Second Decade

A historical show examining the fascinating events and people of the second decade of the 19th century (the 1810s), hosted by historian Sean Munger.
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Now displaying: November, 2016
Nov 28, 2016

This is the story of Charles Barnard, a real-life Robinson Crusoe who spent nearly two years marooned in one of the most forbidding and desolate landscapes on Earth: the Falkland Islands, far south in the Atlantic, near Antarctica. It happened in 1813 as a result of war between the United States and Great Britain, and after a dizzying series of double-crosses, table-turns and stabs-in-the-back that wouldn’t be out of place on the modern TV show Lost. Barnard is forced to find shelter, food, fuel and clothing in a landscape so barren that the only vegetation that will grow is tussock grass, and in which humans are decidedly unwelcome. In addition, Barnard must stay one step ahead of the surly and treacherous British sailor Sam Ansel, who makes the war a very personal affair.

Sean Munger brings you this true story from the 1810s, chronicled in Barnard’s own memoirs documenting his amazing and dangerous around-the-world journey and his incredible feat of survival against seemingly impossible odds. In this episode you’ll not only meet Barnard and the villian Sam Ansel, but an untrustworthy British sea captain, a hardy African-American whaler from New Bedford who’s also stranded on the island, Barnard’s long-suffering wife and three kids who assume he’s dead, and various species of wild boars, albatrosses and penguins, all of whom wind up on Barnard’s survival rations menu at one time or another. This story, worthy of a Hollywood movie, actually happened, proving once again that truth is usually stranger than fiction.

(Background music for this episode licensed CC3.0 by Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston).

Nov 21, 2016

Hawaii, known to Westerners in the Second Decade as “the Sandwich Islands,” was a rich and vibrant place, and the 1810s were arguably the most exciting time in its history. In 1810 Kamehameha, a nobleman from the Big Island, completed his 30-year struggle to unify Hawaii under his own rule, initiating an era of somewhat fragile peace. But there were fractures beneath the surface of Hawaiian society which led to a cultural and religious upheaval in 1819—at the exact same time that a group of ambitious New England evangelicals were, for unrelated reasons, preparing to settle in Hawaii and establish Christian missions.

Sean Munger sets the stage for the story of this cultural collision by exploring both the background and context of the American missionaries who arrived at the end of the decade, and the rapidly changing country of Hawaii in which they suddenly found themselves. In this episode you’ll not only meet Kamehameha, his arch-rival Kaumuali’i and his unlucky rum-guzzling advisor Isaac Davis, but also the bewildered royal heir Liholiho, the ambitious feminist Ka’ahumanu, a reluctant bride named Lucy Goodale, a vomiting clergyman called Hiram Bingham, and the famous Henry Obookiah, whose round-trip from Hawaii to Connecticut and back took an astonishing 186 years.

(Background music for this episode licensed CC3.0 by Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston).

Nov 14, 2016

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...both were true in the winter of 1813-14, one of the most brutal winters in the history of Britain and Ireland. Thanks to global cooling, a murderous series of cold snaps, freezing fog and snowstorms reduced London and other cities to an urban wasteland like something out of The Walking Dead...except a lot colder. Yet at the same time, as the people of London were at wit’s end, the freezing of the Thames created the opportunity for a magical winter festival that only happened a few times a century and has never happened again since 1814: the last of the legendary “Frost Fairs.”

Historian Sean Munger explains the historical and environmental background of the festival, and how Frost Fairs have resonated in English literature since the times of Shakespeare. In this episode you’ll encounter the mysterious “Mountain X,” greedy coach drivers, desperate ferrymen, bear-baiters and prostitutes, a bewildered Prince Regent, a drunken King Charles II, “Lapland Mutton,” and you’ll find out what Harry Potter, Neil Gaiman and Virginia Woolf have to do with the second decade of the 19th century. Join us for a very chilly trip into the past!

For this episode, special thanks is due to the members of the University of Oregon “Glacier Lab” for their comments and contributions on the script.

(Background music for this episode licensed CC3.0 by Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston).

Nov 7, 2016

This episode presents two mysterious tales from the Second Decade, both from Caribbean islands. An oft-told account of coffins moving about by themselves in a sealed burial vault in Barbados between 1812 and 1820 has left many people reaching for paranormal explanations like telekinesis or voodoo. But did it really happen? And who was the unidentified woman who washed up in a coffin full of tea on Nevis in 1809?

Sean Munger presents these mysteries in historical context, with a glimpse at the seething hell that was the British West Indies in the 1810s, before the abolition of slavery. As you'll learn from this episode, pretty islands of white sand beaches and gently swaying palm trees have a lot of dark secrets lurking under the surface.

(Background music for this episode licensed CC3.0 by Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston).