Podcasts: The New Textbooks

(A Print Project Proposal)

We are all here because we love history but as students we take for granted the extensive reading and course material available to us. We only have this kind of access because we attend a university. Most of the population is not as lucky as we are. How do they learn about history or any academic related topics for that matter, outside of the preliminary studies covered in high school? Well one increasingly popular medium for sharing history with the public is through podcasts. In recent years, podcast popularity has increased and expanded its topics and audiences. In the realm of history, podcast creators speak on a variety of subjects providing different interpretations and conversational themes depending on the podcast you listen to. Plus podcasts are free and anyone with Internet access and a smart device can listen to them on the go or some are even covered on the radio. This kind of wide reaching audio entertainment is easy and thus the most appealing way to take in information. I propose a print project that analyzes the topics covered and the formats they are delivered in from a range of American History podcasts. What stories are being told and what formats are being used? History podcasts cover a broad range of topics and at first glance American History is popular and one ideal to use as a case study to explore this research question.

As for the different stories being told, I’m curious whose perspective American history is being told from. Are women, Native Americans, and African Americans stories covered? How often? Are podcast’s also covering how American History is being discussed today, for example as a study of Atlantic or Continental History? Are American History podcasts in conversation with other historical topics or academic fields? Most importantly what do all these answers tell us about the field of American history? Knowing if podcasts are discussing women in the American Revolution and broadening their coverage of that angle, tells us a lot about the development of American history as a field and about shifts in what the public perceives as important to discuss.

In regards to the later, what formats are used: interview, solo/monologue, conversational/co-hosted, a panel, etc. What do these formats offer the audience that wouldn’t be as available before podcasting came around? In the case of the interview format (assuming the podcast interviews a historian), this provides the audience with a voice and discussion with a historian who shares their views and insight on a specific topic that they otherwise would never had heard speak. Another example is the co-hosting or conversational format, which allows two people to go back and forth discussing a topic and working through it out loud. If there’s a common question they hosts can assume the audience would have, one will prompt the other with that clarifying question and they will provide an answer. This creates a sort of auditory classroom on the go for listeners who want to learn about American history in a very informal and no stress environment.

My podcasts would be my primary tools for research. After some preliminary research, some podcasts (all by professional historians) I would analyze are:

These three have very high popularity ratings and cover a wide range of American history topics.

I would listen to their episodes to get an idea of the topics discussed, see if there are similarities between them and note the topics and formats utilized. I would narrow my episodes from their publication (2013, 2014, 2014) to today, selecting about three episodes from their first year live, then three episodes from about halfway in (til now) so three to four years in, then their last three episodes to explore the transformation over time as well as what and how they have provided the public with American History.

Some material my project could use:

Drew, C. Educational podcasts: A genre analysis. E-Learning and Digital Media14(4), (2017), 201–211. https://doi.org/10.1177/2042753017736177

Drew argues for the importance of podcast utilization as education by exploring three podcast genres or formats. They demonstrate the versatility of podcasts and how analysis of them could lead to development of new ideas supporting e-learning environments.

Serpikov, Alexandra, “Communicating History: Podcasts as Public History” (2018). Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology. Accessed from
https://scholarworks.rit.edu/theses/9810

Serpikov argues for podcasts viability and importance as a medium as well as highlighting the relationship between academic and public history, where they intersect and their evolving historical practices.

Overall, podcasts get more and more historical information out to a wider audience that wouldn’t learn nearly as much about history, American in this case, unless they were in graduate school or had access to extensive reading materials, usually only available through a university. Exploring discussion and deliverance of history through podcasts helps us, as historians understand their value as a unique digital resource. Podcasts are ever expanding and for many a primary medium for knowledge. More historians need to recognize this and take advantage of the wide reaching audience they could impact by contributing, starting or utilizing a podcast.

3 Replies to “Podcasts: The New Textbooks”

  1. This is a great concept for a project. I think doing analysis of the podcasts themselves is a great way to approach this. With that noted, I think a lot of the most interesting things about these (why are historians making them? What have they learned about how to make them effectively? etc.) are things that would best be answered by reaching out to the creators and asking them those kinds of questions directly. So if you do decide to do this project, I would encourage you to consider doing some outreach to the creators of these for their thoughts and ideas about the medium.

    Love that you’ve already started identifying relevant secondary literature to situate this project in. What you’ve found already seems really rich to work from. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it would be really great to work out situating this study in relation to historians uptake of old new media (like radio). There is a chapter in “Historians in Public” on radio that could be relevant here too draw from.

    1. Okay thank you for the feedback and advice! I think you make a good point that reaching out to the creators will shed light on things that they’ve learned through the process of producing podcast content that I wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere. Thank you!

  2. I thought this print project proposal sounds like a great idea. Analysis of podcasts seems like a fun way of learning about the entire process. I also think it is a good idea for historians to be more outspoken through podcasts to spread knowledge for consumers or the audience of the podcast. Nice post.

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