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15 Best TED Talks for History Buffs


TED caters to big thinkers of all kinds, including history buffs. If you're interested in historic photographs, past presidents, architecture, and even pre-history, you'll find something to enjoy here. Read on for a great collection of TED talks that history buffs will enjoy watching.

  1. Doris Kearns Goodwin on Learning from Past Presidents: In this talk, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin shares what past presidents can teach us, specifically, lessons from Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson.
  2. David Byrne: How Architecture Helped Music Evolve: David Byrne offers observations from his career in music, exploring how music has experienced innovation as a result of the changing architecture in the venues it's played.
  3. Jonathan Klein: Photos That Changed the World: Jonathan Klein's talk discusses how photographs do more than just document history. He shows some of the most iconic photographs in time, and explains how they made history.
  4. Paul Sereno Digs Up Dinosaurs: There's a history before history, and dinosaurs are an amazing part of it. Explore the landscapes, heat, and evolution in the land before time with this talk from paleontologist Paul Sereno.
  5. James Nachtwey's Searing Photos of War: James Nachtwey's passion is documenting history, with time spent covering conflicts and major social issues in more than 30 countries. In this talk, Nachtwey shares his innovation as a war photojournalist.
  6. Anupam Mishra: The Ancient Ingenuity of Water Harvesting: We come up with new ideas every day, but sometimes, the most ingenious came from centuries past. Anupam Mishra's talk explores the water harvesting engineering built by the people of India's Golden Desert.
  7. Clay Shirky: How Social Media Can Make History: The era of top-down control is coming to an end, with news coming from social media around the world. Clay Shirky shares how social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook give citizens in repressive regimes a voice and ability to report real news.
  8. Steven Johnson Tours the Ghost Map: Death and disease can have a profound effect on society and history. Author Steven Johnson shares his book, The Ghost Map, in this talk, discussing the cholera outbreak in 1854 London, and how it impacted science, cities, and society.
  9. James Watson on How He Discovered DNA: Sometimes, amazing things happen in a funny way. In his talk, Nobel laureate James Watson shares the story of how he and his research partner discovered the structure of DNA.
  10. George Dyson at the Birth of the Computer: Computers are such an important part of our modern life, but they had their own start, too. Watch this talk as George Dyson covers the history of the modern computer from its origins in the 17th century.
  11. Murray Gell-Mann on the Ancestor of Language: Though we may not understand or recognize modern languages other than our own, modern languages do have a common ancestry. Murray Gell-Mann offers this talk on his work to find the ancestry that's shared among modern languages.
  12. Ben Katchor's Comics of Bygone New York: History isn't always found in books, as Ben Katchor demonstrates. Katchor reads from his comic strips about historic and modern New York in this talk.
  13. Sophal Ear: Escaping the Khmer Rouge: Many don't know what it's like to have to escape a country, but Sophal Ear does. He shares the story of his family's escape from Cambodia, discussing his mother's determination to save her children from the Khmer Rouge.
  14. David Hoffman Shares his Sputnik Mania: If you'd like to get an interesting look into the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik, check out this talk from filmmaker David Hoffman. In this talk, he shares footage from his documentary Sputnik Mania, and discusses how Sputnik jumpstarted science and math education around the world.
  15. Eric Sanderson Pictures New York-before the City: It's strange to think of New York City as anything but a bustling city, but it was once just hills, wetlands, and wildlife. Eric Sanderson shares his 3D map of what Manhattan used to be.

March 9th, 2011 written by Site Administrator

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