Explaining History

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Fifteen minutes of 20th Century History for students and enthusiasts.

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Fifteen minutes of 20th Century History for students and enthusiasts.
🇬🇧 English
last modified
2019-06-18 17:50
last episode published
2019-06-17 23:00
publication frequency
5.47 days
Nick Shepley author   owner  
Number of Episodes
Detail page
Society & Culture History



Date Thumb Title & Description Contributors

The militarisation of the SS 1933-39

By 1939 the Camp SS, normally responsible for controlling prisons such as Dachau was equipped and trained to fight at the front line. This podcast explores the evolution of its role.

Mao's Famine and Szechuan Province 1958-62

In four years between 1958-62 a catastrophic famine in China killed 40 million people and a quarter of those died in Szechuan, a food rich province. This podcast explores the wilful blindness of Mao and the corruption of the communist party that cost s...

Indian soldiers and the defence of Egypt in 1914-15

At the start of the First World War, Egypt and the Suez Canal were vital to the functioning of the British Empire and were under huge pressure from an Ottoman offensive. However, it was Muslim, Seikh and Hindu Indian soldiers from a British India riven...

Social conflict in Spain 1933

After two short years of social reform under the socialist PSOE party in Spain a new right wing government came to power led by the conservative party CEDA. In the following two years poverty, hunger and violence tore apart the modest gains made by Spa...

The escalation of the French Vietnamese War 1946-9

By the end of 1946 a guerrilla war was being waged by the new Democratic Republic of Vietnam against the colonial French in the south, but developments over the next three years would radically expand the scope of the conflict to make it the 'first tot...

Creating a new podcast for Explaining History - an appeal to listeners

Hi everyone, I'm sending out this podcast today to invite you all to collaborate in the creation of a new podcast focusing on contemporary political, social, environmental and other crises, challenges and debates. Please get in touch if you'd like to b...

The Truman Doctrine 1947

In 1947 US President Harry Truman was forced to commit to the defence of Greece and Turkey against the possibility of communist victories in the Greek civil war and the threat of Soviet pressure on Turkey. The British had been forced to end their commi...

The Fall of Singapore 1942

The island fortress of Singapore was meant to be an unassailable bastion of British imperial power in Asia. Its fall in February 1942 was the biggest humiliation for the British of the entire war and doomed the British empire in Asia.

Nazi Propaganda and the camp system 1933-39

By the end of the 1930s the Nazi regime had successfully directed public opinion in favour of the concentration camp system. As the decade wore on gradual apathy and disinterest in the camp system was a defining feature of public attitudes towards mass...

Ernest Bevin and Britain's World Role 1945-48

In 1945 a Labour Government swept to power at the end of the Second World War, it had an agenda of domestic social reform but considerable foreign policy commitments. Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin was an advocate of National Service to meet Britain's ...

Britain, France and Vietnam 1945-7

In the aftermath of the Second World War the British gave assistance and support to the French in their attempts to recolonise Vietnam. French colonialists deliberately sabotaged negotiations with Ho Chi Minh and led to the outbreak of war in December ...

The Fall of Malaya 1941

In December 1941, hours before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, a naval invasion of Malaya began. Poor planning and a collective denial on the part of British colonialists that the Japanese were a serious threat led to the rapid collapse of Britai...

Mao and 'Red Star over China' 1936

One book more than any other propelled Mao to global significance, 13 years before he seized power in China. It was called Red Star Over China and was written by an ambitious and often naive American journalist, Edgar Snow.

Austria, Germany and popular attitudes in the July Crisis 1914

What did ordinary Austrians and Germans think, feel and believe during the July Crisis of 1914? This podcast explores how the murder of a widely disliked archduke who was assassinated in 1914 presents largely apathetic populations in both countries wit...

Churchill's government and the Nazi invasion of the USSR 1941

In 1941, despite believing that thee USSR could not last against a Nazi invasion for more than a month, Churchill and his cabinet rejoiced at the news that they were no longer fighting the war alone and planned to offer the USSR whatever assistance the...

Soviet Occupation and Liberation 1945

How did everyone from German citizens to concentration camp survivors, war ravaged citizens of Poland and partisans across eastern Europe encounter the Red Army in 1945? In some cases violent conquerors and in others as liberators.

Lenin, Stalin and the Soviet Peasants 1918-27

By 1927 the situation of the Soviet peasantry had just about stabilised from the famine years of the Russian Civil War. However, both Lenin and Stalin looked upon the peasantry and especially the wealthier peasants with barely concealed disgust and sus...

The Nazi Camps and the 'workshy'

For those unable or unwilling to offer manual labour in service of the Nazi volksgemeinschaft, mass arrests and imprisonment in the growing camp system was an ever present threat. The Nazi camps by 1938 were full of 'asocial' prisoners who were arreste...

The Maoist takeover of China 1949

Following the end of a bloody civil war in China, the communist party began to rapidly seize the levers of power and create class categorisations for the population. Control of the police and a network of communist spies and informers began a wave of r...

British decision making and the Dardanelles Campaign 1915

A complete absence of intelligence about new German guns along the Dardanelles led Britain into a disastrous campaign against the Ottoman Empire in 1915, in the hope that naval power alone could defeat Germany's ally and lead to a break through away fr...

America's cold war cross roads 1946-7

By 1946 America's political class, it's intellectuals and opinion formers and the population as a whole was broadly anti Soviet but had not committed to any major confrontation with the USSR. It would take changes in world circumstances in 1947 to brin...

Artillery and Intelligence: Breaking the deadlock 1918

After three years of fixed positions, trenches and deadlock, the First World War became a conflict of rapid movement again in 1918. This podcast explores how military innovation made this possible, focusing on artillery and intelligence.

Stalinist consumerism and advertising

Between 1928 and 1935, bread rationing in the USSR had been implemented due to the extraction of foodstuffs from the peasantry for export and Stalin's disastrous collectivisation policy. In 1935 Stalin signalled a shift towards consumerism, but many So...

The Long Telegram and the Iron Curtain Speech: February - March 1946

In a two month period Truman's policy towards the Soviet Union became more entrenched in the face of Soviet advances in eastern Europe and Iran. Truman, with little foreign policy experience was swayed by wartime diplomats such as George Kennan and the...

Austria, Germany and the Armistice 1918

By October 1918, the resolve of the central powers to carry on the war was crumbling. The Austro Hungarian Empire fragmented following a manifesto by the new emperor Karl promising a federal future and German resolve finally ended with the German revol...

Lysenkoism, eugenics and the USSR

During the Stalin era, the science of genetics came under a sustained attack and was denounced as a bourgeois ideology. This podcast explores the changing thinking of British communist scientist J.B.S. Haldane and the Stalinist fraud Trofim Lysenko

The British Empire and the Mandate system 1919

How did a combination of Wilsonian liberal internationalism and British colonial ideas about civilisation intersect with Britain's objectives in expanding its territories after the First World War? The Mandate system for administering German and Ottoma...

Criminal Prisoners in the Nazi Camps

In 1937 there was a dramatic increase in the numbers of petty criminals being arrested, re-arrested and taken into the Nazi camp system. There were deep seated economic reasons for this assault on Germany's small time thieves and burglars, and precious...

John Lennon and Give Peace a Chance 1969

The recording of the anti war protest song Give Peace a Chance in 1969 was part of a complex and often contradictory period of political journeying by John Lennon as he abandoned the Beatles and embraced different forms of political and psychoanalytica...

Hero Culture in Stalin's Russia 1928-41

In the mid 1930s a celebration of the achievements of workers, aviators, explorers and peasants accompanied Stalin's Five Year Plans. This championing of the 'everyday' hero was the product of Stalinist thinking and a utopian belief in the creation of ...

Talking about Europe - Interview with Jacob Field

This week I was fortunate enough to interview Jacob Field, the author of A history of Europe in bite sized chunks. We discussed the future of the EU, the nature of medieval Christendom and the legacy of Churchill's wartime diplomacy among other topics.

The expansion of the Indian Army 1939-43

During the Second World War the Indian Army grew in size by a factor of ten. This radical transformation would have profound consequences for post war India and the independence movement.

Harold Wilson and Britain's 'special relationship' with America 1964-5

In the mid 1960s a weak pound and the Vietnam War combined to place pressure on Anglo American relations and the belief in the mind of British prime minister Harold Wilson of the diplomatic 'special relationship' between America and Britain.

Truman's foreign policy problems 1945-46

In 1945, following the death of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, a foreign policy novice, was determined to take a tough line with the Soviet Union but was no match for Stalin, despite the detonation of America's first atomic bombs, ending the war wit...

Berlin and Munich in the 1920s

Before the First World War, Munich was the home of Germany's avante garde, with vibrant socialist and anarchist parties, whereas Berlin was the home of militarism and conservatism. By the mid 1920s, this had reversed, with Munich producing Nazism and B...

Asocial prisoners in the Nazi camp system

One key part of Nazi racial policy was the 'cleansing of the aryan racial body', which meant extreme repressive policies to poor, criminal, deviant and unemployed Germans who did not conform to the stereotype of German masculinity or femininity. For th...

Soviet utopianism and the construction of Stalinist Russia

In the 1930s a generation of young Soviet citizens were motivated to work for the development of a socialist society. Massive urban reconstruction projects, an obsession with aviation and the development of a new urban Stalinist aesthetic began to dram...

The Ottoman Empire and the First World War 1914 (PT1)

Between August and October 1914, the Ottoman Empire attempted to play both sides in the First World War off against the other. The empire pledged to Germany that it would go to war against Russia and its allies, while offering reassurances to the Russi...

Roosevelt, Truman and Cold War diplomacy 1944-46

The death of Roosevelt in 1945 left Harry Truman a politician with limited foreign policy experience surrounded by Roosevelt's top aides and ministers. Truman had little knowledge of international affairs and yet was far quicker to take a stand against...

Kazakhstan's Dark Shadows: An interview with journalist Joanna Lillis

This is a special feature length episode of the Explaining History podcast, featuring an interview with Joanna Lillis who brings with her thirteen years of experience in Kazakhstan. We discuss the experience of the communism, free market capitalism, fa...

Britain and conscription 1945-49

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, Britain's wartime policy of national service continued as a result of Britain's acute need for military manpower around the world. This podcast explores the politics of national service and its origin...

Utopian thinking and everyday life in Stalin's Russia

Despite the hunger, hardship and terror, a generation of young Soviet citizens were committed to a bright vision of the future where technology conquered nature and a modern socialist society emerged.

The Battle of Vittorio Venetto - October 1918

Italy's final offensive of the First World War and the only outright victory the Italian army gained, as fought with French and British help but begun after Austria Hungary had called for an armistice.

Mao, Stalin and Khrushchev: 1949-57

When Stalin died, Mao felt entitled to lead the world communist movement and looked upon Khrushchev as an insignificant upstart. However, Soviet attitudes towards China only brought about greater resentment between the two powers, with catastrophic con...

The Nazi Party and Germany's working class 1933

In 1933 the Nazi Party came to power and encountered a once powerful workers movement that was now deeply weakened and which hoped for compromise. Hitler was determined to destroy the trade unions which he believed were the source of Germany's downfall...

The Armenian Legionnaires 1914-21

Review of Susan Paul Pattie's Armenian Legionnaires, published by IB Tauris.

Oswald Mosley and post war British fascism 1945-66

In the aftermath of the Second World War, British fascist Oswald Mosley, free from internment, attempted to revive his political career. In the 1950s he used non white immigration to re-build a political platform but this met in the end with political ...

Amateurism, incompetence and the Bolshevik seizure of power

In the immediate aftermath of the October Revolution, there was a power vacuum in Petrograd that the Bolsheviks seemed to fill in name only. The new Bolshevik government had the loosest grasp on power but were able to effectively channel violence.

American society and foreign policy 1945-47

In 1945 there was every chance that America might retreat into isolationism once more. The US population sought to avoid overseas commitments, but the American foreign policy establishment recognised that in the new conditions of the Cold War, they wer...

Stalinism and the black market 1928-39

The shortages of the command economy and the failings of Stalinism made speculation, theft and the black market an essential part of everyday life in the Soviet Union