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Footnoting History

Footnoting History


Welcome to Footnoting History! For links to further reading suggestions, a calendar of upcoming episodes, and the complete episode archive, visit us at!


54° 40' or Fight: How a Latitude Line became a Rallying Cry  

(Elizabeth) How could a line of latitude become a rallying cry for war in the 19th century? Elizabeth examines the Oregon Border Dispute and explains the myths and passions surrounding the slogan.

Ghosts of Christmas Past  

(Lucy) The Victorians gave the English-speaking world a lot of Christmas traditions: trees, the exchange of cards… and, less famously, ghost stories. This week’s episode looks at the historical origins of Victorian England’s Christmas hauntings, and how they expressed the beliefs and anxieties of the age, and even, sometimes, its sense of humor as well.

Olga Nethersole and the Sapho Scandal  

(Christine) ​In early 1900, actress Olga Nethersole and several of her colleagues were indicted for their roles in the production of a play. Find out what caused them to be called "of wicked and depraved mind and disposition" when Christine covers the scandal that made New York City headlines.

Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon  

(Elizabeth) How did passenger pigeons, which numbered in the millions in the mid-19th century, become extinct in just over 50 years? Elizabeth explains the birds’ sudden decline as she discusses the life and death of Martha, the last passenger pigeon.

The Un-Engagement of Jane Austen  

(Christine) Jane Austen’s novels contain many courtships and brides, but the author herself never married. In this episode, Christine will delve into the time in Jane’s life when she could have become a wife and introduce you to Harris Bigg-Wither, the man who sought her hand.

History for Halloween III  

​(Christine, Lucy, Lesley) We're celebrating the creepiest of holidays with our third edition of History for Halloween. Join us for a selection of (true!) tales covering everything from haunted farmers to the bizarre fate of Oliver Cromwell's head.

Poison in Colonial India  

(Lesley) Datura is a beautiful flower found throughout India. It is also a minor poison which has a storied past in local folklore. How did locals use this plant in medicine and local conflict? Join us as we explore local tradition and crime through the eyes of British officials.

The (Failed) Republic of Fredonia  

(Nathan) Most people think of Fredonia as the fictitious country of the Marx Brothers film, Duck Soup, but Fredonia was actually a country...sort of.  In 1826, a hot-tempered Virginian 'colonist' named Hayden Edwards created an alliance with a local Cherokee tribe and led a short-lived rebellion against Mexican rule in East Texas that resulted in his proclamation of the Republic of Fredonia, which existed for just over a month. In this episode, we explore the circumstances surrounding Edwards' rebellion, the colony he created, and the aftermath of Fredonia's collapse.

Tycho Brahe: The Astronomer with a Copper Nose  

(Samantha) Tycho Brahe was born into the Danish aristocracy at a time when noblemen normally didn’t follow academic pursuits. But he found himself so fascinated by astronomy that he decided to flout tradition as he did with his marriage and many other aspects of his personal life. His observations changed the way scientists perceived the heavens, even if he didn't get things quite right.

The Rise of the British Spy Novel  

(Lucy) Death rays, invasions, and bombs, oh my! From Kipling’s “Great Game” to John Buchan’s 39 Steps, the rise of espionage in fiction mirrored British anxieties about the world and its place in it. Idealism and social criticism were often closely linked, with unlikely heroes (and sometimes heroines) being plucked from obscurity to save the day… and sometimes the world. This episode discusses how the tropes of British spy fiction were formed and transcended in the first half of the twentieth century.

The Murder of Sweden's King Gustav III  

(Christine) Louis XVI of France wasn't the only European king to die at the hands of his subjects in the 1790s. In this episode Christine examines the life and dramatic assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden.

The Life of Beatrice de Planissoles  

(Nathan) In the hills of Southern France in the fourteenth century lived a woman named Beatrice de Planissoles, whose story remained largely unknown until the mid-20th century. In this episode, we will explore her remarkable life--her sexual affair with the town priest, her relationships with her neighbors, the contraceptive device she wore, the contents of her purse, her abuse at the hands of powerful men, and her trial for heresy--and how it changed the study of medieval history.

Desert Queens? Women at the Edges of Empire from Hester Stanhope to Gertrude Bell  

(Lucy) Notorious eccentrics, esteemed researchers, loose-cannon diplomats: this episode looks at the histories of the British women who were travelers and archaeologists in the Middle East and India in the early twentieth century. As women, their accomplishments were often assessed by British audiences in terms of respectability. As British women, however, they often reinforced imperial control and imperial ideas.

The Life and Crimes of Caravaggio  

(Samantha) One of the most inventive painters of his day, Caravaggio’s work is remembered for its ingenious use of light and shadow. Much like his work, Caravaggio’s life was lived in the shadows as he became involved in one criminal activity after another, which eventually culminated in his exile and death. This episode sheds a ray of sunshine into the darkened canvas of Caravaggio’s story.

Al Capone's Pineapple Primary  

(Lesley) Many Americans are familiar with Al Capone's mobster rule over the city of Chicago during the Prohibition Era, but few know about his violent involvement in the so-called "Pineapple Primary." How far would Capone go to see his chosen man elected, and how many lives would be lost in the process?

Easter Rising, Part II: Aftermath  

(Christine and Elizabeth) In Part II of their examination of the rebellion, Christine and Elizabeth follow Patrick Pearse and his associates from the GPO to Kilmainham Gaol, take a look at how Britain handled the rebels, and assess what it all meant.

Easter Rising, Part I: Origins  

(Christine and Elizabeth) For the centennial of the Easter Rising, Christine and Elizabeth look back to the mythology and reality behind the 1916 Irish rebellion. ​

Disney and the Space Race  

(Elizabeth) In the 1950s, Walt Disney hired German rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun, to help make the Tomorrowland section of his developing theme park as accurate as possible. This relationship, however, had greater implications for the United States and its place in the Space Race.

Evelyn Nesbit and the Crime of the Century  

(Samantha) In December 1900 the beautiful, fifteen year old Evelyn Nesbit arrived in New York. Within a year she became the “glittering girl model of Gotham,” the first iconic American sex-goddess. Her fame would transform into notoriety after June 25, 1906 when her millionaire husband, Harry Thaw, murdered Evelyn’s one time lover, Sanford White, in what was known by contemporaries as “the crime of the century.”

The Eleven Lost Days  

(Nathan) In the eighteenth century, the British Parliament undertook the task of fixing the calendar. Due to a problem with the Julian Calendar, which had been in use since ancient Rome, the calendar was eleven days off of where it should fall in reference to the solar cycle. In this episode, we'll trace the history of the Julian and Gregorian calendars and how it took nearly 500 years to (almost) universally implement.

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