Podcasting for historians (and for fun)

I’ve been thinking about writing about podcasts for a while and it seems I’m not the only one. Elizabeth Covart published a really interesting blogpost today about  Trends in Digital Communications which is worth a read—she  produces the successful Ben Franklin’s World podcast series in the US.  I’m no tech writer, but it seems to me that the medium has come into its own this past year—possibly owing to the runaway success of Serial last year. The industry has now entered a consolidation phase as the commercial realities of the medium are thrashed out. As Covart argues, historians need to be aware of digital media trends in order to better communicate their work.  I believe historians (individually or en masse) can utilise podcasting to get their work out into the public domain—to spark discussions, influence debate, entertain, and maybe even sell their books—with much lower barriers to entry than for other media formats.* We might even remind people why the humanities are so important to everyday life.

*My latest favourite podcast, which is not history-related, is Annabel Crabb & Leigh Sales’ Chat10Looks3. This is a weekly Australian podcast, where two journos discuss (often hilariously) what they’ve been reading, watching, writing, baking etc. They frequently remind listeners not to expect high production values in their podcast, so they serve as a good example of the low barriers to entry in terms of technology. Although having said that,  both are well-known in Australian media, so I guess being a relatively-invisible historian might make launching your own podcast slightly harder.  Hence networks as a way of getting content noticed.

There is a range of history-related podcast material out there, and I list below some of what I’ve discovered. Most of what I’ve found is American. Some of it is quite academic, advanced-meta-historiography-type stuff, some is really engaging, some is very light-hearted. There are also some lecture and conference recordings available, although I agree with Covart that this doesn’t always translate into great digital content.  But as someone researching a topic on the other side of the world from most other researchers in my field, I would dearly love to see conference proceedings recorded for podcast on a regular basis (please!)

The Juntocast – a podcast on early American history

Ben Franklin’s World – what I love about this is listening to both academic and public historians talk about their work in archives, museums, research, writing etc.

Rum, Rebels & Ratbags – slightly irreverent Australian series presented by the author of Girt, the Unauthorised History of Australia Great for getting some facts about the early years of European Australia (but mostly stories about men…)

PastPresent – American, links history with current affairs

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – great content but slightly boring as it’s just someone reading out entries from the dictionary!

I’ll also link to an article from the Telegraph (one of my least favourite newspapers I must disclose), but they list some British history podcasts which may be of interest: The Telegraph’s best history podcasts list and this is a link to a list of 19 (American) history podcasts compiled by the online magazine Mental Floss

My other non-history favourite is Happier with Gretchen Rubin … an acquired taste perhaps, but it’s been great for helping me think about productivity, which has been important in my first year as a PhD student.

**Update 24 November 2015: I’ve had quite a few comments via WordPress and elsewhere, so here are a few more podcasts to add to my list. (Thanks to all the commenters.)

The British Museum/BBC podcast series: A History of the World in 100 Objects

Mike Duncan’s Revolutions Podcast

Backdoor Broadcasting – this site contains recordings of presentations (often including Powerpoints) given at various UK universities in the Arts and Humanities. It’s not the easiest site to navigate but has some interesting content.

New Books in American Studies and New Books in Gender Studies

Finally, this is a blogpost on the Teaching United States History Blog, which contains an extensive list of podcasts, and some interesting comments on using podcasts as a teaching tool.

Institute of Historical Research Interviews The IHR produces occasional podcast interviews with historians, the list includes Peter Burke, Anthony McFarland & Lady Antonia Fraser.

**Update 2 May 2016: Some non-history podcasts I’ve enjoyed so far this year:

I religiously listen to Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast and have recently discovered Dan Harris’ 10% Happier in which he interviews a great mix of people about their meditation practices. I loved his book, and find the interviews really engaging. I also really got into Serial Season 2 – a thought-provoking series, which really drove home the point that emerges again and again in historical research, that nothing is ever quite as it seems, and nor is anything ever black and white.

Liz Covart has also launched a great series with the Omohundro Institute as part of her Ben Franklin’s World podcast – it’s called Doing History and I think should be mandatory listening for all students of history. Three episodes have aired thus far, with experienced historians discussing questions such as how they come across their research topics, how they use sources, and the cross-over with archaeology.

7 thoughts on “Podcasting for historians (and for fun)

  1. Like you, I’ve found it hard to find great history podcasts. An exception to that rule is A History of the World in 100 Objects. Unbelievably fantastic. So I usually listen to interview podcasts instead: Conversations with Richard Fidler (an ABC radio show) is especially good. When available, I also enjoy podcasts from literary festivals.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoy Mike Duncan’s podcasts on Revolutions. He started with the History of Rome, but then specialized in Revolutions. He’s ‘done’ the English Civil War, the American Revolution and has just completed the French Revolution. He’s on a paternity leave break at the moment, but he usually issues one podcast per week. He’s not an academic or professional historian, but he has a good narrative sense. The podcasts are of a fairly basic nature- ie just him talking- but they’re easy to follow for someone without a deep knowledge of the area.. He’s going to move onto the Haitian Revolution in 2016. Past podcasts are available by exploring his archives on his site:
    http://www.revolutionspodcast.com/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. And again…. there’s also the Backdoor Broadcasting site which has fairly low-tech recordings of presentations (often including Powerpoints) given at various UK universities in the Arts and Humanities. There’s a huge range of podcasts, and some outstanding ‘names’ among the presenters. The index is clunky although you can do a tag search. I often chuckle to myself as you hear the planes going overhead on the way to Heathrow Airport!
    http://backdoorbroadcasting.net/

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you both for your replies – I’ll look into both those podcasts. People keep recommending Richard Fidler to me, so I’ll seek that out. And with my Caribbean research, I’d be very interested to follow some work on Haiti.

    Like

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