April 9, 2020

11 Great Podcasts for Historic Preservation Fans

  • By: Nicholas Som

Podcasts are often used to fill in the gaps of a day, reserved for commutes or doing chores. But with many people homebound, now is the perfect time to give a podcast the full attention it deserves.

The question is: Which one to listen to? Fortunately, there are plenty of fantastic podcasts from the preservation world and beyond. These include shows produced by National Trust Historic Sites—such as James Madison's Montpelier, President Lincoln’s Cottage, and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum—that deepen one’s understanding of the buildings and their complex stories. Whether it’s architecture, history, or urban planning that draws you to the field of historic preservation, you’re almost certain to enjoy at least one of the 11 we’ve collected below.

Don't feel like clicking on each individual episode link? To make things easier we've pulled together a Spotify playlist (with most of the episodes mentioned in this story) which is embedded at the bottom of the story or available here.

Image of facade and block of Orchard Street

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York.

1 How To Be American
As the musical Hamilton once put it succinctly: “Immigrants—we get the job done.” Sometimes that job is bringing pizza to America and creating the classic New York slice; other times, it’s fighting to gain the right to vote. How To Be American from the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York shares these stories and more, examining how the notion of “being American” has shifted and evolved over time.

2 99% Invisible
99% Invisible has a mantra: “Always read the plaque.” It’s a show about hidden design all around us, and though architecture and the built environment are two of its main themes, the stories it uncovers are far from common knowledge—the kind you could learn from reading plaques. For example, did you know about the Cuban art school conceived of by Che Guevera and Fidel Castro during a round of golf? Or how about the 1950s personality study that involved asking architects such as Richard Neutra, I.M. Pei, and Eero Saarinen where a third arm would be most useful on a human? And with a catalog of nearly 400 episodes and counting, you’re almost certain to find one that catches your eye (and ear).

3 The Architecture Happy Hour
Hosted by Laura Davis and Holly Hall, principals at the design firm hpd architecture + interiors, The Architecture Happy Hour is a light-hearted show (as Laura reminds you, “it’s a two-drink minimum”) with loads of helpful home renovation tips. From front porch design to trends in how millennials are decorating interiors, this podcast has content that caters to both students and longtime homeowners.

President Lincoln's Cottage, Washington, DC

President Lincoln's Cottage in Washington, D.C.

4 Q & Abe
President Lincoln’s Cottage takes a visitor-centric approach to Q & Abe. Each episode takes a deep dive into a single real-life question asked by a visitor during a tour of Lincoln’s seasonal residence in Washington, D.C. Queries such as “If people saw slavery was happening, why didn’t they stop it?” and “What’s the Cottage worth?” are too complex to be fully answered in a few seconds, making them tailor-made for fascinating 30-minute episodes.

5 US Modernist Radio
Modern architecture often adheres to the idea that “form follows function,” but the creators of US Modernist Radio enjoy having fun with form too. The show features energetic conversations with people who design, preserve, and enjoy Midcentury Modernism. The hosts aren’t shy about bringing on guests who disagree with them either—try the episode featuring Professor James Stevens Curl, who wrote a book decrying the Modernist movement as “architectural barbarism.”

6 Sidedoor
If you’ve ever felt like museums held far more stories than their exhibits had space for, Sidedoor is the podcast for you. It takes readers behind the scenes of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., exploring topics as diverse as gentrification in America and the influence of the Hawaiian steel guitar on popular music. Most of the Smithsonian’s 154 million objects will never be shown to the public, but they all have stories to tell.

7 True Tales from Old Houses
When it comes to owning and maintaining an old house, there’s plenty of joy but also frustration. True Tales from Old Houses hosts (and historic house owners) Stacy Grinsfelder and Devyn Caldwell know that as well as anyone. Each episode features the pair sharing their latest old-house experiences, answering questions from listeners, and interviewing fellow homeowners, craftspeople, and preservationists. The first one took Grinsfelder a year to publish and includes an interview with an archaeologist who found 60 years’ worth of artifacts in the fireplace of his home.

Exterior view of Montpelier, temple, and slave dwellings.

photo by: Jenn Glass

James Madison's Montpelier in Orange County, Virginia.

8 American Dissent
A five-part series about the ordinary people who drove the nation forward by defying convention, American Dissent—produced by James Madison’s Montpelier—finds the connections between dissenters past and present. It frames the protests of leaders such as Patrick Henry and George Mason during the Constitution’s ratification alongside those of students as young as 12 years old who helped integrate public schools, shedding light on America’s rich history of pushing back in spite of harsh consequences.

9 Practical Preservation
For a podcast that truly gets into the nitty-gritty of the preservation trades, it’s hard to go wrong with Practical Preservation. Produced by Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based historic preservation firm Keperling Preservation Services, the show features interviews with a variety of guests from the world of historic preservation. Check out the episode with Chad Martin, formerly of Partners for Sacred Places. The nonprofit collaborates with the National Trust to manage the National Fund for Sacred Places.

10 Getty Art + Ideas
Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust, introduces listeners to artists and experts from a range of fields in Getty Art + Ideas. Ever wondered what it would’ve been like to study at the Bauhaus school? Cuno chats with curators about the Bauhaus in the context of new exhibitions at the Getty Museum. It’s an ideal podcast to satisfy your inner art historian, architecture buff, and museum director all at once.

11 Shaping Cities
As its name suggests, Shaping Cities is geared toward professionals whose work impacts the built environment. The latest episode contains an interview with Sehila Mota Casper, a senior field officer at the National Trust. Casper and podcast host Erik Felix discuss common misconceptions about historic preservation, resources available to homeowners who can't afford to rehabilitate their homes, and more.

BONUS AUDIO STORY: Learn about Joan Hinton and the scarcely mentioned female scientists behind the Manhattan Project.

Listen: Great Podcasts for Historic Preservation Fans

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Nicholas Som is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He enjoys museums of all kinds, Philadelphia sports, and tracking down great restaurants.

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