Friday, November 25, 2022

7 Questions With Andrew Lawler, Journalist and Author


Andrew Lawler is author of three books, Under Jerusalem: The Buried History of the World’s Most Contested City, The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke, a national bestseller, and Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?: The Epic Saga of the Bird that Powers Civilization.  As a journalist, he has written more than a thousand newspaper and magazine articles from more than two dozen countries. His byline has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic, Smithsonian, and many others. He is contributing writer for Science and contributing editor for Archaeology. Andrew’s work has appeared several times in The Best of Science and Nature Writing. His website is 

1.      How and when did you get  hooked on history?


As a child growing up in southeastern Virginia, history was not in a book--it was on the battlefields of Yorktown, in the streets of Williamsburg, and in the thatch-covered buildings recreating Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World. 

2.      What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?

 History was the way my family talked about emotions, beliefs, and thoughts; it was a language that helped me to make sense of the world around me. As Faulker said, the past is never dead, it isn't even past. Growing up, I knew that was true.

3.      How does history play  a part of your professional life/career?

 For years I wrote about the future--working for the Futurist Magazine and then covering the space program. But then I was invited to cover an archaeology meeting in Baghdad before the Iraq War, and I suddenly was writing about the past and the way it was entangled with the present. Now I love writing about history more than any other topic.

4.      Why is studying/knowing history important?

 Without knowing--or feeling--our roots, we are leaves in the constantly shifting wind of opinion and social media. Understanding our origin gives us a solid piece of ground to make meaning of the often confusing world around us. To me, it is as vital as air.

5.      What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?

 More obscure periods and places! Ancient Egypt is great, but Mesopotamia is even older and less known and therefore more intriguing. Why did those people begin to build cities, write, and create what we call civilization?  Central Asia's past is also fascinating, this vast swath of territory on which so much of history played out. And then there is Polynesia, where the greatest sailors of pre-modern times embarked on amazing feats of nautical skill..

6.       How did you get the idea for  your new book, Under Jerusalem: Buried History of the World's Most Contested City?

 I had written about Middle Eastern archaeology for years, but I had long avoided Jerusalem. All that current-day religion and politics made it seem like a reporting nightmare. Then I took a tour with an archaeologist friend who opened my eyes to the extensive work going on underground--work that had begun in the 1860s. I suddenly realized that religion and politics are precisely what made archaeology in Jerusalem so unique, controversial, and fascinating. 

7.      What did you hope readers learn from reading Under Jerusalem?

 Science and exploration never happen in a vacuum. People have agendas--political, religious, scientific, etc--but that is a natural part of being human. I hope that people who read my book will come away with a deeper understanding of how those who dug up the biblical past ended up turning Jerusalem into a sought-after and violent place. But they also uncovered information that I believe could one day lead to a fuller and richer understanding of this contested city that might, someday, form the basis for peaceful coexistence.

Friday, November 18, 2022

7 Questions With Colin Mustful, History Through Fiction Podcast


Colin Mustful is the founder and editor of History Through Fiction. As a traditional publisher, he works with authors who want to share important historical stories with the world. He is also an independent author and historian who has published four historical novels. He has a Master of Arts degree in history and a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. Mustful is an avid runner and soccer player who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He believes that learning history is vital to understanding our world today and finding just, long-lasting solutions for the future.

1. How did you get hooked on history?

My interest in history has been a process. Growing up I was always drawn by historical markers. When I reached college I began studying Native American history—especially as it related to their displacement and removal. It intrigued me that such a profound tragedy could have possibly happened and I wanted to know why. Also, during college, I discovered that I had an aptitude for writing historical essays. This led to what would eventually become a career writing and publishing historical fiction. 

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?

History plays an important role in everyone's personal lives...I believe. It colors our perspective and determines our perception of the world. It helps us understand the world around us and provides us with the tools to think critically about what's going on around us and how to respond. 

3.  How does history play  a part of your professional life/career?

I work as a para educator in the social studies department at a local high school. I also write and publish historical novels. As an author and publisher, I spend a lot of time conveying history through blogs, articles, videos, and public speaking engagements. 

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?

It's absolutely vital to our understanding of the cultures, conflicts, and circumstances of the world around us. Without knowing and understanding history we cannot know or understand our neighbors or ourselves. History allows us to think critically, helping us make better, more informed decisions while giving us a deep and necessary sense of empathy for people and places outside of our own inner circle. 

5.  What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?

I find all history fascinating in one way or another. But I'm continually drawn by the genocide of Western Indigenous peoples. It seems an impossible tragedy that we still understand so little about and have learned so little from. 

6.  How did the History Through Fiction Podcast come about?

I began podcasting with the New Book Network. This gave me an introduction to the podcasting process, something I didn't know how to do beforehand. Also, after working as a para educator in a digital music class, I learned a lot about digital audio workstations and sound design. So, after starting my press in 2019, I decided to combine my experience and knowledge to launch my own podcast as a way to advance my online presence and find more readers. 

7. What do you hope to convey to your listeners and followers?

I hope that writers can relate to the authors that are on the podcast. I hope that they discover that they are not alone in the daunting process of writing, publishing, and promoting a novel. I hope that readers gain a greater appreciation for everything a writer must go through to bring a book into the world. And, of course, I hope all listeners learn something new about history while discovering new books and authors to add to the TBR (to be read list). 

Friday, November 11, 2022

7 Questions With Ralph Lovett, Military Collector

Ralph Lovett has had a lifelong interest in history, and anthropology. These interests have tended to
focus on the technology that facilitated military capability from the invention of modern steel in the
1880s to today. However, there has also been the human element too, with travel to battlefield sites
around the world and research into the lives of the individual soldiers that created the foundations of
our current events today. He is also a collector. His artillery collection spans from the 1800s-today. It
includes forty cannons, howitzers, and mortars. These are fleshed out in most cases with the devices
that made them able to operate and survive on the battlefield. It is a wholistic approach to collecting
and supports his belief that understanding the development of technology in history is a necessary
foundation to understanding the capabilities and limitations of people of an era.
However, that is not what pays the bills. He is a systems developer and logistician for Pentagon Force
Protection Agency focusing on sensor technologies. As an Army National Guard warrant officer, he is
also the senior targeting officer in the 29 th Infantry Division. He has held that position for over a decade
and is the longest continuously serving staff officer in the division’s staff with seven total deployments
behind him. He has served all over the world in both career fields with the bulk of his time being
between Washington DC and the Middle East. Website

  1. How and when did you get hooked on history?


Well, I think it was always.  The largest room in my parents’ house is the library.  Both my Mom and Dad have a wide range of books including CIA country studies, army field manuals of many equipment types as well as the typical titles like “Guns of August”.  That said aviation history, technical details and current events were my first big interest.  My Father and I collected Janes series research books on military aviation and naval ships. I also was very interested in models of aircraft and fighting ships.  This morphed to an interest in artillery by the time I was about 12.  


  1. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?

  2. 3. How does history play  a part of your professional life/career?

(I have blended these two answers together because for me they seem to intertwine.)


I have collected a military uniforms and equipment since I was eight and bought my first heavy artillery piece at age 13, with some logistical assistance from my Father.  In the Boy Scouts we conducted battlefield walks on a number of American Civil War battlefields.  The research, terrain analysis and study of the equipment capabilities was all a part of it, and this fascinated me. I was a pre-teen as the Falklands War took place.  This was the first war covered by 24-hour news.  I do not think I ever slept.  I just sat at the TV with my Janes research books on aircraft, ships, armor and artillery and speculated about what the UK and Argentinian militaries would do next.  I joined the Georgia Army National Guard while in college and became fascinated with the battalion and regimental history of my unit. I went on to complete a four-year degree in history.  Following graduation, I met a girl in Savannah, Georgia and I decided I wanted live near her.  I had volunteered at Coastal Heritage Society in Savannah while in college so I contacted them with the hope they would hire me as a full-time historian.  Amazingly, they did.  Unfortunately, the pay was just minimum wage, but I was both a commercial artist and historian and I could almost pay the bills.  I even got the girlfriend a job with Coastal Heritage Society.  She was a quick learner and did quite well.  For a few years I learned a fantastic amount of local history and how to interpret this to different age and ability groups.  It was a tremendous learning experience, but the pay was just too low to stay.  I moved on to a graduate program in education and got T-5 certifications as both a history teacher and fine arts teacher from the State of Georgia and Department of Defense. With both the museum and master’s in education experience I developed a constructivist style of teaching.  Over the last two decades, I have served many years in the Middle East as both a military officer and as a project manager for technology demonstrator sensor systems.  In times when I was not engrossed in these duties, I explored the area around me and of course read and tried to figure out how the culture and physical terrain around me had played a part in history.  I tended to focus more on the last 125 years only diving into the enormity of that region’s history to understand the big cultural landscape, such as the Sunni verses Shia divide.  On my own, I began to study the part of the battle for Baghdad where a soldier that had a connection with me had been killed.  He was the first in that conflict to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.  My command found out what I was doing, and I was “ask” to volunteer to conduct staff rides (battlefield walks) on this site and teach NCOs and officers of the unit about these events, in my free time. Our unit location was only miles from the location where SFC Paul Ray Smith had been killed, so it was easy enough logistically. While I resisted this at first, it was a great program and helped me cope with a lot of difficult things ongoing at that time.  Not having free time was actually best then.  Recently, I was back in the region for my seventh combat tour and well, it happened again.  I was board and started studying the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1995.  I found a copy of the Iraqi brigade commander’s diary that was the spearhead of the invasion, and in these notes, I found something I had not expected.  It showed a well-conceived plan with real insight and personal courage.  I had earlier found interviews with the Kuwait brigade and small unit commanders about their response to this action.  I started exploring again.  I say again because some of this I had started twenty years earlier when I lived in the region as a project manager.  I found where most of the engagements took place and slowly started to make sense of it all.  I even got the G-2 (division level intelligence organization) to translate the diary of the Iraqi brigade commander. I also found that he had recently been a military college professor in Jordan and made a real attempt to find him but to no eval.  Then, as before, the command found out what I was doing and I was assigned a significant additional duty.  On top of being the senior targeting officer for this deployed division (28,000 troops), I was now the command historian of the division and was assigned 37 historians to lead in an effort to write the division task force history as we delt with the air evacuation of Afghanistan. Of course, I also incorporated an extensive staff ride program to study not only the 1990 invasion but the regional history and a program to convey the local culture to the junior small unit leaders of the division.  It worked and we published a 700 page classified history and the staff ride program was regularly praised by the command.  Of course, I could not leave it at that.  Jordan (the Hashemite Kingdom) was also within our division’s area of operations, so I started working on research on the Arab Revolt (Arab Awakening) 1916-18.  This event is most well known through the life of T.E. Lawrence “Lawrence of Arabia”.  I flew to Jordan onboard a military transport aircraft and stated my study.  Or at least I did after being quarantined for COVID.  I traveled throughout Jordan with some time dealing with my other targeting duties but always with an eye to what had happened here during the Arab Revolt that shattered Ottoman rule of the region.  I even got my boss, who was not a fan of history, enthusiastic when we visited the Amman train depot that had previously been the hub of Ottoman logistic reach into the region.  To make this long story shorter, I turned the staff ride plan for Jordan over to the next command and today they are continuing this work.  I am back home in Washington DC now and when I have free time, I do what I aways do.  I research and try to understand what is around me.  I also restore the artillery in my private collection and try to better understand its effect on history.  That part of the story can be seen on my web site:



  1. Why is studying/knowing history important?


We have only been here a short while.  The things we accomplish in our lives are possible because of the technology and concepts developed by the generations that lived before us. Understanding how these technologies developed, how the concepts we follow day to day came about, and the chain of events that lead us to our current situation, helps understand what is otherwise chaos.  In other words, if you at least have a reasonable understanding of the last 125 years, little in today’s news cycle will really surprise you.  


  1. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?


To me, it is from the invention of modern steel to today.  Why steel?  Well, from that point many of the concepts that could only exist on paper, could suddenly be functional and have great influence.  An unbelievable number of inventions cascaded out from this one spark. Human history moved quite slowly before steel.  After steel, the cycle of innovation is so rapid it is beyond the capacity for an individual to fully comprehend.  It is not boring at all.  


  1. How did you become a military collector and what do you do with it all?


As mentioned earlier, the house I grew up in was filled with books of all types.  Country studies and manuals with technical illustrations first caught my imagination.  I love working with my hands and building from my imagination and the complexity of these devices was fascinating to me.  With it came a desire to understand how they were used and why.


What do you do with it.  Well, it is a collection for study of technology in the timeline of history.  What were the capabilities and limitations of artillery during a particular era is the question the collection answers.  Because it is not a collection open to the public, I use the web site Lovett Artillery Collection to allow others to see much of what I have and access my research.  At first, I worried that if I put the web site out there everyone will just steal my photos and ideas.  That happens on a small scale but what I gain from it is far greater.  It opens my collection up to the full world of people with some interest in this subject, from authors struggling to describe the life of an artilleryman in a storyline, to modelers striving for more realism in their work, to others restoring similar pieces.  I now regularly correspond with people all over the world through this medium.  We share research and ideas and I learn far more than I ever would have keeping it all to myself.     


The collection is now owned by me.  Someday, I will not be around, and it will have another owner or owners.  My hope is that that will be my sons.  Regardless of who the next owner is, it is my hope that these systems will remain together and that the integral parts will not be yet again dispersed. 


  1. Are there some pieces in particular that you are searching for, a collector’s holy grail so to speak?


So, I need to explain my concept first, what is the mission for the collection then maybe it will make sense.  From an early age I was very disappointed with museums. You would go see them and well, there is a cannon.  I have no idea how it works, because it no longer does. I have no idea about the systems that allowed it to do what was intended because they are nowhere around the exhibit.  Museums almost always fail miserably.  The analogy I use is that it is like taking a kid that is interested in biology to see a mounted deer head on the wall and saying, “here kid, this is a deer”. No, to understand a deer you need to see and understand not only its full body but how it interacted in its environment. What made it able to live and survive.  A cannon is like that. Just seeing it alone is nothing.  There is a vast system of systems that make it capable of movement from place to place on the battlefield.  There is a complex system of mathematical instruments that must be used to calculate how the gun/howitzer’s projectile can hit a target miles away, despite the rotation of the Earth as the projectile flies along, despite the changes in wind direction in the strata of air the projectile passes through, etc.  I collect not only the artillery piece but its full system of systems that make it functional on the battlefield.  Few others do this. 


I have almost all the artillery I am really interested in.  All total, forty howitzers, cannon, and mortars.  What I am really looking for now are those systems that flesh out the supporting technology.  That is the limbers, caissons, horse harnessing, saddles, aiming circles, panoramic sights, fuzes, fuze setters, ammunition, meteorological instruments, observation optics, sound direction finders, maps, small arms, technical manuals, etc.  So, what is the big short term goal, the piece I don’t have yet that I am really looking for?  It is a limber, which is a munitions wagon.  The type I want is one that is correct for German Foot Artillery (Heavy Artillery Branch) from the WWI era.  I already have all the Field Artillery Limbers from German service in that era, but the heavy artillery used completely different limbers to transport their heavy guns and howitzers.  Their horse harnessing and saddles also differed substantially.  I have the heavy howitzers and the horse equipment.  What I am missing is what goes in the middle, the limber.    


Friday, November 4, 2022

7 Questions With Susan Wels, Author of An Assassin In Utopia


Susan Wels is a New York Times-bestselling author, historian, and journalist. Her new nonfiction narrative history book, to be released February 7, 2023, is An Assassin in Utopia: The True Story of a Nineteenth-Century Sex Cult and a President’s Murder. This true-crime odyssey explores a forgotten, fascinating chapter of American history—leading the reader from a free-love utopian community in upstate New York to the assassination of President James Garfield in 1881 by a former member of the community. It’s the first book to weave together these stories, in a tale of utopian experiments, political machinations, and murder. Susan lives in Northern California and spent more than twelve years researching and writing this book. Her website is

  1. How and when did you get hooked on history?

I was an English and journalism major in college and thought that history was just about dry-as-dust names and dates. But when I was in my forties, I worked on a book, called America: Then & Now, that paired old photographs of American events, places, and daily life with contemporary photos of the same subjects. My job was to write brief essays that tied each of the then-and-now photographs together. All of a sudden, I found myself researching historical topics from baseball and weddings to jazz and hemlines, and I fell completely in love with researching and writing history. I went on to write published histories of Stanford University and the Titanic before enrolling in graduate school to get a master’s degree in history, and I’ve never looked back. Researching and writing history is my joy.

  1. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?

History has sent me off on some of the greatest travels and adventures of my lifetime. In 1998, after my New York Times-bestselling Titanic history book came out, I was invited to be the correspondent on the Titanic Research & Recovery Expedition. I spent six weeks on a small vessel in the North Atlantic reporting daily about the expedition and weaving the history of the Titanic into my reports. Two years later, I spent nearly two months in Belfast, Northern Ireland, researching the history of the shipyards that built the Titanic. I’ve learned that “shoe-leather research”—actually being in places where the history I’m writing about occurred—is incredibly illuminating. So my research has taken me to places as diverse as Alaska, Hawaii, New York, Washington, D.C., Jerusalem, Belfast, and Geneva, Switzerland.

  1. How does history play a part of your professional life/career?

I have been writing history since 1992, when HarperCollins published America: Then & Now. Since then, I’ve researched, written, and published histories including The Olympic Spirit: 100 Years of the Games (Collins 1995), Titanic: Legacy of the World’s Greatest Ocean Liner (Time Life Books, 1997), Stanford: Portrait of a University (Stanford 1999), Pearl Harbor: America’s Darkest Day (Time Life Books, 2001), San Francisco: Arts for the City—Civic Art and Urban Change, 1932-2012 (Heyday 2013), and my latest book—to be released in early February 2023—An Assassin in Utopia: The True Story of a Nineteenth-Century Sex Cult and a President’s Murder. Since 2005, I’ve also been editor for the Stanford Historical Society at Stanford University. I think it’s fair to say that history has been my career for the last thirty years.

  1. Why is studying/knowing history important?

First, because it adds so much context to current events. For example, the presidential election of 1876—which I write about in An Assassin in Utopia—set the stage in many ways for the contested elections of 2000 and 2020. History repeats, although not exactly, and it can be helpful to see and recognize those patterns. Secondly, it’s great to study history because it’s fascinating. As the late historian David McCullough said, “History is human.” It’s made and moved by human beings whose beliefs, misapprehensions, talents, passions, fears, foibles, and collisions create world-changing events. History is driven by personalities and human nature, and it’s often much stranger than fiction.

  1. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?

I’ve spent a lot of time studying, researching, and writing about late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American history. The primary sources from that era are deep and rich, and it’s close enough to our own time to make it relatively easy to understand the psychology and motivations of historical figures. But I also love learning about the history of Africa, ancient Rome, and Napoleonic Europe. To be honest, there are few historical topics that don’t interest me.

  1. What led you to write An Assassin in Utopia?

I first read about the Oneida Community as a graduate student in history. I was gobsmacked. It was incredible to me that they existed and even thrived in Victorian America. Ever since, I had it in mind to write a book about Oneida. Back in 2009, I was looking for a crime committed by a member, because I thought it would give me a human-interest angle. But I couldn’t find a crime. The Oneidans were upright, respected citizens, despite their eccentric sexual practices, and I got frustrated. But I knew that The New York Times had recently put its archives online, and I thought there was a small chance that the Times would have reported on a crime committed in upstate New York, where the Oneida Community was located. So, as a last-ditch effort, I typed “Oneida” and “crime” into the search bar—and was inundated with hits. I found my crime—a presidential assassination—and knew that I had a book. I spent the next twelve years fascinated and entertained by what I was discovering as I researched every detail of the story.

  1. Aside from its effects on Charles Guiteau, was the Oneida Community anything more than an obscure footnote in American history?

The Oneida Community was a prime example of the social and religious experiments that blossomed across the country after the War for Independence. The American revolution shattered institutions and religions, and charismatic leaders filled the void with new, imaginative social structures. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that almost every reading man “had a draft of a new community” in his pocket. The country saw more than seventy utopian experiments between 1800 and 1860. Upstate New York was such a hotbed of these movements that it became known as the “Burned Over District.” And the Oneida Community, which prospered for more than thirty years, was the most successful utopian experiment in American history.