History Podcasts

Podcasts provide a rich opportunity for the creative historian. Podcasts, which were very popular up until the early 2000s, then their popularity died out due to their relative inaccessibility, until 2007 with the invention of the smart phone. (Kang) The podcast is now slowly encroaching on the niche that the ever-popular radio usually fills. (Kang)

Some of the same problems of accuracy and authority that plague digital history in general, are issues in podcasting. Often, times it is not a professional historian that is creating these podcasts. It is an amateur. They lack the necessary skills to make historical interpretations that reflect the latest understandings of history. One such example would be how an amateur historian told the story of the Whitman massacre, as mentioned in Cebula’s blog here. The amater historian interprets events in a manifest destiny/American myth manner that glorifies the white settlers and dehumanizes the Native Americans.

However, there are very popular history podcasts with professional historians involved in all aspects of creating the podcast. An example, of such a show is Backstory with the American History Guys. Three “renowned historians” lead the show and its content. They dive in deep to a subject in an hour long show. When looking at their website and listening to their shows I wondered who their intended audience was.

According to Kang, of the Washington Post, podcasts are most popular among men, and when I listened to Backstory I could see why. First of all, the three stars of the show are well-educated white men. There is nothing wrong with this, and their scholarship is solid. However, their manner of speaking, style of the website, and the information they provide is created by a select group of the US population. I can tell you as a historian and a woman I find their work interesting, but not as compelling as I would of hoped. Perhaps, a diversity in the voices represented in the show would change that.

Digital Preservation

What is digital preservation? According to Digital Preservation Europe it is “set of activities required to make sure digital objects can be located, rendered, used and understood in the future.” The implication being that the software and hardware changed made in the following years after the object was created in order to ensure that we could actually access and understand the content. If this is not done we risk the losing out on all the popular culture and social history that is being created digitally right now, or in other words a “digital dark age.” (McDonough) Some of these digitally born objects include such things as computer gaming. They provide amazing insight into the “popular and political culture” of the time and society they were created and played in. If efforts are not made to preserve such an object, we the historian, lose out. This same concept could be said with social media, and digital photographs. If digital preservation does not become a priority, we as historians will have much less to work with then our predecessors, given that most forms of todays “material culture” have become “digital culture.” In the past, letters, diaries, financial logs, cargo lists, etc., were all put on paper with ink. Today, this is not the case. Most correspondence between people happens digitally. The use of email, messaging over Facebook or Twitter has replaced yesteryears letters. Journaling now often happens either on Word or via digital film camera. Cargo lists, and financial records are often kept on company servers, again they are digital. One of the ways in which we can as society protect ourselves from a loss in our digital primary sources is to move to “open source software.” (Science Daily) Open source software frees us from relying on only one type of hardware or software, which if those are no longer available because the private company no longer exists, makes digitally born objects readable on other platforms. This universality is key in preserving our past; which includes a rich market of primary sources. If you are interested in learning more about Digital Preservation here is a link to further readings.