The Rest of History (Podcast) | Final Project with Sam Burnett, from Site Contributor Lauren Pfeil

I don’t know that I’ve ever had a long-term project that I enjoyed as much as I have enjoyed creating a podcast for this class. The Rest of History, or TRoH, to our loyal fans, is a history podcast created for an audience that hasn’t seen much historical media created with them in mind, and for people who are interested in learning history through hearing stories told in a way that reaches them. Making this with Sam has been a very valuable experience for me as a public historian-in-training, and it has also been incredibly fun!

Sam and I were able to take a multifaceted approach to creating this podcast. Because, of course, we had the entire semester to come up with material, we weren’t on quite as much of a time crunch as podcasters who release new episodes every single week. Nevertheless, as complete rookies, we definitely benefitted from having a longer time in which we could ideate—and ideate we did. The basis of our podcast was, of course, the actual historical material. Sam and I think we are very entertaining on our own, but without a real premise and storyline in mind, we wouldn’t have had enough stand-up material or hilarious real-life moments to fill four entire recorded episodes. 

We divided and conquered when it came to our content. Our format demanded that each of us outline our respective “host” episodes separately; one of us would serve as the storyteller and one of us would be hearing the story for the first time. The commentator always went in completely blind, which was both a blessing and a curse. I couldn’t bounce ideas off of Sam or figure out how to word things quite the way I wanted to if I needed to get unstuck, but I also knew that I was going to be able to surprise and shock Sam with what I could think of ahead of time (often with hysterical results).

Recording a podcast was, of course, a time-intensive endeavor; across our trailer and four episodes, we recorded almost ten hours of raw material. We had originally envisioned our episodes being somewhat on the shorter side—perhaps 20-30 minutes each. Both of us definitely came very, very prepared to the recording sessions that we were responsible for hosting, so we had more than enough material to record and then to subsequently deal with. I think we both realize that that was probably for the best, though, because it certainly would have been disappointing if our episodes had less-than-satisfactory material. 

When it came to preparing our episodes to be made available digitally, we divided up the work again. My primary task was doing all of the audio editing and mixing for the episodes; this was something I was familiar with, because I have been participating in creating music for all of my life. Of course, podcasts differ from music in one key way; whereas a musical score is predictable and one should know exactly how long it should take to record, our podcast relied heavily on improvisation. Between our extended chats and wild tangents—plus the time when I knocked a full can of Dr. Pepper onto my off-white rug during a recording session—I had to edit out a TON of the raw material. In fact, for Episode 01: Fairies, Murder, and the Burning of Bridget Cleary, I took 2 hours and 43 minutes down to 1 hour and 11 minutes, meaning that I cut out over 56% of the raw material! 

As we continued on and got closer to making our podcast publicly available, Sam and I grew more and more comfortable at the mic, at webmaster-ing, in the editing suite (a.k.a my couch, with quiet snacks and over-the-ear headphones), and in our end product. We’ve had a couple of our friends tell us that they forget that it’s us when they listen and that they really believe that they’re listening to a professional podcast! Honestly, no comment could make me happier. This project has been an amazing experience filled with lots of laughs and pints of chocolate chip cookie dough, and it has resulted in a lot of my favorite moments from this school year. In all seriousness, I have told just about everyone I know about this podcast, because I am really, really passionate about what we have created together. 

All this to say, *Podcaster Voice* please subscribe to our show and leave us a five-star review, because it really does help more people discover the podcast. And of course, you can learn more about the show on our website,, where you can also find each episode’s show notes, and on our Instagram, @therestofhistorypod. 

Signing off—


Lauren Pfeil is a graduate student at American University. A native of Des Moines, Iowa and a proud alumna of Butler University, she hopes to push the field of public history towards a more inclusive & accessible landscape.

Reach Lauren on Twitter: @lauren_pfeil
Reach Lauren via email:

Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s “Planned Obsolescence”: Like Retinol for the Scholarly Monograph | From Site Contributor Lauren Pfeil

Kathleen Fitzpatrick opens Planned Obsolescence with “The text you are now reading, whether on a screen in draft form or in its final, printed version, began its gestation some years ago in a series of explorations into the notion of obsolescence.”1 

I am now writing a blog post about a book about obsolescence with the knowledge that the very words I am typing are going to become obsolete. So, uh, with that happy thought that in mind…

Fitzpatrick has explored obsolescence as a concept before publishing Planned Obsolescence—namely, in her previous title, “The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television,” which was published in 2006. Her struggles in publishing that book were ironic; at the heart of its argument was the defense of books’ relevance in today’s culture, and yet, she was rejected by presses that she thought would agree with that thesis. 

And nevertheless, she persisted—in large part because getting published is still an important standard by which academics are judged. Though our culture broadly has shifted away from the book in favor of other media, the scholarly monograph is still key for advancement at the vast majority of American colleges and universities. Therefore, the scholarly monograph, she argues, is not dead: it is undead.2

Cue the theme music from The X-Files.

“Undead” here doesn’t necessarily mean that once-popular titles that have fallen off of syllabi have suddenly been reborn from their literary ashes. Rather, Fitzpatrick states that the scholarly monograph is no longer viable as a form, yet it is still necessary. There hasn’t been a new form or a major change to the form which could replace the scholarly monograph as-is, so although we are aware that it is flawed, we continue with the scholarly monograph as it is the best option that we have. Those of you who are rom-com watchers will recognize this as “settling.”

Through five chapters—”Peer Review”, “Authorship”, “Texts”, “Preservation”, and “The University”—Fitzpatrick strips the world of academic publishing down to the studs. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of academic publishing, exploring why it is the way it is and how it got to be that way before mapping out potential new roads to explore in the name of improvement. Fitzpatrick stakes claim after claim as she tackles each new subject, and demonstrates the importance of her assessments and subsequent recommendations with fervor. There’s something distinctly Lorax-ian about her prose; even sections that center on technical knowledge are passionately written and defended.

While much of Planned Obsolescence relies on speculation or predictions, its myriad hypotheses alone are worth considering even without testing and results. Fitzpatrick is doing heavy lifting here by working to push a field forward, and for current and former scholars and academics alike, this book is like a fire alarm. Even though she acknowledges that as every second goes by, her statements lose relevance, it is the fact that she is making them and that we are reading them that makes them more crucial than ever. Putting out a fire from inside the house is a big ask, and yet, Kathleen Fitzpatrick has asked it of us. It’s going to take a whole lot of people willing to fight this fire to keep the scholarly monograph from going completely up in flames.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Because it’s such a hot topic both in general and for this class specifically: How do you think Fitzpatrick would feel about NFTs, as they relate to intellectual property and authorship? 
  2. What’s something that you once loved that is now obsolete? For what reason has it become obsolete, and do you think that there is a potential route for it to be revived?
  3. In Chapter 3, Fitzpatrick writes that “[g]ames may seem a frivolous example of the contemporary academy’s drive to cater to the younger generation’s relatively non-intellectual interests, but it is in fact hoped that patrons who use the library in such a fashion will not only be more likely to use it in traditional ways…but also more empowered to collaborate with one another, breaking the library’s stereotypical hush.” As public historians, creating a product that can be relevant to broad audience—across generations, for example—can be a difficult task. Does obsolescence help or hurt this effort? How can it be utilized strategically?
  4. As historians, we often handle topics and subjects that are considered obsolete. Where do you draw the line between obsolescence being a good thing and being a bad thing?
  5. Is there something about student life that you already consider “undead”? What could possible reanimations or replacements be?
  6. As a student—someone who has experienced university life and academic constraints, even if you haven’t pursued publishing—what is something that you would like to see change about the culture of academia?


  1. Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence (New York: NYU Press, 2011), 1.
  2. Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence (New York: NYU Press, 2011), 4.

Lauren Pfeil is a graduate student at American University. A native of Des Moines, Iowa and a proud alumna of Butler University, she hopes to push the field of public history towards a more inclusive & accessible landscape.

Reach Lauren on Twitter: @lauren_pfeil
Reach Lauren via email:

NMAAHC’s “Slavery & Freedom”: A Practicum in African American History, Studies of Slavery, and the History of the United States | Site Contributor Lauren Pfeil

Since the onset of the digital age, the question of how traditional, physical texts such as books and printed displays would remain relevant has been a universal challenge across industries. Museums and other historical institutions have made forays into cyberspace with varying results. While some have gone full-throttle and created immersive exhibits and parallel offerings that rival in-person experiences, others have stayed closer to their roots as organizations steeped in knowledge and research, designing virtual counterparts for scholarly audiences and keeping the materials made for public consumption in more familiar formats. The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), which opened the doors of its current site in 2016, has made a marriage between the two paths: Searchable Museum.1

“Today” is where visitors come aboard the elevator.
(The convenient lack of a specific date no doubt helps the webmaster take one thing off of their to-do list.)2

Available at, this new format was made possible by the Smithsonian Institution (NMAAHC is only one of the great edifices that line the National Mall) as well as Bloomberg Philanthropies, the organization that manages former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s charitable giving.3 Bloomberg Philanthropies has been a long-time funder of cultural institutions’ paths towards developing modern technologies to keep their work relevant; this program, Bloomberg Connects, is cited as having given over 100 million USD to various institutions since 1999 for that purpose.4

The digital technologies used within Searchable Museum are varied and nuanced. The current exhibition, “Slavery & Freedom,” looks like something out of an Apple Event with smooth, continuously flowing graphic elements and strategic usage of color to maintain the NMAAHC brand. When one scrolls through the framework, the structure becomes more clear. Searchable Museum has certainly borrowed from the world of education in the delineation of chapters and sections (complete with corresponding numbers and Roman numerals, respectively). In a society where few seem to be listening to the voices of teachers, “Slavery & Freedom” has a well-structured, textbook-esque curriculum that is a noticeable nod to American educators.

The secret sauce to “Slavery & Freedom”‘s success is its compelling content. Chronology, as always, creates its place in shaping history. When entering the exhibition, visitors are taken through a timeline “elevator” (linked here) that brings them back in time, punctuated by remarkable dates as they descend (“2009” is shown superimposed over a photo of Barack Obama taking the oath of office; “1524” floats over a map of colonial Florida). The exhibition spans 1400-1877 and is then divided into four chapters, each covering a new era. Sections within each chapters break down into focus areas—some geographic, some thematic—and allow for visitors to clearly note the big idea of the page that they’re looking at, as they’ll have to click on its name. Furthermore, in the Stories portion of Searchable Museum, new perspectives are considered. “Lesser-Known Stories” and “Present to Past” (which considers current problems from a historical lens) are evidently designed to challenge visitors to reconsider if they really have a full picture of what slavery and freedom meant and continue to mean. These sections are so fascinating and offer such excellent new material that one wonders why they are technically separate from the main exhibition itself. That said, because the range of topics housed within each of these two Stories is so diverse and difficult to connect to others in the same story, offering the Stories in this format provides a solid alternative that clearly separates each unrelated topic, allowing for visitors to explore these stories without becoming confused at a narrative that would jump around.

The first Black woman to be elected to Congress, Shirley Chisholm, continued to chip away at the glass ceiling; 1972 saw Chisholm rise to become both the first Black candidate from a major party and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination.5

Where practitioners can perhaps benefit the most is within Learn More—a website section that can frequently carry the denotation of “a jumbled page full of malfunctioning links”. Searchable Museum’s Learn More section is positively exemplary; it’s a real asset for anyone curious about how this research was done or how it grew into an exhibition. For practitioners, the Resources page offers links to research projects, institutions, sites, blogs, podcasts and more, helpful for anyone looking to build upon their knowledge of slavery and freedom. A specific subpage—For Educators—again emphasizes due credence being given by NMAAHC. Finally, for anyone curious as to how the sausage gets made, How We Know What We Know is any inquiring mind’s best friend. Methodology and resources, which can often seem inaccessible and confusing to someone unfamiliar with historical research, are presented into neatly portioned and purposefully explained pieces for anyone who finds themselves intrigued. Staff members appear in bite-size videos, as well, to demonstrate how the theory is applied in practice.

After a short text description explaining the methodological processes and usage of oral history, NMAAHC offers expertise from within, utilizing the skills of Kelly Navies.6
Watch the video here:

A truly worthwhile virtual exhibition can be difficult to find, and Searchable Museum most certainly fits the bill. There is plenty to be found within “Slavery & Freedom” for both an audience of the curious and an audience of curators; the wealth of information is amplified on an exponential level by its format and by its ability to explain the process of its creation to the public. If “Slavery & Freedom” is the benchmark for what NMAAHC can do with its exhibitions in Searchable Museum, it’s safe to say that the museum still has a demonstrably relevant and crucially important place in our digital-age world.



  1. “About the Museum,” National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution, accessed March 18, 2022,
  2. “Homepage,” Searchable Museum, National Museum of African American History and Culture, accessed March 18, 2022,
  3. “Homepage,” Searchable Museum, National Museum of African American History and Culture, accessed March 18, 2022,
  4. “Connecting Audiences to Culture Online or Onsite,” Bloomberg Philanthropies, Bloomberg IP Holdings LLC, 2022,
  5. “Elevator” Searchable Museum, National Museum of African American History and Culture, accessed March 18, 2022,; “Shirley Chisholm for President,” National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution, accessed March 20, 2022,
  6. “How We Know What We Know,” Searchable Museum, National Museum of African American History and Culture, accessed March 19, 2022,

Lauren Pfeil is a graduate student at American University. A native of Des Moines, Iowa and a proud alumna of Butler University, she hopes to push the field of public history towards a more inclusive & accessible landscape.

Reach Lauren on Twitter: @lauren_pfeil
Reach Lauren via email:

A Fresh Take on the Historical Podcast | A Digital Project Proposal from Site Contributor Lauren Pfeil

Sam Burnett and I have an exciting project that we wanted to share with this blog’s readers—a new show hosted by the two of us, which will be coming this spring to your favorite podcast platform!

We’ve found that much of the existing historical media features the same cast of characters, the same Gilbert Stuart paintings, and the same events boiled down to AP history Quizlet questions. We know Washington crossed the Delaware—like, we know. There’s been a lot of great work done to make some of these stories seem fresher and younger. Hamilton, Drunk History, The American Girls Podcast, Crash Course — each of these has made huge strides in making history more entertaining. 

As students of history, we see and acknowledge the conventional historical canon, but in our show, we’re going to be firing our canon-balls (haha, get it?). Our podcast is kicking out the loafers in powdered wigs and bringing you pieces of history you’ve never heard before. Our hope is that learning about these people and phenomena will blow apart your constructed ideas of who and what matters in history. 

Rarely is the 18-30 set made the primary audience for history programming, and rarer still is it that young adult women are the target audience. As members of these groups, we’d like to work in that niche, and we intend to feature perspectives and histories of historically underrepresented people and groups, as well. Channeling our audience as inspiration, we want to make our podcast feel like telling your friends the story of what happened last night, filled with previously unknown details.

Of course, having been raised in the digital age (who doesn’t love explaining how Spotify works to your parents?), we’ll be focusing our promotional efforts accordingly. You’ll soon be able to check out our website and social pages, and we’re hoping to partner with some of our favorite local history efforts (@aupublichistory on Instagram, perhaps?) to reach our target audience. Should the show take off, of course, we’ll be sure to let you all know first about our merch store, Patreon, and Cameo pages. We’ll be using insights from our podcast’s social and webpages as well as statistics from the podcast hosting platforms to track our performance.

Our logistical plan is to storyboard our full eight-episode first season. We’ll then record our pre-pod to introduce ourselves and the podcast’s premise and format. Four of the eight episodes will be recorded and made available to the public.

In the meantime, we would love to hear everyone’s best name ideas for our show, so drop them in the comments below and you’ll get a special shoutout in our introductory episode! And of course, if you’re a subject-matter expert on anything—whether your hometown was the birthplace of somebody fascinating or you have personal insight on the groups that control the exportation of parmagiano reggiano from Italy, we want to hear from you! We’re putting together a list of our dream guest stars, so submit your pitches here or reach us via email at

Lauren Pfeil is a graduate student at American University. A native of Des Moines, Iowa and a proud alumna of Butler University, she hopes to push the field of public history towards a more inclusive & accessible landscape.

Reach Lauren on Twitter: @lauren_pfeil
Reach Lauren via email:

Who’s Working in “The West Wing”: Using MALLET to Assess Representations of Work | A Print Proposal from Contributor Lauren Pfeil

The American family room is oriented towards a television screen, a setup made for entertaining the home audience and creating water-cooler fodder for the next day on the job. Many viewers can find personal connections with characters and events depicted on television shows; this is reflected with Halloween costumes, the dating profiles of Jims looking for their Pams, and of course, in the recently revived claim “I’m a Samantha.” With both work and television being so central to American culture, I’m hoping to look at the impact of a setting that exists across genres: the workplace. 

Setting aside any main and side plots which are not specifically about workers, working, or being in a workplace, certain elements that are worthy of evaluation appear across workplace television shows. Analyzing the biographical details of television characters—such as employee demographics, reporting structures, wardrobe—as well as their actions—like landing a big sale or microwaving salmon in the break room—would allow critical analyses to be made about how a series portrays the work that forms its basis. Naturally, the selection of the literature to be reviewed would impact the results gained. 

Evaluating the script of a show where the main cast of characters find themselves working on the same level or in similar positions might allow for an interesting assessment of the characters and their relationships when faced with the same tasks. Reading through scripts of NCIS might implore a historian to count how many times Gibbs tells Kate and Ziva to “sketch and shoot” and compare it to how many times he barks the same order at Tony and McGee, perhaps demonstrating a skew in gender or seniority. Jim, Dwight, and Andy’s sales tend to get more minutes of an episode of The Office than those of Phyllis, Stanley, or Pam, and the sales careers of Michael Scott and Todd Packer are heavily celebrated. How significant is this portrayal of the white, male sales representatives’ career trajectories at Dunder Mifflin? 

On the other hand, evaluating a script from a show where the positions of the characters are varied invites a vertical analysis where one could consider who works in which role or how much screen time that individual’s work is given. Mad Men’s interpretation of strict societal roles, for example, is explained as a statement on another time (though I’d invite everyone to consider the employment and pay gaps that persist to this day, as they might be closer to Don Draper’s world than we’d imagine). 

The West Wing is one of my favorite television shows of all time, and not just because my high school choir student teacher said that I bear a passing resemblance to Janel Moloney. A variety of people surround the White House, spanning industries, generations, and Congressional districts, and because the show focuses so heavily on the work of West Wing staffers, there is a wealth of Sorkinese to sift through. If afforded a good sabbatical to repetitively binge-watch seven seasons, I could go about this research question in the old-fashioned way—from my couch. However, digital transcripts and topic modeling would allow for much more expeditious data collection to be done. 

Happily, a fansite exists which boasts transcripts from every episode of The West Wing, aptly named Using MALLET (MAchine Learning for LanguagE Toolkit, linked here), I would feed in episode transcripts and get back Mallet’s perceived topics. If I ventured a guess, I would imagine that amongst these would be directives (keywords perhaps including Margaret, Carol, Bonnie, Ginger), legislative (votes, aisle, Hill, bill), and public opinion (survey, poll, Danny Concannon). The findings that Mallet would collectivize would allow me to evaluate the nature of the work being done and the workers who were doing it, without hearing that catchy theme song one hundred and fifty-four times. 

As the Executive Branch is one of the most important workplaces in the nation, it certainly merits scholarly attention. With the success of The West Wing as a series, the fictional President’s fictitious staff were invited to join many Americans’ Wednesday (later Sunday) nights on their La-Z-Boys. Considering the prestige of both the White House and NBC’s stake on primetime TV, I’m hoping that the use of topic modeling and digital transcripts will provide effective quantitative analysis of work on The West Wing

Lauren Pfeil is a graduate student at American University. A native of Des Moines, Iowa and a proud alumna of Butler University, she hopes to push the field of public history towards a more inclusive & accessible landscape.

Reach Lauren on Twitter: @lauren_pfeil
Reach Lauren via email: