Ben Franklin’s World, a podcast about early American history

Ben Franklin’s World is a weekly podcast hosted by Dr Liz Covart which focuses on the early American colonial period, broadly conceived. The topics covered over the 3+ years of the podcast are varied, and are only rarely connected with the subject of Benjamin Franklin himself.

Most episodes take the form of a detailed interview with an academic historian, usually centred around a book the historian has published. Covart’s skill as a podcaster is in keeping the conversation accessible to a generalist audience, but also in delving deep into the historical issues at play. The breadth of historical approaches (eg. social history, cultural history, history of ideas) covered by the podcast is impressive, exposing listeners to a variety of historical methodologies as well as some downright fascinating stories. There have been occasional interviews with public historians – one of which was the very first episode in which Covart went behind the stacks at the Library Company of Philadelphia, which was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731.

In conjunction with the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture Covart has released two Doing History series within the podcast. Season 1 (2016) was entitled How Historians Work and focused on how scholars frame historical problems; research in different kinds of archives; analyse primary materials including text, objects, and images; synthesize and critically engage secondary literature; present their work for collaborative feedback; and work with editors and publishers. Series 2 (2017), To The Revolution, built on Season 1’s discussions and demonstrated how differently scholars approach, understand, and portray the events comprising the American Revolution. I highly recommend the Doing History Series to undergraduate and postgraduate students, but also to those pursuing their own non-academic research and writing.

The show notes accompanying each episode summarise the interview and include links to the interviewee’s work and other resources discussed during the episode. The show notes also helpfully link to complementary episodes of Ben Franklin’s World, allowing listeners to delve into other discussions around the topic.

Ben Franklin’s World has won many awards. It currently stands as the reigning best history podcast and performs in the top 7 percent of all podcasts. A key to the show’s success  is its accessibility. The podcast can be enjoyed by those inside and outside of academia. Covart’s goal with Ben Franklin’s World has always been to make great scholarly history available to people outside the profession—she has certainly achieved that goal, and the show goes from strength to strength.

 

Making the Haitian Revolution in early America: Podcast

In this episode of Ben Franklin’s World, Liz Covart interviews James Alexander Dun, the author of Dangerous Neighbours. In the episode, Dun explores how the Haitian Revolution shaped the way Americans thought about their own revolution. The discussion begins with one of the best summaries of the Haitian Revolution I’ve ever heard (or read), which makes the episode worth listening to for that alone. Dun goes on to carefully explain the intellectual and revolutionary connections between France, Saint Domingue (Haiti) and early America, providing new insights into the Atlantic world of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Click here to listen.

A month of history podcasts: April 2017

This is the first of what I hope will be a regular post with links to history-related podcasts I’ve listened to over the past month.

Some podcast series are well-established and not hard to find—such as Ben Franklin’s World or Stuff You Missed in History Class  but in a more recent trend, academic conferences and seminars are often being recorded and released online as podcasts. But these can be harder to find.

As always, I thrive on feedback from readers and listeners. If any of the podcasts I link to have interested you, or inspired you, please tell me! Also, please share with me any history-related podcasts you have discovered so that I can add them to my list.

* Please see the end of this post for a how-to guide for subscribing to podcasts*

1. Professor David Armitage, “Civil Wars: A History in Ideas.” A paper given at a seminar entitled “Partition and Civil Wars in Ireland 2020-2023: Civil Wars and Their Legacy” at Queen’s University Belfast, 10 March 2017. Armitage introduced his new book (Civil Wars: A History in Ideas) and traced the history of the idea of civil war from Cicero to Syria.

2. Paul Revere’s Ride Through History. This is the latest instalment in the ‘Doing History’ Series on Ben Franklin’s World, which focuses on how historians work. This episode focuses on why it is that historians have focused on Paul Revere’s ride on 18 April 1775, and not on the many other significant rides he took? Why is it that Revere seems to ride quickly into history and then just as quickly out of it? A great feature of the series is the additional resources – related to each episode – which are available on the Omohundro Institute’s website.  Click here to access the episode.

3. ‘Cuba is already ours:’ annexationists, filibusterers, & the US struggle to buy Cuba, 1820-1898. Dr Carrie Gibson, author of Empire’s Crossroads, which I reviewed here, recently gave a paper at University College Londons Institute of the Americas on the US’s many attempts to buy Cuba from Spain throughout the nineteenth century.

4. Mike Duncan is back with a new Revolution! Since 2013, Duncan (an historian, author, and podcaster) has produced a number of podcast series, each focusing in depth on a different revolution in the past. In march, his sixth series launched – focusing on the July Revolution in France (1830). Duncan focuses on timelines, and often goes into great detail about people, places and the order of events—not as much analysis as the other podcasts listed above, but the podcasts make for great listening and are very popular.

Click here to see Revolutions podcast in iTunes and here for Duncan’s website, which includes some images, maps and further commentary. Also, I linked to a previous series on the Haitian Revolution on my CaribbeanHistories blog here.

5. Last but not least, some Australian content from the Dictionary of Sydney. Lisa Murray, the Historian of the City of Sydney discussed an exhibition at the Australian Museum which highlights the work of two of the most prominent natural history illustrators in 19th Century Australia, Harriet and Helena Scott. Click here to see the accompanying blogpost at the Dictionary of Sydney – once there, click the ‘Listen Now’ button. If you explore the blog, you’ll find links to other podcasts from the Dictionary team.

How to subscribe to a podcast.

Subscribing simply means that whenever a new episode of a podcast is released, it will appear on your podcast app of choice, on your phone, iPad, computer etc. Click here to go to a how-to article written by one of my favourite (non-history) podcasters, Gretchen Rubin. The article explains how to subscribe to Rubin’s Happier podcast, but the steps she describes can be followed for any podcast. The article explains how to subscribe on iTunes and Soundcloud, using either your computer or your iPhone or android phone. I hope this helps!

Let’s find out if historians can talk!

As I’ve written here before, I’m an avid podcast-listener, and I’m a fan of Liz Covart’s format in Ben Franklin’s World. For those of you who haven’t listened, BFW is a weekly podcast in which the host (Liz) interviews an historian of early America about their research. The podcast has a loyal subscriber base, and is approaching its landmark 100th episode, which is a wonderful achievement as most podcasts don’t get into double figures.

I’m convinced that there is enough material in Australia to support a weekly conversation with an historian – I guess the question is whether there is the listener/subscriber base. This is something I’ve thought about pursuing after I get through my PhD. So  I was delighted to hear this week that James Valentine, a radio host with ABC702 in Sydney kicked off just such a conversation with Associate Professor Clare Wright from LaTrobe University. What was even better for me was that I heard about this not from anyone in the history fraternity, but from friends in my exercise class…so there’s a small listener base excited about this already! Valentine’s stated aim is to have a weekly conversation with an historian on his afternoon radio show to discuss their research and current debates in history. He wants to talk with historians of Australia and beyond. His pitch for the segment was that we hear from journalists, writers and social commentators on history—but not a lot from historians.* He’s keen to find out if historians can talk!

You can listen to Valentine & Wright’s conversation HERE. It goes from 1:28:00 until about 1:50:00. (Unfortunately this recording will disappear after a few days, but if I find it elsewhere I’ll update the link.) Dr Wright talked generally about what she loves about researching history—about the detective work involved and the adrenaline of the chase that keeps her going back to the archives. She then talked about her own current research, which is an expansion of the work she did on the Forgotten Rebels of Eureka. She’s now looking at mining history in Australia from pre-invasion to the (doomed) 2012 Mining Resources Rent Tax.

*In Australia, this may have something to do with the virulent nature of popular debate around what came to be known as the Australian history wars, but that’s another story.

By the way, Dr Wright co-convened a great symposium on history and the media in 2013 – to revisit some of the discussions there, link here to the symposium blog.

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.