Community feature: Local podcaster explores Ohio's place in history
Not only is Ohio a swing state in presidential elections, but it has also proven to be a bellwether state, or an indicator of which candidate will be elected. According to Kyle Kondik, author of the 2016 book “The Bellwether: Why Ohio Picks the President,” the state has only selected the losing candidate twice since 1896.
It is Ohio's role in both national and international history that is highlighted in Alex Hastie's Columbus-based podcast, “Ohio v. the World,” which featured Kondik as a guest on episode two, “Ohio v. the Electoral College.” In the rest of season one, which premiered in March 2017, listeners learned more about the broader impact of Ohio events like the 1970 Kent State shootings and Ohio-based people like Victoria C. Woodhull, widely considered to be the first woman candidate for president of the United States.
“Where do you get your history these days?” asked Hastie, who will launch season two of “Ohio v. the World” with a party at the Columbus Italian Club on Saturday, Nov. 18. (The podcast is available on ohiovtheworldpodcast.com, iTunes and other platforms.) “The History Channel is a joke. [It's] mostly shows about ‘Ice Road Truckers' and aliens. … I think my goal is to bring history to a younger generation of people, and bring it to them in a format that's a little more fun.”
Hastie, a lawyer and musician in hip-hop cover band the Winnie Cooper Project, recommends both a book and an Ohio beer during each episode, which is generally kept to an hour. In addition to authors like Kondik, guests include historians, professors, journalists and personnel from the Ohio History Connection.
“It's been a great collaboration,” said Todd Kleismit, the Ohio History Connection's director of community & government relations. “I think a little too often history is perceived to be dry and uninteresting, or just about rote dates on a timeline. One of the things I really love about [Hastie's] program is that it does bring history alive, and it's not the Wikipedia version where it's just a narrative. It's highly nuanced.”
One of those nuanced episodes is “Ohio v. the Nazis,” centered on Ohio State athlete Jesse Owens, well-known for his gold-medal wins at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.
“But what you don't know about Jesse Owens is all the stuff he goes through before the Olympics and when he comes back. The president won't even meet with him,” said Hastie, who also got into discussions about The Great Migration, which brought the Owens family and millions of other African-Americans to northern states beginning in the early 1900s.
“There's so much stuff going on around Jesse Owens that really makes the show a lot more informative and a lot more fun,” Hastie continued. “By the end of it, you really don't care how fast he ran the 100 meters.”
Next, Hastie will delve into the rivalry between Ohio State and the University of Michigan on one of the first episodes of season two, just in time for the upcoming football game. The show will explore the states' 1835-36 battle over modern-day Toledo as the root of the longstanding conflict.
Another new episode will focus on Westerville's Agnes Meyer Driscoll and other women who decoded enemy communications during World War I and II.
The 15-episode season will wrap up in the spring, when “Ohio v. the World” will also facilitate its first Ohio-history podcast and video-essay contest for high school seniors. The winners will be awarded scholarships via Hastie's nonprofit, Ohio History Podcast Educational Assistance Corp.
Encouraging both young people and adults to learn about history is important for understanding current events, Hastie said. An upcoming episode about Ohio Senator Benjamin Wade is an applicable example. Wade nearly replaced President Andrew Johnson, who was impeached by the House of Representatives. (He was subsequently acquitted in the Senate.)
“[Johnson] was almost a Trump-like president. … He was hated by people in both parties,” Hastie explained. “People have been talking about impeaching Trump for a year now. … [So] how did it happen before? We're trying to look at things through a modern lens.”
Similarly, around the time of the August “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, the podcast touched on the1924 riots in Niles, Ohio. Twenty-five thousand Ku Klux Klan members visited for a parade and were confronted by 10,000 members of the anti-Klan group Flaming Circle of Knights.
The military was called in and residents were confined to their homes for 10 days. But, according to Hastie's research, the event diminished the influence of the KKK.
“It's one example from Ohio history that we can use to look at a modern problem,” Hastie said. “Sometimes it's not [successful]. Sometimes [in] Ohio versus the world, the world wins.”
“Ohio v. the World” Season 2 Launch Party
Columbus Italian Club
7-11 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18
1739 W. Third Ave., Grandview