Second Decade

This is a historical show examining the momentous events and interesting people of the second decade of the 19th century, the 1810s. From Jefferson to Napoleon, from Iceland to Antarctica, historian Sean Munger will give you a tour of the decade's most fascinating highlights.

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A historical show examining the fascinating events and people of the second decade of the 19th century (the 1810s), hosted by historian Sean Munger.
🇬🇧 English
last modified
2019-11-09 12:56
last episode published
2019-10-13 18:06
publication frequency
19.96 days
Sean Munger author   owner  
Number of Episodes
Detail page
Society & Culture History



Date Thumb Title & Description Contributors

Year Without Summer, Part II

For many people around the world, 1816 was the oddest summer they ever lived through. Snow from the previous winter was still left in places well into the deep summer; rains and floods lashed central Europe; New England was cold and parched; and nearly...
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Year Without Summer, Part I

The “Year Without Summer,” 1816, is one of those things that many people have heard of, but very few know anything substantive about. It was the largest environmental event of the Second Decade. Two volcanic eruptions, one from an unknown mountain in 1...
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The Fires of St. John's

In the 1810s, St. John’s, Newfoundland was possibly the most remote and inaccessible corner of British America. Located on an island that was often icebound in the winter months, St. John’s was far from self-sufficient, depending on the Royal Navy for ...
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Jane Austen is rightly considered perhaps the greatest British novelist of her day, or any age. Her novels about women, marriage and family among the English gentry, especially Pride and Prejudice, have defined how we think about British society in the...
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Tomb Raider

One of the most bizarre and mysterious cultures in human history, ancient Egypt still holds considerable interest for us today. This was even more true in the 1810s, not long after battles between France and Britain in the region of the Nile brought Eu...
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Caragea's Plague

If you’ve never heard of John Caragea and have no idea where Wallachia is, you’re certainly not alone. This look at the seamy underbelly of Eastern Europe in the 1810s may be obscure, but it’s no less fascinating than anything else covered on Second De...
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For most of human history, Antarctica was more of a concept than a reality. Geographers from ancient times and voyagers in the Age of Discovery supposed there was a continent at the bottom of the world, but no one had actually seen it, and some, like C...
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Second Decade Update and Special Appeal

It’s been a while—too long—since the last episode of Second Decade. In this brief bonus episode, Sean Munger talks to you, the listeners, about the future of the show (yes, it is continuing), some announcements of other podcasts he’s going to be on, an...
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Off Topic: The 80s (Jake's 88 Special, Part III)

This bonus episode, the third one released in conjunction with Sean Munger’s newly-released novel Jake’s 88 (which is set in the 80s), examines how the 1980s ended and the transition to a new decade. In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of Soviet...
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Off Topic: The 80s (Jake's 88 Special, Part II)

This bonus episode, the second one released in conjunction with Sean Munger’s upcoming novel Jake’s 88 (which is set in the 80s), examines the political, cultural and social history of the 1980s. Sean begins with two dreadful disasters in 1988 involvin...
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The Monster of Gloucester

 In the summer of 1817, residents of the coastal town of Gloucester, Massachusetts suddenly began seeing a mysterious creature swimming around in their harbor. Though reports differed as to exactly what the monster looked like, how long it was and how ...
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Off Topic: The 80s (Jake's 88 Special, Part I)

This bonus episode, released in conjunction with Sean Munger’s upcoming novel Jake’s 88 (which is set in the 80s), examines the political, cultural and social history of the 1980s and why, far from being simply a grab-bag of pop culture tropes, this de...
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Napoleon's Hundred Days, Part III

“Waterloo” is a name so historic and iconic that it’s taken on more than its literal meaning—when we speak of someone “meeting their Waterloo,” we’re talking about their final epic defeat. Napoleon Bonaparte certainly did meet that end on the farm fiel...
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Napoleon's Hundred Days, Part II

In retellings of history, Napoleon’s brief return to power in the spring of 1815 is often portrayed as an audacious surprise, the ultimate comeback from an indefatigable historical personality. Actually it wasn’t. Having returned to Paris and run off t...
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Napoleon's Hundred Days, Part I

Napoleon was the kind of guy who didn’t know when the party was over. Following his disastrous defeat in Russia in 1812 (chronicled in Episodes 10-12 of this podcast) and yet another war in Europe, Napoleon’s enemies invaded France and forced him off t...
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Off Topic: Astoria, A Pacific Journey

This is a bonus episode which goes outside the parameters of the main Second Decade show. Astoria, Oregon was founded in 1811 as an outpost for fur trapping and trading on the Northwest coast, and was intended to be a crucial part of a global empire of...
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Off Topic: The Oak Island Folly

This is a bonus episode which goes outside the parameters of the main Second Decade show. Sometime in the middle of the 19th century, somebody got it in their head that there was a cache of fabulous treasure buried on a remote island in Mahone Bay, Nov...
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Bolivar, Part III

At the end of the Second Decade, after many tumultuous years of war and revolution, Spain’s colonial empire in the New World began to collapse at a rapid rate. It was due in no small part to Simón Bolívar and his daring military conquests, which were c...
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Bolivar, Part II

The process of detaching Latin America from three centuries of colonial Spanish rule was hardly a linear one. SimĂłn BolĂ­var, the most important but hardly the only revolutionary in Venezuela and New Granada (Colombia), came in and out of exile several ...
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Bolivar, Part I

Simón Bolívar is one of the giants of Latin American history, with statutes, portraits and monuments to him everywhere from Panama to Tierra del Fuego, and even an entire country—Bolivia—bears his name. But how much do you really know about him? Where ...
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Dawn of the Zulu

Pressured by environmental change and the coming of European colonizers along the coasts, southern Africa in the 1810s was a complicated and dangerous place. Numerous small interrelated clans were competing for dwindling resources in increasingly margi...
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The Great Iceland Road Trip

Iceland was, in 1809, a very different place than we think of it today. It was still a picturesque, craggy island belching steam and lava from its many geysers and volcanic vents, but far from being a progressive society of generally wealthy people who...
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Off Topic: The White House, Part II

What was the White House really like in the early part of the 19th century? Always under construction, reconstruction, redecoration or renovation, the President’s house was like a child that could never sit still, or like a living organism changing con...
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The White House, Part I

Originally built in the 1790s largely with slave labor, from the very beginning the White House was an eerie mirror of American society, including its original sin of slavery. But the house as it was originally constructed stood for only a few years. D...
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Australia, Part II

Though it started as a convenient dumping ground for Britain’s human refuse, the colony of Australia was not destined to remain a prison forever. Despite the grandiose plans of some of its visionaries, however—like Lachlan Macquarie, Colonial Governor—...
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Australia, Part I

In the 1810s, the British penal colony of Australia, known then as New South Wales, was barely 20 years old. Already it had sunk into a morass of drunkenness, corruption and hopelessness, even suffering a military coup by the soldiers tasked to keep th...
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Second Decade Off Topic: Benihana Nights

This is an Off Topic episode, involving historical topics outside the scope of the main podcast. This episode spins off Episode 27 of the main podcast (“The Belle of Nagasaki”). Japan and the United States face each other across the largest, most conte...

27: The Belle of Nagasaki

In the Second Decade, Japan was the most exotic, unknown and isolated country in the world. Since the early 17th century the Tokugawa Shoguns had deliberately closed the country to trade and cultural exchange with the rest of the globe, wanting especia...

26: The Queenston Hostages

In October 1812, over 900 American troops surrendered to the British after the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Most of these P.O.W.s were exchanged immediately, but the British singled out 23 specific men among them and refused to...

Second Decade Off Topic: The Sunn Also Rises

This is the first in a projected series of bonus episodes called Second Decade: Off Topic, which examine historical topics outside the scope of the main podcast. This episode spins off a matter mentioned in Episode 25 of the main podcast (“The Man in t...

25: The Man in the Buffalo Fur Suit

You’ve probably heard of Daniel Boone and “Grizzly” Adams, the quintessential frontier mountain men who helped forge America’s frontier identity in the 19th century. But you’ve probably never heard of Estwick Evans. An eccentric New Hampshire lawyer, s...

24: New England's Cold Friday

Church steeples, horse-drawn sleighs, picket fences, snow-covered this what you think of when you picture an old-time winter in New England? The cultural and historical roots of these images go back to Colonial times, but the historical rea...

23: Murder in Charleston

You may not have heard of David Ramsay, but if you lived in Charleston, South Carolina in the second decade, you would probably know him—if you were part of the city’s rich white elite, that is. Ramsay, born in Pennsylvania, Princeton-educated, served ...

22: Old Ironsides

The early months of the War of 1812 served up a relentless drumbeat of bad news for the United States: our untrained and ill-equipped forces, fighting a war they were unprepared for in the first place, suffered reverse after reverse on the battlefield....

21: Frankenstein

The image and concept of Frankenstein’s monster—most notably personified by Boris Karloff in the 1931 Universal horror film—are indelible in literature, cinema and popular culture. Far more than just an 1818 novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Franke...

20: Second Decade on Film

Since the beginning of film as a narrative and artistic medium, historical events and eras have been popular subjects for filmmakers. The decade of the 1810s, however, has not tended to show up in movies or on TV as frequently or consistently as other ...

19: Curious King George

Despite being one of the longest-reigning British monarchs as well as wildly popular among his own people, King George III gets a bad rap as the “mad king who lost America.” In truth the story of George’s life is touching and sad. After dealing with no...

18: Let China Sleep

Despite seeming to the West as if it was “sleeping,” China in the 1810s was in fact experiencing the crucial transition of the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty from its cultural and political zenith under the Qianlong Emperor to the ruin and chaos that would ramp...

17: The War of 1812, Part III

The year 1814 was one of the bleakest in American history. It opened with the country embroiled in war, with most of its coast blockaded by the British Navy, the economy collapsing, the frontiers aflame with violence, and the government teetering on th...

16: The War of 1812, Part II

Having declared war at a time it was woefully unprepared to face the world’s most powerful country on the battlefield, the United States spent the first phase of the War of 1812—at least on land—lurching from disaster to disaster, with most efforts aim...

15: The War of 1812, Part I

What was the War of 1812? Which countries were involved? What were the stakes? Why is it so obscure? Why does it have such a funny name? How come you were never taught much about it in school? These questions, and many more, lie at the heart of underst...

14: Down& Out at Harvard

Harvard, America’s first college, is thought of as a bastion of privileged patricians, a place filled with old brick buildings, ivy-covered walls and inscrutable ancient traditions. But it’s also a real college where real young people live, learn, stru...

13: Kid Lincoln

Most of us were taught in school about Abraham Lincoln’s humble origins: the log cabin on the Kentucky frontier, his lack of formal education, and colorful tales of rail splitting and backwoods adventures. But the traditional American mythology leaves ...

12: Napoleon in Russia, Part III

Why did Napoleon, with the largest army the world had ever seen up until that time, lose his war with Russia so badly and so tragically? You may have heard that it’s because he didn’t take the threat of the cold Russian climate seriously enough, and hi...

11: Napoleon in Russia, Part II

Despite being warned repeatedly—by his enemy, Tsar Alexander, and even by some of his own generals—Napoleon Bonaparte, the self-proclaimed Emperor of France, made one of the costliest and most lethal mistakes in the history of warfare by invading Russi...

10: Napoleon in Russia, Part I

In the summer of 1812 Napoleon’s France invaded Russia, ruled by Tsar Alexander I, with the largest army ever assembled in pre-modern times. Leo Tolstoy famously called this conflict “an event opposed to human reason and human nature.” How and why did ...

9: Theodosia

On New Year’s Eve, 1812, Theodosia Burr Alston, First Lady of South Carolina and daughter of former U.S. Vice-President Aaron Burr, boarded a ship bound for New York City and was never seen alive again. More than 50 years later, in Nag’s Head, North Ca...

8: Christmas 1814

Second Decade wishes you happy holidays with this Christmas-themed episode. Of all the Christmases of the 1810s, the year 1814 stands out as especially significant. The world was celebrating its first holiday season in over two decades in the midst of ...

7: Volcano

On the island of Sumbawa, in what is now Indonesia but was previously called the East Indies, there is a collapsed, sunken shell of a volcano that was once a mighty peak taller than Mt. Fuji in Japan. On a warm spring night in 1815 this mountain, Tambo...

6: Jefferson in Winter

When Thomas Jefferson retired from public life in 1809 after serving two terms as U.S. President, he thought his retirement years at Monticello, his Virginia plantation, would be peaceful, quiet and relaxing. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Utterly b...