Sound Education + meeting Carlin

Sometimes you get lucky.

Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Sound Education conference at Harvard. There was a ridiculous amount of talent concentrated in the dowdy halls and classrooms of the Divinity School. I got to meet a bunch of fellow Dark Myths podcasters and rub elbows with some big names in the … what should we call it? The industry? The biz?

The point about language is no joke. It was blindingly clear that the folks at the conference divided sharply between the small independent types — the ones who work day jobs and run their passion projects on the side — and those who come to their podcasts loaded with resources ($) from radio stations and universities. At one panel, I asked a question about strategies to balance deep research and a timely release schedule. It was easy, one of the panelists said — just get your interns to do the research for you.

That divide also showed itself in levels of preparation. Some of the big-name panels were disappointing in that little preparation or thought had gone into them. It reminded me of a lot of disappointing master classes I went to in music school, where big-name musicians (who were well-paid for their time) would play for five minutes and then ask the room if anyone had questions. On the flip side, I saw a GREAT talk by CJ Kilmer of the Dangerous History podcast (and a fellow Dark Myths guy) about voluntarism in education; he spoke to a room of four people.

So I count all this as good luck. I was lucky to meet these people, make these connections, learn a bit about what separates the big fish from the small fish.

The biggest piece of luck, though, came courtesy of Kristaps Andrejsons, host of the Eastern Border podcast. I hosted him for part of the weekend, showed him around Boston, introduced him to New England seafood (it turns out oysters and clam chowder are in line with the Baltic addiction to salty things from the ocean), and in return, he gave us both the chance to meet one of our creative idols.

We spoke with Dan Carlin for about fifteen minutes in the lobby of Harvard’s music building, just after Dan had given a keynote talk in the main hall upstairs. We recorded it, and you can listen to the whole thing by following the link at the end of this post. The setting wasn’t ideal. You’ll hear that in the weird audio levels, the boomy acoustics of the space, and the arrival of a noisy elevator at the end of the interview.

But do yourself a favor and listen to the whole thing. Dan certainly didn’t have to make time for us, nor did he have to give two nervous junior podcasters his full attention. But that was exactly what he did. Dan was incredibly warm, personable, and took us and our questions seriously. This moment was loaded with meaning for me. When my fledgling career in music foundered a few years ago and I was desperately looking for a new creative outlet, Dan’s work pointed the way to something new and exciting. Inward Empire’s DNA goes back to my listening to Dan’s massive multipart series on the end of the Roman Republic and my desire to adapt and build on the model that Dan has created so masterfully. It’s always a relief to find out that someone you admire — especially someone you admire creatively — is also good person.

So here it is, a product of a tremendous piece of good luck in a weekend full of them. All my gratitude to Kristaps for making this happen, and to Dan for his generosity and time.


Inward Empire 2.0

My goal with Inward Empire was to create a podcast that I’d want to listen to, to fill a void that I saw and, with a few exceptions still see, in the field of history podcasts. Three and a half years into this project, I’m still thinking about how I can fulfill that vision. As I approach episode 10, I’ve come up with a list of resolutions. Some of them recognize what’s worked so far, and reflect my pride and satisfaction in that. Most are aimed at improvement and reform. I’m making them public because I think improvement stems from practice, reflection, and assessment; they’re my attempt to reflect and assess how I’ve fared so far, and to invite listeners to do the same.

  1. Maintain my standards: deep research, thoughtful writing, extensive use of primary sources, and a commitment to understanding the past as it was seen and experienced by human beings at the time.
  2. Get back in touch with the passion that drove episodes 1-3. I was emotionally invested in the stories of the conflicts of early New England and Ambrose Bierce’s Civil War memory in ways that I haven’t quite been able to recapture with later episodes. Whatever the shortcomings of those early shows, while producing them I felt a level of raw emotion that needs to be the criterion for every topic I choose.
  3. Produce shorter episodes. For Inward Empire 1.0, if I had a story that would take six hours to tell, I would tell it in two 3-hour episodes; for Inward Empire 2.0, I would tell it in six 1-hour episodes. This means more frequent content, and probably better quality. It’s easier to write ten outstanding pages than it is to write 50.
  4. Introduce more variety. This means not only time period (I love the late 19th century but let’s be real, it’s time for a break) but also region, theme, ideology, race, gender, etc.
  5. Make use of new resources. This means audio clips from newsreels, films, interviews, and so on. It also means collaborating with other podcasters and historians from time to time.
  6. Continue to improve audio quality and production value.
  7. Improve my “sound” as a podcaster, working towards a signature, instantly recognizable delivery. This is a tricky one, and in some ways it’s the most important on the list. Broadly, I think I’m strong at informing and weak at entertaining. That stems from a combination of my writing, editing (both script and audio), the quality of my voice, and my delivery. The last thing I want to be is boring, but I worry that my show falls into that trap from time to time. I have no broad plan to address this, which I think is fine — my experiences with music suggest that practice and time will do the trick. But I do think producing shorter episodes will help in the short term. I can think of only two people who can hold my interest while talking about history for hours on end: Dan Carlin and Yale historian David Blight (whose class on the Civil War + Reconstruction, last I checked, is on iTunes).

I encourage listeners to weigh in. Is there something I’ve missed, or is there anything about this project that you’ve found especially engaging, frustrating, or otherwise worthy of feedback? Drop me a line, either here or by email at

Images for Episode 9: Soldiers of Capital (Part Two)

Episode 9: Soldiers of Capital (Part Two)

Stream or download it for free on iTunesStitcher, or Podomatic.

After sending the Molly Maguires to the scaffold in 1877, Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency plunged headlong into America’s labor conflict. At the vanguard of its war on organized labor was the Protective Patrol, an armed force that deployed to over seventy major strikes. Was the Patrol a lawkeeping elite, as the Agency and its employers claimed? Or, as labor leaders and reformers argued, was it a gang of cold-blooded, mercenary killers? After a disastrous intervention in 1892, testimony in a dramatic Congressional hearing revealed that both sides might have been wrong all along…

Inward Empire music by Stephen Spencer.

Pinkerton logo


Arthur G. Burgyone, The Homestead Strike of 1892 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979; originally published 1893)

Morris Friedman, The Pinkerton Labor Spy (New York: Wilshire Book Co, 1907)

Paul Krause, The Battle for Homestead 1880-1892: Politics, Culture, and Steel (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992)

Frank Morn, The Eye That Never Sleeps: A History of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982)

S. Paul O’Hara, Inventing the Pinkertons, or, Spies, Sleuths, Mercenaries, and Thugs (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016)

Allan Pinkerton, Strikers, Communists, Tramps, and Detectives (New York: G.W. Carleton, 1878)

Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations, Inc. “History of the Pinkerton Detective Agency”. (retrieved May 2, 2017).

Charles Siringo, A Cowboy Detective: A True Story of Twenty-Two Years with a World-Famous Detective Agency (Chicago: W.B. Conkey Co, 1912)

Charles Siringo, Two Evil Isms: Pinkertonism and Anarchism (Chicago: C.A. Siringo, 1915)

Robert Michael Smith, From Blackjacks to Briefcases: A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2003)

United States House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary. Investigation of the Employment of Pinkerton Detectives in Connection with the Labor Troubles at Homestead, PA. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1892)  

United States Senate, Select Committee on the Employment for Private Purposes of Armed Bodies of Men, Investigation of Labor Troubles. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1893) 


Images for Episode 8, Soldiers of Capital (Part One)

Episode 8: Soldiers of Capital (Part One)

Stream or download it for free on iTunesStitcher, or Podomatic.

Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency was 19th-century America’s premier private police force, the leader of a flourishing industry that offered solutions to the chaos and corruption of the nation’s law enforcement. But the Pinkertons were more than just detectives. By the 1890s, they were a private army-on-call for powerful corporations. In the first episode of this two-part series, we’ll chart the birth and evolution of the Agency — from its founding by a radical immigrant in the 1850s to its bloody pursuit of outlaws and Irish labor groups in the decades after the Civil War.

Inward Empire theme by Stephen Spencer.

pinkerton logo2


Pamela Bedore, Dime Novels and the Roots of American Detective Fiction (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013)

Kevin Kenny, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998)

Frank Morn, The Eye That Never Sleeps: A History of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982)

S. Paul O’Hara, Inventing the Pinkertons, or, Spies, Sleuths, Mercenaries, and Thugs (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016)

Allan Pinkerton, General Principles and Rules of Pinkerton’s National Police Agency (Chicago: George H. Fergus, 1867)

——————– The Expressman and the Detective (New York: G.W. Carleton, 1875)

——————– The Molly Maguires and the Detectives (New York: G.W. Carleton, 1877)

——————– Thirty Years a Detective: A Thorough and Complete Expose of Criminal Practices of All Grades and Classes (New York: G.W. Carleton, 1884)

Edgar Allan Poe, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” in Great Short Works of Edgar Allan Poe, edited by G.R. Thompson (New York: Harper & Roe, 1970), 272-313

Beau Riffenburgh, Pinkerton’s Great Detective: The Amazing Life and Times of James McParland (New York: Viking/Penguin, 2013)

Robert Michael Smith, From Blackjacks to Briefcases: A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2003)

Francois Eugene Vidocq, Memoirs of Vidocq: Master of Crime, trans. Edwin Gile Rich (Edinburgh: AK Press / Nabat, 2003, originally published 1828)

Images for Episode 7: From Camelot to Abilene

Episode 7: From Camelot to Abilene

Stream or download it for free on iTunes, Stitcher, or Podomatic.

In a country as big and diverse as America, stories are crucially important to our sense of common identity. But where do those stories come from, and who creates them? In this episode, we examine the work of writer Owen Wister, who gave Americans one of the touchstones of our common culture: the cowboy. But beneath the familiar surface of this legendary figure lies a complex web of dark and unexpected ideas. By exploring “The Evolution of the Cow-Puncher,” an essay written at the height of the volatile Gilded Age, we gain insight into the origins of the cowboy — and how myth can overpower truth.

Inward Empire theme by Stephen Spencer.



Poultney Bigelow, “Frederic Remington; with Extracts from Unpublished Letters”, The Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association 10, no. 1 (January, 1929): 45-52.

John Cobbs, Owen Wister (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984).

Bruce Glasrud and Michael Searles, eds, Black Cowboys in the American West: On the Range, On the Stage, Behind the Badge (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016)

David McCullough, “The Man,” in Frederic Remington: The Masterworks, eds. Michael Edward Shapiro and Peter H. Hassrick (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc, 1988).

Heather Cox Richardson, West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America after the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).

Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture & Society in the Gilded Age (New York: Harper Collins, 1982).

Ben Vorpahl, My Dear Wister: The Frederic Remington – Owen Wister Letteres (Palo Alto: American West Publishing Company, 1972).

G. Edward White, The Eastern Establishment and the Western Experience: The West of Frederic Remington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Owen Wister (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968).

Owen Wister, The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains (New York: Macmillan & Co, 1902).

—————— “The Evolution of the Cow-Puncher,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 91, no. 544 (September, 1895): 602-616.

Episode 6: 1877: The Great Strike and the Red Specter of the Commune (Part Two)

Stream or download it for free on iTunes, Stitcher, or Podomatic.

When a railroad employee walks off the job in Baltimore, it triggers a violent chain of events that engulfs the industrialized North. From Pittsburgh to San Francisco, city after city erupts in rioting and street battles as railroad men, factory workers, and the unemployed take on militias, paramilitary groups, and the US Army in a spontaneous revolt against the new industrial order. Railyards burn and urban neighborhoods become battlegrounds. Pundits, politicians, corporate leaders, socialists, and union leaders hail the birth of an exterminationist class war. And through the smoke, the dawn of a new era can be glimpsed…

Inward Empire theme by Stephen Spencer.




Michael Bellesiles, 1877: America’s Year of Living Violently. New York: The New Press, 2010.

Jeremy Brecher, Strike! Revised, Expanded, and Updated Edition. Oakland: PM Press, 2014.

Robert Bruce, 1877: Year of Violence. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1959.

Philip Foner, The Great Labor Uprising of 1877. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1977.

Nell Irvin Painter, Standing at Armageddon: A Grassroots History of the Progressive Era. New York: Norton, 1987.

Heather Cox Richardson, West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America after the Civil War. New Haven & London, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.

Richard Slotkin, The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800-1890. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.

Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture & Society in the Gilded Age. New York: Hill & Wang, 1982.


Joseph Dacus, Annals of the Great Strike. Chicago: L.T. Palmer & Co, 1877.

Rutherford B Hayes, The Diary and Letters of Rutherford B. Hayes, Nineteenth President of the United States, edited by Charles Richard Williams.Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State Archeological and Historical Society 1922

Allan Pinkerton, Strikers, Communists, Tramps, and Detectives. New York: GW Carleton, 1878.