I became interested in podcasts my senior year of undergrad when I was required to create a podcast episode for my senior thesis. For this project we looked at numerous podcasts to examine the style and story telling process. As a result, I began listening to more and more podcasts, especially ones about history, or true crime. One of the big questions I’ve had about these podcasts is how this media has changed or has the ability to change the state of the field when it comes to story telling. Also, to what degree is there historical integrity with the story telling, because there are numerous podcasts that are not hosted by historians.
For this project I’d like to look at what goes into making historical podcasts and the differences in historians and non-historians in making podcasts. I’d like to know if historians have an upper hand in creating these podcasts. Which group makes podcasts that are more popular? How do these podcasts do research and cite their work? Do historians or non-historians do more in depth research for their podcasts or is it about the same? Do non-historians have an upper hand because they can make it relatable or more interesting?
Podcasts have potential of making traditionally boring subjects, like history, more interesting and thus have the ability of making history more accessible both in terms of entertainment and ease of understanding. By using the podcast medium, the hosts are able to make the history more entertaining by adding often humorous commentary that wouldn’t usually be found in a traditional academic piece. In addition, it’s a more accessible medium because it’s not written like an academic journal article. It is usually much more conversational, especially the podcasts that are not hosted by actual historians. I want to divide the podcasts in three categories:
Podcasts hosted by Historians, namely Ben Franklin’s World and Backstory.
Podcasts hosted by Journalists, namely Slow Burn, Revisionist History, and Hardcore History
Podcasts hosted by Non-Historians, namely The Alarmist, The Memory Place, and The History Chicks
By looking at these three categories I want to first determine which group, if any, is the most reliable to listen to. Some of these podcasts are run by non-historians and their research for each episode is not available on their websites. Although most listeners probably won’t be looking at their research because it is all given in the episode, it is helpful to include it on their website to establish credibility for those who do check. Most of the podcasts I am looking at have the research used for each episode listed and it seems that journalists and historians are the ones that always have research, with Slow Burn and Hardcore History having the most extensive research, which is interesting because they are written by journalists. The Alarmist and The History Chicks, hosted by non-historians have no locatable research on their pages. This also brings about the question of who does their research? Do they have historians doing research for them or are the hosts responsible for doing their own research?
I also want to look at the popularity and discoverability of these podcasts. A big part of the creation of these podcasts is the ability to make them fun. If they sound like an academic journal article while you’re listening, most audience members won’t continue listening and/or it will come off as a boring podcast. Personally, even though I’m not easily bored by academic texts compared to most people, I am very sensitive to how podcasts sound. For me, there has to be structure, but it also needs to be entertaining. Usually this comes with unknown fun facts or just overall fun/weird things instead of a boring monotone voice with a seemingly boring narrative.
Ultimately, the questions I’d like to answer are: What research goes into these podcasts? Is the research they do reliable (who is writing the pieces they’re referencing? Where are their primary sources coming from?)? What makes these podcasts accessible to people? Why are some podcasts more discoverable than others? How does the structure and content of the podcast affect its popularity?