I am an avid fan of History Podcasts, a genre that is broad and varied. Dan Carlin can produce a six-hour episode detailing the pre-history of Persia with analysis and illustration while Stuff You Missed in History Class highlights pivotal contributors to history left out of the Great (white) Man theories. My personal favorites are Our Fake History, which examines myth and reality surrounding historical events and individuals and History on Fire, which takes “deep dives” into historical topics produced and narrated by noted historian Daniele Bolelli. Being such a fan, I was eager to create my own digital project on Beech Fork as a podcast, but in the process, I learned what makes my favorites and others great while mine would be misguided.
Podcasts communicate historical information by using narration, soundbites, and interviews in order to create an episode complete with the introduction of the topic, exploration, and conclusion. These are wrapped up in high-quality files and shared in spaces either on personal web spaces or through apps and programs such as iTunes and Stitcher. The content in these programs packs historical fact and argument into a typically linear narrative. Even without a stated argument, the choice of material and supplemental information assumes a cohesive deliverable point of view through selection. This is different from digital history websites that incorporate games or interaction; podcasts are pre-recorded and consumed without manipulation of choice content by the listener.
We’ve explored many different ways of doing digital history this semester, from participatory sites such as the Emigrant City or Together We Listen project to the visual illustration of historical change from the Story Map site, and through more comprehensive sites that allow the viewer to discover facts by their own interest and choice and then engage with the material on other levels for expanded understanding. Podcasts serve the latter because they use the oldest means of history telling and usually have companion websites to serve as their bibliographies or further reading suggestions. With this portable format, audial history narrative and discussion can be broadcasted as a stand-alone episode or part of a series based on a theme. This is what I have chosen to accomplish with the episode on Beech Fork, which I will shop to existing programs and collections such as the Clio, while it still can exist as a stand-alone with less strength for a broader audience.
The intimacy level between a podcast and its audience is much higher than one in a readable digital format or even one with gaming or other methods of engagement because the voices and sound provide a simulation of a discussion. There is this famous meme:
While there are possible limitations for people who are unable to hear, for which there are transcriptions for some programs, podcasts, when hosted by free sites such as Stitcher or on their web domain, are accessible for anyone with a computer or phone, which are ubiquitous in contemporary life. Audiences also should be persuaded to draw their own conclusions or continue with research since an easy broadcasting method limits juried rigor.
While History podcasts are appealing and accessible, they are also difficult to produce and should not clutter the marketplace unless there is a solid argument or woven theme. In my own work this semester, I came to the conclusion that a stand-alone podcast would appeal to too small of an audience to promote beyond a comprehensive multi-media website or united by the theme of West Virginia History, Appalachian history, or the US Corp of Engineers stories. I’ll continue as a fan-girl for my favorites as well.