I have only recently started listening to history podcasts and I discovered Flashpoint history while searching for a podcast about the fall of Granada. Flashpoint history has podcasts dedicated to various topics–the Punic wars, the exploits of Attila the Hun–but I decided to start with the Reconquista podcast because of its relevance to my own writing. Truth be told, it feels a bit disingenuous to call Nitin Sil’s work a history of the Reconquista since the series explores so many other topics. So far, 11 episodes have been released and the narrator covers everything from will the rise of Islam, the Arab invasion of North Africa, and the Moorish invasion of Europe. Even the First Crusade gets a special shout out. I, for one, really appreciate the narrator’s deep dive approach to history and considering the legions of listeners, I think it’s fair to say the same holds true for many others also.
History podcasts are becoming increasingly popular with the public and the crowded market space will probably doom many up-and-coming podcasts. I suspect that will not be the case for Flashpoint history, though. Pretty much anybody can create a podcast which is great from a plurality of perspectives standpoint, but terrible from a quality control standpoint. If there are no gatekeepers, how can we assess the accuracy of the information we are being given?
Sure, we can consult reviews, but what with the free-rider effect, this approach has some drawbacks. And while some podcast narrators are upfront about their credentials, many are not. To be fair, in many cases it doesn’t matter. Bill Burr may not have a degree in sociology but his social commentary is funny all the same. However, when speaking about mathematics or history or some other complex matter, I think intimate familiarity with the subject matters a great deal. Because of that, I really appreciate that Sil takes such pains to reference his sources. He draws heavily upon primary and secondary sources, sometimes reading texts verbatim for the sake of the audience. I can’t say I know many other podcast narrators who do the same but I really appreciate that Sil does and I think his willingness to do so makes his work more trustworthy.
To be fair, veracity is not the only metric worth taking into account when assessing the quality of a podcast. After all, a narrator could read verbatim from a dictionary and while such a podcast would technically be very accurate, it would also be dry as cassava bread. I think Flashpoint history deserves high marks when it comes to entertainment value and audiences must agree considering the immense popularity of the podcast. Part of the entertainment value comes from the narrator’s familiarity with the subjects being discussed. In addition to being well-read, Sil has also traveled to many of the sites mentioned in the podcast. As a result, he’s able to weave in many anecdotes and fun facts for the sake of his listeners. In addition to this, he also has a good sense of humor. The Vikings make a surprise appearance in the series–turns out they did battle with the Moors way back, which must have made for a really interesting clash of cultures–and the narrator could have just played it straight and recounted the facts. Instead, he encourages us to imagine the sense of confusion the Moors might have felt when the Vikings first started sacking their coastal outposts and plays an instrumental version of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. I thought it was a very inspired decision, and I suspect the same holds true for many others.
I strongly recommend Flashpoint history to listeners interested in Mediterranean history, Islamic history, Christian history, or military history and look forward to checking out more of Sil’s work.