If you’re anything like me, when you’re driving you like to have something to listen to. Sometimes it’s music, sometimes it’s the news, increasingly it’s podcasts. Since the rise of iPods and MP3-players, the popularity of podcasts has grown at an almost exponential rate. In part, I believe this can be attributed to the wide array of interests to which podcasts cater. In 2018, there is a whole slew of different types of podcasts, from Movies by Minutes, to dramas, to historical podcasts. Within each genre, different podcasts speak to different interests. It’s a bit like books for those who don’t feel like, or don’t have time, to read.
Within the genre of historical podcasts, different podcasts serve different purposes. Some, like BackStory and Stuff You Missed in History, discuss topics that may not otherwise receive a lot of attention. Often, the perspectives of historically underrepresented or marginalized peoples find a voice on these podcasts. In the case of BackStory, the episodes often have a connection to something that is happening in current events. For example, BackStory’s most recent episode, “The Habit,” is about historical instances of opioid addiction in America. Such podcasts might appeal to a scholarly audience who may be interested in the historiography of a topic, as well as a general audience who may not be that aware of said topic.
Other podcasts, such as Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, seek to tell the dramatic side of history. In my opinion, they are produced for genuine history enthusiasts who may not have much academic training in historical methods and thinking. To be clear, Carlin clearly does historical research in preparation for his podcasts, asks deep historical questions, and produces high-quality (often lengthy) episodes. At the same time, the titles of his podcasts, such as “Painfotainment” and “The Destroyer of Worlds,” coupled with movie poster-like hyperlinks. Additionally, as the podcast series’s name suggests, the topics tend to be of a mature nature, discussing topics such as violence, war, and apocalyptic imagery.
A third type of podcast probably appeals more towards the history professional. These podcasts examine themes or topics in a similar way that you might see done in a journal article. One such podcast, Footnoting History, emphasizes that each of its “rotating ensemble” of podcasters “possess graduate degrees in history.” These podcasters tend to talk about the historical process and primary sources in greater detail than the other podcasts mentioned above. There is also less of an attempt to make the episodes relevant to the present (although that is not to say that they avoid doing so). Public historians and museum professionals also have podcasts directed towards them, such as Colonial Williamsburg’s Past and Present Podcast (although it appears to be on a hiatus).
All of this is to say that, as in other formats, podcast historians have a range of audiences that they can appeal to: general public, history enthusiasts, and academic and public historians. It is a relatively inexpensive way to get the word out about a variety of historical topics, or examine a specific topic in great detail, if you want like-minded people listening along. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some podcast listening to do.
What do you think: Do you like listening to podcasts? Do historical podcasts serve an important purpose? Is there an awesome podcast you could recommend? If so, please share.