13:1 or 143:1 (A truth nugget?)

Given that we ran out of time to discuss the podcasts in class, I decided that rather than respond with individual comments to each of you on your blog posts in this last week of the semester, I’ll highlight some of the general themes that emerged in your responses that I hoped to discuss in seminar. (Don’t worry—you all did fine on the last weekly post!). I also figure it is better late than never for the instructor to get in on the blogging action. I’ve asked you to write each week and responded with individual private comments, but the least I can do is offer one blog post to each of your baker’s dozen.

I also want to reinforce several points made in the Smithsonian webcasts, namely Chris Anderson’s notion that “messiness is good” and Clay Shirky’s idea that “group action just got easier.” Anderson’s idea may be problematic for an institution like the Smithsonian, but he is clearly reinforcing a theme we’ve seen throughout the semester—the 20th century was a curatorial one where control rested with experts but with the web and the culture of abundance in the 21st century, users have much more control over content and, as we say before Thanksgiving, are pushing new ideas about copyright and access. For Shirky, this environment of abundance means that we can more easily share, collaborate, and act together. In this sense, we can use digital projects to create new communities—be it something like PhilaPlace or the Pepys enthusiasts following his daily exploits centuries ago, or perhaps among some of the listeners to something like Backstory. I leave it to someone else to explore Benedict Anderson’s idea of “imagined communities,” but Shirky, Anderson, and Ferren certainly see possibilities for creating new communities through digital history and archival projects.

The chapter we read from Cohen and Rosenzweig this week suggests that understanding and engaging your audience is crucial. While they are discussing websites, their discussion can certainly apply to podcasts and several of you discussed the issue of audience engagement and expectations. Some like Backstory are meant to appeal to broader audiences by communicating important historical information in a casual, light-hearted manner. As several of you highlighted, tone and style matters for the multi-tasking listener. Perhaps the Nature’s Past and BBC’s In Our Time podcasts engage the public to a more limited extent, with the former focused on specific issues related to Canadian history and the latter covering a wide range of topics in a discussion format. But those of you who listened to these podcasts suggested they weren’t as effective in terms of reaching a broader public. The JAH and Environmental History podcasts have an academic audience in mind, particularly the former which interviews JAH article authors. That being said, several of you pointed out how the format might open up the material to teachers and others who do not have access to the journal. This might be their only way to engage the material, given issues of closed v. open access.

On this issue of access and portability, several of you pointed out how the podcast format makes material available through syndication but is also limited in terms of the resources it can provide. It can be audio or video, but it is hard to embed sources and footnotes in a podcast. For this, one needs a supplementary website or the JAH article. Interactivity may also be more limited—Backstory takes calls from listeners and allows for comments on the webpage (and submissions for program ideas), but many of the other podcasts are more closed to user-generated content and engagement. In this sense, perhaps they don’t fully take Anderson and Shirky’s ideas to heart, using a 21st century medium in a 20th century manner. In Shirky’s terms, perhaps the podcasts are still the Acropolis rather than the agora. Finally, on the issue of audience, one might consider how people learn. Some people respond more effectively to visual cues while others might engage auditory cures.

Unlike some of the other projects we looked at this term, many of the podcasts also seek to connect to current events. This is particularly the case with Backstory and the effort is designed to engage in discussion regarding the historical background of current situations. That being said, several of you pointed out how the podcasts sometimes suffer from a lack of a clear narrative arc. They don’t necessarily tell good stories. This was one of the points Bran Ferren made at the Smithsonian conference—move beyond the artifact and think about the ways in which people can use them to tell stories. For those of you who have read Robert Archibald’s work, you’ll certainly recognize this theme. Artifacts are not knowledge, they are artifacts, it is the stories that we tell about and around the artifacts that produce knowledge.

Finally, several of you pointed out the need to develop content on a regular basis. We’ve certainly seen our share of static websites that seem not to have been updated for years or blog posts that never continue. If you are offering a podcast series, or appearing on the radio (as in Backstory and BBC), you need to maintain a religious production schedule. By developing more content (or in the case of the Smithsonian, opening up more of the collection to the public online), you open up the possibility for more people to offer unique insight and contribute their ideas to further the production of knowledge. Whether one wants to go as far as Anderson suggests in terms of the Smithsonian opening itself up to citizen curators and becoming the Wikipedia of the museum world is perhaps a different story for another day, but an interesting one nonetheless.

So let me close with some final thoughts, first by returning to the syllabus and second by offering a sincere thank you. I’ll look forward to your final projects and encourage you to make them public if you are comfortable doing so. You’ll need to click the appropriate box in Omeka and can also provide a link in your final post, which I’ll be happy to also place on your project pages on the blog.

The syllabus suggested the course’s key aims were:

1)      To introduce and explore the key issues, analyses, critical debates, opportunities and potential drawbacks in using new media;

2)      To read leading scholarship and think about new media in historical practice;

3)      To discover and evaluate digital tools and resources for your historical scholarship, public projects, and teaching; and,

4)      To put what we read and discuss into practice by learning how to construct, post, maintain, and implement new media in your historical work.

I certainly hope you feel we’ve done this together. I know this has been my experience. I welcome continued discussion here on this blog and in person beyond the semester. I want to thank you all for embarking on a bit of an experiment this term. Many of you have had your comfort zones challenged at times (I think Omeka and my vague conference plan assignment certainly qualify), but I think this has allowed all of us to explore opportunities for integrating digital history into our scholarship, teaching, and public engagement.  I thank you for your thoughtfulness, insight, and engagement throughout the semester. -AS

The Pros and Cons of the Podcast…

Podcasts…they are a very different way of looking at history in the digital age, but it is a major way to explore and examine what is going on in the world of history in under 60 minutes. With that said, what ways are podcasts pushing the limits and succeeding in ways that history websites are not? Websites have to deal with issues of gaining an audience, keeping an audience, and growing interest in a particular subject while also educating. We have seen websites that are great sources to their target audience, Phillaplace, Valley of the Shadow, even Cohen and Rosenzweig’s book website is a great example of these types of websites. They bring something new and different to their field of study and the ways that people engage the material. Yet they involved reading, or physically being on the website to engage the material that is presented. The strength of a podcast is that it does not take over 45 minutes. One can listen to it and not do anything else, or they can go about their day, working, cleaning house, or completing other projects and papers for various classes. The listener is still engaged with the material, just not as completely as other digital Medias demand. This is both a positive and a negative of the podcast; it is also a negative in that while working on other things while listening, one is not listening as closely as they could to fully retain the material that is being projected over the sound waves. A podcast also, does not allow for interaction, as other medias have shown to do, sites that allow you to add to them like the NY Historic Places/Walking Tour site or Phillaplace. With these kinds of sites, or even ones that allow the visitor to ask a question or play a game/take a quiz, force the individual to not only engage the material mentally, but on a physical level as well. A podcast does not allow the listener to do anything but listen. Yet a positive of the podcast is that target listeners will return, constantly, to a website that is producing a podcast. Podcasts can be updated monthly, like the Journal of American History, weekly, or even daily. Those sites will have visitors returning, where other sites may only have one-time visitors to a website, with little to no return.

As to the material that these sites are communicating to their viewers and listeners, the same knowledge is being spread around he webosphere. A website can display the same knowledge as a scholar calling into a Journal’s monthly podcast to discuss his work that is being published for that month (Journal of American History). It comes down to the user, viewer, and listener to fully engage the material to the best of their ability to understand and retain the information presented to them, they have the tools, they just have to use them. Yet one might be more willing to listen to a history podcast while at work, instead of taking those 45 minutes to examine all the interactive possibilities of website. If found listening to a podcast by his or her “higher-ups” would likely be more respectable than paroling a website and not even attempting to accomplish any other work, but this is just one example. Another positive for the podcast is the interaction of having more than one historian reporting on their research, like the BBC podcast on Judas Maccabeus. The interaction between three historians who clearly do not always agree on their topic, displays to the listener that historians are able to study the same thing and take away a completely different view on the same sources that everyone is using, in this case it was using the book of Maccabeus as a source. Though with this came issue, the historians could not go into a full debate on the topic because of the time restraint, they had to fit in the radio broadcast in a certain about of time (43 minutes) and the moderator forced the scholars to stay on topic with the questions that he had created to drive the discussion. While others just allow a single scholar to go on about their work, as the Journal of American History does and hearing that for an extended period of time causes the listener to zone out or fast forward to more interesting content. The boring stuff is skipped over though, when engaging other forms of digital media.

As far as podcasts go, I am a fan. I enjoyed being able to listen to these while also working on my website for this class. I felt like I was accomplishing a lot in a minimal amount of time. I listen to other podcasts while at work, it may be superficial, but it feels more scholarly to listen to a podcast than something on Pandora. But in the end I am still going to listen to more music than podcasts, while at work. Podcasts have their pros and cons, they do things differently than a website, but in the end, it is just another way to engage history on a digital landscape.

Audience, Communication, and why I think British people are super smart.

After listening to the “American as Pumpkin Pie: A History of Thanksgiving”, by the Backstory Radio, I can now see really huge differences in how Podcasts engage in historical questions and communications. What immediately struck me about Backstory Radio, aside from the heavy influence of the University of Virginia was its almost formulaic following of the NPR standard.

1. Start with a quirky question.

2. Add a couple of funny sound clips.

3. Get a couple of experts to discuss the topic, along with someone who can relate to the audience. (I should note that with the Backtstory Radio folks all being Professors at UVA and University of Richmond, I was pleasantly surprised to hear them downplaying their scholarly Ayers [Bam! PUN intended])

4. Tie it all together in 3 short segments, and then end on a high note.

What I found as the biggest difference between Backstory Radio, the BBC Radio Podcast “Consequences of the Industrial Revolution”, and the previous media we have dealt with this semester is the issue of audience. I believe that compared to the interactive exhibits we have examined, Podcasts are largely lacking in any interactive communication with the audience.  While Backstory Radio did take calls from listeners, they appeared to be predetermined and I can only assumed filtered. I must admit a similarity I found between Podcasts and many of the web published articles we have read is the lively comments sections. People seem drawn to these not only to share their own stories but also to offer critiques and support for the programs.

It is nice to see that Podcasts, just like scholarship are highly diverse. After listening to the In Our Time Podcast, I found myself largely in over my head. Compared to Backstory Radio, the BBC made no attempt to dumb down any of the scholarship. I realize that during our discussion on museums I kept stressing the fact that I did not believe museums should dumb themselves down to attract visitors, but I personally wish the BBC would dumb this down a bit. I don’t know what the required reading in Britain is, but on the suggested readings list were huge social critics and academics E.P. Thompson and Raymond Williams.  As a PhD student I am pretty sure it is required that you read Thompson, but I can’t help but wonder who the audience is for this program.  In Our Time really seemed to just put the scholarly debates surrounding labor historiography, along with several key points, on the airwaves without making any effort to relate it to the listener.  Comparing this to Backstory Radio, I think NPR makes a huge effort to make their stories more accessible.

The idea of audience is really at the crux of how these Podasts, and all media communicate. Getting Roger Staubach to discuss Thanksgiving VS 3 academics discussing the industrial revolution seems to exemplify how these two Podcasts differ in their efforts of communication. Ultimately I think that Podcasts are a highly useful tool for the dissemination of academic, political, and cultural discussions, but ultimately the audience will have to seek out which ones they feel speak to them.  Just as the many articles, videos, interactive exhibits, and archives we have dealt with this semester represent a huge array of communication and audiences, so do Podcasts. While this might seem like a copout answer to a complex question, ultimately I think it artificial to discuss communication between audience and producer in a field of media so highly diverse.

The Voice of History

Finding poignant radio and podcasts can be a bit tricky, and everyone has their opinions and favorites. While the American History Guys are good, they don’t resonate with me as well as other authors and presenters who aim for a deeper application of life’s lessons. When thinking of an eloquent teller of stories, and deciding on what to listen to, I place high standards on what I choose. I love audiobooks, and I use some of the same metrics, the tone of the voice, the cadence, an ability to allow the listener to follow along in a metered, methodical path towards understanding, in my choosing.

I think back towards Woody Allen or Spaulding Gray and their monologues, entertaining and tragic. The exude self-awareness with a presence that is charming and self-depreciating. The American History Guys hint at this ability, acknowledging their high standard for all things boring in the episode about the census. They go on to discuss details, and historical context, as do the podcasts from the BBC, which recounts the story with a distance.

The narrative arc, allowing the story to devolve, and then returning for a conclusion, has been mastered by Garrison Keillor in his News from Lake Wobegon. For non-fictional accounts, Ira Glass and This American Life accomplish a similar unwrapping, and reorienting of the story with an elegance of the script that, for me, seems to be missing from the more historically minded podcasts. The chapters in This American Life structure the program, and force the issue of synthesis. The chapters intertwine, and grow together to make broader points.

This is not to say that historical podcasts are devoid of merit. Just as there are needs for a wide range of written materials, there are needs for podcasts and radio shows that run the gamut. Just as we have seen from the beginning of our readings, the medium is part of the message. As so many have noted so far, podcasts have a tendency for a relaxed approach, a conversation between speakers, personal and lighthearted. There is also great potential to exploit the spoken word as a conveyor of intense emotion and bring about revolutionary changes in the what, and how, the listener thinks.

Maiben and other have noted that this appreciation for the audience is key to knowing how to proceed. What do people want to listen to on their players while taking the bus or subway into work? Who are these people listening on public radio? What do they want to gain from this intellectual discussion? And further, what outcome do you want to teach?

The voice talent for radio adds an interesting element to this form of digital history. Writers of all kinds can practice and develop strength in their tone; the sounds our voices make are more difficult to manage. A nasal timbre doesn’t go away with more practice. The good news is that interesting voices can be a feature, a distinguishing factor that can set the mood as much as the words being read. Relying on a director should be strongly suggested. The two should go hand in hand, melding the artistry of the pace with the scripted or roundtable content in a cohesive package for the listener.

Podcast or Simply Postcast?

As a digital history medium, these podcasts fell short of the possibilities opened by other sources we have explored this term. Though the audio files available on backstory.org and from Smithsonian 2.0 make information more accessible, on their own, they provide little more than continued access to broadcasts/talks that would otherwise have been broadcast only once. By their nature, podcasts are unable to take advantage of most of the utilities made accessible by the digital revolution.
This said, in the case of “American as Pumpkin Pie: A History of Thanksgiving”, the broadcast allowed historians to casually engage in a critical discussion of the particular regional origins of Thanksgiving as an American holiday, the popularity of NFL football (go Lions), and a debate on the religious significance of the holiday. Each element of this podcast took advantage of its medium to provide primary source material in its period context. The discussion on the NFL featured an interview with Roger Staubach, the discussion of religious significance (led by our friend Ed Ayers) featured the reading of a period proclamation of Thanksgiving, and other elements featured interviews with experts in their respective fields. While one might argue that a transcript of this program would contain all the information of the podcast, listening to interviews of authorities on these subjects was more enjoyable, required less effort, and added depth to expert’s testimony by restoring the speakers’ inflection and emotion (their humanity). However, resources such as photographs, maps, and historic documents, while audibly describable, are incompatible with the audio format of these podcasts. Though this problem was marginally mitigated by linking visual resources near access to the audio file online, the podcast itself was still hobbled by its confinement to a single medium.
The Smithsonian better engaged the podcast medium by making their re-broadcast visual as well as audible. The film of Clay Shirky’s talk Here Comes Everybody allowed podcast viewers to take advantage of more of the possibilities created by the digital revolution. By linking visual and spoken elements of Shirky’s presentation, the Smithsonian succeeded not only in capturing his inflection, but also his body language and a variety of visual aids (including many from web-pages and a sign language interpreter) that would have been invisible in the format used by radio stations such as that described above.
Taken as a pair, these podcasts demonstrate the continuing preoccupation of professionals with using the internet as they used traditional media. Simply put, it does not appear that either of these presentations was fundamentally shaped by the fact that it would eventually appear on the internet; rather, it seems that these presentations were put online simply to increase accessibility. While this is a perfectly legitimate and worthwhile activity, this media was not created as a result of the digital revolution, but the realization of a goal born in the analog world: the easy dissemination of information. In the future, these types of broadcasts might be further improved by embedding more digital utilities to take advantage of easy access to the internet.

As an aside, special thanks are extended to the Days Inn that unwittingly provided access to these sites.

In Our Time, Podcasts Provide the BackStory

From BackStory, I listened to “American Spirit: A History of the Supernatural.” This “Halloween special” podcast explored Americans’ relationship with ghosts, spirits, and witches. Each podcast has its own page that offers a short summary of the guiding questions for the podcast, as well as further readings and web exclusives. The web exclusives for the “American Spirit” podcast includes an extended version of Ed Ayres’ interview with a spirit medium and a recording of a listener phone call. BackStory also features a variety of ways to share each podcast through social media. Beyond sharing podcasts, users are invited to comment and start their own conversations about the topic on the website.

The second podcast I listened to was “The Aztecs” from BBC’s In Our Time. Like the BackStory podcast, In Our Time offers a short summary of the guiding questions for each podcast. The more recent podcasts offer related links and further readings. “The Aztecs” was produced in 2003, and does not offer this supplementary content. In Our Time did not offer ways for listeners to interact or share podcasts through social media.

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Podcasts are cool..

Having never listened to a podcast before, I wasn’t sure of what I would be listening or what to even expect. With that said, I did enjoy listening along to the different shows created online. Podcasts are an interesting choice for historians to consider because of the selected medium, but also the audience it attracts.

The first podcast I listened to was Coming Home: A History of War Veterans produced by the history guys of Back Story. I thought the show was well written, executed and very interesting to listen to. The show includes a dynamic script that introduces a historical topic to debate. Since it is written for an on-air experience it does have that broadcast appeal that many who may listen to NPR or other radio news may like to follow along. But leaving the politics aside, the Back Story guys discuss a topic relevant to today’s current military position and approach it from a historical standpoint. This includes interviews with special guests relating to the story about American Veterans.  Callers were allowed to ask questions to the radios hosts and contribute to the discussion relating to the topic. What I found interesting was that the podcasts does bring in different points of views of the topics, making the show have an edge or flair to make the show interesting.

This podcast looked at how American war veterans have been treated and if the American opinion of any war determines how veterans are treated. Do Americans show their support regardless? The show looks at the various wars starting from the American Civil war to present. Veterans and Mothers of veterans have shaped the nation’s response to veterans coming home. While there have been wars that were not supported and service men were not supported, they do agree that wars shaped the individual person and changed how Americans view veterans. It seems that a shift has changed since Vietnam to support the troops who make the sacrifice and leave it to the politicians to be hated.

The Journal of American History podcast that I listened to was Lincoln 2. 0. This first was an article essay by Matthew Pinsker written for the journal in September 2009. This show differed slightly from the Back Story podcast as it seemed more traditional in a sense in discussing historical scholarship about President Lincoln. First the podcast was an interview with the author via telephone, and didn’t have the well-produced radio broadcast sound, but what was shared in the podcast was very interesting.

The podcast discussed the new and emerging scholarship being written by President Lincoln. The podcasts mainly discusses the new emerging field concepts being discussed by historians and the scholarship that follows it. New interests are being researched because as Pinksker discusses are new evidence being given access to that wasn’t before. The interview discusses President Lincoln is widely written about Lincoln and while some may believe there are some authors seeking an easy profit,  new evidence access to new information about Lincoln have been unveiled. This new evidence includes detailed, political work, new creative attempts to redefine his growth. Private & Public life of Lincoln are emerging with major authors redefining and changing who Lincoln was in both spheres in his life. The new promising and interesting researching being conducted involves looking into Lincolns political career and how this shaped his political experiences. A new digital repository has been created in Springfield giving access to his cases that had been scattered and not given full access. Today access is available online. Pinsker believes the new scholarship that is emerging is in thanks to the open access to a wider research audience.

The podcast experience allows for topics to be discussed in an informal manner and allows for a debate in some cases/or share what’s new in historical historiography. The podcast audiences I see are those looking to see what’s being discussed or looking for a “story” that they find interesting. The podcasts are all very enlightening and helpful to learn more about what’s going on in history today. I like that podcasts can cover a range of topics without fear of being irrelevant or not staying to a certain theme or topic. This allows for the podcasts to attract a wider historical audience.  In comparison to other types of digital media, the podcast has the opportunity to attract and audience by testing what’s popular and what gets more coverage/participation. I think too it allows more voices to be heard and considered. Needless to say, podcasts are cool and helpful to reaching a wider audience.

Evolution, Mughals, Mutinies, and awesome ways to supplement history courses

I really enjoyed listening to the podcasts this week. I actually listened to three because I liked them so much and I have subscribed to the BBC podcasts in my Google reader so I’ll remember to go back to it in the future.

The first podcast I listened to was called “In the Beginning: Evolution and Creation in America” on the Backstory site. The podcast featured three history guys, one each from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. They started out by discussing the founding fathers’ views on religion, focusing particularly on Thomas Jefferson, his deism, and his interest in science. Of particular interest was the discussion of Jefferson’s fossilized bones, the lack of understanding of species extinction in the eighteenth century, and the connection between Jefferson’s desire to find these mysterious animals and the Lewis and Clark expeditions. They then moved on to discussing Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species and its unremarkable reception in the United States, which was followed by a more critical view as more and more children started attending public school, thus being exposed to the theory of evolution, and as people tried to understand the devastation people could inflict on others through wars such as WWI and WWII. They chronicle the Scopes Trial, including audio segments from the film Inherit the Wind throughout the show and interview a high school biology teacher from Dayton, Tennessee who disagrees with evolution. They next discuss the history of evangelism and creation science in the United States, noting that in its beginnings, creation science attempted to accommodate scientific views of nature that largely excluded religion, but by the 1980s, God was brought into the conversation. The program was very interesting in that it brought it featured the three historians, one of whom was Ed Ayers, who interviewed different people (experts and laypeople) about the subject, and featured audio clips from different time periods to highlight changing viewpoints. The show also featured a segment where callers could speak with the historians about their own thoughts/questions about the topic which generated interesting discussions not featured in the main body of the show. While I enjoyed the show, I also appreciated the extra features built into the site, such as an area for users to discuss the show with each other on the page and the further reading section that featured materials listeners could access about the topics highlighted in the show. For instance, as I was listening to the historians talk about Jefferson’s fossils, I wanted to know more. I found links to this information in the further reading section. Another interesting aspect of the site is the “In the Works” section where ideas for future shows are posted and users of the site can weigh in with ideas and questions they would like covered. The two callers featured on the above mentioned program were contacted because of their participation in this section of the site. Each story also features a series of tags user can access to find more stories of their interest.

On the BBC site, I listened to two podcasts: one about the Mughal Empre and one about the Indian Mutiny. I enjoyed them (obviously because I listened to two), but noticed the tone to be quite different from the Backstory site. While the Backstory site was more of a show featuring different types of discussion, engagement with audience, and audio clips of different media, the BBC podcasts featured historians talking to each other about the topic. No other media was featured. There is no engagement with the audience. People cannot comment or discuss the podcast. It is historians talking and users are meant to download the podcast and listen. I may sound critical, and I am a bit, because I approve of user engagement, but I still felt like the podcasts worked well for their purpose, which is to educate interest listeners by allowing them to listen to a conversation between experts.

When I think about these sites in the context of what we’ve been discussing throughout the quarter, I think the two sites do a good job of using digital media to accomplish their goals. The Backstory site clearly intends to engage the public, provide open access to different users from different backgrounds, utilize experts and the public in collecting and analyzing history, and connect information in a variety of ways by linking out to other sites, using tags, and encouraging discussion. I believe the BBC site is very different and not meant to engage the public in the same way, but I still think it also meets some of the goals of digital history – it allows the public to access information that they may not otherwise have by placing conversations between experts on the web for free. And I might add, there are a lot of these conversations. I think that the site tends to function as an open access archive to a wealth of information about history, culture, literature, science, and more.

The first thing I thought when listening to the podcasts was, “Awesome. I want to keep listening to these.” The second thing I thought was that these could be very useful in teaching. I have noticed that in the world history course I TA for, it is very difficult to cover all of the topics during lecture and I’m sure many of the students are a little bored from their text. I’m not saying that the text or the lecture should be replaced, but I do think that assigning a couple of podcasts a week, like the BBC podcasts, would be a fun, easy, free, and interesting way to supplement the traditional style.

“Bears, Memory, and National Park Tourism” has now officially been added to my research agenda.

It occurs to me that in order to compare these podcasts to other forms of digital history that we have examined this semester, it first of all bears noting which podcasts I listened to and how they differed from one another. On my way back to Auburn, I listened to the podcast in its intended form—via iPhone. On BackStory, I listened to “Looking for Work: A History of Unemployment.” Being a bit of a labor historian and dabbling a bit with a New Deal program that dealt quite a bit with unemployment, I thought this would be an intriguing program. I was not displeased. I really enjoyed the format and the interactivity between the historians. At one point, it struck me as to how similar their conversation was to what we do in seminar every week—they were bouncing ideas off of each other, embellishing points, and countering others. Additionally, they invited user participation, and their responses to these listeners’ contributions were not demeaning or condescending. In this podcast, I was especially struck by the historians’ discussion of the evolution of the word “unemployed” and their response to a user who asked about the influx of women into the workforce in 1970. On this latter point, each historian rightly noted that women laborers have had a much longer history; with the addition of race and class dimension, that particular discussion was quite enriching. What I thought could have been more fleshed out was the discussion of unemployment in the 20th century. Ed Ayers and Peter Onuf both provided very detailed and interesting concepts of unemployment in the 18th and 19th centuries, but Brian Balogh’s development of unemployment in the 20th century fell flat. It seemed like he did not get the same amount of time as the other historians to develop any points on that account.

The other podcast I listened to was from NiCHE’s Nature’s Past podcast collection. I listened to episode 22, “A Century of Parks Canada.” Probably the first thing that stuck out to me with this podcast was the program’s insistence upon noting that Parks Canada began five years before the National Park Service in America (hey, I guess they should be excited for something). What this podcast did, in stark contrast with BackStory, is to set up a roundtable discussion between contributors to an anthology commemorating the centennial of Parks Canada. This format took away some of the interactivity presented in BackStory and reestablished the Ivory Tower separation that was conspicuously (and gratefully) absent from the former. But the conversation in the roundtable was engaging, historical banter; to me, perhaps the most interesting aspect of this particular podcast was George Colpitts’ discussion of his chapter, “Films, Tourists, and Bears in the National Parks: Managing Park Use and the Problematic ‘Highway Bum’ Bear in the 1970s.” So in comparison to one another, BackStory was much more effective at engaging a broad topic and inviting interchange; the Nature’s Past selection, on the other hand, presented a more conference-like experience on a very specific project.

In a way, these two particular podcasts, in their format itself, reflect exactly what we have looked at all semester. The way the content is presented—removing the visual or audible aspect and leaving simply how the message is presented—is quite similar. Using these two podcasts as points of comparison, there are certainly websites that have user friendly content and actively engage user participation (BackStory); likewise, there are websites that are devoted to very specific topics and act as an archive, database, or other tool that benefits the researcher (NiCHE’s Nature’s Past). The podcasts’ concept of audience also represents a range of what we have examined in other digital projects; BackStory would be great for a wider range of laypersons, while perhaps the Nature’s Past podcast would be better suited to a scholar. What is most obviously different between a podcast and a website is literally how the message is conveyed, either visually or audibly. Additionally, much to the benefit to the website over the podcast is that the latter is often a static moment—a piece of research rather than the result; podcasts are often included on websites. Websites, however, are much more dynamic; even BackStory has a website on which they continue dialogue after the podcast has finished.

Ultimately, both formats are needed in the realm of digital history.  Each format is unique and contributes greatly to our understanding of how to proceed with, devise, and understand digital history.

Podcasts for Entertainment and Education

For this week’s assignment I listened to “American as Pumpkin Pie: A History of Thanksgiving” with BackStory Radio and “Slavery, Suicide, and Memory in North America” on the JAH Podcast website.  While these two podcasts are vastly different
in tone and subject matter, they show the potential podcasts as a media can
have for disseminating historical knowledge to a wider audience beyond
scholars.

BackStory is hosted by the “American History Guys,” Peter Onuf, Ed Ayers (whom we remember as the Valley of the Shadow guy), and Brian Balogh.  All three are reputable history scholars representing fields of study in three different centuries of
American history.  This episode’s lighthearted theme was interesting and appropriate for listening to over the holiday.  In just one hour, the history
guys successfully complicated the Charlie Brown version of the history of Thanksgiving in an engaging and entertaining way.   It seems that the premise of the program in general is to tell the history behind current events.  I noticed one podcast on the history of the USPS, and I am guessing this is because of recent talks to close many small post offices across the country.  The program, then, is meant to be more than just entertaining but to also inform a general public about the historical context of political and cultural issues important in the present. I am especially impressed by this program because people can easily understand why studying and learning about history is important, as compared to many people’s negative experiences with history while studying from a dry textbook in school.

The JAH podcast on slavery and suicide seemed to target an academic audience.  However, in light of our discussions on copyright and access, I think this is a creative solution for publishers to allow access to information even if it is not the actual article itself.  Academic articles are meant to target other scholars, and even if made freely accessible to the general public, most people are probably not going to sit down and read an academic article.  Teachers, journalists, museum professionals, amateur
historians, and genealogists, on the other hand, may find the podcasts helpful
for staying up to date with the latest research without having to actually read
articles.  In this podcast, for instance, Ed Linenthal interviewed the author and she summarized the article’s argument challenging the resistance narrative regarding suicide and slavery.  A teacher could listen to this podcast and incorporate her newly acquired knowledge in her lecture.

Of course, one of the major benefits of a podcast compared to other digital media such as blogs or website exhibits is that you do not have to read.  Podcasts are similar to blogs, though, in that you can subscribe to them to keep up with the latest episode, and you can access them at anytime.  People download podcasts to listen to while multitasking like doing chores or commuting to work.  This appeals to those
of us who are too busy to sit down for a leisurely read.  Audio is also more accessible to those who have limited reading skills or visual impairments.

Podcasts are also different from other forms of digital media we have looked at this semester. Wikis allow anyone to contribute information.  The two podcasts I listened to are meant to disseminate information from a person with authority to passive consumers of the information.  However, because the podcasts are also a part of a website, people can contribute their thoughts on the subject via the comments section. The “Thanksgiving” episode had 23 comments.

With many digital formats we looked at this semester, such as an interactive website, people may visit only one or two times and for a short period of time. JAH podcasts
and BackStory shows podcasts can be an ongoing, educational, and entertaining tool for the general public to learnabout history and its relevance to our lives in the present.