Comparison of State-Level Nationalism — Final Paper and Reflection

Nations are the default state of the global political system today, and everyone is expected to have some sort of national identity. Nationalism, however, didn’t emerge from nowhere, but is instead a political tool that is used to create and mobilize a community that wouldn’t necessarily identify with each other otherwise. This is normally done from a position at the top of a hierarchy, like the executive of the federal government, but what happens when state-level executives use the same rhetorical flair to assert a unique state identity?

To explore this idea, I did a comparative text analysis of State of the State addresses from California and Texas since 1980. To get a quick summary of my findings in that analysis, take a look at my poster below! If you wanna read more about what I found, what I want to do moving forward, and what the research and writing process was like, keep on scrolling!

I originally intended to do a regional analysis of the use of nationalist rhetoric—especially references to historical figures and moments as informative of national character—in the United States, but a combo of inaccessible State of the State transcripts from before the mid-2000s and the time limits that come with a very busy semester narrowed my focus down to just two states that I had put in the same region already: California and Texas from 1980 to 2023.

Turns out, it was awesome really helpful to make this shift! First off, putting thee documents together into a corpus for Voyant took waaaaaaay longer than I expected. Like, several days were dedicated to copying the speeches into a single document that didn’t have the superfluous language from either the web page (for CA) or the procedural text of legislative notes (TX). Once that was finally done, I put the collections of speeches into Voyant Tools individually and together, and used various tools on Voyant to find what terms were common and find passages that contained them for close reading. (Here’s the combined corpus, in case you want to mess with it on your own)

The terms that I chose to search for in the corpus were words that, honestly, I just kind of figured would be related to concepts of community, statehood, insular group identity, and competition with “outsiders.” I made sure these terms were also relatively common across the combined corpus, and included variants on the words, such as “nations” and “national” as variations of the word “nation.” You can see a table with the words I searched and the appearances of each term across the combined corpus below.

TermAppearances with variantsTermAppearances with variants
appearances of selected terms and their variants across the CA and TX State of the State addresses

There were several trend that stuck out both in the relative frequencies of specific terms and close readings of passages that contained the terms above. One specific point that stood out was the difference between the relative frequency of the terms “border” and “world” in the California versus Texas speeches. “Border” was used several times more in Texas addresses than in California, and the opposite was true of “world,” which was much more common in California than Texas.

This may point towards a trend that emerged in the close readings, which was that while CA and TX often framed themselves as leaders of the United States, but Texas was often in a much more oppositional framework, leading states towards the light by fighting the wayward federal government. California, on the other hand, was either framed in relative harmony with the country as a whole or as an essentially independent entity, referencing the state’s position in the world without mentioning the rest of the US.

If you want to mess around with looking up specific terms for their relative frequencies between the two sets of speeches, feel free to mess around with the chart below by searching terms you’re interested in in the bottom left corner! Poke around and see what you can do!

In terms of historical references, both states talked about specific historical figures—like Sam Houston in Texas—and events—like the Gold Rush in California—that are tied to their state history, adding some level of unique flair to the identities that those people and moments supposedly shaped for the states in the following centuries. However, even though the specific historical moments were unique to each state, the supposedly fundamental characteristics of their citizenry that those things helped shape are anything but. Governors across my period of study claimed that Californians and Texans were especially “creative,” “hard-working,” and “innovative” in a way that was tied to their fundamental California-ness or Texas-ness.

How can these different historical events all point to the same fundamental and “unique” character of each state? They don’t. These moments are essentialized to construct an imagined shared history meant to mobilize a population to specific political ends. There is nothing fundamentally Californian or Texan that someone is born with by virtue of being born or growing up there. To speak and act as if there is simply creates divisions and competition between people who are, at their core, more alike than they are different.

There’s more where those few notes of interest came from, so if you’re interested in seeing my other conclusions please read my paper attached at the end of this post! It’s kind of a lengthy one, but I’m really happy with the work I was able to do with Voyant! I was really intimidated and unsure how to use it at the start of this, but now even with the little of it that I’m more familiar with I feel more confident that I can dig deeper with this tool and expand on this project in the coming months!

For my immediate plans, I’m going to use this as a jumping off point for my Research Seminar over the summer, and expand my work both by expanding the timeline I’m working with back as far as I can to see trends over time, and to introduce topic modelling to the process! Since we first talked about it in class at the start of the semester I was hoping to do it at some point, and this seems like just the project to try it out with. Past GRS, I’m hoping to eventually follow through on my initial idea, and put Voyant text analysis, topic modelling, and good ol’ close reading to analyze these speeches from states in different regions of the US. Nationalism is a construct meant to inspire political mobilization and unity in opposition to an “other” based on some sort of historical precedent, there’s simply no way it’s uniform across every state in a single country that took literal centuries to reach the 50 states we’ve currently got.

Anyways, thanks for reading all this, and here’s my paper! Cheers!

Comparing State-Level Nationalisms – Print Project Draft

Nationalism is not a political orientation, but a tool that can be used to create a shared identity for “insiders” to engage with socially and politically. Since nationalism is such a nebulous practice/framework rather than political orientation, however, it doesn’t have to only be applied on the level of a nation-state. This project is a case study of how nationalist assertion of borders, insider/outsider traits and differences, and a shared and timeless history manifests on a state level in the United States, using Texas and California State of the State addresses between 1980 and 2023. This was done using Voyant Tools to go through the California and Texas addresses as separate corpuses, and together as one corpus that includes all of them. After using Voyant to see what trends appeared in each corpus, I selected 13 words that appeared relatively frequently in both sets of documents and seemed likely to lead to identity- and community-constructing passages. This included discussions of what the people of each state are like, the challenges they face and overcome, important historical moments, and their role within the United States and the world.

The main thirteen terms I used were the following – community, protect, America, border, challenge, crime, past, states, nation, local, world, better, and future. This search also included any variants, like protects, protected, and protection. A bar graph showing the relative frequency of each of these terms between the two states is below.

The frequency rates of the 13 search terms and their variants between the California speeches (left) and the Texas speeches (right)

Using these results, the “Context” tool on Voyant pointed me in the direction of passages that could be used for close reading to compare how each state viewed itself and its identity both as an independent entity and as a sub-identity within the national identity of American. While some of these terms, like “community” and “local,” yielded surprisingly few helpful passages, others pointed out several shared and divergent trends of identity construction between the two states. I will share briefly about some of them below.

Leaders and Challengers of the Nation

One of the most common threads in both sets of speeches was how they framed their own state as a leading force in the the United States, either leading the federal and all other state governments in the direction of progress, following the path their state has already laid out, or as essentially an independent nation-state in all but name, leading the world separate from any connection to the United States. While this trend can be seen in both states, a trend that also emerged more uniquely in Texas was also how the state is a leader in their opposition to practices and policies of the federal government. In this context, the identity being formed is as rebels who do what’s right despite interference from distant, bureaucrat outsiders. This places the rebel identity in a unique position, because it must be to some degree from an underdog position that is by nature beneath the US in a literal hierarchy of power, but is also strong enough to resist and act independently when power is being wrongly asserted over them.

Situating within American Identity and History

Another common thread is the use of aspects of the equally constructed American national identity in conjunction with state-level identification. Several different times, both Texas and California governors explicitly state something is an American ideal or trait, and then immediately follow it up with a comparative, often even more positive version that is true for citizens of their state. This counters the appearance of independence that is emphasized in the previous trend by associating in the most direct way possible with American identity. There is a ceiling on how independent states can make themselves appear given the reality of their position as a government functioning underneath the federal government, plus people can move much more easily between state borders than national borders, so there are many more state newcomers that still have to be included in the state identity without actually identifying with it much in practice. By asserting their shared American identity, newcomers from other states can still feel more included in the state identity construction.

Pretending to Have Unique Traits

The most important common trend between the two states is that they each assert specific traits and actions as uniquely Californian or Texan, but what they are actually claiming as unique are incredibly general, with plenty of overlap between the two states and countless other identity groups. Things like determination, creativity, and energy are claimed as uniquely related to being a Californian, and Texan, and American. On one level, this is definitely just funny to see. In another way, it draws attention to how fake nationalist-style identity is. Creating hard, non-porous borders between “us” and “them” is pretty much the central tenet of nationalist identity-building—if a nation fails at that, it fails at being a nation on a fundamental level. Yet here these governors are, claiming the same incredibly vague adjectives as exclusively theirs. How real and important can this identity be if they can’t even prove a real, fundamental difference between Californians and Texans?

Different Historical References

The major difference between the methods and content of identity-construction between the two states is how the governors refer to their states’ own history. One of the keys of nationalist construction is calling on shared history (real or not) and essentially frame the “insiders” as people whose obligation is to carry on that positive legacy. Since this is so key to the construction process and the two states were constructing identities that are meant to be distinct from each other, they each call on specific instances in history—especially state history and sometimes personal history—that are uniquely centered on California and Texas (and Californians and Texans) respectively. In particular, California often calls on the Gold Rush, World War II, and the Cold War to point out a spirit of hard work and innovation that is supposed to be particularly Californian. Texas, on the other hand, emphasizes its period as an independent republic between being Mexican and American territory, drawing attention to their supposedly unique independent and rebellious nature. While the two states do call on unique historical moments, however, are still being used to reinforce the shared traits they both claim as “ours” and not “theirs.” So, while on one level it’s important and interesting to see how these historical moments are cherrypicked and sanitized to create this shared identity and history, it still ultimately points towards the ultimate contradiction of nationalist identities: they’re all basically the same, but that is the one thing they can’t be.

Hopefully this summed up my paper decently well! If you’d like to read more about the specific quotes and connections these conclusions have stemmed from, see more information on my methods and general findings, or possible future directions for this project, the full draft is accessible below! Give it a read!

Mobile Media, Place, and Mapping

This week’s readings were all about space and how we interact with it mediated through digital technology. There was a mix of theoretical and practical reading, starting off with the theory bits that took me a million years to read, followed by several specific examples of implementation of mobile digital tools for historical institutions and projects. The readings all emphasized that mobile media isn’t creating brand new spaces or opportunities, but providing new ways to modify previous methods of historical storytelling and audience engagement. While mobile digital media allows new interactions with and in space and ways of practicing history in different contexts, they also do consistently point out possible shortcomings and places for possible investigation as digital mobile media continues to evolve at such a rapid pace.

Mobile Interface Theory, Jason Farman

First off, this book is dense y’all. I’m not the most theory-oriented reader and thinker, so it took me some time to get through and I may struggle at times to summarize his main points, so bare with me! The point of the whole book is to show how digital mobile technology has uniquely impacted the process of social and spatial meaning-making in and around specific locales. He provides a broad definition of mobile media, stating that it is clearly not unique to the digital era with examples like subway signs, identification cards, and more. The distinction that matters to this book is the connection between mobile media generally and the growth of pervasive computing and how this new connection has shifted how we interact in and with space.

The first chapter then lays out his theoretical framework of what exactly space and embodiment are and how digital technology is used to create space and facilitate embodiment. In his eyes, space isn’t just a neutral thing that exists, but is created through the use of space, and embodiment is the use of space by someone that creates meaning, both for the space and the person. Embodiment also doesn’t just happen in physical space because space isn’t just physical structures, so digital devices are used to create spaces that facilitate embodiment and meaning-making just as much as any physical location. The last major point he makes is that although embodiment is gained through sensory experiences, it isn’t objective and self-contained, but created in a specific cultural context that inscribe meanings, influenced by how our own cognitive subconscious filters information, how we interpret gestures, language, clothes, ethnicity, gender, etc.

The proceeding sections of the book explain how digital mobile media has influenced space and embodiment in different categories. First is mapping, where he explains how mobile mapping like Google Maps has seriously changed how we navigate and interpret space around us particularly in unfamiliar places, and how interactive maps that allow for community contribution facilitate new meaning-making for individuals and communities as well as constant redefinition of space. Next, he talks about how locative social media has created a new connection between space and personal definition, with social media now able to track and share where you are in a way that ties it to your larger identity. The fourth chapter covers immersive gaming, focusing on how AR games can essentially project new meanings on space that would otherwise not be there, but also how interactions in and around these games and how you play them are informed by your previous knowledge and interactions with that space. The fifth chapter is based on asynchronous time, how mobile technology creates forms of interaction like texting that aren’t based on doing something at the same time as the person on the other side of the interaction, and how that impacts what we consider “presence” in any give moment and context. The final chapter of the main body of the book is about mobile devices as reading interfaces that can be used in the spaces being written about, providing community history in a markedly individual way, creating both proximity and distance for the user.

The conclusion then focuses on obsolescence and how it is connected to the idea of progress and forward movement. He argues that continued and rapid obsolescence is encouraged by the idea that things need to keep somehow progressing and changing is a misunderstanding of motion in the first place. He argues that “dwelling” rather than constantly pushing for progress and growth is a form of movement in itself, just like how your arms are moving against gravity when you hold them still straight out in front of you. This, he argues, will allow us to further engage with digital technology as a positive space for embodiment just like any other space that we use.

“New App City,” Durington and Collins

This reading is also in a more theoretical lens, this time focusing on anthropology. While in South Korea, Sam Collins downloaded an app from the Chongno District Government called “Chongno Alleys” that had several tours meant to highlight lesser known landmarks in the district. The app is based on mapping and gamification, providing stamps for each stop the user makes along a tour and allowing the user to create a gallery for each location, comment on a specific location, and post directly to social media. While using the app, Collins noticed several unexpected occurrences. At times, his phone’s GPS would not accurately pinpoint his location, leading to a lot more blind wandering by Collins; and other times the map wouldn’t be entirely accurate, leading him to several dead ends or random gardens. Unexpected encounters with secret service agents surrounding the South Korean President’s house in the neighborhood undermined the sense of idyllic patriotism the app provided.

This experience les to Collins and Durington contemplating the usefulness of these sorts of apps for anthropologists and their ethnographic research and publishing. Apps provide a coherent structuring of narrative, space, and practice, and their imperfections when implementing those narratives as a mapped tour can draw attention to tensions and alternative meanings of spaces when considering differences between symbols on the map and physical structures in space. These apps also allow the broad use of different kinds of media in the same space. Once the maps are put together, analysis of how much people actually follow the paths set out for them serves as research in itself, providing instant feedback on your work, and space for collaboration from the prototyping phase through publication. Ultimately, apps like “Chongno Alleys” provide a path towards engaging public anthropology outside of print publication.

“What is the Spatial Turn?” Jo Guldi

Turning a bit away from anthropology towards a different theoretical current, Guldi starts off explaining what the “spatial turn” means, briefly explaining ways space was being considered and reconsidered between the 1840s and 1980s. Starting in the 1880s, scholars of several different fields began exploring space as something that is manipulated, rewritten, and experienced by communities, promoting terms like “commons” and “pseuodenvironment” to emphasize the collective, artificial redefinition of space. Moving to the 1970s, and who else could come into this discussion of collective space and power but Foucault (who I can never truly escape). His work along with that of many other French philosophers at the time began emphasizing the connection between power and space. This didn’t rewrite earlier concerns, but instead shifted their focus to interrogate the role of capitalism, surveillance, and power in and on space. Digital mapping tools that emerged in the 1960s and beyond allowed for even greater interrogation of space through these lenses by historians and social scientists, as this technology allowed them to broaden their scope to global patterns and hone in one local space in much more detail.

From this broader history, Guldi situates the first major “spatial turn” in this work between 1880 and 1960, when national boundaries, state surveillance, private property, and considerations and perspectives of landscapes were all in deep turmoil and constant change. This era, according to Guldi, deeply influenced the interdisciplinary developments in spatial theory and practice that emerged in the GIS (geographic information services) era that followed.

“The Spatial Turn in History,” Jo Guldi

Blessedly (for me anyways) turning away from the more theoretical realm, Guldi them explains the different ways landscapes have been constructed and utilized in historiography. Landscape writing that emerged in the mid- to late-1800s was integral to constructing the nation for audiences, painting the image of a single, monolithic shared space that was theirs as members of that same nation. These narratives were constructed by historians traveling throughout the nation they were constructing, doing deep archival research to provide their narrative the objective authority of an atlas. This process borrowed local histories that had already constructed local identities, tying them together and creating a larger national identity from those sources, emphasizing landscape rather than family to allow for more universal relatability across a wider audience. City histories emerged around the same time to challenge these national histories, providing a narrative that was more focused on middle-class actors and a more specific landscape. This split between national- and city-based histories remained in social science practice in the time that’s followed.

There are three main moments that are contenders for when representations of imaginary spaces were initially used to convince strangers they had a broad common experience. The first is the Renaissance, when phenomenology emerged and questioned when the modern landscape occurred, using linear narratives and idealistic representations of landscapes and cities to build the illusion of political consensus. The second option is focused around World War I, emphasizing not just the romantic construction of shared space but when that space was directly used by states to mobilize their citizens in the war effort. Notably, monuments to soldiers and national heroes were an important representation to encourage political mobilization. The third popular option is looking at the modern landscape through the economic and political influences under the modern infrastructure state, connecting the landscape changes that came with modern transportation networks, national parks, civil engineering, and modern urban planning as one broad political and economic moment.

Mobile for Museums, Leon, Brennan, Lester, and Odiorne

Moving away from both theory and historiography, this paper focuses on implementation methods for integrating mobile devices into museums, especially those working with a low budget, small staff, or limited technical expertise. Their first general pieces of advice are to focus on the experience you want to provide over the specific tech itself, and to function under the assumption that tech will become outdated within a few years so you shouldn’t drag your feet on figuring out and developing things for the museum for too long. A couple of things worth noting that interestingly illustrates this point for them in the time since this article has been written are that A) they emphasize the role of iPods specifically for audio work, while iPods have just recently gone entirely out of production, and B) they mention QR codes as something that may emerge as useful but is in early stages as of writing, while now museums, restaurants, artists, and all other kinds of spaces and creators use them as a major way of sharing info and work.

They then go into two main categories of recommendations, the first focusing on Infrastructure and Technology. First, they recommend developing for browsers rather than operating systems for easy cross-platform use, although it also comes with limited multimedia implementation. They also recommend making sure the content made for mobile devices isn’t just useful in that space and context, but can be repurposed for several different venues. The other major category of recommendations they make is content and implementation. First, they suggest having projects that aren’t just focused on in-gallery experiences. Second, they recommend that mobile elements aren’t just one-way—museum providing content and narratives to guests—but are used to encourage and solicit feedback on and interactions with the related displays and exhibits.

The final part of this piece is an outline of how they implemented these recommendations as examples for museums and other spaces that may want to use them as a starting point. Worth noting is that they did so using pre-existing software frameworks, allowing for a low barrier for entry for museums, and letting the creators share their code directly to further facilitate easier implementation and collaboration between themselves and museum developers using this as a jumping off point.

“A Place for Everything,” John Russnick

At one point, John Russnick considered comparing old-school curators with Rip Van Winkle in a post-mobile device, modern museum, but has since realized that they are, at worst, essentially just cranky Scrooge-types in the newer environment. In his own work, he’s seen how technology has positively impacted museums and audience engagement, so really his concern is not whether collections can or should work in this mobile space, but how. The opportunity he sees for collections in this space is how digital tools can make objects that need to be kept on a pedestal, behind glass and ropes, with tons of security safeguards more real and accessible while still following long-term preservation standards. Russnick sees AR as a particularly important tool to do just that, and theorizes it would reveal the shortcomings of the museum’s collection itself. By mapping where the objects they hold would physically belong or match up to, it would likely reveal the bias the museum’s collection has towards straight, white, middle and upper class communities and histories, but making that map public would also allow for users to fill those gaps themselves, making the museum’s collection a much more collaborative space. Ultimately, he concludes that digital technology doesn’t limit the usefulness of collections, but can create new avenues of thought by implementing that collection in new, more collaborative and thought-provoking ways.

“Listening to the City,” Mark Tebeau

While the last piece emphasized the use of physical collections in mobile museum projects, this article focuses on oral histories and their role in interpretive practices. Tebeau does this by focusing in on the Cleveland Historical Project, which is a mobile app and website that shows Cleveland histories through several types of media, especially sound, that can be explored as a tour or through searches and tags. It isn’t just based on a single person or institution’s research either, but instead with the help of hundreds of students, teachers, and community members who have contributed stories. This project emphasizes the use of oral histories to move away from an over-emphasis often placed on visual representations of history, utilizing understandings of the aural and how listening can evoke memories and a sense of place and space that is not possible through images or writing.

This has long been central to the theory and practice of oral history, but the emergence of digital and mobile technology has revolutionized the accessibility and usability of these oral histories generally and as part of more comprehensive projects like Cleveland Historical. Mobile tech in particular allows oral histories to even more effectively evoke memory and engagement with space through listening, by facilitating listening in the spaces the oral histories are about in the first place. This can draw attention to what has stayed the same in a space, as well as how much a space has changed over time, and can encourage listeners to consider their own personal connections to the space, narrators, and stories. While it can be useful to locate oral histories in that manner, it isn’t necessarily always a good move, especially when stories may be too broad to be tied to one location or that location may be physically inaccessible. They also implemented the oral history principle of “shared authority” in their collection methods, training community members in documentation methods—especially oral histories—so they could collect materials and interviews amongst themselves rather than having an outsider come to get them. This also extends to the curation of materials, which is a collaborative and dynamic process that allows for changes and reinterpretation after initial publication of materials. This project ultimately brings together and adapts oral history principles to function in a digital public project that wouldn’t be possible without mobile technology.


Audacity is a free, open source audio editing and recording application that was initially released in 2000 and is still being very actively updated today, most recently updating to version 3.2.4 on January 7, 2023. Although it isn’t necessarily the nicest looking audio editor compared to paid applications like Pro Tools or Adobe Audition, it is completely free and has the same level of quality and functionality. Audacity also has a level of available support and community contribution that makes it simple to figure out if you’re new to working with audio, and to improve with outside plug-ins that can be easily found and downloaded through the Audacity website.

The home screen of the Audacity website

Once you get to the home screen, to download Audacity you can either click the button down towards the bottom or use the dropdown menu at the top to select the correct operating system. From there, simply install it like any other application, it doesn’t require an account or anything like that to download or use. Once it’s downloaded, open it up and it will look like the image below.

This is what an empty Audacity window will look like before anything is imported or edited. At the top there are controls for playing and recording audio, editing audio, and tracking input and output volume levels. At the bottom are various timecodes to know where in the audio you’re at.

If you’re recording audio to edit in Audacity right away, you can record a new track of audio through either your built-in computer microphone or an external mic by pressing the red button at the top. If you’re importing audio you’ve already got to edit, you can do through the “File” dropdown or with a keyboard shortcut.

Once you have audio imported or recorded, there are a ton of tools that can be used to cut, remove, add effects to, and otherwise edit. At times, some keyboard shortcuts for can be hard to remember or intuit, but practice will certainly make perfect the more you play around with the application, and all of the dropdown menus show applicable shortcuts next to the specific action. The “Edit” menu shows simple clip editing tools like copy, paste, and splitting or silencing clips. The “Tracks” menu is the simplest way to add and sort your audio tracks. The “Effect” menu contains the same types of effects that would be found on any paid audio editing software. The newest update has also separated these effects into clearly defined, standard effect categories instead of having them in one long list, making them much easier to find.

To see an example of what a basic multi-track sound edit can look like, the gallery below shows different stages of an oral history clip that I cut together. There are several tracks with separate titles, that can be color-coded and edited together across tracks or while one continuous clip using the envelope tool.

If you’re new to audio editing and don’t know how to put things like these effects to good use, there are manual and quick help options in the application’s “Help” drop-down, as well as forums and guides on the website.

The Audacity forum contain several categories and subcategories that questions and discussions can be housed under, the main umbrellas being: help, discussion, special interests, and programming.

These forums offer a space for users to help each other out in a bind, but also—since Audacity is open source—space to discuss changes and additions that folks have made on their own that could be implemented in future updates. The main Audacity website also encourages community contribution, stating on the home page that “All are welcome to contribute to Audacity by helping us with code, documentation, translations, user support and by testing our latest code” and guiding users, developers, and translators to pages that provide more details on how they can help Audacity continue to improve. One of the most visible sites of outsider contribution is the Audacity Plugins page, which can help expand options available to audio editors of all types by making new effects created by others easily downloadable. This is especially helpful for people doing more heavy duty sound recording and editing for music, audio dramas, and sound design for videos and films. This page is a great resource once you get the hang of the more than adequate set of effects that come with Audacity upon downloading if you feel an itch to play around with more complicated or specific effects.

All in all, Audacity is an easy-to-learn audio editing application that has the same level of functionality as similar paid, industry standard programs with a remarkable price tag of $0. For basic work especially, it is simple to record, import, edit across tracks, and export your audio, and it has the capacity to be used for much more in-depth detailed work if you want to get the hang of the effects and other tools that are available. That it has been so actively updated for over two decades means that it also on track to continue improving basically indefinitely. The community support functions facilitate continual improvement to the program, the creation and sharing of new add-ons by outside users, and active forums that can help users learn from each other. While it may not be the most *aesthetic* of programs when you first open it up, the available effects and other tools provide a professional experience with a nonexistent price tag.


SoundCloud is a music and audio platform—initially launched in 2008—that is mostly used for music, but also features things like podcasts, demos, and any other audio that users and artists would like to upload and share. Audio can be streamed from their website and through an app that can be downloaded on phones, some smart TVs, and Xbox One, and anyone can make an account both for listening and uploading audio. To make an account, as a listener and creator, all you have to do is click on “Create Account” at the top of the home screen. You can enter any email you’d like to tie to the account, or sign in through a Facebook, Google, or Apple account.

The home screen on the SoundCloud website

While an account can be made and used for free, there are also several different paid plans available for the streaming side or for enhancing your ability to utilize the platform as a creator. The SoundCloud Go ($4.99/month) and SoundCloud Go+ ($9.99/month) plans are streaming-focused, and help contribute to their unique payment model for artists. There are three types of accounts for creators – Next (free), Next Plus ($2.50/month), and Next Pro ($8/month).

The paid plans allow for more track uploads, eligibility for payment, easier distribution with streaming platforms, opportunities for promotions, and advanced analytics, profile customization, and track management. The extent of these tools depends on what tier you decide to stick with.

The different creator plans on SoundCloud

When you create an account, it will automatically be on the free Next plan, so no need to worry about surprise charges or anything! Once you’re signed in to this free account, you can begin uploading by pressing the “upload” button towards the top right corner of the screen. From there, you can upload audio clips one at a time or at the same time to automatically turn them into a playlist.

The “upload” page on SoundCloud

There are a few things to note on this page. First, you can immediately choose to make a playlist of several clips as you upload them, and you can also easily select the privacy settings for the audio before you even upload them. Above the uploading window, it also notes how much of the 3 free upload hours you’ve already taken up, giving you the option to upgrade your plan or simply budget those three hours as you continue to make and upload clips. At the bottom of the window, it also notes the audio file types that are best for audio quality, which will help inform the recording and editing process in the first place.

You must add basic identifying info like a title when going through the uploading process, and afterwards you can head to the “Your tracks” tab to see everything you’ve uploaded and add more detailed descriptions and metadata, all depending on the level of detail you’d like to provide. Once the audio has been uploaded (if it’s been made public), it can be streamed directly through SoundCloud, but there are also many other sites that allow for adding specific SoundCloud uploads and playlists to be embedded onto their website, making SoundCloud a useful tool for not just posting audio on one sharing platform, but also for use on other platforms that aren’t themselves built for audio hosting and sharing.

For example, Word Press itself has a block type that is specifically for sharing SoundCloud clips, all you need to do is add the block and copy in the link for whatever specific clip you’d like to share. The clip to the right is one that I made for an oral history project I worked on in the fall, which I uploaded to SoundCloud after I finished editing it so it could be added to a StoryMap as the media tied to each pin. StoryMap is also an example of the benefit of using SoundCloud to upload your audio to, as StoryMap didn’t allow me to directly upload my audio clips or use links to them on OneDrive. They do, however, easily allow for copying in a link to a clip saved on SoundCloud.

A clip from SoundCloud as a block on Word Press

While it also isn’t necessarily the most important thing for us to consider about the platform, SoundCloud’s unique compensation structure for artists who’ve monetized their work is much more fair to artists than other streaming platforms like Spotify. SoundCloud pays based on the streams of their own work rather than creating an all-artist pot that gets put together and redistributed based on streaming share, leading to more direct compensation from consumers to their favorite small artists. While this may not play a role in our work directly, this payment model also shows SoundCloud is at least a more ethical streaming platforms than others, which is always worth considering!

Ultimately, SoundCloud is a very helpful distribution tool that is quite easy to use, whether you’re only interested in basic uploading and sharing functions, or are a creator planning to monetize your work directly through the platform and do more in-depth audience engagement and distribution. The free account is useful and straightforward on its own, and the process of uploading and sharing links to clips and playlists is incredibly simple. If the free account is not enough support as a creator, the paid accounts are also incredibly affordable, with the highest level plan coming in less expensive than most streaming services and other similar storage and file sharing subscription services. For oral histories in particular, if uploading and using short clips, SoundCloud is a tool that can easily be used to use your audio in non-audio based platforms like Word Press and StoryMaps, or even just to send samples of your work to others over email or text.