Banjo Strings and Drinking Gourds: How American Culture Came To Be

A Podcast of the Frontier Culture Museum

An additional way for you to enjoy the Frontier Culture Museum is via our podcast entitled, “Banjo Strings and Drinking Gourds: How American Culture Came To Be“.  Through this ongoing series, we’ll be covering historic topics such as medicine, architecture, and art. You’ll also get a behind-the-scenes look at a living history museum.

Don’t Miss An Episode

Our podcasts can be found on Spotify, Apple Podcast, Pandora, Amazon Music, and Google Podcast. If you’d like to automatically have access to the newest podcasts as they drop, subscribe to our RSS feed! You can also find the podcast on our Facebook page using the mobile app. You can also listen on the individual links below.

We’ll be adding new podcasts about twice a month. You can listen to the Frontier Culture Museum podcast on your computer, phone, or tablet. Hope you enjoy it! Please send us your feedback and suggestions for future podcast topics as well!

Follow the podcast on our blog for more information, images, and further reading on each episode!


Podcast Archives


Season 2 Episode 13- Historical Pop Culture: Lights, camera, action! In this episode, we take a peek at what kind of discussions can happen around the breakroom table at the Frontier Culture Museum regarding pop culture. Movies, books, TV shows, video games, toys…all of these are vehicles for historical content and of course, historical interpreters have a lot of feelings about all of it. 

Season 2 Episode 12- The 17th Century in 30 Minutes or Less: This episode started as Alex’s ambitious project to encapsulate just why the 17th century should be considered a formative century, one that had a direct impact on the formation of the modern world. That…may not be what actually happened. We did learn a valuable lesson, however, namely that we should not attempt to cram such a broad, wide-ranging topic into a typical episode. But, we did have a lot of fun arguing the point, so enjoy!

Season 2 Episode 11.5- A Day in the Life: 18th Century: To finish our special Women’s History Month series, Mary Kate describes an unusual aspect of women’s history: women in trades. As one of the Frontier Culture Museum’s blacksmiths, Mary Kate is well-versed in the historical role of women participating in the so-called men’s trades. In this episode, she describes a fictional blacksmithing family and the role of the women with that trade.

Season 2 Episode 11- A Day in the Life: 19th Century: Continuing our Women’s History Month series, Makayla details the life of a Virginia farmer’s wife in the mid-19th century. Her recounting includes actual quotes from contemporary sources, like the American Frugal Housewife, first published in 1828. Be sure to compare this Day in the Life to the others across time and place.

Season 2 Episode 10.5- A Day in the Life: Eastern Woodlands: We’re continuing our set of episodes for Women’s History Month. Today, Misti describes a spring day in the life of women of the Eastern Woodlands. Seasonal and year-round activities each have their own place in the day and the visitor to a village can observe the rhythms of life.

Season 2 Episode 10- A Day in the Life: 17th Century: For Women’s History Month, we thought we’d change things up a bit and give you a taste of what a typical day would be like for some of the women we talk about at the Frontier Culture Museum. This month, we’ll be bringing you four short episodes, in both first and third person, that paint a picture of daily life for women of the past. This week, we start in the 17th century with a typical spring day for a yeoman farmer’s wife.

Season 2 Episode 9- The Middle Passage: In this episode, we take a turn for the serious in observance of Black History Month. Mark, who has been a guest previously discussing navigation and shipping, talks to us about the traumatic and often deadly journey from freedom to enslavement via the Middle Passage. 

Season 2 Episode 8- The Cost of Clothing: Have you ever thought about how easy it is to buy clothes in the modern world? Or how much automation goes in to making them? In the past, of course, everything was more labor intensive, particularly in the pre-industrial periods. But that labor intensity meant that finished products often held a higher societal and economic value. In this episode, we (attempt to) figure out just why clothes were worth so much more and explain the production process from raw material to wearable garment. We may even answer the question: which costs more comparatively, car or clothes?

Season 2 Episode 7- The Surprising History of Vaccines: For another episode on current topics, we feature Makayla Baker Paxton discussing the long history of inoculation and vaccines. Featuring such notable figures as Catherine the Great, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, the story of vaccines, ever present in our minds today, has many similarities with the situation under COVID-19.

Season 2 Episode 6History in the Ground: In this episode, we talk about archaeology: what it is, why we care, and how it interacts with history. Archaeology and the archaeological record is a valuable resource for knowing how people lived in the past. When written records are scarce or misleading, archaeology can fill in the gaps. The physical traces left behind by people tell their own stories.

Season 2 Episode 5A Brief History of the Christmas Tree: In this holiday episode, we discuss the myths, misconceptions, and evidence (or lack thereof) surrounding the first Christmas tree. This ubiquitous holiday decoration doesn’t have as simple of an origin as you might think. 

Season 2 Episode 4The Peterkin’s Christmas Tree: In this episode, we dramatize a holiday story written in 1883. The adventures of the Peterkin family were chronicled by Lucretia P. Hale throughout the mid to late 19th century. The well-intentioned, but slightly sideways, family tended to create their own obstacles and were usually saved by a “Lady from Philadelphia.” This Christmas installment is a perfect case in point!

Season 2 Episode 3Vernacular Architecture: In this episode, which we recorded outside in August (cicadas, road noise, and all), our guest discusses the vernacular styles of architecture housed at the Frontier Culture Museum. He also discusses how those styles were brought over to America and elements were further blended and cherrypicked, creating new styles of vernacular structures. 

Season 2 Episode 2A Talk with Dr. Megan Newman: This episode, we invite the Executive Director of the Frontier Culture Museum, Dr. Megan Newman, to talk about some exciting up-coming projects and improvements to the museum. We also discuss some of the impact COVID-19 has had on the FCM and Dr. Newman’s favorite visitor experience. 

Season 2 Episode 1Local Folklore: We’re back with a new season! And just in time for some chilling local legends and lore from around Staunton and the Shenandoah Valley. Our guests this episode tell some of the creepy stories brought by immigrants into the Valley and some that are more homegrown. Enjoy the spooky kickoff to season two!


Episode 20Setting the Record Straight: Myth-busting: Ever heard the old chestnut that women in the past often died by flaming petticoat? How about the one that people were shorter in the past? Ever wondered if everything “they say” is true? Then this is the episode for you! We’re busting, or not, some of the commonly held perceptions and common wisdom about the past. Be prepared to be surprised!.

Episode 19Fire and Plague: London in 1665 and 1666: We went a little overboard with our research into London in 1666 for our “Worst years In History” podcast. We didn’t want to publish an hour and a half episode, so here’s the stuff that didn’t make the cut the first time! London in 1665 and 1666 was nobody’s idea of a good time, but this episode looks a little closer at just what was going on and gives you some first-hand accounts of fire, warfare, and plague.

Episode 18Curation at the Frontier Culture Museum: Have you ever wondered how a museum decides what goes into a historic house? Or when to use artifacts or reproductions? Then this is the episode for you! Joining us is our Curator, David Puckett, who will answer our questions about what curation is, how decisions are made, and all the research that goes into every object a visitor sees on site.

Episode 17 One Drink or Two?: Alcohol, as troublesome as it can be, is a prominent drink in modern society. It tends to be a large part of social interactions. But how did that happen? In this episode, we address the rise of alcohol in history, the historic beer brewing process, and other bevvies that developed along the way.

Episode 16Obscure Conflicts: Lighting the Spark of Revolution: In this episode, we’ve veered off the traditional July focus on the Revolution and the Declaration of Independence to focus on the bigger picture of martial conflicts in the years before 1776. Just what was happening to help form the crucible that would produce open rebellion against England? Our guests detail conflicts you may not have heard of that happened on American soil or involved colonists in wider geopolitical issues.

Episode 15Juneteenth: It’s Juneteenth! Join us as we explore the meaning behind the observance of the day, the traditions involved, and some of the music important to the day.

Episode 14 – Oats and Grains and Barley Grow: Do you or I or anyone know how oats and grains and barley grow? How about the more important question: why? In this episode, we discuss the use of grains, peas, and other plant matter around the world as some type of flour or meal. Some of them might surprise you!

Episode 13 – Worst Years In History: We can all agree that 2020 was a long year. And it probably seemed like the worst year ever. That got us thinking about the people we talk about at the museum and what they might have considered as the worst years of their lives. So bear with us as we discuss some of the truly awful years of the past.

Episode 12 – Age of Sail and Shipping: The voyage to the New World via sail has been long been romanticized. But what kind of ships were used? Who was going where, and why? Our guest this episode discusses those issues in detail, along with fascinating bits of maritime science and history that facilitated the age of sail.

Episode 11 – Midwifery and Maternal Care: March is Women’s History Month, so this episode covers a critical, but often overlooked aspect of women’s history: childbirth and the midwives who oversaw it. Traditionally a female trade, midwifery has been everything from a respected institution to a discipline shrouded in mystery and accusations of witchcraft. Our guest on this episode discusses the historical treatment of midwives and the development of knowledge of childbirth among white, African, and Indian populations of early America.

Episode 10 – Hearts Aflutter: February, arguably one of the dreariest times of year, is synonymous with love and romance. How did that happen? And how has the idea of love and courtship changed over time? This episode answers those burning questions, along with discussing some of the weirdest traditions and charms people have used to attract a mate.

Episode 9Inequality in the New World:   The American Colonies were often touted as a land of equality and potential, but was that really accurate? In this episode, we break down the types of inequalities that were either overtly or covertly present among the disparate groups who would go on to form the United States.


Bonus Episode 1 February is Black History Month, which celebrates the contributions and acknowledges the suffering of enslaved people forcibly brought to the American colonies and the United States. In this bonus episode, our guest gives a short history of slavery in Virginia.


Episode 8Reenactment vs Interpretation:  You’ve probably seen reenactors on battlefields, recreating a moment of history. You’ve probably also been to a living history museum and seen interpreters carrying out daily tasks in a historic fashion. What’s the difference? In this episode, our guests discuss the differences and similarities between reenacting and interpreting, and why people might do either or both.


Episode 7Haggis Love it or Leave it:  Haggis gets a bad rep. Cooking with offal isn’t the norm for most modern palates. But haggis endures and is considered quintessentially Scottish, largely due to poet Robert Burns. In this episode, our guest discusses making haggis, hoarding sheep stomachs, and how a poem influenced a humble haggis to become a national icon. Visit our Youtube channel to watch haggis being made traditionally on our 18th century Ulster farm.


Episode 6Christmas 1645:  In this special edition of Banjo Strings and Drinking Gourds, it is Christmas time in the Year of Our Lord, 1645. We come to you from Hartlebury in Worcestershire, bringing news of the ongoing Civil War and the Puritanical attack on Christmas.


Episode 5History of Christmas:  Winter is here, and with it, winter holidays. Christmas has definitely not always been the family-oriented celebration we know it as today. This episode covers the development of Christmas over time among the cultures the museum focuses on.


Episode 4Hard History:  We as modern audiences can have strong emotional or physical reactions to difficult events or thoughts that underlie everyday life in the past. Our guest this episode discusses why and how interpreters incorporate hard history.


Episode 3Malaria:  In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we ask one of our medical historians about one of the most lingering endemics in history: malaria. The mosquito-borne disease has had a significant impact on human history, especially the history of the frontier.


Episode 2Folk Tales and Folklore:  It’s time for jack o’lanterns, pumpkin spice, apple cider, and ghost stories. In this episode, enjoy interpreters telling tales, both fact and fiction, of spooky, scary, or unnatural history.


Episode 1 What is Interpretation?:   In this episode, we discuss just what exactly is interpretation. We’ll bring in some of the talented interpreters from around the museum to tell you in their own words the answer to that question, and more.