Tag Archives: Podcasting

Podcasts and the Digital Humanities

More than any other medium, podcasting allows creators and listeners to establish a sense of shared experience. One could argue that a writer seeks to achieve such a connection with readers, however, it is undeniable that podcasting has a greater degree of success on this count. One reason for this may simply be the feeling of direct connection created by the human voice, this evokes a “presence” that we do not quite get when we read a text. In any case, this feeling of shared experience, of being “in the presence” or even “witnessing” something through our senses before it appeals to our imagination, creates a sense of immediacy and proximity to the stories or information communicated through the podcast. 

Humanities podcasts are also able to incorporate resources that are used in the written form, but not as effectively. Most scholarly writing uses both narrative and analytical styles. In both instances, authors make reference to the work of other scholars to strengthen their arguments and provide examples. The podcast allows for such references to be added in structured interviews or in a more conversational style. In Throughline’s episode “The Lavender Scare”, for instance, the hosts follow a narrative structure that incorporates the voices of scholars as well as actors readings quotes from historical sources. All of these are used to advance the narrative, as opposed to being presented in response to direct questions. Consolation Prize combines both styles. It follows primarily a narrative structure and the voices of actors and scholars are also used to advance the narrative. However, there are also instances in which scholars are either responding to questions or, reflecting on sources and interpretations. The World of Benjamin Franklin falls squarely in the conversational/ interview style of podcast. Here Liz Covart, the host, starts a conversation with a scholar. Sometimes responses offer a narrative or a description, but they are also pieces of analysis, interpretation and reflection. In all three cases, the podcast format enables listeners to feel like they are on the same journey of exploration as the host and guests, and it is this sense of shared experience that, I believe, is most successfully achieved in the podcast medium.

Podcasting may be seen as the great disseminator of humanities scholarship. By creating a sense of connection between the general public and the producers of humanities scholarship, podcast are able to communicate scholarly knowledge with much greater ease and confidence than other media. At a time when attention spans are waning and people seem less inclined and interested in going through the trouble of following complex stories and analysis, podcast help create a environment of ease and trust where listeners may be able to relax and leave their guard down as they learn something new.

What has made podcasts into this powerful medium are precisely the digital tools and formats that are now available to scholars and the public at large. In the past, audio production required sophisticated recording and production equipment, not to mention access to the airwaves. Today, there are many services that enable quality recording, software that facilitates production, and the internet through which audio files can be transmitted with great ease. Although producing a podcast does require time, technical expertise, equipment and funding, these are much more affordable and accessible than ever. The entry costs for scholars have been seriously reduced and the ability to reach listeners has multiplied. In this regard, podcasts may represent one of the most aspirational aspects of digital humanities, in that it brings scholarship closer to the public. Unlike crowdsourcing, podcasting does not necessarily bring the public into the production of knowledge. However, the best type of podcasting will enable members of the public a better understanding of what scholarship is and how it works.