Podcasts and popular history-making

Before I started the process of applying to graduate school I was considering going to law school and took a couple of LSAT study courses. One of the best suggestions that my LSAT prep teacher gave us was a suggestion for a podcast that would help us learn more about the history of the supreme court. This suggestion shows the growing popularity of podcasts as a method of both entertainment and learning.

With the growth of streaming services, the listening experiences of most people has transformed, not only for music but also for talk radio. This talk radio form of entertainment has been replaced by podcasts. In the last couple of years, podcasts have increased steadily in popularity, there are now thousands of podcasts and this number continues increasing rapidly. Now there is a Podcast for almost any subject you can think of to politics, news, true crime and of course history. Podcasts are a new method of reaching out to the public and connecting with thousands of people on historical subjects and ideas.

History podcasts are becoming more and more popular and expanding the definition of what constitutes history to include genres such as true crime podcasts and podcasts dedicated to recent history, it can be argued that history podcasts are some of the most popular podcasts available. This means that there is a growing amount of the public who are connecting with history through the use of podcasts. Because of the popularity of history as a subject, there are a plethora of podcasts that focus on history as a subject, because of this podcast host vary in the way they address history and the subject they discuss on there shows.  Though many of them continue to tell the well-known main historical narratives still others are dedicated to making important interventions in the well-known historical narratives and encourage their listeners to think more critically about history. These historical podcasts also vary in the way they discuss history in the show, how they engage their audience, how they use their sources and which sources they use when they talk about similar subjects. I propose that for this print project I analyze some of the most popular history podcasts and explore the way that they translate their historical research for the digital streaming system of the podcast. I will look at the way that these podcasts address history, and portray it on there shows. I will also look at the way that they use their various sources, and how some of them address the same historical event. Through this analysis I will see the way that history can be transferred into this particular digital medium, and how it gives or takes away information from there listeners. The podcasts I have selected are:

Dig: a History Podcast

Revisionist history

The Memory Palace


American History Tellers

All of these podcasts address history in very different ways and the hosts of the shows are also varied in there historical knowledge and how much they are involved in the field of history with some of them being academic historians it graduate degrees within the field and others being “amateur” historians who have interest in the field and do research for there shows.

5 Replies to “Podcasts and popular history-making”

  1. Jamie,

    I love the idea of comparing podcasts as a print project! I listen to a variety (predominantly true-crime) and am always interested by the fact that many of the larger project bring on researchers (as they should). Rarely do I find this research compiled anywhere on their websites, however, and I wonder if, for historic podcasts, they “cite” their research on their pages? Might be an interesting point of comparison, especially in an era of “fake news” and “why wasn’t I consulted.” I’m also interested in whether or not these podcasts supplement their audio presence with some other form–a facebook page where listeners interact, resources on their podcast page, etc–as a means of appealing/making their podcast accessible to a wider audience. Super excited to see where this goes!

    1. Hey Carmen! These are great questions, with the historical podcast Dig: a History Podcast I have looked at there website quite thoroughly so I can say for sure that they add citations, and links in there show notes along with a transcript. The history podcasts that I have explored mostly make a point to either mention or provide sources on their website. They also are often available on Twitter and occasionally on Facebook. I hope this helps!

  2. Jamie, great idea! Looking into how they engage their audience will definitely be interesting, just because it is a more unique method of outreach and will reach different audiences. I am curious about your selection of podcasts – are they personal favorites or history podcasts that you saw were popular in general?

    1. Hi Cameron! Great question, one of them is one of my favorite podcasts Dig: a history podcast, however, I choose it as one of the ones to analyze because the hosts of the podcast are also trained historians and they occasionally discuss subjects that they specialize in. Two of them are European historians and two of them are American historians and they all have various periods that they focus on. The rest of the podcasts I choose because they were some of the most popular history podcasts out there and they show up on multiple lists about the best history podcasts. I choose Revisionist history because the purpose of the show is to revise the well-known history with facts that are not well known, Backstory has a similar revelation like the concept with a focus on revealing the history that is not well known. Like Dig history, Backstory is run by 4 historians but they all focus on U.S. history. American History tellers are probably the most unique because its main method is through the art of storytelling and reveals history by focusing on everyday people’s experiences during historical events. The memory palace also practices a storytelling element and like American history, tellers are run by a non-professional historian. I also wanted to make sure that the podcasts focus a lot on American history and that they don’t focus on just one event or era.:) Check them out and I hope this answers your question

  3. Looking at the development of history podcasts is a great idea. It sounds like you have a good set of podcasts that you are interested in looking at. I think you could situate a project like this in the context of other work on historians use of new media to reach broader audiences (in this case, the book Historians in Public could be a good resource.

    Along with gathering data about the podcasts (their content, reviews of them, data about how long they have been around) I think it would be really good to consider reaching out to the creators of the podcasts and asking them to do interviews. Even just getting them to respond to questions over email could be great. I think you could get a lot of really interesting information by asking them about what they have learned through the process of developing podcasts, or asking them about what their objectives are for their podcasts and the extent to which they think they are meeting those objectives.

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