Below you will find answers to my most commonly asked questions - plus a few good stories! If you have a question that I haven’t answered please just email me and put ‘Ask Bob’ in the subject line.
I’ve just amassed books, ephemera, costumes, and historical artifacts all of my life. So here’s the story. My Uncle Rich was an antique dealer. He had a shed in the back piled from floor to ceiling with books and all of the other stuff that wouldn’t fit in his store. In the summers when we would visit my Aunt Mary in Topeka my favorite thing to do was to head out back to that shed. When I was eight years old Uncle Rich told me, “All of that stuff in the shed I don’t really want, so if you find something you like just bring it in and we can talk about it.” He gave me all sorts of stuff.
I remember once being fascinated by the binding of a particular book - Junge’s History of the British Navy. When I brought it to him he said, “You picked a good book but there are three of them. You have to take all three.” I had to carry them in my little suitcase to get them back home. (I was strange even then!)
I loved to go to Topeka and talk to him about collectibles. He once had an actual gladiator helmet and he took a picture of me wearing it when I was nine. So Uncle Rich was the one who first turned me onto collecting stuff.
But my geography contributed as well. I grew up only six blocks from Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. You don’t grow up in a place like that without having history ingrained in your psyche. And then we moved to the midwest and I found that I had to buy more books because living in the middle of the prairie and there was nothing here! So that’s how I got started.
And then once I decided to be a history teacher I had a really good excuse to keep my library and collections growing. In fact when I taught at Park Hill High School. I spent more on my library than the annual school library budget! From the very beginning as a teacher my philosophy was if they don’t provide you with anything other than a lousy textbook you’re justing going to have to provide everything yourself in order to do the job right. Living and teaching in the midwest I couldn’t just take my students a few blocks away to The Met to see a suit of armor. So I brought all of the artifacts into the classroom.
I prefer to choose topics that are overlooked or controversial. I look for a topic in an area that might be of interest but many people don’t really know anything about it. For instance, most people have heard of Alexander the Great but I try to answer what don’t they really know about him? I also try to hit topics that I’m very proficient in. That’s why I spend so much time on Napoleon. And occasionally I focus on some obscure topics because of a niche book that I have in my library. For instance I may someday do a podcast on the Tulip Mania in Holland or the Luddites and Industrialization.
Ancient history is a subject that is frequently either overlooked or controversial in the general public. In our universities everyone wants to take modern history and professors of ancient history are becoming harder and harder to find. But modern history is based on the past - particularly government and particularly religion. That’s why HIST 133 Western Civ is so important. If we go back to the beginning it will clear up understanding the problems that we have today.
Really the problems are the same but the scope is different because now those are global problems. We now have the same problems globally as the Sumerians and the Roman Empire had regionally. Studying ancient history allows us to study those problems on a smaller scale and then zoom out to today.
I always begin with the resources I have in my own library. If I don’t believe I have enough sources then I simply hop over to Amazon and look for the exact niche I need and then add those to my collection. For each podcast series I usually work from three to five different sources. Sometimes I’m just annotating selections from my sources with added commentary - it really depends on the book. If I have an excellent source it can allow me to work relatively quickly. If not, I have a lot of reorganization to do.
For instance, the source that I’m using for my 100 Years War is a seven volume series with more than 7000 pages of reading. Very few people are going to sit down and read the entire series. The author is an excellent storyteller but occasionally he gets so involved that he forgets his timeline. So when I prepare a podcast using that source I have to annotate three chapters and sit down and reorganize it so that it comes out right.
Once I’ve picked my sources and done my reading and research and made my notes I write out all of my podcasts by hand. And then when I’m feeling relaxed I record them. I don’t write and then record. And sometimes even when I have recording scheduled I may wake up and it’s a bad day and I’ll just say - no recording! I have to be in the right mood or I’m just wasting my time.
When I began podcasting I only had a simple handheld mp3 recorder. Now I have a professional Blue microphone. I use Audacity for editing.
The name is a play on Summa Theologica from the Middle Ages. My intent was to take all of the notes and materials that I used to teach my classes and digitize them for use by other teachers. So it is a project to digitize and preserve all of the notes, tests, quizzes, power points, etc. from my 30 years of teaching. So far I have completed 5 of the 36 topics that I teach: Mesopotamia, Alexander the Great, Early Man, Dinosaurs and Archaeology.
Moving all of my podcast material to the new website - History According to Bob frees up the domain Summa Historica for me to pursue that curriculum project.
Well, I guess the first headdress photograph would have been the one of me in Uncle Rich’s gladiator helmet but unfortunately I have not been able to locate this family photograph. But I always wore them into the classroom and sometimes students would take a picture. And I would let them try them on and take pictures. It was just something fun to do. I did it for shock value - as a way to grab their attention. I like to dress up for the Renaissance Festival and Sherry and I dress up for Halloween - Antony and Cleopatra for instance.
Well, I’ve always liked caricatures and my podcast was called History According to Bob so I thought, why not just put my head on all of these historical pictures? I toyed around with the idea of a backstory - like I had a time machine, etc. But really, the story goes back even further than the podcast.
In my early years of teaching my classroom was in the basement which had no windows. So to cheer things up a bit every month I would decorate the classroom with posters and pictures each with a different theme. I was really into James Bond at the time so one month my classroom was filled with James Bond posters. At the time I had a student whose father owned a copy shop. He took my picture from a yearbook and enlarged it in a couple of different sizes and made copies and cut them out. One morning when I arrived in my classroom to find that they had put my head on James Bond! It became known as the Packett head; and occasionally they would put it on a female figure and have a good laugh. That went on for years.
When I was a softball coach one day I had to arrive late to a game so they took one of the large copies and put it on a stick and the substitute first base coach held it until I got there!
Masters of Arts in History with a focus on Ancient History
Undergraduate Degree Medieval History
30 years as a Social Studies teacher in Park Hill School District in Kansas City, Missouri. (taught AP history, two Teacher of the Year nominations, and three Who’s Who Among Teachers recognitions)
Adjunct Professor of History at Metropolitan Community Colleges of Kansas City since 1990
Produce six history podcasts per week for the past seven years consisting of over 2000s. I’ve grown my audience from 30 listeners for my first to now having more than 500,000 hits per month with an international audience.
Do everything to make history come alive. Two things are most important. First, become the very best storyteller that you can be. If you aren’t a good storyteller pick a different profession. Second find things that your students can touch. If you visit museums and historical sites with your classroom call ahead and ask for access to interactive experiences. If you visit the Tower of London they have a program for kids that allows them to try on suits of armor! Much better than listening to a droning docent. When you can’t take your students out bring history in by inviting reenactors and living history buffs into your classroom. Jump through whatever administrative hoops necessary.
Keep everything (and I mean everything) and archive it in a one inch 3 ring binder(s).
Be inspired and influenced by your very best teachers. Incorporate the best things that they did into your classroom. In college I had a Civil War professor who had a massive weapon collection. One day he brought in five authentic muskets from the Civil War and we fired them on the ROTC range!
Bookmark summahistorica.com for more resources in the future.