Dead Ideas: The Podcast of Extinct Thoughts and Practices for the most part lives up to its name. However there are a lot of things about Dead Ideas that are (were?) more interesting than the title suggests. This isn’t a Hardcore History wannabe, where some host monologues for hours on end while I keep thinking “Man, I wish Dan Carlin covered this material instead”. No, Dead Ideas feels much more creative, dynamic and ironically, alive.
Voices of Yesterday
First of all, our hosts. That’s right, there are multiple hosts! The lead host who does the bulk of the talking is B.T. Newberg. One of the co-hosts is named Anna Bratton, who has a lot to say about Narses, the great Byzantine general who was also a eunuch. Nick Moen and Andre Sólo are also co-hosts, but tend to speak less than Newberg (and less than Bratton when Narses is under discussion).
All the hosts have great chemistry and joke around a lot, as if they have all been friends for a long time. Their audio is fine (except in early episodes), their voices are fine, nothing too remarkable there. The podcast is still understandable when sped up a bit, pretty normal. Where Dead Ideas gets interesting is in the variety of episode formats.
A “normal” episode is one in which B.T. Newberg provides a chunk of exposition about the topic at hand and the whole gang discusses it. Usually the co-hosts have some interesting question or point of view to bring up. There are also plenty of jokes and snarky comments, ranging from the wholesome to the bawdy. If the aside about the eunuch general didn’t tip you off, Dead Ideas can be quite ribald indeed: it is a nice break from all the other, supposedly family-friendly, history podcasts that fixate on political assassinations.
There are also interview episodes, which are just like the interview episodes in any other history podcast. Usually B.T. Newberg is the only interviewer, and there can be any number of interviewees.
There is one special interview that breaks the norm: the episode about The History of History Podcasting released on 17 February 2019. This was the episode that got me hooked, but had nothing to do with an extinct thought or practice. Newberg interviewed almost a dozen history podcasters including, of course, Dan Carlin. The full interview with Dan Carlin (which spilled out into its own episode) is really interesting for anyone who is a fan of the medium, not just people who like Dead Ideas. Go listen to it. Go on! Here’s a link, if it helps.
There are role-play episodes. This is something truly awesome: historically-accurate (I hope?) roleplay in podcast form. There is a dungeon master and at least one player. Feats of skill are resolved by rock-paper-scissors rather than a D20, presumably to keep at least a couple of D&D-averse listeners in the audience. The player gets to explore whatever setting is under discussion: one memorable example is the episode where Newberg must try attacking a city defended by ancient Chinese Mohists.
There are alternative history episodes, where the hosts imagine a scenario where the ideas we consider “dead” manage to hang on for a couple of extra centuries.
There are “story” episodes, where Newberg has a bunch of stories written in the relevant time period, and the co-hosts decide what order to hear them in. These are otherwise much like “normal” episodes. Some of the stories are erotic, obviously.
Numerous other one-off episodes exist, including one where the hosts cook and eat ancient Sumerian food. There are episodes where B.T. Newberg is the only speaker: usually this format is reserved for particular series such as Balance of Power and Titoism.
Series & General Info
On the topic of series: most of the “dead ideas” featured on the podcast are spread across a series of multiple episodes. Unlike some other history podcasts, Dead Ideas sometimes released episodes from different series in tandem, which could be a nuisance for anyone trying to binge the podcast.
Each proper episode of Dead Ideas is between 40 minutes to 2 full hours long. Dead Ideas is itself kind of dead, though. The only episodes in 2020 were short statements about current events, rather than discussion of the titular topic. Luckily for us, the old episodes are still available on their podcast feed.
The hosts have moved on to a newer, more arousing project that plays to their strengths. Yes, that’s right, the madlads did it, they made The History of Sex Podcast.