To Podcast or Not to Podcast?

It is hard to set time aside for old-fashioned reading in these busy times we live in today. However, after discovering audible years ago, and more recently, podcasts, I’ve been able to satisfy that old hobby of mine. Moreover, “audio reading” allows me to do other things simultaneously, such as taking walks, driving, or doing chores around the house, something impossible to achieve while reading an actual book or article. In this fast-paced digital age where multitasking has become the norm, podcasting is a powerful vehicle to spread knowledge. Thus, it should have a preferential place within the digital humanities.  

Podcasting appeals to the storytelling nature of human beings. That explains the connection I feel when I listen to an audiobook, which becomes even more palpable when I am listening to a podcast. As books genres, podcasts appeal to a specific audience. However, with podcasts, you feel you are part of a community. For me, podcasts are the perfect way to entertain yourself while keeping up with academic scholarship.

I have to admit that it could be challenging to listen to an art history podcast without having the images in front of you. But I have found my way around this inconvenience. When something catches my attention, I make a mental note and look for it later. History podcasts usually provide full transcripts, including images, or I can always Google them. The transcripts are crucial because they have all the bibliographic references and sources, so you can relax and enjoy the performance without worrying about who said what. You can always go back to the transcript and check the references later.

As the history lover I am, I have found several captivating podcasts, and listening to them has become part of my routine. There is a lot to choose from, so I recommend you do your due diligence first and find out who is behind the podcast and what is the podcast’s mission. I am skeptical; therefore, I prefer shows produced and hosted by historians that transpire trustworthiness and credibility. However, after listening to the podcasts assigned in Module 11 of this DH course, I realized that there might be other factors involved in selecting the perfect podcast for oneself.

In this activity, we needed to listen to several podcasts. Then, we were asked to evaluate and decide between three of them, indicating why.

  1.  Throughline, “There Will Be Bananas,” a podcast produced by NPR in 2020 about the story of the United Fruit Company founded by Minor Keith in Costa Rica and how he made a fortune introducing bananas in the United States against all odds.
  • Consolation Prize, “Greener Pastures,” a podcast hosted by historian Abby Mullen where she talks to other scholars about consuls and their contribution to the historical record.  The consul explored during this podcast was Richard Green, the first black consul in a white post.  

These three podcasts were excellent and highly informative. The Throughline podcast was entertaining and instructive, the typical laboriously-crafted NPR show animated with plenty of sound effects, voices, and music. In addition, the podcast was addressing something close to home since I was born in the Dominican Republic, another “banana republic.” On the downside, the hosts were not historians but journalists that were merely reading a script.

In contrast, the Dig podcast was hosted by historians who loosely follow a script injecting their opinions throughout the show, which became distracting to me occasionally. Further, the hosts’ style became too informal at times, not what I expected from a history podcast.

Consolation Prize, however, managed to attain the perfect balance between academic and entertainment; it captured my attention the entire time without NPR’s bells and whistles and even though I was not emotionally invested in the topic. The host delivered a captivating narrative that, combined with the soft music between segments and the effective way to introduce sources, using different voices that seemed to be coming from different directions, created an intellectual atmosphere very compelling.  

Podcasting is yet another fabulous digital tool, the perfect platform for historians to broadcast their research and an extremely convenient medium for the listener. The questions raised during the shows can open doors for future research and thus help to expand humanities scholarship. On the other hand, there are many podcasts spreading misinformation and fallacies. Therefore, I would love to see more podcasts dedicated to separating the wheat from the chaff to straighten the historical record.

In my previous post, I talked about deepfakes and crowdsourcing as by-products of the digital age that can potentially tarnish the positive image of digital humanities. In that line, a podcast exploring historical fake news and how it impacted the historical record, sometimes even changing the course of history, could be exciting. Because, although the term “fake news” did not become popular until the last decade, the spreading of lies for political, social, or economic gain is not, by any means, something new. A podcast broadcasting historic fake news and its aftermath could help develop mechanisms to deal with the contemporary explosion of misinformation in this digital age. 

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