U.S. President

A quick heads up on President's Day: The Washington Post presents Presidential, a podcast that explores how "each American president reached office, made decisions, handled crises and redefined the role of commander-in-chief." Naturally, it starts with George Washington. Hear that episode below.

Presidential is hosted by WashPo editor Lillian Cunningham and features Pulitzer Prize-winning historians like David McCullough and journalists like Bob Woodward. Right now you can get all 45 episodes (each about 30-50 minutes long) on iTunes, Soundcloud and Stitcher.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

Related Content:

Free Online History Courses

Watch Online Every Presidential Debate Since 1960–and Revisit America’s Saner Political Days

John Green’s Crash Course in U.S. History: From Colonialism to Obama in 47 Videos

The History of the World in 46 Lectures From Columbia University

An Immersive Audio Tour of the East Village’s Famed Poetry Scene, Narrated by Jim Jarmusch

Allen_ginsberg_erads howl

Image by Michiel Hendryckx, via Wikimedia Commons

A peek at the photos on a realtor’s listing for a New York City one bedroom apartment formerly occupied by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg is a dispiriting reminder of how much the East Village has changed.

And that listing is over six years old!

Daniel Maurer, the editor of Bedford + Bowery, and a Ginsberg fan whom history has compelled to take over a portion of his hero’s formerly sprawling digs, wrote amusingly of shoddy renovations and his upstairs neighbor, punk rock icon Richard Hell:

Orlovsky’s name is still on the mailbox – which is just about the only thing still around from his day. After his death, the place was gut renovated with luxurious modern amenities like a mini fridge that comes up to mid-thigh and a stove that’s so tiny and ineffectual I just use it for cookbook storage. Soon after I moved in I took a trip to Ikea and recognized my kitchen cabinets there.

That’s why I was amused to read a piece in the Wall Street Journal … in which my upstairs neighbor, Richard Hell, talked about his rent-stabilized two-bedroom apartment and its “funkiness that you don’t find in Manhattan much anymore.”

Hell describes his “worn unvarnished wood floors that groan when you walk on them, cracks in the plaster walls, sagging original moldings.” That’s exactly what I was looking for in an apartment two years ago.

Maurer is far from alone in the desire to edge closer to a bygone cultural moment. Radio producer Pejk Malinovski spent three years crafting Passing Stranger, a site-specific audio tour of the East Village poetry scene, below.

A Dane who relocated to New York in 2003, Malinovski was intrigued by the scene-related anecdotes of his friend, poet Ron Padgett, who pointed out his former haunts on strolls about the neighborhood. His interest piqued, Malinovski immersed himself in Daniel Kane’s All Poets Welcome, The Lower East Side Poetry Scene in the 1960’s, another history that comes fortified with archival audio clips.

Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, a longtime Lower East Side resident who studied with poet Kenneth Koch in his youth, was tapped to provide the audio tour’s narration, with music compliments of composer John Zorn, the artistic director of The Stone, an experimental East Village performance space. Below, Jarmusch explains what attracted him to the project:

No matter if geographic constraints prevent you from downloading Malinovski’s tour for a two mile, 90 minute amble around the much-changed East Village. In some ways, the virtual tour is better. Rather than trying to take it all in in a single, pre-plotted session, you're free to wander at will, enjoying such interactive features as maps and photos, in addition to interviews, readings, and reminiscences.

The 10th stop on the tour deposits you across the street from 437 East 12th Street, Ginsberg’s aforementioned former residence, on the steps of a church that no longer exists. Mary Help of Christians Roman Catholic Church was demolished shortly after Passing Stranger hit the streets, but its memory lives on thanks to its celebrated appearance in Ginsberg’s work:

Fourth Floor, Dawn, Up All Night Writing Letters

Pigeons shake their wings on the copper church roof 

out my window across the street, a bird perched on the cross 

surveys the city's blue-grey clouds. Larry Rivers 

'll come at 10 AM and take my picture. I'm taking 

your picture, pigeons. I'm writing you down, Dawn. 

I'm immortalizing your exhaust, Avenue A bus. 

O Thought, now you'll have to think the same thing forever!

- Allen Ginsberg, New York, June 7, 1980

Ginsberg himself is brought to vivid life by his secretary and fellow poet, Bob Rosenthal, who recalls how visitors would call up from the street, then wait for Ginsberg to toss down keys, wrapped in a dirty sock. He also name checks Mr. Buongiorno, the 437 East 12th St neighbor who served as Mary Help of Christians’ bell ringer.

You can hear those bells in the background of your Passing Stranger tour, though producer Malinovski uses ambient sound sparingly, to avoid overwhelming those using the tour on the noisy streets of the actual East Village.

You can download the full walking tour of Passing Stranger---named for Walt Whitman’s opening salutation in “To a Stranger”---here.

Explore Passing Stranger’s trivia-filled interactive website---featuring audio from Amiri Baraka, Hettie Jones, Eileen Myles, and Jack Kerouac, among others---here.

Poems included on the Passing Stranger audio tour of the East Village, in order of appearance:

Kenneth Koch, “To my Audience” (excerpt)

Frank O'Hara, Ode to Joy (To hell with it) (excerpt)

Ted Berrrigan "Dear Margie, Hello"

Ron Padgett “Poema del City from Toujours l’amour"

Walt Whitman, “To a Stranger”

Taylor Mead, “Motorcycles”

Bernadette Mayor, “Sonnet (You jerk, you didn't call me up)”

Diane Di Prima, “Revolutionary Letters” (excerpt)

Galway Kinnell, “The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ” (excerpt)

Miquel Piñero, “A Lower East Side Poem” (excerpt)

Jack Kerouac, “American Haiku” (excerpt)

Bill Berkson / Frank O'Hara, “Song Heard Around St. Bridget’s"

John Ashbery, “Just Walking Around, from A Wave”

Joe Brainard, “I Remember” (excerpt)

Alice Notley, “10 Best Comic Books”

WH Auden, “September 1, 1939” (excerpt)

Anne Waldman, “Fast Speaking Woman” (excerpt)

Lewis Warsh, “Eye Contact” (excerpt)

Dick Gallup / Ted Berrigan, “80th Congress”

Abraham Lincoln, “My Childhood-Home I See Again” (excerpt)

Leroi Jones, “Bang, bang, outishly” (excerpt)

Hettie Jones, “Ode to My Kitchen Sink”

Brenda Coultas, “A Handmade Museum” (excerpt)

ee cummings, ”i was sitting in mcsorley’s…”

Related Content:

Rare Footage of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac & Other Beats Hanging Out in the East Village (1959)

Hear Allen Ginsberg Teach “Literary History of the Beats”: Audio Lectures from His 1977 & 1981 Naropa Courses

Iggy Pop Conducts a Tour of New York’s Lower East Side, Circa 1993

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The History of Literature Podcast Takes You on a Literary Journey: From Ancient Epics to Contemporary Classics


Even before you start on a journey through the history of literature, you know some of the stops you'll make on the way: the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Bible, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, Joyce. And so it comes as no surprise that Jacke Wilson, creator and host of the History of Literature podcast (from ancient epics to contemporary classics - Android - RSS), has so far devoted whole episodes, and often more than one, to each of them. A self-described "amateur scholar," Wilson aims with this show, which he launched last October, to take "a fresh look at some of the most compelling examples of creative genius the world has ever known."

Wilson also addresses questions like "How did literature develop? What forms has it taken? And what can we learn from engaging with these works today?" And yet he asks this rhetorical one in The History of Literature's very first episode"Is it just me, or is literature dying?" The also self-described "wildly unqualified host" admits that he at first tried to create a straightforward, straight-faced march through literary history, but found the result staid and lifeless. And so he loosened up, allowing in not just more of his personality but more of his doubts about the very literary enterprise in the 21st century.

Given that we get so much of our knowledge, human interaction, and pure wordcraft on the internet today, laments Wilson, what remains for novels, stories, poetry, and drama to provide us? As a History of Literature listener, I personally see things differently. The fact that we now have such abundant outlets from which to receive all those other things may strip literature of some of the relevance it once held by default, but it also lifts from literature a considerable burden. Just as the development of photography freed painting from the obligation to ever more faithfully represent reality, literature can now find forms and subjects better suited to the artistic experience that it, and only it, can deliver.

Jorge Luis Borges counts as only one of the writers who grasped the unexplored potential of literature, and Wilson uses one of the occasional episodes that breaks from the linearity of history to discuss the "Garden of Forking Paths" author's thoughts on the meaning of life. He recorded it (listen above) in response to two deaths: that of "Fifth Beatle" George Martin, and even more so that of his uncle. Other relatable parts of Wilson's life come into play in other conversations about writers both ancient and modern, such as the conversation about the works of Graham Greene and whether he can still get as much out of them as he did during his youthful traveling days. Literature, after all, may have no greater value than that it gets us asking questions — a value The History of Literature demonstrates in every episode. 

Related Content:

What Are Literature, Philosophy & History For? Alain de Botton Explains with Monty Python-Style Videos

A Crash Course in English Literature: A New Video Series by Best-Selling Author John Green

Entitled Opinions, the “Life and Literature” Podcast That Refuses to Dumb Things Down

The Dead Authors Podcast: H.G. Wells Comically Revives Literary Greats with His Time Machine

The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps Podcast, Now at 239 Episodes, Expands into Eastern Philosophy

The Complete History of the World (and Human Creativity) in 100 Objects

78 Free Online History Courses: From Ancient Greece to The Modern World

55 Free Online Literature Courses: From Dante and Milton to Kerouac and Tolkien

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Malcolm Gladwell on Why Genius Takes Time: A Look at the Making of Elvis Costello’s “Deportee” & Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”

costello cohen

In every musician's discography, one album has to rank at the bottom. In the case of the prolific and respected singer-songwriter Elvis Costello, fans and critics alike tend to single out 1984's Goodbye Cruel World, which even Costello himself once described as "our worst album." But with an artist like him doing the creating, even the duds hold a certain interest, or have a value at their core that emerges in unexpected ways. "Among the most discordant songs on the album was the forgettable 'The Deportees Club.' But then, years later, Costello went back and re-recorded it as 'Deportee,' and today it stands as one of his most sublime achievements."

That comes from "Halleluah," a recent episode of Revisionist History, the new podcast from Malcolm Gladwell that we first featured back in June. Here, perhaps the best-known curious journalistic mind of our time asks where genius comes from. Or, less abstractly, he asks about "the role that time and iteration play in the production of genius, and how some of the most memorable works of art had modest and undistinguished births." His other example from the realm of music gives the episode its title. It first appeared, in the same year as did Costello's "The Deportees Club," on Leonard Cohen's Various Positions, not making much of an impact until a cover by John Cale, and then more so one by Jeff Buckley, made it the "Hallelujah" we know today.

"That's awful," moans Gladwell, cutting off a clip of Costello's original "The Deportees Club" — this from a self-described Elvis Costello superfan, who in 1984 bought Goodbye Cruel World the week it came out, just like he bought every other Elvis Costello album the week it came out. He regarded it as unlistenable then and still regards it as unlistenable today, applying that adjective at least twice in this podcast alone. He goes easier on Cohen's original "Hallelujah," poking fun at its dirge-like seriousness. Then, being Malcolm Gladwell, he goes on to frame the story of how both songs became great---the former a personal obsession of his own, the latter a phenomenon covered by "nearly everyone"---in terms of a theory: some artists are Picasso, and others are Cézanne.

Artists of the Picasso model execute their works seemingly at a stroke, often after long periods spent consciously or unconsciously assembling a coherent vision. Artists of the Cézanne model execute, execute, and execute again, refining their way from an imperfect first product to a much more perfect final one. Sometimes the first iteration a Cézanne puts out emerges at the wrong time, the initial fate of "The Deportees Club" and "Hallelujah." Neither song, each by a musician in his own way unsuited to the climate of pop perfectionism that prevailed in the mid-1980s, found its form right away. Both would fit well into an institution I've long dreamed of called the Museum of First Drafts: enter and behold just how far a creation still needs to go even after its "creation"---even when created by a Costello, a Cohen or a Cézanne.

You can download Gladwell's episode here.

Related Content:

Rufus Wainwright and 1,500 Singers Sing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”

Street Artist Plays Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” With Crystal Glasses

Hear a Playlist of 300 Songs That Influenced Elvis Costello, Drawn From His New Memoir, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink

Malcolm Gladwell Has Launched a New Podcast, Revisionist History: Hear the First Episode

Malcolm Gladwell Asks Hard Questions about Money & Meritocracy in American Higher Education: Stream 3 Episodes of His New Podcast

Malcolm Gladwell: Taxes Were High and Life Was Just Fine

Malcolm Gladwell: What We Can Learn from Spaghetti Sauce

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Nakedly Examined Music Podcast Explores Songwriting with Cracker, King Crimson, Cutting Crew, Jill Sobule & More

I'm Mark Linsenmayer, the host of The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast, and I'd like to introduce you to a new-in-2016 interview series called Nakedly Examined Music (iTunes - FacebookRSS) that features great songwriters talking about their motivations and techniques regarding specific songs.

In episode one, for instance, indie rock icon and activist for artist rights David Lowery deconstructed the lyrics for his story songs "All Her Favorite Fruit" (Camper Van Beethoven, 1989) and "I Sold the Arabs the Moon" (from his 2011 solo album), contrasting these with the nonsense song that launched his career, "Take the Skinheads Bowling."

The songs discussed are played in full, and the idea is to get a sense of the artist's approach in very specific terms, and how this has changed over time. In episode 15, Craig Wedren shows us his development from writing heavy ("post-hardcore"), dissonant music in the 90s with Shudder to Think, to creating disco synthscapes with his early 00's band Baby, to now composing music for soundtracks like Netflix's "Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp."

The emphasis in a given interview depends on the artist: Guitar virtuoso Gary Lucas (Captain Beefheart, Jeff Buckley) eschews music theory, so the focus is more on the ideology of creation, whereas tap-guitar wizard Trey Gunn (King Crimson, David Sylvian) instructs us in combining time signatures and soloing in modes. The interviews both teach us how to listen to and appreciate music by showing us what to focus on, and also serve to instruct songwriters real and vicarious about decisions that go into a choice of chord or lyric or instrumentation.

What kind of music can you expect to hear? Officially, anything that has thought behind it, but I'm starting with my experience as musician (see and music lover growing up in the 80s and 90s listening to popular, indie, folk, punk, and progressive rock. There hare been some movement into soul (Episode 16 features the great Narada Michael Walden, who produced Whitney Houston among many others), electronica (Gareth Mitchell), country (Beth Kille), and future episodes will venture into classical, hip-hop, and world music. More typical, however (i.e. more akin to my own writing), are figures like 90s sweetheart and political activist Jill Sobule, cow-punk pioneer Jon Langford (Mekons), grunge-peddler turned symphonist Jonathan Donahue (Mercury Rev), NPR darling Chad Clark (Beauty Pill), and 80s Cutting Crew front-man Nick Eede. One of the episodes next to be released will feature Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson, Earthworks).

Listen to Jill Sobule in episode 18:

In one of the most interesting interviews (episode 3), major league music video director--and member of 70s supergroup 10cc and 80s duo Godley & Creme--Kevin Godley takes us from 70s prog excess (and getting to record jazz legend Sarah Vaughan) into the New Wave and out of music altogether, only to rediscover it post-retirement.

This is not about getting behind the scenes with your favorite stars or any other hype of that sort, but about talking with smart people to figure out the language of music, the motivations behind creation, and the techniques available for self-expression. In the course of these discussions, we get into changing trends in making a living in music (or not!), new music technologies, and, of course, philosophical issues.

Mark Linsenmayer is a writer and musician in Madison, WI. His Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast has been downloaded more than 15 million times. Learn more about Nakedly Examined Music at, subscribe via iTunes, or follow on Facebook.

Malcolm Gladwell Asks Hard Questions about Money & Meritocracy in American Higher Education: Stream 3 Episodes of His New Podcast

gladwell education

Image by Kris Krüg, via Flickr Commons

Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast kicked off this summer and in his very first episode, he took on the question of how women have broken into male-dominated fields, and the many reasons that so often hasn’t happened. Having set this tone, Gladwell asks in a more recent inquiry---a three-part series spanning Episodes 4 through 7---a similar question about what we might call meritocracy in education, a value fundamental to liberal democracy, however that’s interpreted. As Gladwell puts it in “Carlos Doesn’t Remember,” "This is what civilized societies are supposed to do: to provide opportunities for people to make the most of their ability. So that if you're born poor, you can move up. If you work hard, you can improve your life.”

Over some sentimental, homespun orchestration, Gladwell points out that Americans have told ourselves that this is our birthright, “that every kid can become president.” We have seen ourselves this way despite the fact that at the country’s origin, higher offices were solely the property of propertied men, a small minority even then. Lest we forget, for all their good intentions, Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack and later collection, “The Way to Wealth,” were written as satires, “relentlessly scathing social and political commentary,” writes Jill Lepore, that mock wishful thinking and exaggerated ambition even as they offer helpful hints for organized, diligent living. Americans, the more cynical of us might think, have always believed impossible things, and the myth of meritocracy is one of them.

But Gladwell, skimming past the cultural history, wants to genuinely ask the question, “is it true? Is the system geared to serve the poor smart kid, or the rich smart kid?” Apart from our beliefs and political ideologies, what can we really say about what he calls, in economics terms, “the rate of capitalization” in the U.S.? This number, Gladwell explains, measures “the percentage of people in any group who are able to reach their potential." Better than “its GDP, or its growth rate, or its per-capita income,” a society’s capitalization rate, he says, allows us to judge "how successful and just” a country is—and in the case of the U.S. in particular, how much it lives up to its ideals.

The first episode in the series (Episode 4 of the podcast, stream it above) introduces us to Gladwell’s first subject, Carlos, a very bright high school student in Los Angeles, and Eric Eisner, a retired entertainment lawyer who devotes his time to scouting out talented kids from low income families and helping them get into private schools. Eisner did exactly that for Carlos, finding him a place in an upscale private Brentwood school in the fifth grade. Early in Gladwell’s interview with Carlos, the question of what James Heckman at Boston Review identifies as the “non-cognitive characteristics” that inhibit social success comes up. These are as often “physical and mental health” and the soft skills of social interaction as they are access to something as seemingly mundane as a pair of tennis shoes that fit.

Carlos, a “really, really gifted kid,” Gladwell reiterates, cannot make it into and through the complicated social system of private school without Eisner, who bought him new tennis shoes, and who provides other material and social forms of support for the students he mentors. Students like Carlos, Gladwell argues, need not only mentors, but patrons in the mold of an ancient Roman patrician: “not just any advocate: a high-powered guy with lots of connections, who can get you in and watch over you.” The key to class mobility, in other words, lies with the arbitrary noblesse oblige of those who have already made it, generally with some considerable advantages of their own. The remainder of the episode explores the obvious and non-obvious problems with this modern-day patronage system.

In “Food Fight,” the next part of the mini-series on “capitalization,” Gladwell and his colleagues open the door on the world of prestigious liberal arts colleges’ dining services, starting at Bowdoin College in Maine, a place where the food services are “in a whole different class." Bowdoin’s excellent food, Gladwell argues, represents a “moral problem.” To help us understand, he makes a direct comparison with Bowdoin’s elite competitor, Vassar College, whose student dining is more in line with what most of us experienced at college; in one student’s understated phrase, there’s “room for improvement.” What the food comparison illustrates is this: when many elite institutions doubled their financial aid budgets a decade or so ago to increase enrollment of low-income students, other budget lines, so Vassar’s president claims, took such a hit that food, facilities, and other services suffered.

Vassar’s current president transformed the student body from primarily full-tuition-paying students to primarily students “who pay very little.” The egalitarian move means the college must lean too heavily on its endowment and on the paying students. Gladwell doesn’t delve into what we’ve also been hearing about for at least the last decade: as institutions like Vassar accept and fund increasing numbers of low-income students, other schools charged legally with providing for the public good, like the University of California system, have raised tuition to levels unaffordable to thousands of prospective students.

Colleges across the country may have raised tuition rates to their current astronomical levels in part to better fund poorer applicants, but they have also faced stiff criticism for spending huge amounts on athletics, building projects, and exorbitant administrative salaries. The food comparison presents us with an either/or scenario, but the moral problem inhabits a much grayer reality than Gladwell acknowledges. Likewise, in the story of Carlos, we come to understand why smart kids from poor neighborhoods face so many impediments once they arrive at elite institutions. But we don’t hear about why so many poor kids fail to achieve at all due to what what Heckman calls “the principle source of inequality today"---children born into poverty begin life at a severe disadvantage from the very start, leading to social divisions of the “skilled and unskilled” even in early childhood.

We do get a broader picture in the final episode in the series, “My Little Hundred Millions,” in which Gladwell looks into another moral problem: In the story of Henry Rowan, who in the early ‘90s donated $100 million to a tiny university in New Jersey, we see a stark contrast to the way most philanthropists operate, almost as a rule making their generous gifts to elite, already wealthy schools like Harvard, Stanford, and Yale. This system of philanthropy perpetuates inequality in higher education and keeps elite institutions elite, even as---in places like Vassar---it gives them the reserve capital they need to fund lower-income students. Like any complex institutional system with a long, tangled history of exclusion and privilege, higher education in the U.S. offers us a very good model for studying inequality.

To hear Gladwell's full assessment of meritocracy or “capitalization,” you’ll need to listen to the full series as it builds on each example to make its larger point. Each episode's webpage also includes links to reference documents and featured books so that you can continue the investigation on your own, correcting for the podcast’s blind spots and biases. What Gladwell’s series does well, as do many of his pop sociological bestsellers, is give us concrete examples that run up against many of our abstract preconceptions. It’s an interesting approach—structuring an extended look at exceptionalism and its problems around three exceptional cases. But it is these cases, with all their complications and complexity, that often get lost in over-generalized discussions about higher education and the myths and realities of social mobility.

Related Content:

Malcolm Gladwell Has Launched a New Podcast, Revisionist History: Hear the First Episode

Malcolm Gladwell: Taxes Were High and Life Was Just Fine

Malcolm Gladwell: What We Can Learn from Spaghetti Sauce

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Atlantic Slave Trade Visualized in Two Minutes: 10 Million Lives, 20,000 Voyages, Over 315 Years

Not since the sixties and seventies, with the black power movement, flowering of Afrocentric scholarship, and debut of Alex Haley’s Roots, novel and mini-series, has there been so much popular interest in the history of slavery. We have seen Roots remade; award-winning books like Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told climb bestseller lists; and The Freedman’s Bureau Project’s digitization of 1.5 million slavery-era documents gives citizen-scholars the tools to research the history on their own.

In addition to these developments, Slate magazine has designed a multipart, multimedia course, “The History of American Slavery,” as part of its online educational initiative, “Slate Academy.” Hosted by Slate’s Jamelle Bouie and Rebecca Onion and featuring guest historians like Baptist, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Annette Gordon-Reed, Eric Foner and more, this thorough survey consists of a nine-part podcast, with copious supplementary essays, book excerpts, and other resources drawing on primary documents and artifacts. One supplement, the animation above, shows us the “The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes.”

Visualizing 315 years—“from the trade’s beginning in the 16th century to its conclusion in the 19th"—the animation displays slave ships as increasing numbers of black dots zipping across the Atlantic to the Americas from the African coasts. The dots “also correspond to the size of each voyage. The larger the dot, the more enslaved people on board.” The Youtube video above provides only a partial representation of this impressive graphic. The full animation at Slate allows users to pause, click on individual dots, and get detailed information, when available, about the name of the ship, number of enslaved people transported, and points of origin and entry in the New World.

In all, we see animated “more than 20,000 voyages catalogued in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.” And though we typically, with typical U.S. solipsism, think of American slavery as a mostly North American phenomenon, the truth is quite the contrary:

Of the more than 10 million enslaved Africans to eventually reach the Western Hemisphere, just 388,747—less than 4 percent of the total—came to North America. This was dwarfed by the 1.3 million brought to Spanish Central America, the 4 million brought to British, French, Dutch, and Danish holdings in the Caribbean, and the 4.8 million brought to Brazil.

Early slave expeditions were conducted by the Spanish and Portuguese. “In the 1700s,” writes Bouie, “Spanish transport diminishes and is replaced (and exceeded) by British, French, Dutch, and—by the end of the century---American activity. This hundred years---from approximately 1725 to 1825---is also the high-water mark of the slave trade, as Europeans send more than 7.2 million people to forced labor, disease and death in the New World.” Surprisingly, Portugal remained one of the leading nations among enslavers for most of the slave-trade’s history.

The animation and short explanatory essay by Bouie show us the staggering historical scope of the immensely profitable and profoundly inhumane enterprise that shaped not only the United States, but also---in many ways more so---Central and South America and the Caribbean. There is no history of the Americas, and no growth of many of the colonies into wealthy, world-historical nations, without slavery, nor can the wealth of Europe be in any way divorced from the profits of the slave trade and slave industry. Bouie and Onion explain in the short video above why they decided to produce the course.

For a sense of how historians’ and the public’s understanding of slavery have changed over many decades—for all kinds of ideological reasons---read this excerpt from Baptist’s groundbreaking book. As he says in an interview with Salon, most histories and recreations of the period of enslavement attempt to hide the facts: “The resistance to reckoning with the role of slavery in the trajectory that makes the U.S. the most powerful nation on earth, that’s real; that’s very, very deep…. Whatever we say about the role of the U.S. in global history, it’s absolutely clear to me that slavery is essential to the rise of U.S. power.” Slate’s series goes a long way toward telling us the true history of slavery, from the mouths of writers and scholars who engage with it daily.

Related Content:

1.5 Million Slavery Era Documents Will Be Digitized, Helping African Americans to Learn About Their Lost Ancestors

Crowdsourced Database Will Locate the Burial Sites of Forgotten US Slaves

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

« Go BackMore in this category... »