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.

Both podcasts offered a similar roundtable type discussion that was (mostly) informal and easy to listen to. One thing of note: podcasts from both BackStory and In Our Time are broadcast on public radio, in the United States and the United Kingdom respectively. I imagine that the audience for these podcasts is quite large.

Podcasts are a wonderful and useful tool for historians to employ. They are relatively easy and inexpensive to produce. And, most importantly, they are portable. In the age of iPods and smartphones, free, downloadable content is a good way to connect with and broaden an audience. Podcasts are convenient because you are not restricted to sitting in front of your computer, reading a website. You can listen to them while in the car or on a walk.

That being said, there are several factors to consider as to whether or not producing podcasts for your website or project makes sense. Both BackStory and In Our Time consistently produce new podcasts on a variety of topics. Offering new content on a regular basis helps to build (and retain) an audience. Are you willing to invest the time and effort in producing new podcasts? Would your audience be interested in an informal roundtable discussion, or would a lecture-style podcast be more valuable? Instead of a podcast series, does it make more sense to have a limited number of podcasts available on your website to supplement content?

Like other digital media we have explored this semester, podcasts have their own advantages and disadvantages as a tool of digital history. Ultimately, you have to decide whether or not they are suitable for your intended outcome.

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