One of my favorite history listens is Open Yale Courses History 202 lectures with John Merriman, which covers the period after the end of the Thirty Years War into the modern era (there a few post-1945 lectures). Europe saw intense change during this time period, including the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, the rise of nation states and mass politics throughout the 19th century, and the awfulness of the Great War in the 20th century, with the period between 1914 and 1945 repeatedly referred to as a new more terrible “Thirty Years War”. Professor Merriman begins the course with the Brecht poem A Worker Reads History which includes lines such as:
Young Alexander conquered India.
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Was there not even a cook in his army?
True to this, the course mostly avoids the historical narrative and “great people”, instead focusing on the themes of the course, which captures a variety of societies dealing with a series of stark transitions. When he does dive into the “great men” of history, such as Peter the Great or Napoleon, Professor Merriman includes enough of the oddities that made up their personality that you are reminded of them first and foremost as people: not historical inevitabilities or divine actors.
My absolute favorite lecture in the course is where Merriman dives into forms of Popular Protest (transcript). The picture he paints is of the poor underclass - the peasants, squeezed out of their land by the enclosure movement as the landed elite got the government to back their interests and kick the peasants out of areas that they had historically lived and worked. One particular example is of the grain riot. Why did grain riots happen? Why did they stop happening? Merriman goes on to talk about the Swing riots (against the mechanization of labor brought by the threshing machine) and the la guerre des demoiselle in the French department of the Ariège (south France) (where men would dress up like women and conduct guerilla raids). Throughout it all the common theme is of the olden days being fair long - grain was sold at “just price”, jobs were available for everyone who was willing to work hard - these protests would throw this dream back into the face of their oppressors. As heroic as this may seem, these peasants were ultimately squeezed out of their land and forced into the cities as part of the growing urban workforce - cities were riddled with crime and disease. “And only I am escaped alone to tell thee” - an entire way of life lost under the wheels of progress.
There are lots of other enjoyable lectures, including Anarchism, Imperialists (including a history of Robert Baden-Powell and the Boy Scouts), and a back door history of the Englightenment as measured by the “grub street hacks” who wrote lower-quality works in Paris before the French Revolution. I’m on my third listen of this series and it never ceases to both educate and amuse me - highly recommended if you’ve got the history podcast bug.